Ozark County History
MOGenWeb Site, Johnna Quick -- Coordinator
Ozark County, with a 1960 population of 6,744, is located in extreme south-central Missouri, approximately one hundred and thirty miles south of Jefferson City and seventy-five miles southeast of Springfield. It is surrounded by Douglas, Howell, and Taney counties, Missouri, and Marion, Baxter, and Fulton counties, Arkansas. It is in the seventh tier of counties west of the Mississippi River and in the fifth tier east of the Oklahoma border. It embraces 780 square miles or 499,200 acres of land.
Gainesville, estimated population 288, is the county seat of government and is the largest town within an area that extends forty-two miles on the east, thirty-seven miles on the north, forty-eight miles on the west, and twenty-eight miles on the south. On this perimeter are the cities of West Plains, Ava, Forsyth, Branson, and Mountain Home, Arkansas, all of which compete with Gainesville as shopping, recreation, and business centers.
Other Ozark County communities are Dora, Bakersfield, Romance, Almartha, Wasola, Hardenville, Thornfield, Udall, Isabella, Theodosia, Pontiac, Dugginsville, Souder, Longrun, Howards Ridge, Sycamore, Wilhoit, Trail, Tecumseh, Nottinghill, Zanoni, Ocie, Hammond, Noble, Brixey, Elijah, and Foil. Twenty-eight post offices are located in the county, more than in any other Missouri county.
Ozark County is divided into seventeen townships for election purposes. They are Toledo; Thornfield; Longrun; Noble; Nottinghill; Pontiac; Big Creek; in the White River-Dugginsville area; and Jasper, in the Isabella area; in the western section of the county. In the middle of the county are Bridges Township, centered at Gainesville; Barren Fork, in the Romance area; Jackson, in the Rockbridge area; Pine Creek, in the area of Zanoni and Luna; and Lick Creek, in the Mammoth-Howards Ridge region. In the southeast in Bayou Township, centered at Bakersfield, in the Trail-Dora area; and Spring Creek, in the Oakmound area.
In March, 1966, the state reapportionment commission, which was formed to reapportion the state House of Representatives to comply with a federal court ruling, split Ozark County into sections. Under the plan, the townships of Richland, Spring Creek, Bayou, Dawt, and Lick Creek in Ozark County are included in a district with Howell County. The remainder of the county is included in the 148th district along with Taney and Douglas counties.
A network of county roads, most of which are paved, connect the various communities of the area. The county is bisected north and south by Missouri Highway 5 and east and west by Federal Highway 160 (formerly State Highway 80), both being narrow and winding. Due to the winding and narrow highways and to the lack of railroad facilities, Ozark County is still in one of the more inaccessible sections of the Ozarks. Work has begun, however, to straighten and widen Missouri Highway 5 and Federal Highway 160. At the present time, the Kansas City-Memphis I-29 Arkansas Ozark Express Route Organization has been formed and is urging that the proposed 4-lane interstate highway from Kansas City to Memphis pass through the county between Gainesville and Isabella and on through Mountain Home.
Ozark County is one of the three counties in Missouri which has no railroad. The lack of this transportation medium has been identified by local citizens for several decades as one of the major factors involved in the retarded economic growth of the county. The Kansas City, Fort Scott, and Memphis Railroad runs through Mansfield, approximately forty-five miles to the north, however, and through West Plains, about the same distance to the east. The White River Branch of the Missouri Pacific and Iron Mountain Railroad is approximately thirty miles to the south at Cotter, Arkansas.
Other transportation facilities available are the Luna Truck Line which carries freight in and out of Springfield three times a week and a bus line which provides connections with Mountain Home and Springfield daily. Gainesville has a small airport, and commercial boat docks are located on Lake Norfork and Lake Bull Shoals.
