McDonald Territory was an extralegal, unrecognized territory of the United States that existed for a short time
in 1961. The area comprised all of present-day McDonald County, Missouri, USA. A provisional government
chose the name when they attempted to secede the county from the state
of Missouri in 1961. The government of
the territory, while democratically elected, was never recognized by the State of Missouri or the United States Congress.
In 1961, the Missouri State Highway Commission published its annual Family
Vacationland map and distributed it around the state. Officials in McDonald County, upon reviewing the map discovered that
Noel, a small but economically
vital Ozarks resort town, was inadvertently
omitted from the publication.
Noel, located in the extreme southwest corner of the state, was one of the most popular tourist
destinations in that part of the state, due to its resorts, bluffs, caves, and rivers. Its absence on one of the most-read
pieces of tourist literature in the state was sure to affect the county's livelihood negatively.
To demonstrate their dissatisfaction
with the state's inattention to detail and apparent lack of respect for their rural, isolated county, local officials drafted
a resolution to secede from the state. They went so far as to set up a provisional government, elect officers, and print their
own tourism literature. A local Territorial Militia was formed and visas were issued. Vehicles entering the Territory were
stopped by militiamen and, if the occupants were not local residents, they were given entry visas and local tourism information.
The Provisional Government of the Territory also established or licensed a private dispatch service, which provided mail
service from the Territorial Post Office to the nearest U.S. Post Office. This private service issued a 2 cent stamp to charge
for its services.
Philatelic and Regular Mail from The Territory, 1961
The gist of the story for laymen is that mail was carried out of McDonald
County (then being called McDonald Territory) by the organizers, to the nearest U.S. post office outside the "territory",
most notably to Neosho, Missouri, the county seat of Newton County, to McDonald County's immediate north, and there it was
deposited for onward transmission. At that time, it was still the United States Post Office, and this was prior to Zip Codes.
It is possible that other routes to forward mail were established; I am particularly looking for mail postmarked from an Arkansas
town, perhaps Sulphur Springs. In most all instances of mail I have seen, a McDonald Territory stamp was applied to the envelope,
in addition to the US postage, and a fee was supposedly collected for this service. The fee would have been collected at the
time the stamp was sold, and its intended purpose was as stated on the front of the stamp. Otherwise, it would appear to be
hard to identify a piece of mail that emanated from McDonald County to the extent of calling it territorial mail unless it
is postmarked in one of the towns outside McDonald County. In other words, the existence of a postmark from say, Neosho,
along with a McDonald Territory stamp and rubber-stamped markings is a good indication that the territorial mail officials
carried that piece of mail to Neosho, and deposited it in the mailstream there. Walter Arndt. Someone connected with the secession movement was
taking mail to Neosho for onward transmission, but it is not known if this was done on a daily basis, although the presumption
would be that it was.
Mail is also known to be postmarked
from within the territory as well, so it appears the mail may have indeed served a propaganda purpose as well, as at least
one philatelic author has noted. The organizers would have not had any control over the stamps once sold, so it appears that
at least some private parties applied the McDonald Territory stamp to their outgoing mail, and then went ahead and mailed
it from the post office in Noel instead of delivering it to the territorial Postmaster General,
Christmas cards are known from 1961, as late as December 25th, cacheted with the well-known
green Noel Christmas Tree cachet and a McDonald Territory stamp. The McDonald Territory stamp was tied to the envelope
with two one-line markings, one reading Noel, Mo. and the other McDonald Territory. [There are a multitude of one-line markings,
some of which appear to have been made from the rubber stamp kits that were available at that time; clearly they are
not manufactured rubber stamps due to irregularities in font alignment and spacing.] On the reverse of many of the envelopes,
including a December 18th example, was the approximate 2" in diameter marking that had Noel at the top of the ring, and McDonald
County at the bottom. That marking is known to have been applied in blue as well as in black. We would especially like to
know if anyone out there knows the whereabouts of these rubber stamps, or what happened to them. If they still exist, they
need to be placed in the county archives, or at least the McDonald County Historical Society or a museum. They represent a
real piece of history!
By Christmas time 1961, the attempt at secession (regardless
of whichever motivation you believe) had already ended, but it is possible that some wanted to continue milking a bit more
publicity by (continued) use of the McDonald Territory Private Dispatch stamps. Some may have just wanted a way to "dress
up" their outgoing Christmas cards, and use of the colorful McDonald Territory stamps was certainly a way to do that, and
to perhaps use up supplies of the stamps they had left. These stamps actually appear on online auctions with some regularity,
so I don't know that they can be considered rare, but elusive would be accurate.