A long-term member of the 12MC community and I were discussing dream jobs lately, ones that combined our slightly obsessive-compulsive list-making tendencies with our respective divergent interests. Mine focused on geographic and historical oddities of multiple flavors tied together with a healthy string of County Counting progressions. The trick, as we thought about it, was to find a way for someone else to finance our peculiarities and allow us to pursue our hobbies professionally. I couldn’t find a feasible solution for my personal situation at the time although I have one now. I simply needed to add my fondness for trashy television to the mix.
Right, it would have to be a pseudo-reality show where I’d travel the countryside in a customized RV, pursing all 3,142 counties and county-equivalents, stopping at geo-oddities while providing historical context, and meeting interesting characters along the way. I’m thinking it would be targeted at the History Channel or its ilk. It might be an amalgamation of How the States Got their Shapes combined with American Pickers and maybe Only in America with Larry the Cable Guy.
I’d need a clever title. "County Counter" might be sufficient. It’s short. It’s descriptive. I think it needs a pun though, and maybe even a double entendre with a salacious second meaning that arouses curiosity and builds an initial audience. Suggestions are welcome.
I’d also need a logline. "Traveling through hidden corridors in pursuit of the real American; one man’s quest to explore the story behind every U.S. county." That’s not catchy enough. I need to find a better hook.
Then I’d need to film a pilot episode. Actually, that already began. I wrote this article in advance and set it to post on Thursday evening thanks to the magic of WordPress software. I’m already on the road heading towards the Riverboat Marathon Series. I’m not a runner, just a driver delivering a runner from site-to-site. Last year I drove between sites at the Dust Bowl Marathon Series and had a wonderful set of adventures (beginning here). One participant even self-published a book about the races. I made a minor appearance as a character known as "Beer Geek." Imagine that.
This is the basic route for the Riverboat Series. Well, not Graceland. I threw that one onto the end for my own enjoyment.
The Basic Route
I appreciated the ideas and suggestions provided by the 12MC audience and some of those will happen during the trip. I’ve done a lot of research and believe everyone will be pleased with the itinerary and the geo-oddity surprises that are likely to unfold in these pages over the next several days. Readers who are anxious to learn the plotline and maybe a few spoilers in near real-time should follow the 12MC Twitter Page (you don’t have to subscribe to Twitter; you can check that link manually). Tweets may have already begun. I guess. I can’t be certain because I wrote this days ago. Certainly I would have tweeted something by now.
I’m not fooling anyone and I don’t plan to quit my day job. My wife has stated on multiple occasions that if I want to travel full-time by RV and become a professional County Counter that it would have to be done with my NEXT wife. Point taken. For the sake of family harmony I hereby release my idea for a television pitch to the public domain. If one of you actually makes it happen, all I request in return is a nice brewpub dinner. Oh, and mention 12MC in the credits. And maybe a guest appearance.
I’ve been following Every County lately while the author winds his way virtually through, well, every county. He was at the northern end of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula at the time of publication, typing his was down from the Straits of Mackinac. The name Schoolcraft(¹) kept recurring as I read through new installments, a frequent geographic designation in Michigan.
Schoolcraft, for those unfamiliar with Michigan’s history, was Henry Rowe Schoolcraft (1793-1864), a jack-of-all-trades, a geologist, explorer, geographer, politician, ethnologist, writer, publisher, you name it. He wandered within and around many parts of the American Frontier as it was defined in early 19th Century, particularly the Upper-Midwest in Michigan and Minnesota. Consequently, a lot of places in both states bear the Schoolcraft name.
Schoolcraft County, Michigan
Schoolcraft County, Michigan, USA
Schoolcraft County was the largest geographic namesake, an area familiar to Henry Schoolcraft during his lifetime. Michigan established the original Schoolcraft County in 1843, reorganized it in 1871 and established the current boundaries in 1885 as noted in the Newberry Library’s Atlas of Historical County Boundaries for Michigan. The Schoolcraft Chamber of Commerce explained,
In 1832, the "Snowshoe Bishop" Frederic Baraga established a Catholic mission on the eastern shore of Indian Lake. It was also during this time that Henry Rowe Schoolcraft, Michigan’s first Indian Agent and the county’s namesake, was mapping the area, documenting the lives of tribal residence and negotiate treaties. Schoolcraft County was officially organized in 1871, with Manistique designated as the county seat.
I drove through this area a number of years ago on a trip around and across Lake Michigan. I’d love to return someday.
Village of Schoolcraft, Michigan
L S & M S Station, Schoolcraft, Michigan, rppc. postmarked August 31, 1908. by Wystan, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) license
Paradoxically the Village of Schoolcraft wasn’t founded in Schoolcraft County, rather it appeared on Michigan’s Lower Peninsula south of Kalamazoo (map).
The Village of Schoolcraft was the first settlement established in Kalamazoo County. In fact, the original Village was platted in 1831, six years before Michigan became a state… Lucius Lyon, who had settled in the area and who had… been a member of the Cass expedition, as well as a friend of Schoolcraft, decided to name to Village in his honor.
Schoolcraft had also been a member of the 1820 Cass Expedition, named for its leader Lewis Cass who was the Territorial Governor of Michigan. Schoolcraft served as the expedition’s geologist. Think about that for a moment. The governor led an expedition through the wilderness. Imagine the governor of any state today with enough courage and leadership to do something physically demanding, dirty, and even a little dangerous.
