by Marcia Napier, Grain Valley Historical Society
Last week, readers were introduced to perhaps the most accurate reason, but there are numerous other theories as to how the name “Sni-a-Bar” came to exist. In addition to the possibility that the name was first given to the creek explored by a Frenchman named Abar who believed he had found a “sni” (the French word for slough) or backwater which would lead him back to the Missouri River, there are other theories,
A July 12, 1925, article in the Kansas City Star reported that University of Missouri professor Urban T. Homes, an instructor in romance philology, theorized that Sni-a-Bar came from chenal-a-boire (pronounced shni-ya-BWAR), meaning “stream to be drunk.”
However logical that may sound, the same article offers a second theory which may be more accurate. Author Robert M. Snyder Jr. researched the subject at some length and believed the nom-de-creek came from Antoine Hubert (pronounced something like yu-BEAR). He was a Frenchman who traded along the Missouri Rivers and its’ tributaries. A rough prairie pronunciation of this Frenchman’s creek (chenail-a-Hubert) would have sounded close to “Sni-a-Bar.” Snyder bases his conclusion on a book published in 1829 in Germany by Prince Paul of Wurtemberg, who traveled up the Missouri in 1822 and refers to “chenal-a-Hubert.”
In her Masters of Arts thesis completed in 1937, Anne Atchison’s “Place Names of Five West Central Counties of Missouri,” Atchison offers her theory for the name.
“Many explanations have been offered for the origin of this foreign looking word. The most feasible one is that it was derived from the French work chenal, or its dialect pronunciation “chenail,” which means channel, plus the personal name Robert. The change from Chenel Hubert to Sniabar is a phonetic one. An island near the mouth of the stream forms a channel from which part of the word is derived, and Antoine Hubert was a French merchant of St. Louis known to have been in the vicinity of Sniabar.”
In researching the name, one can also find many spellings! Euebert 1803; Chenal on Barre 1819-1820; Chenal Ebert 1823; C. aux Hebert 1826; Hebert Creek 1832; Slue Abar 1834, Shnee-a-bar 1834; Shne-bar 1834; Schuyte Aber 1837; Snybar 1855; Snyabar 1859 and finally Sniabar 1869.
Creeks, a township, a road, a farm and even a school share the name, yet it’s source will probably always remain a mystery.
The Grain Valley Historical Society Museum is located at 506 South Main Street and online at www.grainvalleyhistory.com.