Historic Resource Study
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The Ozark Riverways and the "New South": Change in the Homeland, 1870-1920

Toward the end of the nineteenth century, railroad, lumber, and mining corporations developed the Current River valley into a hinterland of the expanding national economy. The transportation and extract industries grew wealthy off the mineral and timber resources of the Ozark hills. They also created thousands of jobs and fostered an unprecedented prosperity across the southeast Ozarks. Towns developed and grew as local commercial centers with general stores well stocked with goods as varied as that found in major cities. In fact, the replacement of a largely barter trade with a money-based commerce reflected a major cultural change in the Current River homeland. [1]

The lumber boom introduced a host of other changes that endured in the Ozarks. New technologies in transportation, communication, and appliances, all reflecting a quickened pace of living, remained. New institutions, such as public schools and organized churches, reflected the values of new migrants to the area. Such changes added a layer of complexity to Ozark society but, as historian Robert Flanders noted, these changes did not erase but mingled or "co-existed" with the long standing upland/frontier culture of the region. [2]

Dramatic population gains in the sparsely inhabited rural counties of Carter and Shannon were a measurable result of the railroad, lumber, and mining corporations coming to the Current River valley. After a marginal rise in population during the decade of the 1860s, the two counties rose by just under 50 percent in the post-war decade of the 1870s as railroads moved into the surrounding region. Then in the 1880s, when both the railroads and big lumber operations entered the Current valley, the number of people in Carter and Shannon counties increased 115 and 159 percent respectively. In real numbers, the U.S. Census indicated that the population of Carter County went from 2,168 in 1880 to 4,659 in 1890 and that Shannon County, the physically larger of the two, grew from 3,441 to 8,898. The growth slowed but continued upward in the last decade of the nineteenth century with an increase of 44 percent in Carter and 26 percent in Shannon counties.

Between 1900 and 1930, the fluctuations in the population of Carter County demonstrated the importance of the large corporate extraction industries to this growth. After the Missouri Lumber and Mining Company moved from Grandin to West Eminence in 1909, the number of people in Carter County fell from 6,706 to 5,504, a decrease of 18 percent. During the next decade, with the founding of the Midco iron smelting plant and its expansion with the outbreak of World War I, Carter County grew by 36 percent. The plant closed in 1921 and, by the end of the 1920s, the county population dropped 26 percent to 5503 persons. [3]

Table 3
Regional Population of Current River Counties

County18601870 188018901900 191019201930
Carter1,2341,455 2,1684,6596,7065,504 7,4825,503
Dent5,6546,357 10,64612,14912,986 13,24512,31810,974
Ripley 3,7473,1755,377 8,51213,18613,099 12,06111,176
Shannon 2,2712,3393,441 8,89811,24711,443 11,86510,894

Source: U.S. Census

A proliferation of advertising campaigns contributed to the new growth. The railroad company, building its tracks southeast from Kansas City, devised a number of Ozark land promotions. Fruit farming advertisements attracted many people and, in the early 1880s, as the railroad moved into Texas and Howell counties adjacent to Shannon, thousands of acres of orchards were planted near the tracks. A syndicate of speculators, the Southern Missouri Land Company, coined the popular appeal—"Land of the Big Red Apple"—that attracted a number of rural entrepreneurs like Andrew Jackson Bales. A fruit grower who came to Shannon County by way of Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, and Kansas, Bales raised an orchard on land cleared by the Cordz-Fisher Lumber and Mining Company in the southwestern part of the county. In 1907, the Van Buren Current Local boasted that "no other place [is] more famous for apples, the 'big red apple,' than this state." [4]

A sizable jump in the number of farms in Shannon and Carter counties illustrated the growth. In Shannon, between 1890 and 1900, the number of farms more than doubled from 680 to 1311, and in Carter they rose from 297 to 554. The number of new farms continued to grow in these two counties from 1900 to 1920 despite an overall decline in the number of farms in the five-county area composed of Oregon, Reynolds, Ripley, Carter, and Shannon counties. Nevertheless, in 1910, Shannon, Reynolds, and Carter counties continued to rank among the lowest in Missouri for percentage of land in farms. [5]

After 1880, the population moving into the Ozarks reflected a greater mix of ethnic and occupation groups than before the Civil War and railroad era. By 1890, the lower Midwest states, not the upland South, furnished most of the new migrants into the Ozarks. Illinois ranked first among the jumping-off states. It was followed by Kentucky, Ohio, Indiana, and then Tennessee. The migration included more entrepreneurs and progress minded families than had the early periods of settlement. The newcomers demonstrated a greater interest in schools, churches and town living. [6]

In addition, increasing numbers of foreign immigrants contributed somewhat to the growing diversity. The railroads were especially active in bringing immigrants from Europe.

