Origin of “Ozark”

I love learning about the history of this beautiful area.  A friend of mine just wrote an interesting article about the origin of the term “Ozark” that I thought you might find interesting…  Enjoy!

Written by Kelley Linck of Ozark Mountain Region

Historical photo of the Ozarks
photo credit Springfield Missouri Library

Photo courtesy of http://thelibrary.springfield.missouri.org/lochist/periodicals/ozarkswatch/Ow301g.htm

The Ozark Mountain’s namesake is of curious background.  What does Ozark mean?  There are multiple theories, and I will cover some of them here:

Considered by some to be the most accurate theory, says that French Trappers shortened the phrase “aux Arkansas”, meaning “going toward Arkansas”, to “aux Arks”. The word “Arkansas” refers to Arkansas Post on the Mississippi River. Arkansas Post is today a National Memorial under the National Park Service.   An English traveler, John Bradbury, first used the name “Ozark” in print in 1809, and the term “Ozark Mountains” first appeared on a map made by S.H. Long in 1815, thus “officializing” the name, according to Phyllis Rossiter’s “A Living History of the Ozarks”.

Yes – this seems to be a good an acceptable explanation as taken from thelibrary.org web site – but wait..   The  ozarkmerchants.com web site which was developed to promote the actual town of Ozark, Arkansas has this explanation:

The origin of the word Ozark is French and comes to us from the early French explorers who first navigated and mapped the mighty Arkansas River in the late 1600’s and early 1700’s. After France gained control of the vast land which later became known as the ‘Louisianna Purchase,’ the French sent surveyors and cartographers to explore their new lands in the New World.  These Frenchmen first entered the huge Arkansas River at its mouth, and confluence with the Mississippi River, where they and other early explorers and Native Americans had established the settlement at Arkansas Post. The French cartographers did their job well and mapped the river bends as they traveled upriver for several hundred miles.  They named the northern most bend in the Arkansas River as the Aux Arcs which easily translates as the ‘to the top arc’ – the northern-most bend in the great river.  This geographic feature is plain to see in the topographic map above and moreover, it was a very distinct and significant location for early travelers.  The phrase Aux Arcs was spoken by non-French peoples in a manner that eventually sounded as ‘Ozark.’  (In the French pronunciation, the ’s’ in ‘arcs’ is silent.)  This most northerly point was used by many early pioneers as a jumping off point from the Arkansas River to explore the vast set of ridges, rivers and mountains to the north of that ‘top’ bend … and these mountainous lands were eventually referred to as ‘The Ozarks.’  The town of Ozark was established at the top of this huge, northern-most bend of the lower Arkansas River.

Well to me, that makes even more sense.  It is also word for word what the know all web site wikipedia.com has for explanation.

But further searches brought to me the most in depth and researched explanation of the word that I have ever read – Here is a teaser and a link to a continuum of the story on the Springfield, MO Library web site:

The exact origin and diffusion of the term Ozark will be forever embedded in the hazy generations of colonial exploration in the Mississippi Valley. A variety of bogus explanations can be found that connect meaning to the term Ozark(s) as one of “bows” or “bends” or “bois d’arc/bois aux arcs” (reputedly “wood for bows”), “azoic arc mountains” from an old geologist’s term, a provincial composite of the rivers Osage and Arkansas, Os and the Ark, for Os-Ark, and more. However, Morris Arnold’s groundbreaking work in colonial Arkansas during the past fifteen years provides help. The geographic origin was in the lowland forests of the Arkansas Delta, a land where the White, St. Francois, and Arkansas rivers met camps of Indian families, adventurers, and backwoodsmen who hunted bear and deer for the regional economy of New Orleans.1

Arnold’s work indicates that “from the earliest times, the Frenchmen dated their letters ‘Aux Arcansas’ meaning at the Arkansas, i.e., where the Arkansas liQuapaw] Indians lived.” … Read the entire story here

Enjoy your research, and if you find or know of a better explanation, let me know.