The village of Pershing was originally known as Potsdam. Several stories are told about the origin of the name; one is that the original settlers came from Potsdam, Germany, and it is said they named it for their home. Another version is that a man name Potts built a dam nearby, and it was named for that reason. Still another story is that when it came time to submit a name for a post office, Representative James "Champ" Clark was given the job of providing the name. He chose Potsdam in honor of the German city south of Berlin.
The town rests on a hilltop high above a horseshoe bend in the Gasconade River, in southwest Richland township. In the 1960s, German Americans began buying farmland along the lower Gasconade River, and in 1883, the German Reformed Zion Congregation was formed. Early services were held in members' homes and later a frame church was built on the bluff overlooking the river.
A school was begun in 1849, with 21 students. The teacher's salary was $32.00. By 1870, the district was maintaining a four-month school term, and the salary for the teacher was $40.00 per month. A new limestone building was erected in 1878. The enrollment in 1908 was 54 students who were taught by one teacher, C.M. Danuser.
In the 1880s, ferry service became available across the Gasconade. This continued until the 1920s. Fiegler's Ferry and Brown's Shanty Ferry each charged 50 cents per crossing. It was noted that this was a stiff rate to pay at that time.
Among the early buildings and businesses were the Modern Woodmen Lodge, a Blacksmith Shop, a general store, building contractor (who built homes for 25 cents a day), boarding house, a doctor and other farming-related businesses.
In 1914, many Americans looked to the German-Americans with suspicion. Families who had corresponded with their relatives in Germany no longer sent letters or packages. In 1916, Mrs. Lottie Workman and Mrs. Held gathered enough signatures on a petition to have the name of the Post Office changed. The name of Pershing was selected to honor Missouri-born General John J. "Blackjack" Pershing. The General was commander of the American Expeditionary Forces to be sent to Europe.
Today the village of Pershing is a quiet place, which has a restaurant in the renovated "John Deere" Implement Store, a rural church, and some homes that are owned by weekenders that like to be part of the peaceful countryside.