Deforestation and the Rise of Modern Recreation
By the third decade of the twentieth century, the loss of the forest resulting from the hinterland development threatened traditional ways of living along the Current River even more than had the many social and economic changes of the lumber and railroad era. Timber, the resource that attracted the railroads and many people to the Current after 1880, showed signs of playing out soon after 1900. The forest was the foundation of the uplander culture. It housed the game that the uplander hunted and fed the hogs that the hill families ate. The uplander-frontier culture's economic tradition was based on a reactive relationship with nature. Before the introduction of large-scale lumbering, the settlers made few visible changes to the natural environment.  Their hunting practices helped to deplete much of the big game but their open range livestock grazing had little impact on the forest. The loss of so many trees through unbridled lumbering, however, damaged the natural and thus the cultural habitat of the traditional homeland.
Some Ozark and state leaders saw tourism as the economic salvation of the region. The early development of modern recreation on the Current and Jacks Fork rivers accompanied the introduction of railroads into the southeast Missouri Ozarks. There were two trends in the growth of recreation. First, the railroad and lumber companies encouraged sport hunting and fishing. The depletion of the wildlife and the exodus of the large pine lumber corporations limited this activity and, by 1914, the promotion of recreation began focusing on attracting tourists to the areas scenic beauty. Although tourism boomed around the springs of southwest Missouri and northwest Arkansas during the previous century, it was slow to develop in the more isolated Courtois Hills. Unlike lumbering and hunting, tourism was an unfamiliar concept to most residents of the Current River region.
The lumber industry did not just collapse. As historian James Murphy noted, the Ozark forest was not clear cut but was timbered in stages. First, the large lumber companies removed the big yellow pine trees, the most profitable wood in the forest. The Missouri pine logging corporations closed their Ozark operations sometime during the first two decades of the twentieth century. In 1904, the Cordz-Fisher Lumber and Mining Company shut down its Birch Tree mill after milling approximately 300,000,000 board feet of lumber since its founding in 1888. In 1912, the directors of the Ozark Land and Lumber Company began dismantling their Ozark enterprise and, in 1915, reorganized the business into a real estate firm. Eight years later the company sold 103,297 acres of land to the T. J. Moss Tie Company of St. Louis. The Ozark Land and Lumber Company sold the remainder of its business to another buyer who moved the operation to Springfield, Missouri, and started a retail lumber company. In 1919, after ten years of milling lumber from West Eminence and building tram lines farther north into Spring Valley and the upper Current, the Missouri Lumber and Mining Company left the southeast Ozarks. The company sold the West Eminence mill to the Forked Leaf White Oak Lumber Company. 
Another large corporate pine lumber operation actually began operations near the Current River during these years. In 1909, the Bunker-Culler Lumber Company began cutting and milling timber from land along Big, Blair, and, later, Sinking creeks in northeast Shannon County. J. S. Bunker, who came from small lumber works in Mountain View and Summersville, founded the company with his son-in-law and built a mill town, Bunker, in Dent County just north of the Shannon County border. He bought much of his plant from the Ozark Land and Lumber Company. The saw and planing mills had a capacity of working 60,000 board feet per day. At its peak, the town of Bunker included a company store, 250 houses, a church, and about 800 people. Bunker-Culler cut timber from east of the Current until the pine ran out in 1921. 
Most of the officers of the Ozark yellow pine companies entered into new operations in the pine forest of the South and Pacific Northwest. The top executives of the Missouri Lumber and Land Exchange, the marketing firm composed of officers of Cordz-Fisher, Ozark Land and Lumber, and Missouri Lumber and Mining companies, controlled the Louisiana Long Leaf Lumber Company, the Louisiana Central Lumber Company, and the Grandin Coast Lumber Company in Washington State. J. B. White and the other lumbermen concentrated on these businesses after leaving the Ozarks. The Missouri Lumber and Mining Company also had an interest in the Doniphan Lumber Company and the Smalley Tie and Timber Company of Van Buren. The latter companies supplied the pine lumber company with ties for its tram lines and also exported ties out of the area. The Missouri Lumber company sold its interest in the tie operations before leaving the Ozarks. 
After the large pine lumber corporations left, smaller companies continued to remove trees until the accessible forest was largely gone by 1930. The Ozark forest was composed mostly of hardwood trees. The smaller lumber companies cut railroad ties from white oaks. Some operators focused on high grade oak for barrel staves, heading, and flooring. Others removed the smaller pine and hardwoods for piling, mine props, tool handles, and so forth until the marketable timber was gone.  The largest of these operations was the tie cutting.
