McDonald County is located in the furthest southwest corner of Missouri. The written history of this county does not begin until after the events of the Civil War. Before this period, the area was home to nomadic Native American tribes who traveled throughout this region primarily composed of forests. (01) After the Civil War; however, settlers began to stake claim in the county. Edmond Jennings of North Carolina is believed to have been the first settler that arrived in the McDonald County area. Upon arrival, Jennings spoke of there being what he called, “six boils” or rather six springs that fed the numerous creeks and rivers in Southwest Missouri. These waterways included Indian Creek, Shoal Creek, Center Creek, Spring River, and North Fork. The Agriculture Report of Missouri in 1867 states, “McDonald County had rugged hills, bold cliffs, each covered with cedars and pines, deep valleys viewed from higher points, showing a vista of small cultivated farms, clear winding streams, cascading rivers, and cold gushing springs.” (02)

In 1886, the Pennsylvania Oil Company arrived in the area to drill for oil. They did not find oil, but to their surprise, they struck a vein of white sulfur water along the banks of Indian Creek. White sulfur water was believed to help cure infections and solve health problems including intestinal issues and swollen joints. Soon the 844 feet deep well was completely exhausted and was sealed. Because of this discovery, the town was named Sulfur Well City for a short period of time. After the well dried up, however, the name was changed to Lanagan, after one of the founders, T.C. Lanagan. (03)

During the same period of time that the white sulfur was discovered, the railroad system was extended through the area. The main duty of the railroad at this time was to haul hardwood timber from the area to the west to be used to lay more railroad tracks. With the discovery of the white sulfur water and the arrival of the railroad, the town of Lanagan began to grow.

As the settlers began to move in, they noticed that the climate and soil were perfect for growing crops. Because the land had not been cultivated, the soil was tremendously fertile. “Many farms were located in the valley of the rivers and streams. Many of these farms were built on bottomland, made of rich dark moist soil mixed with gravel. McDonald County was said to be extremely fertile for cultivation and early planting.” (03) In the late 1820s, this creek soil was used for cultivation spots for such crops as wheat, corn, oats, rye, tobacco, and buckwheat. Throughout the next several decades, the land continued to be used to grow grain as well as to raise livestock. Dairies were established in the 1870s, and the beef industries reestablished locations in the early 1880s. (04) By the early 1900s, however, the fruit industry along with the truck farming industry replaced the already dying grain and livestock farming. (05)

Mining was also a profitable industry for McDonald County from 1880 through World War I. Throughout those years, lead, zinc, and tripoli, a mineral generally used as an abrasive, were the main minerals that were mined. (06) The zinc mines were mainly concentrated in the northern sections of the Elk River Basin, while lead and tripoli were mined throughout the area. (06) These three minerals were largely historic operations whereas, limestone and gravel are the products that are mined currently.

In 1941, Camp Crowder, a military base, was established in Neosho, Missouri. This base brought droves of settlers to the Elk River Basin which added to the population. A steady increase in population was constant through the mid-1950s & 60s and the population of Missouri increased by 19% during the 70s and 80s. (07)

Today, McDonald country, which covers 540 square miles (08) , has an approximate population of 21, 681 with 15,865 families in residence. The small rural town of Lanagan has a population of 411 people and is home to 106 families. One major concern is that 20% of the overall population in McDonald County lives under the poverty line while 35% of the total population in Lanagan lives in poverty. The median income is only $27,010 in McDonald County and $20,125 in Lanagan. Another issue that has harmed the area is that as people graduate from high school, they are leaving to make a better living. While Lanagan is in a period of decline (09), McDonald County is seeing residential growth along the new north/south highway. This connects south Missouri, with its low cost of land, to northwest Arkansas. While residential growth adds more potential tax revenue, the loss of forest cover and addition of more septic tanks will most likely equate to future water quality problems for Indian Creek and the Elk River.


01. United States Department of Agriculture-SCS 1992 (
02. Truman, Lane. Agriculture in Post Civil War Missouri: McDonald County. Southwest Missouri State University. (
05. United States Department of Agriculture-SCS 1989 (
07. Missouri Department of Natural Resources, 1985 (