MacDonald Territory by Louis Forster

Back in '61, written rumor says that Noel, Missouri, Postmaster Howard Cates hand cancelled 6,000 Christmas card covers in a single day, over 60,000 the holiday season. Even allowing for the tall-tale tradition of Missourians, he performed a feat. Shipped worldwide, almost all of the covers had an attention-gathering McDonald Territory stamp affixed next to the U. S. postage.

When the Missouri State Highway Commission published the annual Family Vacationland map in 1961, all mention of McDonald County (site of Joplin, Carthage and Noel) was omitted. This meant trouble, the region was THE vacation spot in southwest Missouri at that time. Action was, obviously, necessary and was forthcoming from the local residents in an imaginative style.

Two versions of the unfolding story came forth. Firstly, the local merchants called their state legislators home and drafted a resolution for McDonald County to secede from the State of Missouri. The legislators returned to the Capital with the drafts in hand. An independent McDonald Territory was to become a reality. A second version, and I think less likely, is that the Cherokee Tribal Council of the Indian Reservation near Grand Lake was approached with a proposal to join in the succession.

A local Territorial Militia was formed and visas were issued. Cars entering the Territory (especially from the South near Noel) were stopped by a militiaman and, if the occupants were not local residents, given entry visas and local tourism information.

Now for the good stuff, McDonald Territorial stamps were printed! The stamps were sold for 2 cents and were available in five colors. Records indicate that at least 30,000 sheets (of 25 stamps each) left the printing presses and that 25,000 of these were sent to Noel for usage on holiday mailings. (However, I might note, that I have seen the yellow stamp in a sheet of 50.) The "stamp" was placed just to the left of the proper amount of regular U. S. postage on the envelope or card. The McDonald Territorial stamp would then receive a cancellation.

Figure 1 - Five McDonald Territory 2 cent Stamps
Yellow/blue; Yellow/brown; Orange/black; Yellow/black; & Yellow/Red

The stamps were sold almost everywhere - main street shops, service stations (remember this is 1961), diners, taverns, ... Everywhere except U.S. post offices. The five different color stamps are shown in Figure 1 with four being Yellow with a different color printing and border and the fifth (3rd one in the top row) is orange with black lettering and border. Figure 2 is a cover from Noel with two special features: an unusual large blue 'NOEL McDONALD TERRITORY 1961' circular hand stamp cancellation over the Territorial stamp and a destination of Coffeyville, Kansas. The cover is postmarked Noel MO Jun 20 1961 with the post offices CDS and is franked with a 4 Boys Clubs of America Movement stamp (Scott #1163).

Figure 2 - McDonald Territory Stamp on Commercial Cover from Noel, Missouri to Coffeyville, Kansas

Although I assume, as you have probably guessed, all of this was publicity and tourism gesture that resulted from an unfortunate printing oversight, some of those in Jefferson City took the Territorial attempt more seriously. A flurry of intense pressure followed (perhaps also jokingly): all State retirement pension payments in McDonald County would be withheld, all state employees living in the County dismissed, and all possible state funding terminated.

Today the stamps and covers of beloved McDonald Territory are sought mainly by philatelists. Not being easily found, nice specimens of the stamps bring $1-2 each and nice covers $5 and upwards.

For a final note, you might ask me, "How does one classify these curious stamp-like things?" Well, they are not postage stamps or revenues and they are not local post stamps. These "stamps" fall into the large category of cinderellas and into the sub-category of publicity seals. In the words of the late guru of seal collectors, R. C. Mosbaugh, of Joplin, "they are a pseudo postal issue with no duty other than propaganda."

Figure 3 - Back of the cover depicting overhanging bluffs along Hwy. 59 and Noel, MO publicity & tourism notes

The back of the McDonald Territorial cover presents a scenic view of overhanging bluffs along highway 59 through the Ozark area. The Noel, Missouri publicity and tourism notes: 'Come along to the land of enchantment . . . the heart of Ozark vacationland . . . away from cares and anxieties where you can rest, fish, swim, boat and have genuine fun.

Footnote:Cover courtesy of J. R. VanCleave our Coffeyville Collector.

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Posted November, 2005 RR