A small group of Yugoslavian and German-Polish families resided in Ripley County near Naylor and Doniphan. The number of foreign-born residents in Carter and Shannon counties remained a small proportion of the total population, but rose rather dramatically in real numbers from 25 in 1880 to 200 in 1890. [7]

As during the initial railroad penetration of nearby Ozark regions, growing towns altered the landscape around the Current River and brought major changes in the post-railroad homeland culture. From Ripley County and the lower Current basin through Carter and up to Shannon County and the upper Current, new towns and villages formed and served as local social and commercial centers for the rising number of people. In similar fashion, established towns grew larger and more varied in the services they provided. The towns, many with railroad connections, diminished the isolation of the homeland.

In Ripley County, a number of satellite communities surrounded Doniphan, the county seat. Some of these small villages developed from pre-Civil War post office, mill, or store sites. Places like McKinney's Mill (later Fernook), Gamburg (former Little Black), and Gatewood were located within a fifteen-mile radius of Doniphan. Similar villages, such as Pleasant Grove, Dry Spring, and Briar Creek, were founded within the same territory after 1875. Between 1876 and 1890, these communities housed between twenty-five and 100 residents and exported agricultural goods, such as cotton and livestock, hides and lumber. Unlike the newer communities, the older villages had somewhat more diverse activities and services. For example, they all contained two or more churches, and Gamburg and Gatewood had druggists or physicians by 1885. [8] Based on listings in State Gazetteers, the communities founded after 1875 did not have churches, they reflected a somewhat more specialized commercial function. This was true of Briar Creek where two sawmills dominated the setting and of Pleasant Grove where three of the eight men listed by occupation in the Missouri State Gazetteer were livestock agents. [9]

Doniphan, already the leading commercial center of Ripley County and the largest town on the Current River in Missouri, experienced a modest growth from about 500 people in 1877 to 600 in 1890. The services available in the town, however, grew more varied and specialized. In 1884, new services included two restaurants, two newspapers, a meat market and a shoemaker. By 1890, the town supported a cigarmaker, barber, jeweler, dressmaker, photographer, music teacher, undertakers, and, even more telling of the nature of the change in the post-railroad Ozarks, a money broker. [10]

Farther north up the Current River, in 1890, at least seven small villages and towns were located within twenty-five miles of Van Buren, the seat of Carter County. A few of these communities, such as Colemanville and Pike, ten miles east and twelve miles west of Van Buren respectively, evolved from pre-Civil War mill or post office sites. The others—Ellsinore, Hunter, Chilton, and Chicopee—owed their existence to the railroads or lumber corporations. In Carter County, the coming of the railroads often resulted in a decline of the older communities as the tracks bypassed them and laid out new depot towns. For example, the Current River Railroad established a depot named McDonald after its chief engineer two miles south of Pike. In 1890, the post office at Pike moved to the new town, and Pike dwindled to a hamlet with a population of four. Even Van Buren, the leading trading center of Carter County in the 1880s, either chose against or failed to seize the full growth potential of the coming of the railroad and lumber capitalists. [11]

The Current River Railroad bypassed Van Buren, after the railroad men refused to pay the asking price for the right-of-way through town, and built a station and the village of Chicopee one mile south of the county seat. Chicopee was named after the Massachusetts birthplace of the president of the Kansas City, Fort Scott and Memphis Railroad Company. The railroad men also established the villages of Chilton and Hunter south of Van Buren. Hunter, in 1889, became the junction of the Current River and Cape Girardeau and Southwestern Railroads and linked the Current River valley by rail to the western and eastern transportation centers of Kansas City and St. Louis. Ellsinore, a town founded 20 miles southeast of Van Buren by the Cape Girardeau and Southwestern Railroad, for a short period became the largest town in Carter County with just over 800 residents. [12]

Van Buren, even though the depot was located across the river, experienced a large increase in population during the decade when the railroad and lumber corporations came to the Current valley. The size of the community rose from fifty to 200 inhabitants between 1884 and 1890. Transforming from a village and trade crossroads to a small town, Van Buren in 1890 offered its residents and the surrounding community a wider array of services. Though smaller than Doniphan, Van Buren also housed a jeweler, music teacher, shoemaker, photographer, coroner, and barber. [13]

In Shannon County, as in Carter County, town building reflected the importance of railroads and the lumber industry. Yet, away from the railroad corridors, fewer rural hamlets developed into towns in this upper Current River region. Places like Alley, a mill site seven miles west of Eminence, or Ink and Akers, small trading locales north of Eminence, continued to function as small hamlets in open rural communities. Nevertheless, new social organization and technology accompanying the large corporate intervention influenced the character of these communities without leading to full blown town development. This was apparent in the building of a schoolhouse and the construction of a turbine-powered roller mill at Alley near the turn of the century and in the architecture and furnishings of a remodeled Alley store. The organization of a church marked a change at Ink. [14]

One exception to this town building pattern was Cedargrove, a little community on the Current River in northern Shannon County. Settlers first located at this place, a rolling terrace land between the Current River and Big Creek, in the late 1850s after the passage of the Graduation Act. The old Salem to West Plains road passed through here. In the early 1870s, John Kell built a gristmill at the site and George Prince soon built a second gristmill up river from Cedargrove. A small community gathered around the mills and, in 1875, established a post office named Riverside. The name was changed to Cedargrove in 1895. The village expanded with the growing timber industry. By mid 1920s, Cedargrove contained three stores, a gristmill, a sawmill and a planing mill, a blacksmith shop, a school, and a telephone exchange. A barber and three doctors lived in Cedargrove during its most prosperous years. [15]

