The history of Oronogo is closely tied to the history of the mining industry in Southwest Missouri. The first known settlers to the area around the current City of Oronogo, arrived in the mid 1840's. In the late 1840's, an unidentified settler found strong deposits of galena on the banks of Center Creek in the vicinity of the future site of Oronogo.
The town was platted in 1856 by Stephen Paine.Minersville, at the breaking out of the Civil War, contained about 25 houses. After the Civil War, a post office was established in Minersville called the Center Creek Post Office and Charles W. Elliott was appointed Postmaster. It was soon discovered that there was a town in Christian County called Minersville and that it was necessary to give the place another name. The name Minersville, however still clung to the camp and letters were frequently addressed to "Minersville Center Creek Post Office" and were almost always sent to Christian County. In order to avoid this confusion, the post office asked Mr. Elliott to select a new name for the post office. A public meeting was called at the Granby office to discuss this subject and agree upon a suitable name. A number of names were proposed, among them: "Leadville, Galena, and Mineral Point". After much discussion, a man in the back of the room arose and said "Boys its Ore or no go". in response, a compromise was offered, "Oro" was the Spanish word for Ore and to drop the or from the sentence would make a euphonious word, meaning "ore" "or" "no" "go"; so the name was agreed to and the town became know as "Oronogo".
Oronogo continued to grow during the 1870's. On August 4, 1873, a single chunk of lead was uncovered only eight feet below the surface. It weighed 60,000 pounds and sold for $5,000.00 making the two lucky miners rich in a day. In 1876, the Centennial year, Oronogo was incorporated as a town.
On May 13, 1883, the town was destroyed by a tornado. During the rest of the century, Oronogo made substantial gain in population and experienced a considerable size and building boom. The bank of Oronogo was established in 1892. That bank was robbed in 1932 by Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker.
After the turn of the Century, Oronogo continued to be a major producer of lead and zinc. Most famous was the "Circle Mine" described as "the greatest zinc producer in the world". It was sold in 1914 at a price of approximately $500,000.00. Operations at the mine were conducted at three levels: 150 feet, 240 feet, 360 feet and a thousand ton concentrating plant was erected for cluing the dirt. At one time after the first World War, approximately 4,000 people lived in Oronogo.
With the end of the mining boom, after the Second World War, many of the old mines were simply abandoned in place. Oronogo experienced a gradual decline in its economic and social base and ancillary decline in population. During the 50's, 60's and 70's the community struggled with a lack of financial resources, as its population served to feed neighboring community work force demands. Oronogo's school consolidated in the 50's with Webb City School District. The elementary school was closed in the mid 60's. The U.S. Air Force maintained a base on "Radar Hill", from which planes ran simulated bombing missions during the Cold War. It also closed around 1965.
Commencing in the mid 70's and continuing in the 80's the influx of State and Federal money enabled the community to build the Community Building/City Hall and to improve its water, sewer and natural gas infrastructure. This led to a dramatic increase in the demand for services as available land for development in other communities was consumed. Oronogo began a police force in the mid 90's. The community was awarded a $600,000.00 CDBG Grant for housing rehabilitation and streets. Census data reveals that Oronogo is one of the fastest growing communities in the State of Missouri.
10th Rader Bomb Scoring Squadron
In the late summer of 1963, working out of some truck vans perched on top of a barren chat mountain known as Oronogo Circle Hill, the highest point in Jasper County and according to Air Force Officials the only suitable location, the 10th Radar Bomb Scoring Squadron operated from a base that seemed hardly fitting for a unit of the famous Strategic Air Command. In fact, except for moving radar antennae, the truck vans hardly disrupted the landscape of abandoned mine relics scattered around the periphery of the hill. The structure adorns the drab hillside like a small fortress, secured against the hilltop, keeping radar vigilance over all the domain falling under the shadow of its flag. The bomb scoring installation has tested the accuracy of B-52 Bombers on practice runs over the site, with equipment on the ground receiving the electronic bomb signal from the planes and determining the accuracy of the bomb target area. Locals tell of the activity of the planes flying low overhead. Security was extremely tight so most people in the area didn’t know what was going on. The radar station was closed down around 1968 with the military personnel being reassigned to other military bases. All equipment associated with the radar bomb scoring site was released to other Air Force Units. The shut down affected some 200 persons, most of whom lived in the Webb City area. The unit came to Oronogo from the Greenville, Mississippi, area.
(Courtesy of the Oronogo Library Board book “Memories & Recipes of Oronogo Missouri”)