Settlers in the Ozarks

The story of Ozark Mountain Country is also a story of a people and their culture and values. To a great extent, the area was once defined by it’s isolation. It comes as no surprise then that the folklore and traditional music of the region has it’s origins deep in antiquity. The Ozark hills were settled by yeoman farmers who moved into the area from the mountains of the Carolinas, Tennessee, and Kentucky – individuals who were themselves descendants of farmers from Scotland, England, and Ireland. These hill people brought with them stories and tales from their ancient homelands. To the early settlers of the Ozark Mountains, life was hard. As the growing population depleted the once abundant game, residents were forced to exact a subsistence living from their small farms. When row crops like corn were planted on the steep hillsides, the region’s soils, never rich or deep except on the regularly inundated flood plains, were scoured by gully washing rains. By the last decades of the nineteenth century, the economic history of the region became a story of various attempts of the local population to supplement their meager incomes. Various industries were tried with little or no success; two examples are lead mining and the collection of mussel shells from the area rivers for the button industry. The first sustained boom to the area’s economy resulted from the harvesting of local timber when the nation’s expanding rail system created demand for a seemingly endless supply of cross ties. After the forests were cleared of their virgin timber, the revenue vacuum was filled by the development of the tomato and strawberry industries. The production of moonshine was sometimes used by the remote hill people for supplementary income.

NOTE: The previous excerpts are printed with permission from the book “In The Heart of Ozark Mountain Country”.