The town of Birch Tree more reflected the pattern of town development stimulated by the railroad and lumber industry. Evolving into a railroad and lumber center, Birch Tree, 20 miles west of Eminence, grew dramatically in the last two decades of the nineteenth century. In 1884, the village housed about forty people and distributed livestock and wheat from the surrounding area. In 1889, one year after the founding of the Cordz-Fisher company, the population rose to 350 and, in 1898, reached 800. By the turn of the century, the town developed the diversity of services similar to Doniphan and Van Buren. [16] It contained a "Photograph Gallery" with its own resident photographer and, in 1895, had the first bank in Shannon County. [17]

The seat of Shannon County, Eminence experienced uneven growth near the close of the century. Located close to several mines, Eminence contained 140 residents in 1884, 300 in 1889, and 200 in 1898. In 1884, the village stood apart from its political counterparts to the south because of the frontier nature of its commerce. Pelts, furs, and roots continued as important aspects of trade. In addition, the leaders of Eminence advertised the extraction of silver ore from the area, and several miners were listed as residents of the village. Although the town supported a weekly newspaper, churches, and schools, it had not developed the various specialty services available in the county seats of the lower Current. [18]

The town building and the growth of commercial services not only reflected the greater integration of the Current River with the national economy, but also accompanied a revolutionary change in the speed of movement of people and information. The completion of the Current River Railroad from Willow Springs to Grandin reduced what previously would have amounted to a one- or two-week overland trip by wagon to a four-hour train ride. [19] Information, however, traveled even faster.

The communication revolution, also shrinking the distance between the Current valley and the outside world, manifested itself in a number of tangible forms. First, by 1876, before the rail and lumber corporations integrated the area with the national economy, small town boosters founded newspapers in which they promoted local growth and published advertisements of everything from farm equipment to popular fashions. In the late eighties, the Current Local of Van Buren ran weekly columns on household hints and offered advice on such modern conveniences as cast iron stoves. A newspaper article demonstrating the recent introduction of such appliances into the area stated: "Cast iron stoves and iron ware should be heated gradually the first time they are used." [20] Moreover, enhanced mail delivery accelerated the movement of information through the Ozarks. The pattern of postal service to Eminence illustrated this, as the frequency of mail delivery changed from semi-weekly in 1876 to tri-weekly by 1883 and finally to daily service by 1889. By 1890, following the completion of the railroad to the Grandin mill of the Missouri Lumber and Mining Company, the introduction of the telegraph on the lower Current, at Van Buren and Doniphan, reduced the time travel of information from days to minutes. Telephones were the next significant phase in the communication revolution. The Missouri Lumber and Mining Company built a private telephone line out of Grandin. In 1907, the Willow Springs Local and Long Distance Telephone Company extended its public long distance system to Van Buren which, as The Current Local noted, gave this community the ability "to get in touch with the outside world on short notice." [21]

Change to the Current homeland that endured beyond the coming and going of the big lumber corporations was evident in the expansion of the country store and the development of schools and organized churches. Evidence of small country stores providing basic dry goods and foodstuff and of itinerant traders and peddlers passing through the area dates back to the 1820s and 1830s. The significance of the trade between whites (Americans and Europeans) and American Indians in mapping out the early settlement of the region was discussed in Chapter Two. In the mid 1830s, Ozarkers, upon their first encounter with George Featherstonhaugh, frequently presumed this traveler to be a peddler or a tailor, and Featherstonhaugh commented with wonder at the common appearance of "Connecticut clocks" mounted on cabin walls. [22] By the 1850s, several stores were scattered up and down the Current. Remaining account books from a couple of these, such as Deatherage store six to eight miles south of Round Spring and the Pike Creek store of F. B. Green a few miles west of Van Buren, suggest that they sold basic supplies. The most often listed items in the books included coffee, tobacco, sugar, salt, boots and shoes, gunpowder, and whiskey. The Deatherage store, however, offered a somewhat greater variety of goods, in particular cloth and clothing. Its records, however, also attested to the frontier nature of the local barter economy, as many accounts noted credit for pelts and roots traded for store wares. [23] The corporate development of the region greatly altered the inventories of the stores in the countryside as well as in the growing towns.

