From time to time you are going to see posts about places with funny names that you’ve probably never heard of. I’m trying to document the Missouri Bootheel, and it’s a real challenge because photography is all about “somethings,” and many of the “somethings” south of the Benton Hills have turned into “nothings.”
Many places on old maps have ceased to exist except as maybe a crossroads with a falling-down building marking where a general store once was. In a lot of cases, the water tower is the most visible sign of public life. This is Cooter, just north of the Arkansas border in Pemiscot County. As always, click on the photos to make them larger.
How Cooter got its name (maybe)
There are several explanations for how Cooter got its name. The State Historical Society of Missouri gives this explanation:
The date of the first settlement is unknown, but evidence from a monument in Upper Cooter Cemetery shows that a settlement was made here before 1854. In 1856 this was a flourishing village. It was first settled as a hunting and fishing camp on Pemiscot or Cagle Lake. Among the game shipped were the coots, members of the duck family, and it is from them that the town is said to have received its name.
H.E. Doerner, of Steele, disagrees with this theory on the ground that an old map of the county, drawn by George W. Carleton between 1883-1890 gives the spelling Couter. He maintains that the town was named from an old family of that name, or that the township received its name first from the French word “coutre” or “couter” which he says means to cut, indicating that this township was cut from others. The French word couter, however, does not mean to cut but to cost and the significance Mr. Doerner attached to the word is lost. It is true that the township was first spelled Coutre or Couter in the county court records from 1883-1890, and the name of the town was so spelled by Goodspeed in 1888. Portell Coutre, a Frenchman, was a resident of New Madrid in 1795, and it is possible that he moved to this vicinity and the settlement was named for him. In 1924 the post office department changed the name to Coutre to avoid confusion with Cooper in Gentry County, but after a year’s trial the spelling Cooter was resumed.
Genealogist weighs in
The Pemiscot County Gen Web leans to the Portell theory:
Houck’s History of Missouri, Volume 2, page 151, lists PORTELL COUTRE as a settler of New Madrid, MO. in 1795. The Encyclopedia of Missouri, page 218 of the Missouri Gazetter, says the town of ‘Cooter was named in 1854 for the Coutre family of New Madrid, one of whom was a merchant there in 1795.’
PORTELL COUTRE is the only Coutre family member identified by Houck as a resident of New Madrid in 1795 so therefore is the head of the family Cooter
was named for.
Cooter High School
One bright spot is the well-kept Cooter High School, Home of The Wildcats. I was curious who Mr. Pritchard was, so I turned to David Kelley, the man who turned me on to this project. He remembered Delmar Pritchard as a former pro boxer who was built like a fireplug. When he served as a teacher in principal in Cooter and Steele, “he didn’t have any discipline problems,” Mr. Kelley said.
His obituary in The Steele Enterprise said he was born in Carroll County, Tenn., on November 30, 1909, and died May 6, 1984, at the Chickasawba Hospital in Blytheville. He moved with his parents from Tennessee to Pemiscot County in 1915.
He attended the Number Eight School and the Caruthersville High School, graduating in 1931. He graduated from college in Jonesboro, Ark.
Delmar “Kid” Pritchard taught school in Caruthersville, Micola, Hayti, Steele and Cooter. He also was principal and coached in Cooter High School. He retired from teaching in 1975. Mr. Pritchard was a self-employed farmer.
His students loved him
I usually stay away from topix because it’s mostly filled with illiterate rants from people with more idle time than class or good judgement. I was pleasantly surprised when my Google search turned up these comments:
- Love to hear some comments on the best Principal Cooter ever had. He was one of the sweetist and strictist person I knew. I loved him dearly and was glad to see the sign out in front of the school with his name on it. Now he was Mr. C.H.S.
- I respected Mr Pritchard and all the teachers back when I was in school, 40 years ago, Only time I every got a lick from his Famous Paddle was when all of us Seniors got out on the Fire escape which was really dangerous, because it wasn’t very stable. He just tapped the girls, but when it came to the boys he let them have it. The way things are in school today, I think of my school day as being very memorable.
- Mr. Pritchard was the best. He loved the kids and wasn’t afraid of the politics in the school system when it came to fairness and students getting what they deserved. It didn’t matter to him who you were or if you had a “name” or “money”. If you were the best and deserved whatever you got it and Mr. Pritchard was right there to fight for your rights. I will never forget him. He was a daddy to all the kids and loved them dearly.
He reminds me of assistant principal Wayne Goddard – Mr. G – at Central High School.
[By the way, Wife Lila pointed out that there were a lot of spelling and other errors in the post. I told her it was all cut and paste. For once, the mistakes aren’t mine.]