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Was it Militia Springs Or Was It Cow Skin?

How was Ava formerly known? Historical records disprove popular belief.

(On Dec. 10 the Ava post office celebrated its 140th anniversary. But the post office was not established as Militia Springs, as many believe, The Ava post office was, in fact, established as Cow Skin on Dec. 10, 1849, with William Turner serving as the first postmaster.

The following article, written by Glen Dale Hartley for the May 1986 issue of the Journal of the Douglas County Historical and Genealogical Society of Douglas County, gives a historical account of the establishment of the Ava post office…and raises some questions about other traditional beliefs.)

By Glen Dale Hartley

For more than a century now the good people of Ava have been haunted by an elusive ghost –– the ghost of Militia Springs.

In almost every history of Douglas County you can find, this ghost raises its mysterious head as the original name of the town of Ava. And yet there seems to be no documentation for the existence of this post Civil War village.

Even though all the old timers apparently were convinced that the city of Ava started its life as a dot on the map under the name of Militia springs, the U.S. Post Office archives ahs no record of this name in connection with Ava. The archive records report that Ava was established under the name of Cow Skin on Dec. 10, 1849, with William Turner as the first postmaster.

The name of this post office was changed to Ava Sept. 19, 1871, during the term of Moses Reynolds. The post office may have been moved to a new site on April 9, 1872, at which time Reynolds was appointed postmaster of the “Ava” post office.

Could this village of Cow Skin be the original site of Militia Springs? And what about the stories we have heard concerning the Militia Springs post office located on the W. A. Huff place one and one half miles north of the square in Ava?

So far, no official record of a post office known as Militia Springs has been found in connection with Ava. But then why would the citizens of Ava have been content to have their post office so far from the town and so far from the springs for which it was named? That is assuming, of course, that Militia Springs refers to the several springs bubbling up to the north and east o the public square, which finally flow together to form Prairie Creek. We might wonder why the Militia Springs post office was not located closer to these springs instead of more than a mile away.

Is there any chance that Cow Skin might be the same village as Militia Springs? We are dealing with the same stretch of water. After forming Prairie Creek, the water flows west into Cowskin Creek just east of Arno. And Cowskin Creek then flows into Beaver Creek just west of Arno. Obviously, we would expect the site of Cow Skin to be on Cowskin Creek, but by stretching the imagination we might concede a site on Prairie Creek by virtue of the fact that Prairie Creek is a tributary of Cowskin Creek.

In fact, an old map from 1874 shows the village of Cow Skin on Prairie Creek to the south and a little west of the town of Ava. This is an important map because it shows the relationship of the two villages shortly after the postal changes.

What we have in this innocent looking map is a revelation in the history of Ava This map shows the site of Cow Skin right in the middle of Section 11, Township 26, Range 16, Section 11 now contains the City of Ava. The map shows the site of Ava in Section 2, a location which might fit the description for the W. A. Huff farm of the supposed site of the log building tradition says is the Militia Springs post office.

Now that we have discovered the site of the Cow Shin village and even found the possible original site of Ava, which must have been abandoned at some time, are we any closer to finding Militia Springs? The answer is no!

Columbia J. Mankin states that Gen. Samuel R. Curtis’ army of state militia had its headquarters at Militia Springs. She says there were 12,000 men camped all up and down Prairie Creek beginning a block north of the public square.

Mankin reports in her book that the little post office was on the north edge of the camp, taking its name from the 11 springs within a mile or so of Prairie Creek. According to Mankin, Gen. Curtis’ headquarters was located about where the old Yeoman house stands and he got his water from the Greshem Springs, the largest at that time, which is just south of the Clinkingbeard Funeral Home.

Regarding the Militia Springs post office, J. E. Curry’s Reminiscent History of Douglas County reports that a government post office was set up and housed in a log structure … George Tompkins, a public spirited pioneer, served as the postmaster.

Now G. W. Tompkins was an early pioneer and homesteaded in the immediate area of Ava on Sept. 19, 1853. And there is a tradition of his being postmaster of a post office just north of the current Ava square, but it would have been much before the Civil War so it would not have been called Militia Springs.

In a story reprinted from the Douglas County Herald, J.M. Turner, who was born at Arno in 1849, recounted his thoughts of the area in 1864 when he left for north Missouri. He says there was not town where Ava is and that the area was known as the California Barrens.

According to an interview in the Historical Records Survey of Missouri the first post office in what is now Douglas County was know as California Barrens. It was established in 1855 with George Tompkins as postmaster. This spot may have been close to California Springs which was a popular local spot in the early 1850s as the launch point for the trip out west. Many men met at this spring in north Ava to join wagon trains to California to seek their fortunes. The spring was located in what is now the central subdivision of Ava. People came from as far away as 200 miles to join the wagon trains here.

Supposedly in 1858 this post office was moved near the Reynolds and Kelton stores which were near the present public square. AS yet, there has been documentation for the California Barrens post office; also none for the Militia Springs facility.

George W. Tompkins was indeed an early postmaster. The postal archives do not associate his name with California Barrens, however, but with Cow Skin. He was the third postmaster being appointed April 14, 1856.

Cow Skin Post Office and Postmaster Established as Cow Skin

Dec. 10, 1849

William Turner, Dec. 10, 1849; John B. Potter, Nov. 2, 1854; George W. Tompkins, April 4, 1856; John H. Thompson, Nov. 29, 1859; Discontinued Nov. 21, 1865; David Bruton, April 22, 1867; Discontinued Oct. 29, 1868; George Mallonee, Dec. 8, 1868; Moses Reynolds, Sept. 19, 1871, name changed to Ava.

Why did the name Militia Springs catch the spirit of the early settlers here? Did the state militia really camp at Ava? Mankin believed the stories of 12,000 men camped on Prairie Creek but we don’t know when this might have occurred.

There is a possibility that Gen. Curtis did come through the are. On April 18, 1862, Curtis organized his army at Forsyth into sections for the march to the east. On April 19, the advance units left Forsyth and spent the night on Little Beaver. High water kept them there over the 20th. On the 21st, the first section of advance troops reached Camp Beaver on the east side of Big Beaver Creek just below the mouth of Prairie Creek (near Arno). The following day, they marched to Vera Cruz and later on to West Plains. It is possible that they followed Prairie Creek from Arno all the way to where Ava is located now (Cow Skin back then).

There is also a story of Col. John F. Phillips spending the night along Prairie Creek during the Civil War.

W.F. “Bid” Reynolds wrote an article in 1946 in which he said that Wash Mallonee was postmaster at Militia Springs before it was changed to Ava. He said in 1871, M.C. Reynolds was named poster and the name was changed to Ava, Mo. He carried the contents of the post office to a new location in a towsack over his shoulder.

George Washington Mallonee was the last postmaster of Cow Skin, being appointed in 1868. M.C. Reynolds was named postmaster at Cow Skin on Sept 19, 1871, and changed the name to Ava. Tradition says the name of the post office was Militia Springs but official documents say it was Cow Skin.

At any rate, the records of the new Ava post office list the first postmaster under the new name as Moses C. Reynolds, appointed April 9, 1872, with a notation, “late Cowskin.”

As so often happens with historical research, one step forward is followed by three steps backwards. And so it is with the early history of Ava. We have found the original post office serving the area, that being Cow Skin, but the ghost of Militia Springs is till with us, just as vague and shadowy as it was when we started out.