Cultural geographer Carl O. Sauer identified three methods of tie making: by farmers during the winter, by mills as by-products, or by "tie hackers." The latter were the most prevalent in the Ozarks. Observing these operations in 1915, Sauer gave the following description of tie hackers:
Two tie hackers could hew about thirty ties a day. They split the logs with wooden mauls and carved out ties with broad axes. The cross-ties measured six by eight inches thick and usually eight feet long. 
On the upper Current River, the Smalley Tie and Timber Company dominated tie hacking at the turn of the century. At first, J. B. White was personally associated with H. H. Smalley in the tie company until 1907 when he sold his interest to the Missouri Lumber and Mining Company. The large lumber company capitalized the tie operation and furnished Smalley with workers from the Grandin operation. Smalley ran the business, which continued to hold his name. He agreed to pay Missouri Lumber and Mining five cents for ties made of white oak and three cents for those made from other timber. 
The Smalley Tie and Timber Company operated out of Van Buren and Chicopee. The river provided the principal means of transporting ties to railroad hubs. Upstream from Van Buren, the tie cutters hauled the ties to the riverbank. Smalley shipped crews upriver in a small paddle boat, and the crews then floated the ties down to Chicopee. There were two methods of floating ties, driving and rafting. In a drive, crews of about fifteen men let the lumber float loose downstream and basically followed behind to break up jams. Drives contained between 50,000 and 400,000 ties and moved slowly. On the Current, they often started near Montauk and picked up ties as they went downriver. Flash flooding made free flowing drives dangerous both for the crews responsible for clearing jams and for persons and property along the river. The Smalley company generally organized drives in the fall when there was less risk of a flood but, even without freshets, the timber could run out of control. In the autumn of 1902, the weight of thousands of ties packed against the boom at Chicopee broke it and 5,000 ties shot downriver. Smalley's men tried to stop them at a Missouri Lumber and Mining Company tram bridge near Grandin, but many slipped through and traveled downriver to Doniphan. 
The State of Missouri regulated the transportation of ties on rivers. In 1909, the state limited the number of ties in a drive to 50,000 and ten years later outlawed drives altogether. After 1919, rafting was the only legal means of floating ties down a river.  This second method of transporting ties involved connecting them in eight-foot squares with forty-penny nails and connecting the squares with coupling poles. Assembled in this manner, a crew of two or three men could maneuver a flotilla of 1,500 ties downstream at a rate of about six miles a day. 
Other tie companies and small hardwood mills operated in the area. South of Van Buren, in Ripley County, the Doniphan Lumber Company managed a tie hacking operation on the lower Current. Ripley County was the largest producer of ties along the Current and, during 1912, at its high point, the county exported 808,000 ties. After the pine mills closed down, the T. J. Moss Tie Company of St. Louis purchased considerable timber land with hardwood still present. This company continues to lumber in the Ozark highlands in 1990. 
Along with tie making, the forest fell for a variety of other uses. Individual farmers/woodsmen cut the smaller hardwood and pine to sell to mills for cash. Small mill operators produced a variety of wood products. For example in Reynolds County, the White and Hummell Manufacturing Company, Laclede Land and Improvement Company, and the B. F. Hackworth Company manufactured piling, wagon hubs, tool handles, and other timber products. In addition, the large iron smelting plants, Midco in Carter County and Sligo in Dent County, clear-cut many acres to fuel their factories.  As a result of the voracious lumbering by large and small operators, much of the forest near the Current disappeared, and the economy declined.
No other industry developed to replace the timber economy. The promotion of large-scale fruit growing and ranching never materialized. Much of the land sold for fruit and ranching proved unsuitable, and the popularity of such promotions faded.  Toward the end of the nineteenth century, the Peck brothers from Kansas tried to develop a sheep ranch in Carter County near Fremont, but the venture failed. They sold out to the Midco group. Disreputable land schemes flourished with the efforts to sell the cut-over acres. In Carter County, one such scam involved a phony oil boom where land speculators sold off 3,300 lots for forty dollars each at the old logging camp of Eastwood. Appraisers later calculated the fair market value of the whole camp at 100 dollars.  The condition of agriculture in the southern Courtois Hills complicated the economic problems accompanying the collapse of the lumber industry. The marginal fertility of most of the soil in the Current River valley was a major part of the trouble. As the population rose during the later nineteenth century the only land available was ill-suited for crop cultivation. Moreover, the farming methods employed by most of the hill population damaged the soil. The farmers planted small plots of corn year after year until the soil gave out and then simply moved to another plot and repeated the process. In a five-county region around the Current riverways, the production of corn declined by 50 percent from 1910 to 1920. The overall value of agricultural products, however, continued to rise, largely, because the uplanders increased their livestock holdings, especially cattle. The number of cattle in the same region increased from 31,713 head in 1900 to 53,568 head in 1920. In Carter County, the farming population produced sixteen tons of hay in 1910. Yet the traditional open-range grazing of livestock persisted even though the condition of the forage changed in the cut-over forest lands. 
