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Al Agnew

Books on the Ozarks

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I read a LOT, and have been interested for a long time in just about everything to do with the Ozarks--geology, history, fiction, rivers, fishing and hunting, you name it. Here's a partial list of my favorite Ozark books...some are out of print, others not easy to find:

The Buffalo River Country--Ken Smith

This was the book that first got me really interested in Ozark streams as more than just places to fish. I ordered it from the Ozark Society on a whim, many years ago (I was still in high school at the time) and was blown away by the photography and the interesting if not particularly polished writing.

Stars Upstream--Leonard Hall

Like The Buffalo River Country did for helping to establish the Buffalo National River, this book did the same for the Current and Jacks Fork. Better writing, but the photography was lacking.

The Battle for the Buffalo River--Neil Compton

This one chronicles the fight to save the Buffalo from the several high dams originally planned for it, and to make it a national river. Compton was head of the Ozark Society and probably the single most influential person in the whole thing.

We Always Lie to Strangers--Vance Randolph

Randolph was a chronicler of Ozark folklore, and this is his book of Ozark tall tales, gathered from all over southern Missouri and northern Arkansas. I can't read it without busting out laughing. One of my favorite passages, talking about razorback hogs:

"Marion Hughes repeats many ancient razorback stories. Most Arkansas hogs are very small, he says, and some varieties roost in trees, but they do not lay eggs. Hughes saw one very large hazel-splitter "that dressed fourteen pounds with its head on, and six and a half with its head cut off." In judging a hog the catch it and hold it up by the ears; if the head goes down and the tail flies up, they turn it loose to fatten another year. Some of these hogs have such large heads that the owners tie stones to their tails, to keep them from pitching forward on their snouts. The smaller fish-hogs, says Hughes, are usually shot and dressed like bullfrogs; the Arkansawyers just eat the hind legs and throw the rest away. The so-called tryo hog, which is no bigger than a cat, lives mostly on bugs and flies. It requires a whole hog to season an ordinary pot of beans. At butchering time the boys bring in hogs by the sackful, and the women just gut 'em like rabbits and scrape 'em in a pan of hot water. These little hogs are generally salted down for the winter in cracker boxes; just put in a good layer of salt, then about six hogs, then another layer of salt, then more hogs, and so on until the box is full."

Down in the Holler, a Gallery of Ozark Folk Speech--Vance Randolph

This is a study of old Ozark speech patterns, and their origins. Words, pronunciations, sayings...many of them I remember my grandpa using, and some I still use today.

Geologic Wonders and Curiosities of Missouri--Tom Beveridge

Very interesting and entertaining discussion of everything from bald knobs to shut-ins to natural arches, and where to find them. I've used this book to find a lot of really neat places in the Missouri Ozarks.

The Architecture of the Arkansas Ozarks--Donald Harrington

This isn't what the title suggests...it's a novel set in the fictional town of Staymore, in Newton County, Arkansas, from the first settlers through the Civil War and on. Lots of humor and lots of real old time Ozark flavor.

The White River Chronicles of S. C. Turnbo--James Keefe and Lynn Morrow

Turnbo collected stories of the White River country in the late 1800s, and these are mostly hunting and wildlife tales, giving a great perspective on what the country was like back then.

Anybody else read this sort of stuff?

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I feel foolish because I have misplaced the book and can't recall the title but I think the best thing I've read was Henry Schoolcrafts' report of his 1818-1819 tour of the region to evaluate it for mineral deposits in an effort to get himself appointed the federal mining supervisor of the area. His report was the first written description of the region and the people and it is so seminal that it has to be considered the primary 'must read' on the subject.

Quite shortly after moving here @ 19 years ago I bought 'Living History of the Ozarks' by Phyllis Rossiter and I cannot recommend it too highly. It is a wealth of information for newcomer and native alike and her love of her native land shines from every page. Another 'must read' IMO.

Short list of others I've enjoyed that were worthy of remaining in my library:

'Stiff as a Poker', Folk tales and humor by Vance Randolph

'Ozark Pioneers', Just as implied by the title by Bob Hinds

'Civil War in the Ozarks', Short overview by Steele & Cottrell

'Discover the Ozarks', Small but good tour guide by Bob Hinds

I never feel I really know either an area or a people unless I know the history. So for me Schoolcrafts book was a treasure when I discovered it had been reprinted. I cannot recommend it too highly. CC

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I read The Ozark Bluff Dwellers by M. R. Harrington in college. He was a archaeologist who found a lot of prehistoric evidence of scatter native americans living under over handing bluff, kind of like Jim Bluff on the Buffalo. Not a real page turner, but interesting nonetheless.

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Pea Ridge: Civil War Campaign in the West (Paperback)

by William L. Shea (Author), Earl J. Hess (Author)

Very well written, good maps, the authors also write about events prior to and after the battle, it's interesting to read about where in SW Missouri and NW Arkansas these events happened.

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Way Back in The Hills by James C. Hefley.

This is a great book about growing up in Newton County, Arkansas.

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Baldknobbers-Vigilantes on the Ozarks Frontier

by Mary Hartman (Author), Elmo Ingenthron (Author)

Interesting account of the things that happened in the region post civil war. It seems to be consistent with other short pieces I have read on the topic (names, places, events, etc)

The whole read was pretty interesting,

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