Black Oak Ridge, Missouri Ozarks

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These old hills are home to a people. A people defined by a region — a people who have come to define that region. It is easy to understand plateaus and highlands, rivers, boundaries. It is not so easy to understand a people, a culture, a sensibility. These old hills are rugged. Long ago, they attracted the desperate, the independent. The foolish.

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Frenchman from New Orleans. Early British pioneers. Poor Irish immigrants, then black-dirt farmers from Indiana and Illinois. Southerners to establish Missouri as a slave state. Unionists from Ohio and Iowa. German immigrants by the scores, with high-minded sensibilities, organizational skills and a desire to escape political persecution in Europe. The foolish died quickly or moved away. The independent flourished.

The foolish died quickly or moved away.

The depraved found safety — and often became more depraved.

In the 19th century, the Ozarks were a lonely, dangerous place. And what little law and order existed before the ravages of war, there was none after. Stories of deadly bushwhackers, baldknobbers and just plain-out-and-out-coldblooded killers make for romantic legends today. It wasn’t too romantic at the time.

How would you like to walk to school one morning and find the body of a neighbor hanging from a tree? Or work from dawn ’till dusk for months, only to see locust clouds descend over the hills, eating crops, grass, even fenceposts?

Life in these hills was hard.

Out of that hardness was bred a people — a people defined as stalwart, laconic, distrustful. A people self-reliant. To define the Ozark region by its culture? Some would say these peoples are a microcosm of all that makes the United States what it is. This State of the Ozarks.

— Joshua Heston, editor April 26, 2009

State of the Ozarks is one of the definitive websites of the Ozarks.

Not a government sponsored travel site nor a local advertisement page, StateoftheOzarks is privately owned and dedicated to the history, culture and the people of the Ozarks.

The Ozarks region has long been a respected place where the American Heartland still has a voice. Where time runs a little slower, the folks are friendlier, and rivers a bit cleaner. A place that stands in book end answer to elite Eastern sensibilities and the flash of LA culture.

The Ozarks are still here. And we’re still proud of that.

“...endless summer time.”

by Joshua Heston

One of these days, I reckon I’ll actually grow up (though as I grow older, being a kid again looks like a lot more fun).

I remember summer days that stretched on forever. I remember seasons slowly passing — when the local fair and my birthday, Christmas and even Halloween looked as though they would never arrive!

I remember the joy of an endless summer as though the white puffy clouds and azure blue sky simply could never not last forever.

Then adulthood happened. Schedules and deadlines happened. Responsibility happened. Now a whole summertime goes by faster than a week of my childhood. It’s downright depressing.

Easy it is to lament the lost past. Perhaps we are lamenting the belief the best is now behind us. Lost inexpressibly before we could really, truly savor the moment. What’s ahead?

The unknown. Loss? Darkness? Conflict? Impossible to tell.

But I can tell you this: We are surrounded by scores of immensely talented, amazing people. We live in one of the most beautiful regions of the world. And I believe some of the greatest contributions to our art, our music, our lives, our culture, our history, are yet to be made.

And I have an idea. Perhaps, if we look to the future with anticipation rather than trepidation, life will slow down just a mite. Each day might pass just a bit sweeter.

Perhaps we will see those around us with new eyes, wondering what amazing piece of a beautiful future they will create. Yes, there will be conflict and darkness and loss.

But there will also be beauty and joy and life.

And maybe then it will be like it was in the old days, waiting interminable weeks, until the county fair would open and we could go eat all the cotton candy we wanted and ride away the night on the Ferris Wheel, the Scrambler or the Tilt-A-Whirl.

A future that will last forever. A future filled with, well, filled with people markedly like us. We get to create their past. We get to paint a picture for them, a reminder —

The good old days weren’t all gone. There is hope and light yet.

— from August 10, 2014, State of the Ozarks Weekly Issue 349

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10/5/08, Black Oak Ridge. Photo credit, Joshua Heston. Location: Stone County, Missouri

From Shepherd of the Hills

“And this way runs the trail that lies along the higher, sunlit hills where those who journey see afar and the light lingers even when the day is done.”

— Harold Bell Wright, 1907

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Celebrate the Ozarks in Your Inbox!

Every week, we celebrate the Ozarks with a brand-new issue of State of the Ozarks Weekly, cram packed with articles and topped off with a traditional recipe.

Sign up to receive State of the Ozarks Weekly free in your inbox every Sunday at 5PM!

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Chinkapin Oak State of the Ozarks Page Sponsor

Baldknobber Vigilantes

(Kirbyville, MO) The early spring day [believed to be April 5, 1885] dawned bright and clear. The meeting grounds were on top of Snapp's Bald, a great treeless peak located about two miles northwest of Kirbyville, a village of approximately five miles southwest of Forsyth and not far from the Kinney home.

"Barren of timber and underbrush, the spot had been selected because sentries could insure the secrecy and security of the proceedings. This particular peak commanded a view of the countryside that discouraged interlopers from drawing nearer than a half mile."

From Baldknobbers: Vigilantes on the Ozark Frontier, 1988.

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