Turning to more livestock grazing, the hill stockmen initiated the practice of annual burnings in the timbered areas. Slash, the tops of trees and other debris left from the logging operations, accumulated on the ground of the cut-over acres. The Ozarkers set fire to the underbrush each spring to clear the ground so that grasses would grow and to kill ticks and snakes. Far from improving the pasturage for cattle, the annual burnings changed the nature of the wild grasses. Broom sedge and annual cheat grasses and scrub trees like blackjack oak and sassafras replaced the more "nutritious and drought-resistant grasses" such as big and little bluestem, Indian grass, and plumegrass. The indigenous legumes also declined. The open-grazing of the larger livestock population outstripped the capacity of the natural forage and, in turn, produced an even more inferior breed of livestock than is common to an open range. 
The combined consequence of increased cattle grazing and annual burnings hindered the regrowth of the forest. The burning killed the pine seedlings and the more hardy oak and hickory grew in place of the pine. The fires damaged the new generation of hardwood, and the forest was replaced with an inferior quality of timber and with less pine than before the lumber era. 
A byproduct of the corporate lumber industry was the promotion of modern recreation on the Current and Jacks Fork rivers, but this too ultimately contributed to the depletion of the area's natural resources. The first development of modern recreation on the riverways took the form of recreational hunting and fishing which is defined here as the taking of game for sport rather than an economic pursuit. The interest in the Current as a recreation ground by a genteel upper-middle class predates the coming of the railroad into the basin. Following the Civil War, a number of professionals, merchants and artisans settled in the Arcadian Valley in Iron County, Missouri, after serving in the Union Army at Ft. Davidson. Attorney John W. Emerson, a New Englander and relative of Ralph Waldo Emerson, was among those who remained and was a leader in establishing the Arcadian Valley as a summer retreat for wealthy businessmen. A number of wealthy northerners built large country estates there and promoted the valley as a western Saratoga. Emerson often took guests on hunting and fishing trips into the Ozark hills and, in December 1879, stocked a number of waterways with fish supplied by the U.S. Fish Commission. He had 25,000 salmon and trout delivered to Big Creek at Des Arc, 25,000 to the Current River, and 50,000 to the Black River. Missouri newspapers recorded additional stocking of the Current River by the federal agency in subsequent decades. 
Urban businessmen formed several hunting and fishing clubs and built cabin retreats on the Current River after the Current River Railroad laid its tracks to the mill of the Missouri Lumber and Mining Company. In 1888, the year that the railroad was completed, businessmen from St. Louis, Kansas City, and Springfield, Missouri, established two clubs. Sportsmen in St. Louis chartered the Current River Fishing and Hunting Club with a five-dollar membership fee. Another group from Springfield and Kansas City organized the Carter County Fishing and Shooting Club and charged its members twenty dollars to join. The Current Local reported that the club had 125 members and that Alex Carter, a leading political figure in Carter County, appeared to be the only member from the county. The incorporators of the club were mostly officials of the Kansas City, Ft. Scott, and Memphis Railroad, the parent company of the Current River Railroad. With lumber from the Grandin mill, the members built a clubhouse six to eight miles south of Van Buren on a bluff overlooking the Current.  In 1912, another Springfield group incorporated a club, Shannon County Hunting and Fishing Club, and built cabins on the Jacks Fork. Again, as the purpose of the corporation stated, it solicited an exclusive membership:
The Shannon County Hunting and Fishing Club out lasted the other organizations and continued to exist into the 1980s. 
The records of the Carter County Fishing and Shooting Club described something of the logistics and recreation activities of late nineteenth century float trips down the Current and Jacks Fork rivers. Because of the club's association with the Kansas City, Fort Scott and Memphis Railroad (later part of the Frisco line) and because of this railroad's partnership with area lumber companies, club members had ready access to the main KFS&M lines and the lumber trains. The sportsmen often traveled by train to Chicopee or to Chilton and from there headed the short distance downstream to the clubhouse. The favored pastime was floating and fishing down the rivers and, at least until 1930, most parties recorded in the club registry their catch and sometimes highlights of their trips. A 1907 entry by sportsmen from Carthage, Missouri, stated:
This brief trip record noted an important transportation improvement furnished by the lumber railroad crossing the Jacks Fork. Before the construction of the tram in 1907, the fishing parties heading for the upper Jacks Fork had to depart the KFSM track at Birch Tree or Winona and travel overland by wagon to the river. They then floated downstream in canoes or johnboats, the latter was most common on the Current. The early johnboats were built of pine planks sixteen to twenty-four feet long. They were narrow (often three feet wide), flat bottomed, with slightly beveled sides. "Bow and stern [were] blunt, and the bottom at both ends tapered upward so that the boat [could] be swung easily in the current by a boatman operating with a single paddle from the stern." Boards for making boats were carried to the departure point, along with the other sporting gear, and local woodsmen/carpenters built the boats on the spot for the fishing parties. The club records indicated that members organized float trips of varying lengths. Some excursions started up at Round Spring, on the Upper Jacks Fork, at Van Buren, or a number of other locations. 