Between 1895 and 1912, the contents of the store at Alley, a popular mill site at a large spring a few miles west of Eminence on the Jacks Fork, illustrated the change. An 1899 advertisement of the Alley store, then owned by James H. Smith, boasted low prices for "prints, green coffee, granulated sugar, best light brown sugar, good brown sugar, trace chains and hames." In an analysis of Alley, Historian Robert Flanders demonstrated that before the Missouri Lumber and Mining Company moved to West Eminence in 1909, the store offered little more than basic staples. The few prepared foods included canned peaches, cookies, and pickles. After the great lumber mill opened, however, the variety of prepared goods increased and included such specialty items as sardines, chili, prepared mustard, and prepared cereals. [24]

A Pennsylvanian, John M. Knotts owned and operated the store and mill and introduced the expanded inventory as well as a new credit system. Already fifty-nine years old, he arrived at Alley an established "frontier entrepreneur" after spending most of his adult life in Illinois and Kansas. He owned and managed the mill and store from 1902-1912 and started a coupon book exchange system that established credit at cash value. As Flanders noted, country stores traditionally operated on a credit basis and provided customers "goods and services on faith." Yet items bought on credit were marked up above the cash price. Getting the idea from the lumber company stores. Knotts paid customers for their foodstuff and services with coupons redeemable at the store at cash value. For example he traded a five dollar coupon book to Dr. Isom Gann for Gann's surplus produce (eggs, ham, sorghum etc.). The coupon method of exchange allowed the customer to purchase goods at the cash price without the use of money. Money was both a scarce and unfamiliar medium of exchange in the Ozarks and other isolated rural areas. [25]

The use of the coupon system at Alley developed a form of exchange that enhanced the local economy. It elevated the method of exchange above the traditional barter system and offered the surrounding residents an incentive to market their goods locally. Now, instead of transporting their eggs, butter, meat, or grains to outside markets for cash, the local families could redeem their surplus goods for coupons at Alley. This represented an example of the development of a commercial market place economy around an Ozarks mill site. The new store operation transformed the economic system at Alley into a market system common to modern towns "where producers received a cash or cash-equivalent price for what they had to sell, more or less at all times." [26]

In 1913, the store was torn down and replaced with a new building that featured a town style facade, John Knotts sold the land and buildings at Alley, the year before, to a Kansas City based corporation called the Crystal Spring Town-site Company headed by German immigrant Conrad Hug. The new store had two floors and displayed:

[a] square boom town facade, straight side walls with parapeted cornice that stepped backward to follow the slope of the unseen flat roof. The cornices were decorated with jigsawn brackets. Under the front porch canopy large windows flanked a proper double doored entry. The beveled tongue-and-groove siding was painted white, and the window frames, cornices, and brackets were dark green.

The interior of the store, in addition to counters and shelves, contained a soda fountain. A new modern luxury, the fountain was fitted with the latest accouterments—including a marble counter, looped wired stools, big back mirror, and plumbing for ice cream, soda water, and flavoring. The store, however, lacked refrigeration, and the soda fountain never worked. Photographs of the inside suggest that it largely served as a social center for men. It did have a crude system of running water, a rarity in the rural Ozarks, furnished by diverting water from the spring branch to the building. The store also had electricity generated from the "dynamo" attached to the main turbine shaft of the mill. The electricity from the dynamo (generator) powered dim carbon filament lightbulbs in the store and in the mill, school, dance floor, picnic ground and two houses in the area. [27]

The stores in lumber towns, such as Grandin and Winona/Fishertown, provided a more dramatic illustration of the integration of the turn-of-the-century Ozarks with the modern nationwide trends in economics and consumerism. In Grandin, the Missouri Lumber and Mining Company built a large frame company store with 10,000 square feet of floor space and smaller commissaries at each logging camp. The main store was one of the largest mercantile establishments in the Ozarks. One former resident claimed that it contained a diverse array of merchandise comparable to a city department store. The Grandin store burned down in 1900, and the company built a larger establishment with eight departments serviced by fifteen to twenty clerks. [28] It was stocked full of merchandise purchased through a cooperative agency called the "Golden Rule Syndicate." In 1904, in Missouri and Arkansas, twenty-five stores belonged to this cooperative buying syndicate. They were mostly associated with lumber towns. The stores of the syndicate received their merchandise from large urban wholesalers: dry goods from New York, hardware from St. Louis, and groceries from St. Louis and Springfield. Fresh meat for the Grandin butcher shop came from livestock raised and slaughtered on company farms. [29]

An interest in education and the proliferation of rural schoolhouses also distinguished this era of corporate intervention in the Current valley and southeast Ozarks of Missouri. Throughout Missouri, subscription schools predominated before 1850. Those families interested in an education for their children, through mutual association, built a school and then paid an annual subscription to hire a teacher and to buy supplies. Subscription schools were common in the South where parents believed in private control over education and in frontier areas where the establishment of schools preceded the establishment of local government. The Constitution of Missouri authorized the creation of "at least one gratis school" in each township, but the state failed to support such a system with "adequate funding" until 1842. In that year, the monies awarded amounted to only sixty cents per student between the ages of eight and sixteen who were enrolled in a "qualifying" school. A statewide system of public education, however, failed to materialize until after the Civil War when Missouri enacted more substantial legislation. [30]

