‘Ozarks’ rich in Missouri, social history

By A Contributor

The Ozarks form a rugged, mountainous area in southwestern Missouri and northwestern

Arkansas-an area which has an interesting character and history of its own that is not well known.

Lynn Morrow selected 14 articles, taken from the “Missouri Historical Review” of 1973-2006.

They cover the period from the 1820’s until after World War II, more or less -from the arrival of the prominent white settler and indian trader, William Gilliss .

Morrow’s introduction summarizes each article. They deal with a different aspect of how geography affected the area’s settlement, use, and development, and people’s attitudes toward them.

Articles deal with race relations generally, and with White dealings first with the Indians, and later with the African-Americans. Gilliss went into the Indian trade after the War of 1812 and followed it west as the Indians were displaced, eventually becoming a prominent inhabitant of Kansas City.

Gillis Street is named after him.

When someone owned a slave, but did not need his services, he would be rented out to someone else. The iron founding industry developed in the area by using rented slaves.

In 1901, all of the black inhabitants of Pierce City were driven out in a single night because of the lynching of a black man who was alleged to have raped a white woman.

The African-Americans had to develop their own recreational facilities, facilities which became unnecessary after integration in the 1960s. A group of businessmen established Lake Placid, an artificial lake and its surrounding area, where blacks built both vacation and permanent houses.

Articles tell of changes in farming practices, crops, and livestock from early subsistence farming and hunting existence to today’s large, specialized, and highly mechanized operations. The first settlers eked out an existence as best they could by using fire to clear land, which they then planted to meet their barest needs; they supplemented their crops with hunting. These practices continued well into the twentieth century.

Over time, farmers experimented with different crops and livestock, both for their own use and for market. As demands changed, crops and animals did, too. Mechanization and railroads, starting in the latter nineteenth century, opened up new possibilities.

Articles tell of the Civil War experiences of civilians as well as Confederate and Union troops. First one side, then the other, would occupy a town; by the time the war was over, towns had been destroyed and their occupants displaced. The terrain made for rugged soldiering and slow troop movement. Troops from Iowa thought it a Godforsaken wilderness that nobody could possibly live in, much less fight a war in.

An article tells of the growth of socialism and the labor union movement in the Springfield area from the latter nineteenth century to 1912. Aside from the powerful railroad unions, the Knights of Labor, founded in the 1880s, was the pre-eminent group because of its inclusiveness, but it was effectively gone by the late 1890s. The unions were able to achieve some significant labor reforms in the Ozark area.

Articles tell of the effects of the different modes of transportation, particularly the railroads, on the growth of population, agriculture, and trade. Dirt roads were difficult to travel and affected by the weather. As a result, people were limited in their ability to move around, and they had to transport all of their farm products to area markets by horse drawn wagons; they could not ship them to St. Louis, Kansas City, and other urban areas. The railroads changed all of that, opening up the world as their market.

Tourism developed in the latter nineteenth century. After the railroads were built, people from St. Louis, Kansas City, and cities in between, liked to vacation in the Ozarks because of the area’s rustic nature. Businesses built resorts with luxury hotels and recreational facilities, and offered river excursion trips. Over time, tourism has become a major source of income for the area.

The articles are mostly text with few illustrations. The editor should have included a regional map since the authors constantly refer to cities, counties, rivers, and so on.

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