Ozark Culture

by Louis Darby

In one word, I’d call the culture interesting.

There's a lot more French influence here than many would realize. Being from south Louisiana, I was intrigued at the similarities and came to the conclusion that the only difference between a Cajun (which is what I am) and a hillbilly is that we speak French and they don’t!

Our thought process, our cultures, our utilization and appreciation of the land? Our use of all resources?

We have a lot of similarities. People here — the natives — are very conscious of using natural materials and making the most of those materials. There was very little waste. People used to ask, “Do you miss Louisiana?”

I'd have to laugh and tell them, “No, not really. If you think about it, Missouri was part of the Louisiana Purchase. So I feel right at home!”

Originally, even the name was a French derivative, though it would have been spelled Aux Arcs. In the French language, you can translate or interpret a lot of different things, so it's hard to know exactly what it meant. But the Ozarks have been very interesting. I’ve met some wonderful luthiers here. One, Charley Wells, was both a luthier and a local bee charmer. So he'd fix my fiddle and I’d get a quart of honey while I was there!

I think it’s just the love of life and everything that comes with Cajun culture that really bled into the Ozarks. People here have a really good comfort level with that.

I've been here 20 years and wouldn’t call any other place home. But I can tell you that the local people worked hard and they worked for what they had. They love life and they don't waste anything. It's a nice atmosphere.

plate 1. Sunset Ozark Trail. Photo by Joshua Heston, October 29, 2011.

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plate 2. An Ozark Fall. Artwork by Joshua Heston, August 20, 2009.

Louis Darby, originally of Opelousas, Louisiana, has lived in White River Country since 1987. In the article at right, Darby succinctly defines a very hard-to-nail-down subject: the culture of the Ozarks.

A two-time Louisiana State Fiddle Champion, Darby became well-known in the Ozarks-region as fiddle player with Silver Dollar City’s Cajun Connection and the Circle B Chuckwagon Show in Branson.

I still remember the first time I saw him fiddlin’ up a storm at the Riverfront Playhouse one cold December afternoon over at Silver Dollar City. He currently plays with the Sons of Britches, a local group which includes John Fullerton and Earl Vaughn.

Bright Glowed My Hills

“All life was not dull work for James Columbus Booth. He was a musician. He had no musical training, but somewhere in his Irish and Scotch ancestry there must have been a harp or bagpipe player because Lum could truly make his old fiddle sing. He kept the instrument in a bleached, white muslin flour sack carefully laid in the bureau drawer. Inside the fiddle, he kept a set of rattles from a rattlesnake, ‘to help the tone,’ he explained.”

— Doug Mahnkey, Bright Glowed My Hills, School of the Ozarks Press, Point Lookout, Missouri 1968

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Ozark Photographer McArthy Plans Waterfall Shoot

(St. Charles, MO) Mike McArthy, Ozarks photographer whose work has graced many publications include the venerable Ozarks Mountaineer, is planning a spring photography expedition to the Buffalo River’s headwaters in northwest Arkansas and into Missouri’s St. Francois Mountains.

“I’ll be chasing waterfalls and wildflowers,” says McArthy. “The Ozarks really are an enchanted area of the United States. With 55,000 square miles of unique culture and topography, it really feels like a state of its own. Many people think the Ozarks are ‘just Lake of the Ozarks’ or ‘just Branson’ but it is so much more. You could spend a lifetime just in Newton County, Arkansas, and May is prime waterfall time in the Ozarks.”

Ozarks Natural Foods

(Springfield, MO) Though still largely in the planning phases, Ozarks Natural Foods is well positioned to reintroduce sustainable agriculture to the Missouri Ozarks and bridge the gap between farmer and consumer.

“Farmers have a story to tell,” says Beth Walker PhD, one of the endeavor’s co-founders and associate professor at Missouri State University, “And consumers want to know the animals are taken care of. Some consumers are more sensitive than others but it comes down to this: If we can trust you guys are eating the food you produce, we can trust the food as well. People want to know who their farmer is and they want to see people go back to the farm and make a living.”

Ozark Natural Foods goal is to serve as an effective marketing co-op, a liason between farmer and the area’s larger consumer markets. “Marketing is the hard part,” explains Walker. “Attending the farmers markets, putting their product on the internet, doing all of it right is hard and people often don’t feel comfortable doing it. So let’s partner up because we can do that for you.”

Dr. Beth Walker and her husband Weston currently produce beef for Farmers Gastropub, Tea Bar & Bites, Nicola’s and the Horrmann Meat Company, all in Springfield. The couple have teamed with Meera Scarrow, MD, and her husband Alan Scarrow, MD, both of Mercy Hospital. “Dr. Meera Scarrow delivered our first son and they are wonderful people,” details Walker. “Alan is from a dairy farm in Nebraska, she is from India, my husband is from Missouri. I’m from Texas. We’re from different parts of the world but we have the same hopes and dreams.

“We want to educate consumers on nutrition, farming, and we want consumers to have access to local, healthy food. It is a lot of work, but it is worth it!”

Ozark Culture

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