Excerpts taken from Kay Hively’s, “The Naming of a Forest”
In 1934 the Department of Agriculture began purchasing forest tracts in Missouri as part of the federal government’s plan to restore the wasted timber, manage the overgrazed meadows, control and manage the forest streams and restore the vanishing wildlife.
As the acreage bought by the Department of Agriculture grew and as restoration began making headway, (thanks primarily to the civilian conservation corps it became evident that the federal forest land in Missouri would need to be officially divided into two national forests.
That sounded like a simple matter, except everyone wanted to name the forests. In 1937 a lot of controversy surrounding the naming of the two forests began to stir up.
As Purchase Units (the forested tracts) they were called “Clark” and “Gardner.” As the time neared to create two National Forests, officials at the Purchase Units were asked to submit names for consideration. The Clark Unit only submitted one name, “Clark” while controversy over the naming of the purchase unit at the “Gardner” unit, led to officials submitting six names.
Leslie S. Bean, Deputy Regional Forester, in the Milwaukee regional office wrote to each unit on September 30, 1937, stating that Clark would be fine for that unit “but we believe further consideration should be given to the name of the Gardner Purchase Unit. However the history of each name prepared should be given in considerable detail.”
Apparently officials at Clark weren’t satisfied at naming their own unit, they wanted an opportunity at naming the other unit as well!
Paul D. Kelleter (Forest Supervisor at Clark) wrote Mr. Bean on October 1, 1937 with some suggestions. He wrote, “If names of men of recent nation-wide reputation are to be given consideration, Missouri can point with pride to Mark Twain and Eugene Field. It should also be remembered that Audubon played an important part in Missouri, living both in St. Genevieve and St. Louis, and getting the inspiration for considerable of his drawings, books and plat sin this state.” He went on to also suggest the names, Livingston (who played a role in the Louisiana Purchase), and Captain Stoddard (first governor of the Louisiana territory.)
On October 6, 1937, James N. Diehl (Gardner Unit Forest Supervisor) fired a letter off to Milwaukee with his own ideas. In his letter he mentioned the 8 names that had been submitted since 1935 (Shepherd of the Hills, Kikapoo, Osage, Daniel Boone, Mark Twain, Pulaski, Linnaeus and Chickamaugua National Forest.)
Mr. Diehl, added some more names: 1) Glades National Forest – because of the unique topographical features of the Pond Fork and Table Rock Unit where rock out croppings resulted in glades or balds. 2) Ridge top NF – because of the oak ridges. 3) Mozark National Forest – combining the names Missouri and Ozarks. At this time Ozark National Forest in Arkansas already existed hence the suggestion of "Mozark".
Mr. Kelleter, of the Clark Unit, proceeded to continue his efforts in suggesting names on October 29th and wrote a very well “thought out” letter on why it should be named the Mark Twain.
Mr. Diehl garnered support from local politicians and influentials that the name should be Pershing National Forest after Missouri General John J. Pershing. However, after learning that a state park was considering the same name he wrote, “The last legislature voted to establish a Pershing State Park in Linn County to include the site of the birthplace of General Pershing. There should be no conflict between the park and forest…” Then he stated near the end of his letter, “The most prominent and best-known Missourian of all time is Mark Twain.
When a University of Missouri professor, Conrad Hammar, had heard about the suggestion of Pershing as a name he wrote to Mr. Diehl against the idea for three reasons 1) the state park proposal 2) General Pershing was still living at this time and precedent for naming other forests dictated that namesakes had to be deceased 3) there was little in the name that would attract it as a recreational or geographical standpoint. He started suggesting his own names.
The struggle for the name continued until December of 1938 when the Washington Office for the Forest Service proposed that the two MO forests be named, “Mark Twain” and Pershing.” John Hatcher (Acting Chief for the division of national forest, planning and establishment) wrote that he did not want the name “Clark” to be confused with any political interpretation because a gentleman named Clark was running for a political office in Missouri at the time. In January of ’39 the Regional Forester (a native of Poplar Bluff, MO), Lyle Watts, wrote back to the Washington Office proposing “Pershing’ and “Champ Clark” be the forest names. By adding champ it would remove the political overtones.
In March 1939, the Washington Office wrote back stating that “Clark National Forest would be the name since the name of Clark also has been important in Missouri in other respects.” Pershing National Forest had failed to gain approval in Washington because it was believed that some geographic or hydrographic feature would be more appropriate.
The Regional Forester was not pleased with the response and gave a final suggestion of Mozark National Forest.
On September 15, 1939 Forrest T. Hoyt (Acting Chief, Divison of Forest Land Planning,) informed Milwaukee Regional Office of Franklin Roosevelt’s action of signing the proclamation establishing the Mark Twain National Forest on September 11, 1939. And so after four years of discussion, the subject had finally been closed and Missouri’s most famous citizen was honored with a National Forest. Ironically, Mark Twain was one of the original suggestions back in 1935 when the National Forest designation was first proposed.
In June 1973 the Clark and Mark Twain NF were brought under one headquarters in Rolla, MO and became known as the National Forests in Missouri. On Feburary 17, 1976, the forests were combined and renamed the Mark Twain National Forest.