The timing of the development of public education in Missouri corresponded with the rise of public schools throughout the South. In contrast to conditions in the North, before the Civil War, North Carolina and Kentucky were the only southern states that had a system of public education. The Missouri state government passed a series of strong education laws in 1874. The legislation abolished township control and empowered county superintendents with the oversight of the local system. It also augmented the traditional control of individual schools by three-director districts. This new public education initiative and the economic and population expansion of the late nineteenth century stimulated a dramatic rise in the number of rural public schools. By 1900, there were more than ten thousand rural, primarily, one-room schools in the state. [31]

The reports of the state superintendent demonstrated that public schools were slow to organize before the 1880s in the Current River region. Prior to this time, the sparse population, the disruption of the Civil War, and in general the frontier culture of the Current homeland hindered the organization of school districts. An 1857 report showed an absence of any public schools in Shannon and Ripley counties and only seventeen schools in Dent County. Thirteen years later, Shannon County reported twelve schools, Dent County reported forty-four, Ripley County reported seventeen and Carter County recorded no schools. An 1875 description of the Shannon County school resources by county superintendent W. N. Deatherage demonstrated their insignificance to the area. The entire county contained only ten scantily furnished schools, one frame building in Eminence and nine log buildings. Deatherage's report referred to the use of polk berries for ink and goose quills for pens. It also noted that people had to travel to Thomasville or Salem, forty and fifty miles respectively from Eminence, to buy school books. An 1878 report explained that eleven districts in Shannon County did not have schools. Earlier in the decade, the school commissioner of Carter County reported how geography, specifically the steep hills and valleys and many creeks and rivers, along with the small population complicated the organization of school districts. He said that the terrain required many children to hike over rugged hills and to canoe across streams to get to schools. [32]

Nevertheless, the number of schools and pupils increased as the population grew in the 1880s and 1890s, and the new stock of Yankees, Germans and other ethnic groups, who placed a high value on schooling, demanded better educational opportunities. In 1881, the number of public schools in Dent, Ripley, and Shannon counties rose to fifty-one, thirty, and thirty-six respectively. Carter County had eleven public schools. By 1901, Dent, Ripley, Shannon, and Carter counties had sixty-seven, sixty-nine, sixty-two and twenty-seven schools respectively. The number of pupils enrolled increased in a similar fashion. In 1885, 60 percent of the 8,945 school-age children in a five county region encompassing the watershed of the Black, Current, and Eleven Point Rivers were enrolled in school. The length of the school terms was still short here. In Shannon County the term lasted twenty-five days, and in Carter County it spanned forty-six. In 1900, enrollment in the same region included 77 percent of the school-age children, and the terms ranged from 110 to 124 days. [33]

The journals of William Aden French, a former Shannon County school teacher and publisher of the Current Wave, vividly describes the life of one young school teacher and the nature of a rural school in the early twentieth century in the Current valley. In 1906, at the age of fourteen, French migrated with his three brothers to Shannon County, Missouri from Tennessee. From 1910 through 1913, he taught four terms at rural schools around the Current River basin—first at Pine Hollow, then at Prairie Hollow, Owls Bend, and Cotoreva schools. In 1914, he took up the printing trade and remained associated with the newspaper business, first as an assistant at the Current Wave and after 1937 as its owner. As a teacher and writer, French became a popular leader in the Ozarks. Historian Robert Flanders characterized him as:

a ruralist, but one whose life became woven into the culture of the modernizing Ozarks village. Evidence of both worlds are apparent in his voluminous diary—farming, hunting, fishing, camping out, rural school teaching, and writing rustic romances on the one hand, and on the other, a cash-paying regular town job, formal education, music, participation with Sunday school organizations, facility with standard English, and regular attendance at the movies.

In 1911, French lived on the family farm just a few miles from Eminence when he taught at the Prairie Hollow School located six miles from his home. [34]

At the beginning of each school term, French recalled that he would scout out the locale of the school on the weekend before classes started to "get the lay of the land." On one such visit he gave an "Inventory of Schoolhouse and belongings, July 8, 1911, Prairie Hollow":

size of house 24x18 feet, well painted and well built, having 6 windows, with screens, and one door contains inside:

12 desks
1 table
1 water bench
1 recitation bench
1 water bucket with dipper
1 stove
2 black boards
6 erasers
1 box chalk
1 teacher's box to sit on
1 bookcase, containing about 47 books
1 broom
1 chart with 20 leaves

He also entered in his journal a note of "things to do" that included organizing the library and writing to the State Board of Horticulture in Columbia, Missouri for farmer's bulletins. The note listed bulletin topics of interest such as pruning peach trees and battling orchard diseases and pests. [35] Not all schools were as nicely furnished. A former student of Poplar School on Blair Creek said that it did not have anything but desks and chairs and that they counted on the teacher to "figure things out." [36]

