Zebra, and a little geology

The tiny hamlet of Zebra has long since been swallowed up by Osage Beach. The original townsite was situated on a ridge about one-half mile west of Highway 54, on what would become Lake Road 54-30. It consisted of a few homes and assorted buildings. When the lake filled in 1931, the town--or at least its post office and general store--moved east to the highway junction. Within a few years, commercial development in the area began to blur the distinction between Zebra and nearby Osage Beach. By 1960 Zebra had lost its identity and had vanished from most maps.

Aerial view of the Grand Glaize Bridge and vicinity, 1936. The view is looking westward with the Glaize Arm on the left and the main Osage channel on the right. The blue arrow points to the original Zebra townsite. This site soon became resort property, known over the years as Pla-Port Resort, Mai-Tai Resort, and Osage House. It is now Land's End Condominiums. (Photo courtesy Brad Atkinson)

Before the lake came in, Zebra was best known as a steamboat landing on the Osage River. The river followed close along the base of the bluffs on the east side of Shawnee Bend. Zebra landing was little more than a flat spot located just below the mouth of the Grand Glaize River. Normally, Linn Creek was the head of navigation on the Osage River, but in seasons of low water everything was off loaded at Zebra, instead.

Lighthouse on Zebra Point, circa 1940. This was the only privately operated lighthouse in the nation.

So how did a sleepy little settlement like Zebra get its name? Well, you see, that's the geology part of the story.

The dolomite stone that forms both the bedrock and bluff faces of the area is normally light gray in color. But dolomite carries impurities in it, including pockets of iron and manganese. Surface water, made slightly acidic by the decomposition of plant material, percolates down through the cracks and dissolves the dolomite.

Sometimes this dissolving underground water encounters concentrations of iron and manganese. The two elements are similar, and both are oxidized by contact with acidic water. The now-tainted water continues through the cracks and bedding layers until it seeps out of a bluff face. If it carries iron oxide, it stains the bluff a rusty color, if it carries manganese oxide it stains the bluff black.

The bluffs around Zebra were marked by black streaks from manganese oxide. The streaks looked very much as though black paint had been poured in rivelets down the steep rock faces. In contrast to the lighter colored dolomite that had not been stained, the overall appearance of the rock outcroppings took on an appearance similar to the black and white pattern of a zebra. This was especially noticable from the river, so naturally steamboatmen christened the place Zebra.

Although some of the bluffs around Zebra are now underwater, the black and white patterns are evident on dolomite outcroppings throughout the lake area. While rust from iron oxide tends to uniformly stain an entire bluff face, the black streaks from manganese oxide often resemble tar oozing out from between layers of rock.

Text © 2002 by Michael Gillespie. All rights reserved.