How The Town of Cabool Got Its Name

Jul 8, 2009

In our ongoing series, A Sense of Place, we look at the history of the Ozarks, and delve into what helped shape the region to become what it is today. In this segment, KSMU’s Jennifer Moore is on the road visiting a small Ozarks town, where locals have speculated for decades on the history behind a large part of their town’s identity: its name.

Reporter Standup:

It’s a hot, summer morning, and I’m taking a stroll down Main Street in Cabool, Missouri. That’s in south-central Missouri, a small town of about 2,000 people. We’re trying to figure out how Cabool got its name. So right now, I’m gonna go into the “Corner Café” here on Main Street—where I’m told a lot of locals gather—and see what their opinions are.”

“Oh, I’d say from the Indians. My great-great Grandmother was Cherokee,” says Cabool resident Earl Lawson, who grew up here. He’s eating breakfast with Rick Carroll, who also believes the town may bear an American Indian name.

“Well, I went to high school here, and I graduated in 1966. And in the yearbook, they had a poem about Chief Cabool. And that’s the only legend—it’s supposed to be a legend—that Chief Cabool was in love, and his maiden was from this area. And so he set up a camp in this area, and lived and died in this here town. And then the other legend is that it was named after a town in Afghanistan: Kabul.”

A few tables over, a senior citizen named John Woolard says he’s somewhat familiar with the debate over how Cabool was named.

“This was in the local paper several years ago—an article that a guy wrote. He said that when Cabool was first being organized, a world traveler had been to Kabul, Afghanistan. And he was telling stories about his travels and all. And they decided to name this town after Kabul, Afghanistan, but he misspelled it. He didn’t know how to spell it. He knew how to pronounce it, but not how to spell it,” he says.

And as it turns out, local historians say he’s on to something.

Betty Perry is the president of the Cabool History Society, and she works at the town’s museum on Pine Street.

“I think when the railroad came through, the surveyors are the ones that named it,” says Perry.

One of those surveyors of the Frisco railroad in the late 1800s was an Englishman by the name of Ralph Walker. As Perry flips through the museum’s old archives, she comes across one account of Mr. Walker and reads a few lines from it.

“And one of the surveyors, an Englishman, said the country ground reminded him of a place he had once seen when he was serving the King’s Fusiliers. ‘And what was that?’ asked one of his companions. ‘A place called Kabul in Afghanistan, near India,’ said the Englishman, spelling it out. ‘That ought to be a good name for this place,’ said the chief surveyor, ‘but it sounds a little foreign.’So therefore, we get into [how] the Englishman told that the British captured Kabul, K-A-B-U-L, and the British had written the name C-A-B-O-O-L in official reports. Spelled that way, it didn’t sound so foreign,” Perry says.

Another account from a 1914 article in the Cabool Enterprise newspaper said Mr. Walker had a brother who was killed in the Battle of Kabul in Asia, and named this town after it.

The British did invade Kabul, Afghanistan in 1839 and again in 1879, in an attempt to strengthen the British Empire in central Asia. Perry says the fact that Cabool, Missouri, spells its name differently than the Afghani city doesn’t discredit the theory of it originating from there.

Online, we found an antique map of Afghanistan from the 18th Century German cartographer, Matthias Seutter. He also spelled the capital city, Kabul, with a “C”: C-A-B-U-L.

Interestingly, although the Missouri town is spelled “C-A-B-O-O-L,” if you walk down Main street a bit, you’ll notice that the Kabul Nursing Home uses the spelling identical to the city in Afghanistan, “KABUL.” Also, the high school yearbook has always been printed with a “K.”

Perry says there are two other theories of how Cabool got its name: one is that it was named after an American Indian chief—Chief Cabool—who leapt to his death here after he was not allowed to marry a maiden from another tribe. Perry believes this is merely a legend.

The second is that it was named after a land mentioned in the Bible—Cabul, a place which the Old Testament describes as barren and displeasing.

(Sound of Train in Cabool)

The railroad lines which led Cabool to incorporate as a town in 1884 still run though the town’s center. And they may be the only real keepers of the story as to how Cabool did get its name.

For KSMU’s Sense of Place, I’m Jennifer Moore in Cabool, Missouri.