The 1911 term at Prairie Hollow began July 10 with four students, three of whom had the surname Fry. The pupils were ages twelve, fourteen, seventeen and seventeen and were in the third, fourth, and seventh grades. Like other rural schools, Prairie Hollow provided schooling for grades one through eight. By the end of the first month, enrollment rose to nine pupils although the average daily attendance was little more than five. Over the five-month term, the number of students enrolled each month varied from seven to fifteen and the average daily attendance per month ranged from under four to over eight students. The highest numbers occurred in November, the fifth month, after the fall crops were harvested. The monthly reports that French wrote to the county school superintendent indicated that attendance was sporadic as, on the average, five to six students missed five or more days each month. [37]

The enrollment of Ozarks rural schools varied from school to school and from term to term; however, sporadic attendance seemed to prevail everywhere. In these one-room schools, enrollment could range from one or two students to as many as eighty or more. Regardless of the number of pupils there was generally one teacher to a school and that teacher had to cope with students ranging in age anywhere from four to twenty. Because of the irregular attendance, some students were sixteen or even twenty years old before they completed the eight grades. The recollections of students who attended different rural schools in early twentieth century Shannon County pointed to priorities at home that prevented daily schooling. One woman from the Little Shawnee neighborhood remembered traveling two to three miles to school and noted that her father would not let the children go if the weather was bad. She also recalled being pulled from school by her father to help harvest corn. By late fall, she remembered that she got "to go a little at a time and none of us learned too much." Yet she was proud of the fact that she learned to read despite the limited attendance. [38]

A record of a day's lessons from French's journal demonstrates how he managed a classroom of students of different ages and grade levels. His lesson plan closely followed the suggested curriculum developed by the Missouri Superintendent of Schools. Like in most rural schools, French also organized the children into classes A through D, where A represented the seventh and eight grades, B the fifth and sixth grades, and so on. Under this system, teachers each year often alternated some of the grades taught. For example, class A might learn seventh grade material in 1911-1912 and eighth grade material in 1912-1913. In his diary, French described the second day's lesson plan at Prairie Hollow as follows:

9:00 Opening exercises
9:15 A Arithmetic
10:00 C Arithmetic
10:30 recess
10:45 Fourth reader
11:15 A Geography
12:00 noon
1:00 Singing
1:15 C Language
1:45 Civil Government
2:30 recess
2:45 Fifth reader
3:30 C spelling
3:45 A Spelling
4:00 Dismissal [39]

The subjects reflected a somewhat rounded educational experience, common to rural schools, that went beyond the basic three Rs curriculum for the higher grades.

A selection from French's diary for one week in September 1911 provides a window into the life of a rather exceptional Ozarks school teacher and the early twentieth-century Current River society in which he lived. It portrays an active young rural school teacher preoccupied with hunting, reading and writing. It reflects a rich social life in a rural community near a peak period in its population. Moreover, it demonstrates the wider community function of the rural schoolhouses as social centers. French wrote these entries just after receiving his second month's teaching salary, a check for thirty-five dollars, and his immediate payment of a store bill suggested that his teaching was an important source of cash income for his family. The entries begin on a weekend one day after French received his paycheck ("warrant").

Saturday September 2:

I went to Eminence in morning. Went over with Peck. Took "Max," our young dog, along, aiming to go hunting later. Treed squirrel on way over and I shot its head off with Peck's . . . Winchester,—a good shot. . . . My warrant cashed. Paid D. L. Bales all the family debt—$20.033and he made me a presant (sic) of a $1.50 hat. I bought a box of 25 12-gauge shells. Mailed my quarterly report to Supt. Webb. Bought grade cards for my School, 5 cents. Mailed the extra Volume 3 of my Encyclopedia to W. B. Coinkey Co., Hammond, Ind. . . . Mailed them a letter notifying them of the same and asking them to send me a Volume 4. Went up to McKinney's and ate dinner. Took my dog and, went over to Knight's. Borrowed his hammerless single barrel shotgun and went hunting out on Big Branch. Shot a rabbit dead, that was running as fast as it could go. . . . I shot at a whip-poor-will flying and at a quail flying but killed neither. Shot twice at a squirrel running, and hit it both times, killing it dead the second shot. Shot a big snake. . . . Tommy climbed a tree and pulled a squirrel out, . . . Gave Tommy the rabbit and I took the 2 squirrels to Knight's and gave them to Knight's folks. Got there at dark, 7:15. Sid was there. Ate supper there and. talked to my girl til 10:20. Got home after 11 and had. to help milk the cows. Got to bed at 12 o'clock.

Sunday, September 3:

Wrote up on my diary and book-keeping. Read some more in "How to Study." Stayed at home all day. A crowd here in the afternoon. Went to Sunday School, P.M., and. organized it again. Hayden Crawford here; played for us on the banjo. I went over to Knights in the afternoon, about 5 o'clock. Sid there. Ate supper there. Went to church at Eminence at night with my girl. Got in home after 10 o'clock. [40]

The third month of school began the next day, and the diary entries became preoccupied with teaching activities. Two events during this week illustrated the community significance of the school. On one occasion, people in the area helped French clean the school grounds and, on another, French refers to his family and friends attending a spelling contest at a school near his home.

