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Brooks Blevins’s refreshing new book, A History of the Ozarks, Volume 1, The Old Ozarks

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.



Take a trip to the past on Memorial Day

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Forsyth Cemetery

Forsyth Cemetery

Cemeteries, for me, offer a place of quiet contemplation. Sometimes, I know just enough of the people buried there to set my imagination running about lives, times and places.

This cemetery in Forsyth holds the remains of Nathaniel Kinney, who led a vigilante group, the Bald Knobbers, for five years before losing his life to vengeance. It also holds the remains of John Hilsabeck, who operated a hotel on the White River at the mouth of Swan Creek in the old Forsyth townsite. At this cemetery, in 1892, John Wesley Bright was hung after having been pulled out of the Taney County jail where he was held for the killing of his young wife.

Branson cemetery

Branson cemetery

Rueben Branson, Branson’s first postmaster, and his wife Mary lie here, in this green place in downtown Branson.

Over the past few years, I’ve been photographing the graves of my ancestors in Texas, Oklahoma and Arkansas, trying to imagine the communities where they lived and died and the landscapes they encountered in the 1800s.

If you don’t know where your ancestors were buried, you can often find them on the internet.

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