Brooks Blevins has given us a fresh and refreshing new look at the early history of the Ozarks in the first volume of A History of the Ozarks, published in July 2018 by the University of Illinois Press. I bought my copy through Amazon.
This history is refreshing because it includes many aspects of Ozarks history that I have learned and forgotten, as well as including lots of things that I never knew.
It is fresh because it does avoids the errors of many histories of the Ozarks. The introduction is essentially an essay to counter the stereotyping of the people of the Ozarks. I highly recommend the book just for this part.
In addition, the book sidesteps many errors of previous histories, rather than:
- being confined to either the Arkansas Ozarks or the Missouri Ozarks, Blevins covers both and a little of the Oklahoma Ozarks,
- overlooking the contributions of women in commerce as well as on pioneer homesteads, instead, he tells us about Betty Black’s ferry and Polly Hillhouse’s pioneer farming enterprise,
- treating Indians as as though they were here and suddenly gone, we learn about the internal divisions among the Osage as they confronted loss of hunting lands, as well as many other groups of Indians who lived in the Ozarks while being pushed westward, eventually to Indian Territory,
- describing the landscape merely as rugged and rocky with poor soils, we learn that different groups of settlers had different preferences and abilities, which were applied to various types of forest, prairie and bottomlands, and
- leaving out slavery and the economic contributions of enslaved persons, the earliest substantial industries, such as the Maramec ironworks, depended heavily on involuntary servitude, as did the founders of Springfield
There’s a good balance of cultural history, political history and economic history, leavened with a few tall tales, such as that of Duke, who tamed a herd of elk calves and taught them to pull his wagon, carrying him away from the Ozarks when too many settlers came in.
I’m anxious for the next volume, which takes up with the gathering clouds of the Civil War.