by Marcia Napier, Grain Valley Historical Society
Often the subject for this column comes from questions from the readers. This week’s topic, “Sni-a-Bar,” comes from perusing the Historical Society files. Over the past many years, numerous newspaper stories have been archived. It appears there are as many explanations for the name as there are researchers and writers of the stories.
Sni-A-Bar Township was established in Jackson County in 1834. It encompassed land stretching from the Little Blue River east to the county line and roughly 4 miles north and south of what is today Interstate 70. In other words, the township runs from just west of Blue Springs to just east of Oak Grove with Grain Valley as its’ center. Early pioneers named the township for the two previously named creeks that crisscross the township and flow north to the Missouri River.
It is generally agreed that the work “sni” is derived from one of two French words: chenal (creek) or chenail (river channel). It is the “a-Bar” that has kept people guessing and I can assure you this writer is no closer to an answer than the many who have speculated this mystery. Let’s begin this week with a story taken from the Kansas City Star and published on March 23, 1914.
“Out in the eastern hills of Jackson County, close to the Lafayette County line, Sni-a-bar creek wanders among well wooded hills of oak and hickory. It has never been anything but Sni-a-bar Creek, and the hills have been the Sni Hills since a time when the memory (of pioneer settlers) ran not to the contrary. And very rightly, too. For there’s a story connected to the Sni-a-bar country, which perhaps had not been heard by the man who wrote to The Star the other day demanding that the new highway to that portion of the county take the name East Wood Road rather than Sni-a-bar.
“Once upon a time—this story begins in the delightfully indefinite manner of fairy tales and other proper lore—once upon a time there was a Frenchman named Abar. At least, that was the way his name was pronounced. We do not know very much about him, except that he liked to poke the nose of his boat into waters he didn’t know, and that he was always filled with curiosity to know what lay around the next bend, or over the next hill.
“He set about out of New Orleans up the main highway of the Mississippi River. It must have been quite early spring, with a lingering edge of winter in the air as one rowed northward through the moss-hung trees. Ten men pulled the great boat, or polled it, or trotted along the bank with the cordelle or tow rope. So they came up the Mississippi and struggled through the turbulent, tossing, menacing gateway of the Missouri, where it poured out its yellow waters angrily.
“Then the long voyage up the Missouri was begun. How turbulent a stream. But consider, that it was all quite new and that around those castled cliffs. Abar must, without a doubt, have a little swagger in his swinging walk, and a touch of crimson in his costume. But gayety or not it was hard work making headway against the yellow stream, that was how Sni-a-bar happened to be discovered. Out of what is now Lafayette County, they came upon this quiet waterway.
“A little breathing space, a quiet time, a resting from the river. A sni is French for slough; Abar fancied he had struck a quiet loop of back water which would lead him again to the river in a mile or two, But, in a mile it became apparent that there was no slough, but a small stream. And so the board was turned and they polled back to the Missouri.
“He named the slough after himself. And he polled out of sight and hearing with a song and a laugh. Whatever he did, we don’t know, except that was of no great importance. There was without doubt some trading with the Indians, a little bland and roguish trafficking, And who can say how many trifling creeks may not have drawn the long boat’s prying nose from its course. You may safely let your fancy run riot with Abar, for there is little enough known of him that you’ll run no risk of contradiction.
“Sni-a-Bar Township—sometimes spelled with two hyphens, sometimes one and sometimes none—took its name, of course, from the stream, and so did the hills from which flow the tiny streams that make the small river. And really, wouldn’t it be a great shame to take the name away, with all its glamour of romance?
“East Wood Road, indeed! You might have an East Wood Road anywhere. But there’s only one Sni-a-Bar in the whole world, as far as the atlas can show.”
Next Week: Other stories behind the name, Sni-a-Bar.
The Grain Valley Historical Society Museum is located at 506 South Main Street and online at www.grainvalleyhistory.com.