The rivers and streams furnished a means of transportation in the very early years of development, but today they are important as sources of power and recreation. The White River is of major importance to the county. Originating in northwest Arkansas in the Pawnee Mountains and winding northward through Barry, Stone, and Taney counties, Missouri, the 600-mile long river (its serpentine course is 1,300 miles long) turns and crosses the southwest corner of Ozark County (now inundated by Bull Shoals Lake) and flows in a southeasterly direction toward the mouth of the Arkansas River. Before reaching the mouth of the Arkansas, the White River divides into two branches, one emptying directly into the Mississippi River and the other into the Arkansas a few miles above its mouth. The White River crosses the Missouri-Arkansas border seven times, and it has been said that it wriggles more miles in proportion to its general course than any river of like size on the continent. In one place a tunnel of five hundred feet would cut off four miles of the river; and at another place, two miles across a neck of land would mean a distance across is five miles, and the distance around it is twenty miles. In 1818-1819 the American geologist and explorer Henry Rowe Schoolcraft traveled through the Ozark region, including the area of present-day Ozark County, and down the White River. He described the river as follows:
“It unites a current which possesses the purity of crystal, in a smooth and gentle flow, and the most imposing, diversified, and delightful scenery. Its shores are composed of opaque, red, and white gravel, consisting of water-worn fragments of carbonate of lime, hornstone, quartz, and jasper. Every pebble, rock, fish, or floating body, which occupies the bottom of the stream is seen while passing over it with the most perfect accuracy, and our canoe often seemed as if suspended in air, such is the remarkable transparence.”
Besides the resources of the White River, Ozark County has many non-mineralized streams. The chief streams are Big North Fork and Bryant Fork of White River, which are good for float trips; Pine Creek; and Lick Creek, all in the eastern half of the county; and Little North Fork of White River and its numerous tributaries in the western part. Other streams are Spring North Fork of White River, Turkey, Little Otter, and Pond Creeks. These streams are clear, contain game fish, and afford water power. Much of Big North Fork has been inundated by Norfork Lake, and most of Little North Fork has been covered by Lake Bull Shoals. The Norfork and Bull Shoals dams and their reservoirs were constructed by the United States Army Corps of Engineers, Little Rock unit, as a part of the plan of the Federal government to control flooding in the White River Basin and the Lower Mississippi Valley. They were built to supply hydroelectric power and recreational resources as well.
Lake Norfork, impounded in 1943 by a dam on the North Fork of White River in Arkansas, is bridged in Ozark County at Tecumseh. This bridge, on Federal Highway 160, is the same “Steel Bridge” that was constructed in 1923 before the dam was built and was the first big bridge built in the county. Residents welcomed its completion so heartily that a celebration was held at the site. The Steel Bridge Picnic as it is called became an annual event. The Bull Shoals Dam was completed in 1951 at the Bull Shoals of White River in Arkansas. The lake is crossed in Ozark County at Theodosia, on Federal Highway 160, by a million dollar bridge which was completed in 1952. The bridge was constructed a few feet from the site of the old Theodosia bridge which crossed the now inundated Little North Fork River.
Springs are another water resource of Ozark County. These are so numerous that almost ever farmer has a spring in his farm pasture. “Probaby no other county in Missouri is so well supplied with springs. Throughout the limestone county magnificent springs of cold and pure water abound along the valleys. There are seven major springs in Ozark County. The largest, which is the fourth largest spring in the Ozark region of Missouri and Arkansas, is called Double Spring or Rainbow Spring. It is located six miles south of Dora, and has been used to propagate trout. It has an average daily flow of from 65 to 225 million gallons of water. Its flow has been measured at different times, along with the flow of the other major springs, by the Engineering Experiment Station of the University of Missouri, beginning in 1919. These measurements are presented below.
Date Second-feet Gallons August 8, 1919 136 87,900,000 September 6, 1924 163 105,000,000 September 7, 1925 82 53,000,000 August 18, 1934 142 91,000,000 August 17, 1936 57 7,000,000 July 24, 1942 212 137,000,000
Mrs. Frank Beard of Springfield has described the Rainbow Springs as follows:
“Hidden away in the hills of Ozark County, its original wild loveliness still unmarred, lies Rainbow Springs, to me the most interesting and attractive spot in the Ozarks. At the foot of an overhanging cliff, a spring gushes forth, a huge stream of more than 100,000,000 gallons a day of clear, cold water. This stream divides its flow, forming a wooded island of 17 acres. There is also an undulating spring, a miniature geyser, where the water slowly rises to a height of about three feet, then falls back again. Other springs of unusual character and many unexplored caves are all about. The place has been the site of gigantic Indian encampments, as indicated by the thousands of arrow heads of all sizes one may easily pick up.”
