|Where are the Ozarks? by Joshua Heston
Some would argue the Ozarks arent a region at all, but a state of mind.
That may not be far from the truth. The Ozark Mountains are best defined two ways: geographically and culturally.
Geographically the Ozarks are a series of plateaus. Highlands. The largest is the Salem Plateau, which encompasses Branson, Rolla, Hardy, and stretches all the way to Sedalia, Jefferson City and St. Louis.
Far to the east, nearly to Illinois, the St. Francois Mountains rise to the south of Farmington, Missouri.
The Springfield Plateau includes Springfield, Missouri, stretches up to Warsaw and Stockton Lake, reaches over to Joplin, and then leans way over into Oklahoma to include Tahlequah.
In the south, the rugged Boston Mountains define northwest Arkansas. And even further south across the Arkansas River the Ouachitas rise.
All together, these highlands make up what can be called the Ozarks.
The term highland can be a bit of a relative concept.
Geologists tell us the Ozarks are mighty old. Older than the Rockies or the Appalachians. So old, in fact, that theyve been worn down to a nub.
On the north side of these hills, you don't climb into the mountains as much as you wander around...and then fall into them.
From the south, however, the Ozarks can be seen clearly as they rise from the Arkansas River valley.
Just pull off Interstate-40 around Ozark, Arkansas, sometime on a hot summer night and watch the lightning play amongst the solemn old hills of the Boston Mountains.
And somewhere between the lightning flashes and the frogs song, the meaning of these hills may just take ahold of your heart.
April 26, 2009
|12/16/08, These Old Hills. Photo credit, J. Heston. Location: Mincy-Drury Conservation Area, Taney County, Missouri. Below, Oak leaves with frost.|
|Essentially a part of the upper South, the diverse landscape of the Ozarks contains many special habitats that resemble other regions of the country.
The sunny glades resemble the desert Southwest; the cool, spring-fed meadows resemble northern Minnesota bogs; the deep, shaded ravines of the eastern Ozarks are typical of the Appalachian Mountain forests; and the southern river flood plains are linked to the deep South.
excerpted from the Missouri State Museum, Jefferson City, Missouri.
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.
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, organization skills and a desire to escape political persecution in Europe.
The foolish died quickly or moved away. The independent flourished.
The desperate 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 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