- Associated Press - Sunday, August 6, 2017

DECATUR, Ill. (AP) - It seemed like such a simple question: “What does Moweaqua mean?”

We’ve all been past the little town 16 miles south of Decatur on U.S. 51. A simple Google search revealed the town had a population of 1,861 and, as its website boasts, it’s the “one and only.”

H&R; reporter Donnette Beckett is from Moweaqua, and has actually done research on the subject of the origin of the town’s name. She came to this conclusion: “You know how kids make up nonsense words to name their dolls?” she said. “That’s what happened.”

Beckett was referring to the story of Mattie Wells, whose father worked laying railroad in the area. Wells is credited for choosing the name, though why she chose the name isn’t clear.

Originally it was spelled Moawequa, which is possibly a Native American word, in some form, meaning “weeping woman,” ”wolf woman,” or “muddy waters,” depending on the source. Though accounts vary on how, when the city’s name was entered into state record, it was inadvertently spelled, “Moweaqua.”

Beckett was skeptical of the word’s Native American origin, but said she knew who to ask for a more reliable version of the story: Moweaqua Historical Society member Debby Arnold.

Arnold grew up in Moweaqua, and though she hasn’t lived there for 30 years, she still spends time there, particularly in the Moweaqua Public Library genealogy room. There, Arnold researches for a history column she writes occasionally in the Golden Prairie News, a weekly newspaper published in Assumption.

“Muddy waters is what we were always told growing up,” Arnold said of the name, which was the subject of one of her columns. “There are a lot of theories out there. I tend to lean toward it being weeping woman or wolf woman. I definitely think it came from a Native American word, it’s just not spelled the same.”

Arnold loves everything Moweaqua. Riding in a car with her in town quickly becomes a tour of the city as she points to houses her dad built, including the one she grew up in, and gives background about the city’s prominent houses, churches and businesses.

Her interest in Moweaqua’s history even helped earn the Moweaqua Public library a grant from State Farm Insurance in Bloomington, where Arnold worked before retiring, and led to her writing the history column.

The Good Neighbor Grant is awarded to charitable organizations at which a State Farm employee or retiree donates 40 hours of volunteer time in a calendar year. They grants are $500 and Arnold has earned one for the library for four years, for a total of $2,000.

Arnold volunteers at the library and also uses her time to research her column.

In those four years, Arnold has turned up plenty of interesting facts. It turns out that the origin of the town’s name isn’t the only fact most don’t know about Moweaqua.

Here are just a few:

-Ephraim Adamson wasn’t born in Moweaqua, but he settled there after the Civil War and is buried in the Independent Order of Odd Fellows Cemetery in Moweaqua.

Adamson was born in Pennsylvania and enlisted in the Union Army in 1863. He was assigned to the Union Light Guard. Before the days of the Secret Service, the Union Light Guard acted as bodyguards to President Abraham Lincoln when he was traveling around Washington, D.C., and also guarded the president’s house and several other buildings.

The Union Light Guard was not in charge of protecting Lincoln the night he was shot at Ford’s Theatre on April 14, 1865. A detail from the Washington, D.C., Metropolitan Police was assigned to the event that night.

-Martha and James Booker, who raised horses in Moweaqua in the late 1800s, had 15 children. Of the nine boys, five became professional jockeys.

One of those brothers, Hal Booker, won the 1915 Kentucky Derby riding Judge Himes, and also earned a win at the Hawthorne Handicap. Another Booker brother, Alvin, won the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair Handicap, which had a then-record purse of $10,000.

-Isabella Withers was born in Frankton, Indiana, but spent much of her childhood in Moweaqua with her grandparents and other family members. She went off to Kansas City for drama school and signed by the Pageant Film Company. At 21, she traveled to New York to start a stage career.

During the 1910s, ‘20s and ‘30s, she had parts in more than 40 movies, working with Joan Crawford, Barbara Stanwyck, Marlene Dietrich, Bette Davis, Jack Benny and Gary Cooper, among others.

Withers is buried in Moweaqua.

-Michael Schneider was an immigrant from Germany who borrowed $50 to buy 40 acres of government land, then turned it into the 2,000 acres of land on which Moweaqua was founded in 1852.

In 1854, Schneider built a house called the Old Homestead that was later owned by Archers Daniels Midland and lived in by Marc Whitacre, subject of the 2009 film “The Informant!,” about the early 1990s lysine price-fixing scandal at Archer Daniels Midland Co. Parts of the movie were filmed in the home, which still stands.

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Source: (Decatur) Herald & Review, https://bit.ly/2tkVlQL

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Information from: Herald & Review, https://www.herald-review.com


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