Schoolcraft Lake and River
Schoolcraft Lake and River
The Cass Expedition focused on several objectives and motivations, including some scientific. One involved a search for the true source of the Mississippi River in Minnesota. The explorers trekked as far inland as Cass Lake then turned back because water levels were too low for their canoes to paddle any farther in July. The expedition named the lake for its leader, declared Lake Cass the Mississippi source and called it a day.
However that differs from what people understand today, that Lake Itasca was the source. Indeed Cass Lake was many miles downstream from Itasca (map). Schoolcraft suspected the true source laid beyond Lake Cass so he returned in 1832 to finish the job, and then identified Lake Itasca as the headwaters of the mighty river.
There was a tiny Schoolcraft Island on Lake Itasca named in his honor (map)
12MC Walked Across the Mississippi River
It wasn’t very far away from the spot where one could Walk Across the Mississippi River as Twelve Mile Circle did a few years ago. However there was a more significant accolade nearby than the tiny island within Itasca, namely Schoolcraft Lake and River, the first significant tributary of the Mississippi River.
Kite Over Schoolcraft College  by Juan N Only, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) license
There were several more Schoolcraft tributes although I’ll feature only one more. Schoolcraft College was established in Livonia, Michigan, a suburb of Detroit. I thought it was creative of them to name their dining hall "Henry’s Food Court," a fitting memorial to Henry Schoolcraft.
(¹) I think the name grabbed my attention because it sounded like a version of Minecraft that might be created by an educational institution. Minecraft has become frequent and ubiquitous in our household with our two young boys. It’s all Minecraft all the time in our home.
I enjoyed compiling a list of Full Name counties in the United States earlier this week. In a comment "The Basement Geographer" improved the article significantly with a list of similarly-constructed counties in Canada. It was great work on his part. Readers should refer back to his comment and check it out.
That led me to wonder whether I might be able to find examples in other nations. I focused on places where English was an official language either by itself or alongside others, due to my lack of ability to work with other languages. The upside of this approach was that it left lots of nations for the international 12MC audience to investigate if it so chooses.
I found one example in Australia and then I hit the jackpot in South Africa.
County of Deas Thompson, Queensland, Australia
Queensland, Australia contained the County of Deas Thompson, named for Sir Edward Deas Thomson (1800-1879), a "public servant and parliamentarian" in New South Wales, and chancellor of the University of Sydney. As with a couple of examples in the United States (Jo Daviess instead of Daveiss and Anne Arundel instead of Arundell), authorities screwed-up Thomson’s name and in this case inserted an extra letter. Seriously, why would someone fail to proofread a name before affixing it permanently to the landscape?
The county, from the very little data that I could gather, was situated between Rockhampton and Gladstone on Queensland’s Capricorn Coast. I’m certainly no expert in Australian governance although the lack of any tangible information or web presence led me to believe that the so-called County of Deas Thompson couldn’t possibly retain much authority.
I’d never heard of Deas Thomson, the man, although that was hardly surprising given my lack of depth in Australian history. Fortunately the Australian Dictionary of Biography provided a remarkable amount of information, and frankly much more than I cared to review although I included the link in case it sounded interesting to anyone else.
Deas Thomson Street, Vincentia, New South Wales, Australia
Thomson was a competent administrator albeit a lesser functionary in Australian history which is probably why his name adorned a minor county in rural Queensland, a short residential street near the Jervis Bay Territory — and possibly Thompson Point in the general vicinity of the aforementioned county (map) although I couldn’t confirm that last one.
Deas Thompson Point, Northwest Territories, Canada
More inexplicable was Deas Thompson Point (again with the extra letter), a cape in Canada’s Northwest Territories. It wasn’t labeled on the online maps I examined although the coordinates were included in the Natural Resource Canada geographical names data base. Thomson did spend some time in Canada according to his biography although it didn’t seem to merit geographic representation. Clearly he had friends in high places looking out for his good name.
Kuruman, John Taolo Gaetsewe District Municipality, South Africa
I’m not sure any nation will have more full name geographic units than South Africa. It had 52 districts in total, which were roughly analogous to counties in function, and a dozen of those incorporated full names.
- Alfred Nzo District Municipality: African National Congress political leader (source)
- Chris Hani District Municipality: General-Secretary of the South African Communist Party (source)
- Dr Kenneth Kaunda District Municipality: First President of Zambia (source)
- Dr Ruth Segomotsi Mompati District Municipality: ANC official; part of delegation that negotiated peaceful transition of government (source)
- Fezile Dabi District Municipality: ANC leader; author, poet, philosopher (source)
- Frances Baard District Municipality: "Organiser of the African National Congress (ANC) Women’s League and Trade Unionist" (source)
- Gert Sibande District Municipality: "Organised farm workers, member of the ANC, accused in the Treason Trial of 1956, helped expose working conditions in Bethal, provincial president of the Transvaal ANC" (source)
- Joe Gqabi District Municipality: "Photographer, Reporter, Member of the ANC and MK" (source)
- John Taolo Gaetsewe District Municipality: "Trade unionist, member of the ANC and General Secretary of SACTU, Robben Island prisoner, banned person" (source)
- Nelson Mandela Bay Metropolitan Municipality: Nelson Mandela obviously requires no further explanation.
- Ngaka Modiri Molema District Municipality: "historian, political activist, author and medical practitioner" (source)
- Pixley ka Seme District Municipality: "Lawyer, journalist, author member of the South African Native National Congress, launched the SANNC newspaper, Abantu Batho, President-General of the ANC" (source)
Admittedly, South Africa was a unique situation. All of these geographic names arose after the peaceful dismantling of apartheid in the early 1990′s. They served as a tangible means to recognize the leaders of the struggle for equality, replacing names that had been imposed by colonial powers.