The Hodgson Mill Spring near Sycamore issues from a point near the foot of a bluff of “cherty and sandy dolomite and sandstone of the lower part of the Roubidoux formation.” There is a nine-foot water fall utilized by the grist mill, and the spring water flows from the mill into Bryant Creek. Its measurements were as follows:
Date Second-feet Gallons August 29, 1926 23.6 15,300,000 October 17, 1932 4.4 22,200,000 August 18, 1934 44.7 28,900,000 August 18, 1936 28.1 18,200,000
The Rockbridge Springs, located 18 miles southeast of Ava, are a series of springs which rise in the bed of a lake about 1,500 feet long and 400 feet wide formed by a dam. The dam produces a head of nine feet, which is used to operate a mill. Their water flow was recorded as follows:
Date Second-feet Gallons August 29, 1926 23 14,900,000 October 17, 1932 24 15,500,000 August 18, 1936 15.2 9,840,000
Blue Spring is located at McCabo, three miles southeast of Dora. A good road leads to within a quarter of a mile of the spring, which rises on the east bank of the North Fork River “from the base of ledges of cavernous dolomite of the upper portion of the Gasconade formation.” Picnic facilities have been erected here, and a foot trail has been built along the river’s edge to the spring basin. The water flow was measured as follows:
Date Second-feet Gallons November 9, 1926 30 19,400,000 October 17, 1932 9.5 6,140,000 August 18, 1934 12.3 7,950,000 August 18, 1936 11.3 7,300,000
Five miles northeast of Tecumseh is the abandoned village of Althea. Here is located the Althea Spring, also called Patrick Spring. It rises in a small depression and flows into North Fork River at a distance of 600 feet. Formerly, it was used to operate a mill. The spring is located on a good county road and is a well-known camping area. Its water flow was recorded as follows:
Date Second-feet Gallons August 29, 1926 27 17,500,000 October 17, 1932 15 9,690,000 August 18, 1934 17.8 11,500,000 August 17, 1936 13.3 8,560,000
The Zanoni Spring at the Zanoni post office, nine miles northeast of Gainesville, and the Taylor Spring at Elijah are also large springs.
The water resources of Ozark County were put to work at an early date through the construction of cotton gins, saw mills, grist mills, and clothing factories. Two of the seven grist mills still in operation in Missouri today are located in the county. They are the Aid-Hodgson Mill, which occupies the site of an earlier mill built in 1837, on Bryant Creek near Sycamore, and the Dawt Mill located on the Big North Fork River at the upper end of Lake Norfork. The Zanoni Mill on Pine Creek, the Rockbridge Mill on Spring Creek, and the Hammond Mill on Little North Fork are not in operation today but are being preserved for their historical value. Ozark County has five of the twenty-seven mill buildings still standing in Missouri, more than any other county. The Aid-Hodgson Mill, which began operations in 1861 using millstones brought from the Pyrenees Mountains of France, and the Dawt Mill, which began operations during the 1890s, still grind corn meal and graham flour, the early day term for whole wheat flour. Orders of flour and meal are shipped to all parts of the United States. The mills have been widely publicized in national magazines and newspapers, and many tourists visit them each year.
Unfortunately, few tourists have visited the large caves located in the county because none of them have been developed as tourist attractions. Among the caverns that have been named are Bear Mountain Cave; Cold Cave, on Spring Creek; Cowpen Hollow Cave; Cropper Cave, on Bryant Creek; Fogey Cave; Ozark Cave; Peter Cave; Pontiac Cave, at Pontiac; Potato Cave; and the Bear Caves, two caverns located about 150 feet below Missouri Highway 5, three miles north of the Arkansas state line. Some of these caverns were once important as a source of saltpeter. One of the largest caverns located in the county was found a few years ago on the J. O. Wood farm, one mile south of Gainesville. The cave has stalagmites and stactites. The largest room is described as being as high as the county court house and twenty feet wide. A map and a pair of eyes are carves on the walls near the entrance, and an Indian head is carved nearby.
Among other natural resources found in Ozark County are minerals. Many of the settlers who came to the county during the latter half of the nineteenth century were attracted in part by the prospect of finding valuable mineral ores. Such minerals were known to exist in the area as early as 1855 or 1856 when B. F. Shumard, Missouri geologist, made the first geological survey of the county. Indications of lead, limonite iron ore, and carbonate of zinc, found mostly in the eastern portion of the county, were designated on the map of the area drawn up at that time. Small surface mines have been worked by independent owners for many years, but the independent operator has been unable to produce in quantity and in uniform quality for the ores to be marketed successfully. The inaccessibility of the railroad has also presented a transportation problem. As late as 1958, twelve men were working in one mine near Elijah which was producing from one to two car loads of ore per day; and six men were working in another mine near Bakersfield which was producing one car load of ore per day. Four men were working in a third mine near Trail. As late as 1963, the Missouri-Arkansas Mining Company was prospecting for ore in the Bakersfield area.
Fire clay, sand, gravel, and dimension stone are other available resources of the county. Beginning in the extreme northern part of Douglas County and extending southward into what was formerly Ozark County is found what geologists have referred to as the “Second Sandstone”, now known as the Roubideaux. It is exposed in heavy beds, along the headwaters of all the creeks running south from the divide near the north line of Douglas County. The sandstone formation varies from 44 to 77 feet in thickness. The stone varies from coarse to fine in quality and from brown to pure white in color. Charles Dake, a Missouri geologist, stated: “It is probably that this region offers better prospects for glass, engine sand, and core sand than it does in most other parts of the State.” Two sandstone quarries were being mined in Ozark County as early as the 1850s.
Besides having minerals, Ozark County also has a heavy growth of timber. Of the 499,200 acres of land in the county, 354,000 acres is forest land. The Forest Service owns 36,560 acres of this timber land, and 40,000 acres is under proper forest management. From 75 to 100 thousand dollars worth of timber is sold annually. A portion of the northwest corner of the county lies within the Mark Twain National Forest, and a portion of the northeast corner lies within the Gardner National Forest, both of which were created during the 1930s. The major trees of the area are white oak, black oak, post oak, red oak, hickory, black jack, black and white walnut, cedar, and yellow and white pine. Other trees, observed by Schoolcraft in his journey through the county in 1818, were cottonwood, white and red elm, buckeye, white ash, swamp ash, sugar maple, mulberry, dogwood, sassafras, persimmon, crabapple, red plum, and black haw. In the valleys were spice wood, papaw, wild cherry, wild hop, hemlock, the wild pea, and several species of grapes.
Most of the pine trees were confined to the northeastern one-twentieth portion of the county. They grow on the slopes and summits of the hills where there is a deep, pervious, cherty mantle of limestone soil and where low water table conditions exist. These trees were largely removed during the nineteenth century, but some reforestation is being carried out now. The walnut trees which grow in the stream valleys were largely removed also, and the land was cleared for grain crops. Most residents still have a few walnut trees for domestic use. Cedar trees which are scattered throughout the county grow predominantly on the lower flanks of ridges and other areas of shallow, dolomitic, sandstone soil where most other trees cannot grow. Cedar is an indicator of dolomitic sandstone in the area, and the pine tree is an indicator of limestone. Neither tree transgresses into the territory of the other more than a few feet.
Although most of the pine and walnut trees have been removed, a good deal of oak and cedar remain. The Ozark Forest Charcoal Plant has twelve kilns in the area. Stave bolts used in barrel making are cut and delivered to the Crisp Stave Mill at Gainesville; and the Aromatic Cedar Fencing Factory, operated by P. W. Snelling at Gainesville, manufactures cedar products that are marketed on a wide scale by Sears, Roebuck and Company.
The forest land of the county creates a natural setting for wild game. Squirrels, rabbits, ducks, quail, bobcats, wild turkey, and deer are numerous. Ozark County ranked first place in number of deer killed in Missouri in 1963 and 1964. In 1965 the county ranked third in number of deer killed during the regular season, and it also ranked third in number of deer killed by archers.
Heavy timber and wild game are typical features of the Ozark Highlands of which Ozark County is a part. Another dominant feature of the Ozarks found in the county is the sharply differentiated ridge-and-valley type of topography. A good deal of very rough land lies in the county, especially in the White River Mills in the southwestern section. The central part is mountainous and the eastern and western regions are broken and hilly. The ruggedness of the county is demonstrated by elevation measurements. The elevation varies from 1,460 feet above sea level at the northwest corner to 540 feet above sea level in the south-central part. The elevation of some of the towns in the county are as follows:
Gainesville 765 Dora 1,027 Theodosia 680 Bakersfield 718 Wasola 1,294
Ozark County has one of the largest groups of monadnocks (hills or mountains of resistant rock surmounting a peneplain) found anywhere on the Ozark surface. These monadnocks are what J. Harlen Bretz, a Missouri geologist, calls Ordovician residuals from the Springfield peneplain. The largest of these monadnocks stands in the northwestern Gainesville Quadrangle and is about seven miles long and up to five miles wide. It stands about 300 feet, maximum, above radiating interfluves, among twenty named creeks and hollows that drain the area. Bissection, through erosion, has made seventeen named knobs, hills, ridges, and mountains out of its original mass. The Gainesville monadnock group is more than twenty-five miles east of the Eureka Springs escarpment which is about 100 feet higher and which is capped with what geologists classify as Mississippian limestone. The Ozark County monadnocks are of Jefferson City dolomite, but the seven highest hills carry caps of basal Mississippian rocks. The highest of the twenty-five summits carries a closed contour of 1,486 feet “which is the altitude that the Springfield peneplain should have across the area.”
The rugged hilltops in the county are usually heavily timbered and stony. These rough hills stand above the table lands which are porous and almost free from small rocks. The hillsides leading up to the table lands are heavily laden with stones of all sizes and character. The valleys, which average from a quarter of a mile to a mile in width, are of high value. Along the streams, the bottom lands are rich and productive. In the past, the best farms were located chiefly adjacent to Big North Fork of White River and Little North Fork of White River and their tributaries. Most of this farmland was inundated by Lake Bull Shoals and Lake Norfork when the dams were built. As a result, the best grain farms were destroyed, and milling, as an industry, was severely curtailed. Ozark County has always been predominantly a stock raising county, but the importance of the industry as a livelihood was magnified when the lakes were impounded.
Mild climate and abundant rainfall are conducive to livestock raising. The average annual rainfall is 41.51 inches. Rainfall measurements over an eleven year period show February, the low rainfall month, to have an average of 1.76 inches, and June, the high rainfall month, to have an average of 5.56 inches. The average annual snowfall over an eleven year period is recorded as 10.8 inches. Temperature recordings over a thirty year period show the annual mean temperature to be 55.7 degrees. The average temperature for January, covering the same period of time, was 32.7; February, 36.8; July, 77.5; and August, 76.5. There is a nine-month grazing season, and housing and winter feeding of livestock do not present serious problems. Cattle, hogs, and poultry (particularly turkeys and broiler chickens) are raised on a large scale. Ozark, Douglas, and Wright counties produce about one and one-third million turkeys a year, grossing approximately six million dollars.
The climate is conducive to most farm crops as well as livestock raising; and although a relatively small percentage of the land in the county is under cultivation, the farmers raise corn, oats, hay, and fruit on the ridges and deep “hollers”. Cotton (a principal crop around the turn of the century), tobacco, berries, and the principal cereals and vegetables are also grown. A recent survey showed that the county produces approximately three thousand dollars worth of fruits and vegetables a year. The same survey showed the acreage under crop production and the yields in bushels or tons per acre:
Crop Acreage Production Corn 2,567 25 Oats 1,914 30 Wheat & Barley 1,962 22 Alfalfa 1,340 2 Clover & Timothy 371 1 Lespedeza 8,048 1 Small grain for hay 5,786 1
Unfortunately, the soil of Ozark County is not as conducive to agriculture as is the climate. Recent maps of Missouri class the soil of the county as among the poorest in the state. Except in the valleys where the soil is a dark clay intermixed with gravel and sand, it is a flinty mantle of chert which gives a poor return. The county is located on the northern edge of the red and yellow soil region of the United States. In the extreme western portion of the county the soil resembles what geologists refer to as the Berryville soil found in Taney County which is thin and easily eroded. In the early 1900s the geographer Carl Sauer made a study of the land values of Missouri counties in the Ozarks and found that the cheapest lands were located, due to their rough topography and poor soils, in Shannon, Ozark, and Taney counties. Sauer expressed confidence in the progress of Ozark County, however, when he wrote: “It is doubtful…whether the county will remain in last place, as it has possibilities of development on its extensive upland “flat woods”.”
As has been mentioned before, Ozark County is in the center of the Ozark Highland region. The Ozark Highland rises like an island in the midst of the Central Plains; and the region is outlined by the cities of Poplar Bluff, St. Louis, Jefferson City, Marshall, Sedalia, and Joplin, in Missouri; Wagner, Oklahoma; and Fort Smith and Batesville, Arkansas. The Ozark Highland is an oval, canoe-shaped dome about 500 miles in length and 200 miles in width, with a northeast-southwest trend. Elevation varies from about 1,800 to 2,100 feet. The top of the dome is in the Mt. Francis Mountains of southeastern Missouri, Taum Sauk Mt. (elevation 1,772 feet) being the highest peak in the state. The strata slopes gently away from the axis in each direction, with a total area of about 75,000 square miles lying in southern Missouri, northwestern Arkansas, and northeastern Oklahoma. Component parts of the Ozarks, none of which are considered mountains by geographers, are the Shawnee Hills in southern Illinois, the St. Francois Mountains in southeastern Missouri (70 square miles), the Boston Mountains north of the Arkansas River, and the Ouachita Mountains south of the Arkansas River.
The Ozark Highland was not formed by block faulting as were the Rocky Mountains. The Ozark region, at one time at sea level and of limestone formation, is a great uplifted dome, deeply cut by rivers and streams. When the dome was thrust upward, the earth split in many sections, and some caves were formed. Later, streams and rivers forced their way through the cracks and cut them deeper and wider. The White River and its tributaries have carved deep gorges across the highland, and the region is pocked with caves and sink holes where underground water has dissolved the limestone.
Supposedly, the American Indian had his own explanation as to how the Ozarks were formed. This legend, not to be taken too seriously, is presented below:
“The Massatongua tribe of Indians inhabited a beautiful plain through which flowed a pearly river. The tribe lived in undisturbed peace and happiness through long years. The only condition imposed on them by the Great White Spirit was that they should never attempt to explore the mysterious cave on the bank of the peaceful river.
Uncontrollable curiosity excited the Massatongua to enter and explore the secret subterraneous cavern, in the recesses of which were fabled marvels and beauties finer than the eye of mortal had ever beheld. Chief priests and story-tellers had so magnified the wonders of the unfathomed cave that it was believed to be the portal of a new world, peopled by elves of surpassing loveliness and dotted with wigwams ornamented with precious stones, where flowed rivers of molten gold.
A council was called. Wise men spoke to the multitude, repeating fabulous stories of the mystery. The fascination of the off-repeated myths aroused an irresistible desire to enter the forbidden place. The Great White Spirit besought them to be content in their present happy condition, and avoid the penalty for disobedience, but to no avail.
Soon the sound of axes was heard in the making of boats, which when completed, floated majestically on the pearly river, and shouts of joy were heard on every side. The tribe was appalled when the voice of the Great White Spirit proclaimed “Thou shalt see a new world indeed, but the penalty will be eternal sorrow!” But onward sped the boats, and intoxicated with anticipation, merry were the rowers. At the end of the second day, the canoes approached the yawning and mysterious cave. A peal of thunder shook the rock arch and made the water boil, while a stifling smell arose, as the last boat floated within the entrance to the dark cavern, and clouds of steam suffocated the Indians.
Looking backwards, the poor Massatonguas saw the portal close, and shut out the light of day forever. The river changed its course, and from the depths of that beautiful stream the Great White Spirit upheaved the earth and left a range of mountains now called the Ozarks. Under the mountains, in the pall of perpetual darkness, still live the Massatongua, in eternal sorrow, as decreed. Their tears have worn crevices in the rocks.”
The physical features of the Ozark Highland and of Ozark County have changed little since the day of the Indian. Man has built dams, roads, buildings, and bridges. He has cleared, plowed, and fenced some areas of the land; but the basic geographic and topographic features of the area remain the same.
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Copyright © 2007-2008 by Johnna Quick