...the influence of the South
by Joshua Heston
The Arkansas Ozarks are different from the Missouri Ozarks and I’m racking that difference up to “social and directional influences.”
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That’s a fancy way of saying something really simple: The Arkansas Ozarks are in the Deep South. Up here in Missouri, there's some ambiguity about where our mountains even lie. The Midwest? The South? The gateway to the West? For the Missouri Ozarks, nobody seems to be all that sure.
But down in Arkansas?
The answer is easy to come by. The Boston Mountains, Springfield Plateau, and the Ouachita Mountains are the Deep South's westernmost mountain ranges, a rugged land of beauty and hardship, a last remnant of Native American culture, a place of deep hollers and longstanding hillbilly families, where the Santa Fe Trail from Fort Smith points the way of the setting sun.
It’s a Deep South culture with Antebellum, Cajun, Spanish and Native American influences... and a deep sense of identity. Gracious old cities like Fayetteville and Little Rock serve as counterpoints to the folk music valley of Mountain View (land of Jimmy Driftwood and the Ozark Folk Center) and the uniquely southern gothic city of Eureka Springs.
It’s a land of a proud people, extraordinary mountains and unique Ozarks culture. It's also home to some of the best food you're going to find anywhere; a menu heavy with okra gumbo, crawfish, rice, tomatoes with zucchini, fried chicken... and some of the best fruit pies around.
I’m getting hungry.
— from January 2, 2011, State of the Ozarks Weekly Issue 164
“Three Sacred Things”
Certain things stick in my craw sometimes. The t-shirts that say, “Paddle faster, I hear banjo music” is one. People who make movies like Deliverance and the ones who promote incest and bestiality think it's funny there are people in the world who do such things.
Here in the mountains I’ve learned there are three sacred things you don't make fun of. Courtin’, the Bible, and moonshinin’. Each one has its place and is something hillbillies don’t take to kindly to when outsiders like to poke fun at us.
Let me give you a situation that happened to me to show you how the true, salt of the earth hillbilly thinks:
When I was in college I had a math class across the hall from a logics class. The logics class was so weird when the students would come out they looked like they were on something. Their eyes were glassy and their faces were white.
One time I asked what was so mind bending about a logics class.
He said, "Well, here's a logic question for you: A man is standing in a department store with a piece of string in his pocket.
“How long is it?"
I looked at him and said, "What kind of a dumb question is that?" He answered, "Well, logically, the answer is ‘from the middle to one end times two.’”
Well, for years I kept that little incident in the back of my mind.
One day I was out in the mountains recording this hillbilly banjer player. We got to talkin’ about education and stuff, and I told him I was a five-year college freshman and never graduated. He said he had to work on his folk's farm and never finished the eighth grade.
We got to talkin' about “new math” and all the new ideas they had about education and I happened to mention the story of the logic class. I asked him the same question about the string in the man's pocket.
He studied for a minute, and then he said, “Well, I reckon from one end to the other. Wouldn’t that work for an answer?”
Never finished the eighth grade but had mountain smarts. I learned that day what Pete Seeger told me years ago. “Good luck with college, but don't let it interfere with your education.”
Now don't get me wrong, I have nothing against college educated people. It’s the ones Roni Stoneman told me, “Have just enough education to be dangerous.”
That I try to avoid. I have learned from everyone from a four- year old child singing a nursery rhyme to a 90-year old lady singing me a centuries-old ballad her grandmother taught her (and then telling me the history behind it).
If I go a day without learning something I don’t care how trivial, I feel that day was naught. I believe the Almighty put us on this earth to learn and use but not abuse. It's a constant process.
Arkansas Red, Ozark Troubadour, August 2014
plate 1. Sunset Ozark Trail. Photo by Joshua Heston, October 29, 2011.
plate 2. An Ozark Fall. Artwork by Joshua Heston, August 20, 2009.
Hillbillies vs Rednecks
by Arkansas Red
Hillbillies and rednecks are as different as night and day.
Hillbillies are respectful people who care about the land the Creator gave them. They have respect for all living things and are kind to their neighbors.
Rednecks, on the other hand, dump their trash in scenic areas, poach deer, fish, shoot bald eagles, set traps where people swim, laugh at law and order, hate the government and anyone non-white, and know all the answers (but have no idea what the questions are).
No, I refuse to be put into the category of “redneck.” I wear my ball cap with the bill in front, my pants around my waist and not around my ankles, and I'm not afraid to bathe, shave or be employed.
I can go for years not using the “F” word every other sentence. I can go for longer than 20 minutes without drinking alcohol. Thanks Jeff Foxworth, Larry the Cable Guy, Duck Dynasty, CMT, and all of you who profit greatly from promoting the redneck as the real American.
No wonder people in other countries have no respect for Americans when they turn on the tube and see what our civilization has become. Viva hillbillies.
Arkansas Red, Ozark Troubadour, August 2014
If you like this article, be sure to check out these!
- One-Room Wooley Creek School
- Growing Lettuce (Asteraceae Lactuca sativa)
- Eureka Springs: Southern Gothic
- Rose O’Neill’s Sweet Monsters
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
...Fourth of July
And dime stores. I think for at least a couple of generations, holiday seasons were marked by the merchandise displays of the local Ben Franklin dime store. That was back when a dime store was the hub of the business community and not just a craft shop.
For younger folks unfamiliar with the whole dime store concept, imagine a Wal-Mart small enough you didn't need a cellphone to find other family members.
I remember it would start with Memorial Day as flags populated the front windows. Next came the red, white and blue buntings, packages of red, white and blue streamers, and packages of red, white and blue balloons.
Next came the boxes of sparklers and fire crackers on the front counter, right next to the baseball bubblegum and the (candy) boston baked beans.
It was enough to make a kid forget about the comic book counter and the fish tanks.
It all seemed to tie together (in my mind anyway) with the big statue of Benjamin Franklin out front and the patriotic-themed 1776-to-1976-Bicentennial plastic bucket at home in the yard (where it usually served as a rabbit waterer).
I didn't really understand a lot about what I was feeling back then (hey, I was five years old). But I knew a few things.
I knew the United States was a good, special nation. I knew we were celebrating that. And I knew there was a history to it all. A long story of exceptional people who had given everything they had to make something equally exceptional.
I also knew I liked sparklers.
American exceptionalism. I don't think that's such a bad term. I still think America is a pretty special place.
A place of unique freedom.
A place of extraordinary opportunity.
Is it perfect? Heck no. But I love this nation. It has always been a nation worth fighting for. I hope it always will be.