Monday, September 4:

I rode over to Prairie Hollow, 6:50-8:39 A.M., and began teaching my Third Month of School there. Had. an attendance of 3 pupils in the forenoon and. 4 in the afternoon. Had one visitor, Charlie Counts. Pretty warm weather. Clouded up, and. rained some during the afternoon. I made out examination questions, getting ready to give my pupils the quarterly examination. Took up at 9:00; turned out at 4:05; made up 5 minutes of my lost time. Rode home, 4:22-5:50, most of the way in the rain. Got caught in two very heavy showers and got soaked through and through.

Tuesday, September 5, 1911:

Cloudy in the early morning. Showery, raining off and on all the forenoon. I borrowed Al Vance's slicker coat and rode over to my School, 6:46-8:33. Had a working at the School house in the forenoon, 5 men of the neighborhood gathered in and we cleaned off the School grounds, cutting the brush and dragging off the logs. The girls scrubbed out the school house. Got through before noon. Had School in the afternoon; 4 pupils. Cleared off at noon. Rode home, 4:15-5:54. Boys had been hunting; killed 8 squirrels.

Wednesday, September 6:

A fine morning. Ride over to my School, 6:58-8:39. Only had two pupils in the forenoon and 3 in the afternoon. Took up at 8:50 and turned out at 4:00, making up all my lost time. Wrote some more on Chapter 27 of "The Mankiller." Rode home, 4:06-5:35 P.M. Peck cut my hair.

Thursday, September 7, 1911:

Rained in A.M. Rode over to my School, 6:54-8:32. Took up School at 8:40 and turned out at 4:10, thereby putting in 30 minutes extra time. Gave my pupils the quartery (sic) examination in Arithmetic (grades, 71, 72, and 78%), Geography (grades, 80 and 82%), and Agriculture (grades, 96 and 97%). Had an attendance of 4 pupils in A.M. and 3 in P.M. Finished Chapter 27 of "The Mankiller." Read "A Christmas Carol," by Charles Dickens. Rode home, 4:19-5:58 P.M.

Friday, September 8:

Cloudy in A.M. Rode over to Prairie Hollow, 6:44-8:24. Took up School at 8:45. Had just 2 pupils and 3 visitors, Gave examination in Spelling (grades, 80, 90, and 90%), Civil Government (grades, 64 and 66%), and Grammar (grade, [missing]). Began reading "The Arabian Nights." Wrote a little on Chapter 28 of "The Mankiller." Got through examination by the afternoon recess and turned out School at 2:30, thus losing 45 minutes. Rode home, 2:38-4:10. A crowd at home, my girl among them. They had all been to a spelling match at the home School, I took my girl home, then came back, getting home before dark. [41]

Despite the low attendance and the subsequent connotation of secondary importance given to schooling here, the broader community values that the schoolhouses assumed were evident in the clean up effort and in the spelling contest at another school nearby.

In his study of Alley, Robert Flanders noted the importance that young and old Ozarkers attributed to schooling at the turn of the century, and he emphasized the expanded social significance of the schoolhouses. He explained how the one-room schoolhouse, at once, reflected the "old" Ozark values of simplicity and the influx of new ideas in the "new" Ozarks. [42] A number of Shannon County residents who recalled attending the old rural schools bemoaned the demise of these one-room schoolhouses because of the personal attention that students received there and because the schools also served as community centers to the rural population. In fact, Flanders said that the rural school district, along with the nuclear family, extended kinship relations, and the neighborhood, represented the major social organizations, and the schools constituted the "only formal social organization." The residents of school districts regularly scheduled box suppers and other events at the schools. These often focused on raising funds to expand the school library and supplies. The schoolhouses also were used as churches and for Sunday school classes. [43]

The kinship ties of the students within many Ozarks rural school districts demonstrated the extent to which the one-room schoolhouses became manifestations of the Ozarks communities. Historian Kimberly Scott Little, in her study of Ozarks rural schools, revealed that Ozarks schools were both public schools and family schools. This is evident in her investigation of the students at Lower Parker School in Dent County on the upper Current River. Little wrote:

Students who attended Lower Parker were from roughly two dozen interrelated families for a large part of its history, with the Schafers supplying the most students of any single family over the fifty-year period. . . . For example, the list of enrolled students for 1926-27 included at least fourteen children who were siblings or first cousins, all descended from the same Schafer grandparents. By surname there were twelve Schafers, one Kirtman child, two Nichols, seven Derryberrys, two Pruits, four Freezes, two Rasors, two Hancocks, and two Davis children that year. Six years later, in 1932-33 when the Schafers were finishing one generation and beginning another, the family only had six students attending plus two Davis children whose mother was a Schafer. That same year, there were five Pruits, five Leonards, three Derryberrys, three Nichols, two each of Razors, Hoodenpyles, Hancocks, and Kells (with a Nichols mother), and one Asher (a Derryberry grandchild). Almost none of these children were the same ones present six years previously; they were siblings, cousins, nieces, nephews, and sons and daughters of former students. . . . The Nichols had students in Lower Parker both the first year and the last year it was in operation. George Roy Nichols sat at a desk in Lower Parker where father and grandfather had sat before him. . . . [44]

