How did ‘El Dorado get its name?

From the new book, Haunted:

Was the town actually named for a brand of Tequila and a Saloon, or for the “Black Gold” (oil) that would come 70-years later? That’s a good question, and the correct answer is clouded in the veil of history. But let’s look at the facts. The name, “El Dorado,” in Spanish means, ‘The Golden,’ and supposedly the town was named by the four men who surveyed the town site. These men had the task of picking a new County Seat; re-locating the County Seat from Champagnolle Landing on the Ouachita River—away from Yellow Fever and the mosquito-infested swamps along the river—to a more central spot in the county on high ground with a good water source.

 Their search took them to the site of the present day courthouse. In the mid 1800s, this particular piece of land was covered in virgin timber, and a large spring and pond occupied the spot where the courthouse now stands. The site with its good water, high ground, and a central location fit the criteria for a new county seat. The spot where the courthouse now stands is almost in the center of Union County and is one of the highest points in the county. That combined with the large spring for drinking water sealed the selection. The men came away convinced that the new county seat should be at that location, and the name of the settlement should be “El Dorado.

  But really, how on earth did these men decide to name a town in the mid-south El Dorado? Doesn’t that strike you as an unusual for a town deep in the piney woods of South Arkansas to have a Spanish name? There were no Spanish settlers in the state at that time, only English mixed with a few left over French from the early frontier days. In California or New Mexico, or even West Texas El Dorado is common because of the Spanish influence. But in South Arkansas in 1845? I think not. Where on earth did these men come up with the name ‘El Dorado’?

Of course, there’s a romantic piece of folklore—and it is strictly hearsay—about how the four-man committee came up with the name El Dorado. Yes, according to lore, these ‘visionaries,’ after narrowing the search down to an area on some high ground in almost the center of Union County, decided to name the new town El Dorado. One of these springs was located near where the Union County Courthouse now stands, and the early settlers noted the spring formed a pond that was large enough to attract ducks in the fall. This would be the site for the new county seat of Union County. 

According to this fanciful story, the men sat down on a log near the pond, and, while they rested, they discussed the name for the new town. Our local historians have a handed down account that ascertains one of the men had a vision about golden riches that would someday make this little town rich and famous. Evidently, his imagination was so vivid that he convinced the other men to name the town after the riches that would soon follow. El Dorado.

When the romantic, exotic name of El Dorado was mentioned, the men agreed ‘El Dorado’ would be the name of the new county seat—no these four men weren’t from Oz, and as unlikely as the story seems to be, it has been told over and over until it is stated as fact. The truth of the matter is that it is a total fabrication made up by a generation who wanted El Dorado to not have any blemishes associated with its past. These men were English settlers, and with the animosity toward the Spanish at that time, they would have never used a Spanish name—unless—the spot was already referred to as the ‘El Dorado….Saloon.

More to come: