Ozark County History
MOGenWeb Site, Johnna Quick -- Coordinator
“And our name in time shall be forgotten,
And no man shall have any remembrance of our work.”
Words of Solomon 2:4
Man probably lived in the Ozarks during the Paleo-Indian Period, from 8,000 to 5,000 B.C. One archaeological find on the White River in southwestern Missouri indicates early living at a time period preceding 5,000 B.C. During this period man hunted only big game, the large Pleistocene animals now extinct. What is identified by archaeologists as the Early Archaic Period began about 5,000 B.C. By that time, the big game hunters had become hunter-fisher-gatherers. Although there were still many nomadic groups of people, man had begun to adapt to his local environment. During the Archaic Period the Ozarks were inhabited by people of several cultural traditions that probably interacted with each other. Portions of the Ozark region may well have comprised a marginal area in which culture of an early stage persisted, gradually adopting some traits from more advanced cultures occupying surrounding areas. The Archaic Period ended and the Woodland Period began with the introduction of pottery sometime between 1,000 B.C. and 1 A.D.
It is not known exactly when the Ozark Bluff-dwellers lived or who they were. Mark Harrington, an American archaeologist, has stated that perhaps the Bluff-dwellers, whom he estimated to have lived in the area from 500 to 600 A.D., were the ancestors of the Caddoans or became amalgamated with them. The Caddoans were an Indian tribe of the East Woodland-Plains (Mixed) culture group who originally lived, it is believed, in Louisiana, Arkansas, Texas, and Oklahoma. The pottery of the Bluff-dweller resembles that of the Caddoan. Melvin Gilmore, another American archaeologist, has stated that the Bluff-dwellers lived in the Ozarks “a thousand years ago or more, probably more.” Both Harrington and Gilmore have identified a Post Bluff-dweller culture which is very similar to that of the Osage culture found by the earliest white settlers and which followed the earlier prehistoric culture.
In 1922 Harrington discovered several deposits of Ozark Bluff-dweller culture at different points in Northwest Arkansas and Southwest Missouri. It was his belief that the latest Ozark Bluff-dwellers occupied a territory reaching from the edge of the Oklahoma prairies eastward at least to the mouth of the Buffalo River, a distance of some 175 miles, and extending, north and south, from the Arkansas River to Central Missouri. Shelter remains of the Ozark Bluff-dweller culture still exist in the White River Valley and its tributaries, including Little North Fork and Big North Fork rivers in Ozark County. Evidence of the occupancy of Ozark County by the Bluff-dwellers was found in the Big North Fork River Valley before Lake Norfork was formed in 1943. In 1951 before Lake Bull Shoals had covered much of the Little North Fork River Valley, deposit finds were made by the Twin Lakes Lodge, an auxiliary group of the Ozarks Chapter of the Missouri State Archaeological Society.
The shelter deposits which have been uncovered by archaeologists tell something of the way of life of the Bluff-dwellers. These prehistoric Indians usually made their homes under rock shelters provided by the gorges of the river valleys where protection from the wind could be found; and as a primary source of livelihood, they depended upon hunting. Their favorite meat was venison and turkey, although bear, elk, bison, and smaller creatures, including turtles, were sometimes eaten. Archaeologists have found the bones of many animals, almost always split for extraction of the marrow, scattered throughout the various deposits. Turkey bones, egg shells, and turkey-down robes were also very numerous. It had been theorized that the Bluff-dwellers had domesticated the turkey as had some of the ancient southwestern Pueblos, but no indications of cages or pens were found. The Bluff-dweller used a wooden atlatl for hunting. Harrington described this atlatl as a propulsive spear thrower, an atlatl type found only in the Aztec culture area. The Bluff-dweller atlatl was about twenty inches long with a projection at one end against which the butt of the spear rested, and a traverse peg at the other end for grasping. The bow and arrow was unknown to these prehistoric Indians.
The second most important source of livelihood for this Indian group was agriculture. They grew corn extensively--dent, flour, flint, and pop corn. The dent corn which they grew is the same twelve-row, red-cob, yellow dent grown throughout the corn belt states today. They grew several varieties of beans; winter squash, including the summer squashes and winter squashes of the Hubbard type; pumpkins; and egg gourds, from which they made cups, ladles, bottles, and bowls. Some tobacco; several varieties of sunflower seeds; canary grass, which was the basis of their cereal food; goosefoot, which they raised for greens; and giant ragweeds, which were used for dyes, were also grown.
Besides being hunters and agriculturists, the Bluff-dwellers were food-gatherers. They gathered acorns, chinkapins, walnuts, hazelnuts, and wild grapes for food. Many species of the native plants were gathered for their fibers, or for their medicinal or food value. Seeds found in later components of the deposits suggested extensive experimentation with wild plants as a source of food, and this also seemed to indicate extended reliance upon this environmental resource. Also, they seemed to have cultivated certain species of plants which later people allowed to lapse from cultivation. Seeds of these plants which had been put away carefully with seeds of the other plants--a species of lamb’s quarters, a pigweed species, and Carolina canary grass. The fourth important source of livelihood for the Bluff-dwellers was fishing. Nets made of Indian hemp were used to catch the quarry.
Many different articles were identified in the shelter deposits found. Among these were stone and bone artifacts, deer antlers, deerskin moccasins, sandals and overshoes woven of tough native grass, pearly white seed beads made from the seeds of the Ozark gromwell, sea shells from the Gulf of Mexico, pottery, and a type of basketry typical of the prehistoric culture of the southeastern United States as far west as Louisiana. There was evidence that these Indians practiced tattooing. They probably engaged in pottery making toward the end of their stay in the Ozark area. The pottery was made of sand or crushed stone-tempered material. Undecorated, it was usually dark in color and frequently quite thick and hard. The vessels were generally flat-bottomed.
The Bluff-dwellers had a distinct method of burial. They buried their dead in a hole lined with grass on which was spread a deerskin, feather, or plain fiber robe. The body was laid on its side with the knees drawn up and arms flexed. It was covered with old bags, mats, or grass. A layer of poles and sticks was placed on this, followed by a layer of dirt. Small rock fragments were placed on top of the layer of dirt, followed by large pieces of rock.
When the first white settlers came to the area of Ozark County they came into contact with bow carrying Indians. These Indians, the last representatives of aboriginal culture, were primarily Osage, Cherokee, Shawnee, Kickapoo, Peoria, Piankeshaw, Delaware, and Chickasaw. The nomadic Osage claimed the land between the Missouri and Arkansas rivers and were found to be in possession of the area by the early whites. They had fixed villages but roved through the forest for game. The Osage Trace, which led from the Grand River to the state of Arkansas, followed the White River Valley through Ozark County. In springtime the Osage, including the women and children, followed this route to get to the hunting grounds of the southern Ozarks. When winter came they retired to their villages on the Grand. It is quite probable that hunting parties of the Osage, during their wanderings, reached all parts of the Ozarks, and occupied camps on banks of many streams in distant regions far away from their more permanent villages. In the central and eastern sections of the Ozarks traces of Indian settlements can be found at the junction of many streams. Silas C. Turnbo, a pioneer Ozark County newspaper editor, wrote of the Osage in his Fireside Stories, a collection of the reminiscences of a few of the early settlers of the area and his own personal reminiscences. According to Turnbo, the Osage had regular hunting camps at the big spring on Bratton’s Spring Creek, on Little Creek, and at the mouth of Little North Fork.
The Osage were of the Dhegiha group of the Siouan tribe. They were prairie dwellers, and their culture was adapted primarily to prairie living. The finding of mortars and the lack of pottery found on the sites in the James and White River valleys suggests, according to archaeologists, that the Indians who occupied the area owed their origin to parties of Wichita, or neighboring tribes, who entered the western valleys of the Ozarks from the prairie lands.
Schoolcraft commented on December 7, 1818, that travel up the White River was hazardous because of the Osage. He noted that they had “never failed to rob white hunters and travelers who were so unfortunate as to fall in their way and sometimes carried them into captivity.” They considered stealing as honorable. As a rule the Osage were friendly to the white settlers of Ozark County and never gave much trouble. Only on one occasion did they grow hostile. At that time, they threatened to massacre every settler in the area. As a result, the settlers on Little North Fork began preparations for defense and were planning to erect a fort or block house to protect the women and children when the Indians became peaceful once more. The fort was never built. The Osage resented strongly the intrusion of the whites into their hunting territory as the following story relates:
"While Paton Keesee lived in the Peter Friend bend of the river, which is over the line in Marion County, Arkansas, he and a companion went on a bear hunt some distance from home. In a few days they had not only killed several bear but had accumulated a large amount of deer pelts and furs which they intended to carry to some far off market on pack horses, but a band of Indians surrounded them one day and captured the hunters and carried them to their village and appropriated all they had to their own use. Keesee said this was rather bad treatment but they quietly submitted for fear the Indians might want a lock of their hair, but the Indians showed some generosity by allowing them to retain their horses and equipment, guns, and ammunition and sent them back home under a strong escort, but before their departure from the village the chief informed the captives that if they were caught intruding on their hunting grounds again they would be put to death.”
Paton Keesee, the leading character in the above incident, was the Daniel Boone of Ozark County. He was a bear hunter, fur trader, explorer, and self-appointed Indian agent. In time he became popular with the Indians, and “they treated him with much confidence and respect.” On different occasions Keesee used his influence to prevent conflict between the white settlers and the Osage. The following incident, told by his son Elias Keesee to S. C. Turnbo, shows this influence:
“On a certain time there were some horses stolen from the Indians. They suspected a “bad white man” who lived on the Big North Fork as being the thief. The red men were wrought up with anger at the loss of their horses and a lot of them came to father and asked his assistance to capture the “bad white man”. Father consented to go with them. They followed the trail to Lick Creek and down that stream to Big North Fork where they found the horses tied out in a thicket near the man’s hut. He denied knowing anything about the stolen property but the Indians brought him to time and he confessed his part of the job and implicated others. The Indians wanted to deal harshly with him but through father’s influence they taught him a lesson and set him free. They gave him to understand that if he bothered their horses again they would torture him to death.”
Paton Keesee came to the area of Ozark County in 1816 and married Nancy Graham, daughter of Peter Graham, a Kentuckian, who had arrived earlier. Paton and Nancy Keesee made the first white settlement in the fertile White River bottom land in the county in 1820 near the mouth of Big Creek, a tributary of White River. Three years later they moved and made a permanent home on Little North Fork. Like other early settlers, Keesee made a business at times of selling liquor to the Osage. They were great lovers of whiskey and, needless to say, were often demoralized by it, as the following story told by Elias Keesee indicates:
“Sometimes when they came to our house to buy whiskey they would ask permission of my parents to be allowed to dance in our house. Of course this request was granted for they knew if they refused the Indians were liable to kick up a row about it and go somewhere else and purchase “fire water” or probably take all the whiskey father had on hand without paying for it. So it was good policy to keep on the good side of them. I have seen them drink and have their usual carousal in our house. Their singing and dancing made a terrible noise. I have known small parties of them to come to our house of nights after we had gone to bed and call for whiskey, and father would get up and draw it out of the barrel and sell all the whiskey to them they wanted, and they would sing, dance, and smoke till they were weary and then would leave.
I recollect one night of a party of Indians coming to our house on their usual errand to buy liquor and after father sold all the whiskey to them they called for, they went to drinking. One old warrior got so drunk that he did not hardly know anything, and when they all stated, he forgot to take his tomahawk and scalping knife and never returned to get them and we kept them for years as relics.”
The Osage were the tallest of the North American Indian. John Bradbury, an English traveler who made a tour through Missouri in 1809, described them as follows:
“….so tall and robust as almost to warrant the application of the term gigantic; few of them appear to be under six feet, and many are above it. Their shoulders and visages are broad, which tend to strengthen the idea of their being giants.”
Schoolcraft described them as “manly, good-looking, stout-limbed men.”
Since the women and children traveled with the males on their hunting expeditions each spring, they too became adapted to a nomadic way of life. As a result, the women formed the custom of carrying their young on their backs. Elijah Ford, a pioneer settler of Ozark County, described this custom to Turnbo as follows:
“The squaws tied their babies to straight pieces of wood with their backs to the wood. This was strapped to the mother’s back, with the child facing outward. When they visited the cabin of a white man, and before going into the house, the woman would take the baby from her back and sit the board against the outside wall of the hut near the door and leave it there until they got ready to leave. It was all the same to the mother if the papoose yelled with all its might.”
One important lesson in life that the older Indian children had to learn was how to swim. This lesson was taught by the women of the tribe and in the manner described below:
“They would go to the bank of the river….and pick up a child in their arms and wade out into the stream and let it down feet foremost into the water over its head, then jerk it out before it strangled. As this ceremony went on the women would jabber and laugh and the little fellows would cry. This was the first step in teaching the Indian children the art of swimming. As the youngsters grew older the women would throw them into the water like mischievous boys pitching a lot of young dogs in to see them swim out.”
The young Indian boy had to learn how to use the bow and arrow also. These lessons in marksmanship, supervised by the warriors of the tribe, were taught to the boys from the time they could walk. Once they had been taught the essential techniques, the boys often played marksmanship games to test the growth of their shooting skill. Turnbo described one game as follows:
“When the juveniles had learned to be fair marksmen, a number of them were placed in two rows, fifteen paces apart and facing outward. Then the warriors took a hoop which was made for the purpose, and when all was ready they would start it to rolling a few paces in front of one line of the boys. One boy was allowed to shoot at it as it passed, and if he succeeded in shooting an arrow through the space in the circle of the rim without touching the hoop, the other boys and all the warriors would yell with delight. This was repeated until all the boys in that row had sent an arrow through the hoop. Then the hoop was taken to the other row of boys and rolled to and fro until all the boys in line had shot an arrow through the hoop. It was great enjoyment to both old and young while they were practicing to shoot in this way.”
Schoolcraft, in his tour through the Ozarks in 1818, encountered many deserted villages of the Osage. The tent homes had been occupied temporarily by small parties hunting away from their home villages. The mat or bark covers of the tents had often been removed thus allowing the bare frames to remain. While on Big North Fork, November 27, 1818, Schoolcraft wrote: “Night overtook us, and we encamped in an Indian bark tent on the bank of the river, which had not been occupied for one or two years.” Later, on December 30, 1818, he encountered several deserted camps just east of the James River in Christian County. He described what he saw as follows:
“We passed through camps, now deserted, all very large, arranged with much order and neatness, and capable of quartering probably, 100 men each. The method of building the camps, and the order of the encampments is different from any kind we have seen among the various tribes of savages. The roof of the tent or camp may be compared to an inverted bird’s nest, or hemisphere, with a small aperture left in the top for the escape of smoke; and a similar, but larger one at one side for passing in and out. It is formed by cutting a number of slender flexible green poles of equal length, sharpened at each end, stuck in the ground like a bow, and crossing at right angles at the top, the points of entrance into the ground forming a circle. Small twigs are then woven in, mixed with the leaves of cane, moss, and grass, until it is perfectly tight and warm. These tents are arranged in large circles, one within another, according to the number of men intended to be accommodated. In the center is a scaffolding for meat, from which all are supplied each morning, under the inspection of a chief, whose tent is conspicuously situated at the head of the encampment, and differs from all the rest, resembling a half cylinder inverted.”
Schoolcraft noted that the Indians built small campfires to preserve fuel and sat very close to the fire, whereas the white hunter built large campfires and sat a way back from the fire. The Indian considered the forest his own and was careful in using and preserving all that it afforded. He noted, too, that the Indian never killed more meat than he needed, whereas the white hunter often destroyed game just for pleasure. It was not unusual for the white hunter to kill wild game and leave it lying in the forest.
Perhaps the white man would have learned some important lessons in woodsman craft had the Osage remained in the area longer. But in a treaty made November 10, 1808, all the land south of the Missouri River and east of a line running south from Fort Osage was conceded by the Osage to belong to the United States. They also agreed that all the land north of the Missouri River belonged to the government. In return for cession the United States promised to deliver yearly to the Great and Little Osage tribes merchandise to the value of $1,500, respectively; and outside of the limits of white settlement, these Indians were allowed to live and hunt on the land relinquished by them, until the United States would think it proper to assign the same as hunting grounds to other friendly Indians. What is today the western tier of counties in Missouri still belonged to the Osage, and they continued to occupy the region further east for a few years. Nevertheless, the treaty of 1808 opened officially a large portion of Missouri for white settlement. In 1825, at a treaty at St. Louis, the Osage ceded the land in western Missouri as well as adjacent land in Arkansas Territory. They then settled in Oklahoma and were later removed to a reservation in Kansas where they lived for thirty-five years. They made their final home in Oklahoma.
As was implied earlier, the Osage were not the only Indian tribes to hunt and roam the area of Ozark County and southern Missouri. Around 1790 one group of Cherokee Indians migrated to the area of neighboring Marion, Baxter, and Searcy counties, Arkansas, where game was plentiful and claimed the area north of the Arkansas River and both sides of the White River. They were joined in 1809 by another tribe of Cherokee, the Eastern Cherokee. A tribe of Chickasaw settled in the Cotter, Arkansas, area about the same time. By two treaties in 1817 and 1819 the United States conveyed to the Cherokee a large tract of land between the Arkansas and White Rivers. They were kept below the White River, and the United States kept some land north of the White River in neighboring Baxter County, Arkansas. Around 1820 the Shawnee, who were originally from South Carolina (the name means savannah or southerners), moved from the Cape Girardeau region on the Mississippi, which had been given them in an agreement with the Spanish in 1790, to the region of Ozark, Douglas, Taney, Webster, and Wright counties in Missouri. This area was informally assigned them, and they never acquired title to the land. They lived primarily in the White River Valley in Taney and Ozark counties, Missouri, and Marion County, Arkansas. The Indiana Delawares, who also had been residing in the Cape Girardeau district, abandoned the region about the same time and located in the Missouri portion of the White River Valley and in the James River Valley. Their hunting grounds embraced Barry, Stone, Taney, Christian, and Greene counties. The eastern boundary of their tract of land coincided with the western boundary of present-day Ozark and Douglas counties. The Kickapoos soon followed the Delawares to the area. Small groups of Piankeshaw and Peoria Indians also located in the region in 1820. Their villages were built on the White River in present-day Taney County.
Deep-rooted hostility developed early between the Cherokee and the Osage as a result of disputes over the boundary lines of their respective hunting territories. This hostility caused them to commit daily depredations upon the territories and properties of each other. The Cherokee welcomed the Delaware, Shawnee, Kickapoo, Piankeshaw, and Peoria immigrants to the area because of their desire for allies for protection against the Osage. From the beginning, these new Indian immigrants of Algonquian stock were in constant trouble with their Osage neighbors to the west. The game in Missouri was being rapidly depleted; and the Osage, the former occupants of the country, claimed the exclusive right to hunt over it and bitterly resented the newcomers. As a result, the Indian immigrants always traveled to hunting grounds in large numbers for self-defense. An Indian war was narrowly avoided in 1826.
The Shawnee soon became unhappy with their location, complaining that the climate was too cold and that they were being surrounded by white strangers. They ceded their tract of land, which included the area of present-day Ozark County, for one on the Kansas River. The Delawares soon followed their example. By 1832, through treaties with the United States, all of the tribes of southern Missouri had removed to Oklahoma or Kansas, and by 1840 the Cherokee of northern Arkansas had traveled their Trail of Tears and had been relocated in Oklahoma. This left the area of southern Missouri and northern Arkansas free from Indian attack, and during the following two decades, white settlement was rapid.
To reiterate, the Bluff-dwellers, the Osages, and the Shawnees, in that order, occupied all or part of present-day Ozark County; and other tribes may have roamed and hunted in the area for short periods. The lives of these aborigines were almost totally adapted to their natural surroundings, and as a result, they left few changes in the physical environment. Two hundred and forty-six Indian mounds, arrow manufacturing quarries, and campsites have been found in Ozark County, the only monuments to their occupancy.
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