HA HA TONKA, origin of the name

The tiny settlement of HA HA TONKA, located about three miles southwest of Camdenton, was formerly known as Gunter Springs, named after James G. Gunter, from Alabama, an early land owner.

The property adjacent to the village was in the Roach family when Robert G. Scott surveyed the area as a possible railroad route in the early 1890s. The plan for a rail line did not prove feasible, but Scott was convinced that he had stumbled onto something of greater value. Like so many others, he was taken aback by the scenic beauty and serenity of the immediate area, with its high bluffs, caves, and natural springs. Returning to his native Iowa in 1894, he convinced a friend named Kellogg to join him in purchasing the Roach tract.

With a flair for speculation, Scott decided his new holdings needed a name more romantic than Gunter Springs. He wanted something that would evoke a sense of lore and legend, a name as distinctive as the landforms it encompassed. He discovered, at last, just the right sounding words: Ha Ha Tonka. It was, he alleged, an Osage Indian phrase meaning "Laughing Water"--in reference to the gushing springs.

There was no solid evidence that the Indians called the place Ha Ha Tonka--only the word of an early-day settler named Lodge. And Lodge's claim was based on his recollection of a conversation with a band of Osage hunters some forty years earlier. Nevertheless, it served Scott's purpose well. At Scott's urging, the name of the nearby post office was changed from Gunter to Ha Ha Tonka in 1895. Less than a decade later, Scott sold the land at a handsome profit to Kansas City millionaire Robert Snyder. (See the Ghost of Ha Ha Tonka.) Scott retained additional tracts along the Niangua River, and in his later years he operated Camp Neongwah, a rustic retreat and campground near the banks of what was about to become the Lake of the Ozarks.

© 1999-2000 by Michael Gillespie. All rights reserved.