While McDonald County seceded from Missouri and was looking to become the 51st state, there were talks about McDonald County potentially joining the state of Arkansas or Oklahoma or possibly even returning the territory to the natives. Out of all of these options, the one most widely considered was the potential to be annexed into Arkansas.
On April 10, 1961, Arkansas representative, David J. Burleson wrote a letter to the McDonald Territory president, Z.L. McGowan. In this letter, Burleson tells McGowan that he has kept up with the press releases on the secessionist movement and that he was interested in helping them gain more publicity. In his letter, he states,
“I trust that you will agree with my motives, and I hope that this may assist you in getting more cooperation from your highway department in the future. The press may not pick this up, but my letter to the Governor was written with the hope that publicity would be given to it, thereby perhaps causing some influence toward cooperation by your highway department.”1
In writing to Z.L. McGowan, Burleson also enclosed a letter that he wrote to the Arkansas governor, Orval E. Faubus. In Burleson’s letter to governor Faubus, Burleson mentions that the state of Missouri has had little interest in the affairs and problems of McDonald County and that they may need the help of Arkansas.
“There is substantial evidence that the State of Missouri has indicated a lack of interest in the affairs, problems and welfare of the residents of McDonald County; and that there is a close bond, by reason of community of interests between the residents of Northwest Arkansas and the residents of McDonald County, Missouri.”2
He continues his letter by suggesting Arkansas annex the county, effectively giving Arkansas a boot heel that extends into Missouri as South East Missouri has a boot heel that extends into Arkansas.
“It seems that the State of Missouri considers this area “too commercial” for the extension of some of the State services, and I feel certain that Arkansas would be willing to cooperate with the people of that area in assisting in its development just as it assists every other Arkansas County in healthy development.”3
Burleson concludes his letter to Faubus by suggesting that “Should Missouri continue to indicate its lack of interest in that area, it may well be possible to effectuate the annexation proceedings smoothly and quickly.”4
While Burleson’s letter to governor Faubus does seem to be serious in its intent to annex McDonald County, he assures Z.L. McGowan that his letter has a tongue-in-cheek quality and should not be taken at face value. Annexing McDonald county for Arkansas would have been beneficial for Arkansas, but Burleson’s actual goal was to help the secession gain publicity and get the State of Missouri to take it a bit more seriously.
Burleson’s letter did in fact call more attention to the movement, and three days later, Z.L. McGowan received a letter from Joplin, Missouri. This letter, written by the Joplin Chamber of Commerce, assured the McDonald elected officials that the people of Joplin recognized the independence of the McDonald Territory:
“We, therefore, make it a matter of public record that the Joplin Chamber of Commerce officially recognizes the new Territory of McDonald and formally invites its Ambassador to take up his position in the offices of this Chamber.”5
Further, Joplin even asked the McDonald Territory to establish an Embassy in Joplin to issue passports and visas so that their citizens could safely travel through the area. This was very important for McDonald and further cemented the legitimacy of the new territory.
1. David J. Burleson, Letter to Z.L. McGowan, April 10, 1961.
2. David J. Burleson, Letter to Orval E. Faubus, April 10, 1961.
5. Joplin Chamber of Commerce, Letter to Z. L. McGowan, April 13, 1961.