In the most South-Western county of Missouri lies the town of Noel. Today this town is the home of only 1,832 people, a fact that belies its history. During the Spring of 1961, Noel was the capital of its own independent political entity; the McDonald Territory.
The causes of the secession of McDonald County from the State of Missouri were unique when compared the many secessionist movements of American history. The roots of this movement can be traced to the decision of the Missouri State Highway Commission to omit Noel, and most other McDonald County towns, from its “Family Vacationland” map in 1961. This was detrimental to the tourist industry, an important source of income for the county, and therefore angered many of its citizens.
In response to this apparent slight against the county by the state government, the people of McDonald County decided to establish their independence from Missouri. They even went so far as to establish border control with a territorial militia, as well as issuing visas to non-residents who entered the territory. In addition to establishing a militia, the people of McDonald Territory established a seat of government at Noel, not the traditional county seat at Pineville, with the new government being run by elected officials. Amongst these officials there was talk of McDonald Territory becoming the fifty-first state of the United States or joining the states of Arkansas or Oklahoma.
The secessionist movement eventually came to an end in the summer of 1961 when the Missouri government proclaimed that if the secessionist movement were not put to an end, all state employee retirement pensions would be suspended, all state employees would be fired, and all state funding would be withheld. The movement officially ended as Missouri Supreme Court Justice Mary Russell read a letter from the Missouri House of representatives asking McDOnald County to stay with Missouri, promising that it would be put back on the map. The citizens were thus pleased, and showing no more objections, reunited with the state of Missouri.
We hope to bring more awareness to this often forgotten piece of Missouri history through our course website. Through exploring the McDonald County archives, obtaining oral histories, and the State Archives in Jefferson City.