The Ozarks one-room schools, like Lower Parker, served their tightknit communities until the 1950s. State and federal education officials promoted the consolidation of rural schools as early as the 1890s, Missouri passed its first school consolidation law in 1911, but the number of small locally controlled school districts continued to grow in the Ozarks. The consolidation policy conflicted with Ozark realities. The rugged Ozarks terrain, poor roads, dispersed population, and preference for local control insured the survival of the one-room schools until the nature of the communities changed and the state increased consolidation pressures after World War II. [45]

Mostly abandoned since the 1950s, one-room schoolhouses built near the turn of the twentieth century still stand in the Ozarks. Several such buildings, including the Buttin Rock (HS-342), Lower Parker (HS-233) and Story Creek (HS-520) schools, have survived in good condition along the Current and Jacks Fork riverways. Two of the buildings are in Shannon County and one, Lower Parker, is in Dent County. Buttin Rock School stands in an isolated wooded area on the border of an old field about two miles north and across the Current River from the mouth of Rocky Creek. Remnants of the Buttin Rock river road (HS-356) exist just west of the school and run parallel to the river. An abandoned house, the Reed-Macy log house (HS-351), is about a half mile north of the school, and the Klepzig mill (HS-355) is perched over Rocky Creek. Farther north, the Lower Parker School sits at the foot of Parker Hollow on the upper Current above Cedargrove. It is less than a mile down the hollow from an intact turn-of-the-century farmstead, the Nichols farm (HS-244). Unlike Buttin Rock and Lower Parker, the Story Creek School has been moved from its original location. It now serves as a museum piece at Alley Mill on the Jacks Fork. [46]

The organization of churches also defined the post-railroad Ozarks. The religious history of the area has received little attention. Few organized churches existed before the Civil War. Itinerant preachers came and went and held outdoor revivals or preached out of someone's home, but their influence generally lasted little longer than their presence. Two religious strains left a visible mark after the war: a revivalist tradition reflected in a widespread growth of Methodist, Baptist, Campbellites, and nondenominational evangelical churches, and a Puritan influence evident in the Congregational Churches established by the eastern lumber capitalists. [47] The churches listed in the Missouri State Gazetteers between 1883 and 1899 demonstrated the predominance of the revivalist faiths in the Current basin. Greater religious diversity, however, appeared in the area settled earliest, the lower Current in Ripley County. Although the revivalists—the Methodists, Baptists, and Christians—dominated the area, a large minority of Presbyterians lived there as well as a few Catholics. In Carter County, the religious minded turned almost exclusively to the Methodist and Baptist faiths. A Catholic church was built by the Missouri Lumber and Mining Company in Grandin; however, it closed for the lack of parishioners, and the church building became a public library. The corporate leadership at Grandin maintained a Congregational Church. In Shannon County, the revivalist faiths held a large majority though some German immigrants adhered to the Christian Reform church. [48]

Overall, the increased religious activity worked to introduce a new moral order in the region. Some congregations tried to impose bans on longstanding components of Ozarks culture: whiskey and dance. The former was also targeted by the Pennsylvania Calvinists at Grandin. J. B. White, the superintendent of Missouri Lumber, prohibited the sale of alcohol in Grandin and pressured local dealers to stop selling to company workers. In one case, he gave a job to a liquor salesman who agreed to stop selling whiskey. As Leslie Hill noted in a history of the Missouri Lumber and Mining Company, the lumber executives also cooperated with U.S. Marshals to eliminate illegal distilleries. The company carried marshals over logging trains to illegal stills. In 1904 the Current Local reported an incident involving the arrest of four people caught making corn whiskey on Buffalo Creek west of the Current River. The lumber company also prohibited gambling in Grandin and employed a town sheriff to enforce its policies. The company's ban on liquor sales and gambling was in the interest of production, not salvation. [49]

In rural areas the churches were closely linked to the schoolhouses. Preachers, including lay ministers, often held services in the schools and organized church socials there. For instance, the Alley school, at the mill hamlet on the Jacks Fork, and the Lower Parker School, on the upper Current, frequently served as churches. A few rural hamlets did have churches. The community centered at Ink, in Shannon County, built a church sometime between 1901 and 1907. Meetings were held whenever an itinerant preacher rode through, and such occasions often turned into a week-long revival attended by most of the surrounding community. [50]

The major investments in the railroad and lumber development brought dramatic visible change to the sparsely populated backwoods homeland. Within a single generation, the people of the Current River witnessed a major influx of new people, new money-paying jobs, new schools, and the growth of larger and new towns, along with the new churches. [51] The new people introduced a progressive quality to the homeland that included a taste for town living and a greater emphasis on formal education. The new jobs transferred the local barter economy into a largely cash economy, and the people of the Current River became more dependent on outside forces for their livelihoods. Yet the many changes did not eliminate all traces of the uplander-frontier culture of the Current River homeland.

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Last Updated: 02-Mar-2005