During the last two decades of the nineteenth century, the tallies of fish caught boast of the Current and Jacks Fork as a "fisherman's paradise," but a marked decline appeared after 1900. In 1946, Charles Callison, secretary of the National Wildlife Federation, demonstrated the decline by examining the number of fish caught by members of the Carter County Fishing and Shooting Club during the decades 1890-1940. The last column of the table, displaying a person's average catch per day, reveals two dramatic declines: first, after 1900, the catch dropped from 13.5 to 7.3 and then, after 1920, fell from 8.8 to 5.9. The number of recreational fishing trips, themselves, decreased sharply during the Great Depression decade of the 1930s. Yet the trend reflected more than just the extensive removal of fish by sportsmen. The gigging and illegal dynamiting of fish by the residents of the Current River basin also contributed to the decline. 
Fishing and hunting continued to be important features of work and leisure in the homeland into the twentieth century. The diary of William French reflected an almost chronic preoccupation with hunting by a youth in his late teens and early twenties who had arrived in Shannon County shortly after 1900. In the fall of 1908, French's life centered around working the family farm, school, hunting, and socializing in Eminence and along Shawnee and Mahan Creeks. His family also prepared to move into a new farm on Shawnee Creek three miles southeast of Eminence. During this busy harvest time, he helped his father and brothers gather corn, peas, potatoes, and peanuts. They also chopped lumber for neighbors and worked on local roads. For fresh meat, the French family depended mostly on hogs, but they also hunted. French's diary contains fifteen hunting incidents in October and the same number in November; however, he did not record how they used the squirrels, rabbits, wild turkeys, and possums killed. Indicating that they sold or traded pelts, the boys also laid out over thirty traps along Shawnee Creek. 
After 1910, William French taught school at several Shannon County schoolhouses and became more involved in writing. He continued to hunt regularly, though his diary mainly referred to weekend pursuits. In 1912, he recorded his surprise at finding two muskrats and a mink swimming in Fancher Spring (one of the several Blue Springs) and expressed a strong feeling for this still pristine landscape.
French's interest in hunting was typical of the culture of the Current River homeland. As an adult, French earned a cash income, first as a school teacher and then in printing and journalism, but he remained an enthusiastic hunter throughout his life. 
The destruction of the forest was the major cause of the declining wildlife population. Callison noted that the deforestation, first by the large pine operators and then by the small mills and individuals, inaugurated a cycle of soil erosion. The annual burnings, over-grazing, and plowing all contributed to laying bare the soil, and the topsoil, followed by the gravel beneath, washed down the hills into the river. The runoff destroyed fish spawning sites, food, and habitat.  In the autumn of 1926, Aldo Leopold, who became a renowned ecologist and seminal figure in the twentieth century environmental movement, and two brothers floated down the Current from Van Buren to Doniphan on a ten-day hunting trip. Leopold's log of kills during the hunt reflected the vastly depleted wildlife. They searched mainly for quails and wild turkey and found a fair number of the former, but no turkey. The journal also noted the absence of deer and did not refer to any smallmouth bass. Conservationist Leonard Hall later called the years 1920-1935 the "low point in the history of natural resources in the Current River". 
The second major trend in the development of modern recreation along the Current sprung from the attraction of the area's scenic beauty. For decades, the local communities celebrated holidays, especially the Fourth of July, in scenic landscapes like Alley Spring. In 1909, a highly publicized float trip by the new Republican Governor of Missouri, Herbert S. Hadley, boosted the popularity of the region across the nation. Missouri Republicans, led by Congressman W. P. Elmer and officials of the Frisco Railroad, organized the event as a publicity stunt to promote both the governor and the Ozark region. Hadley was the first Republican to win the governorship since Reconstruction, and the organizers were anxious to build a base of support in the Ozarks. Accompanied by a party of about forty Missouri politicians, businessmen, and journalists, the governor began the trip with a banquet at Salem. They then traveled by "hacks, buggies, and surries" to the upper Current River. Local guides led the group float downstream from Welch's Cave to Round Spring. Despite the complaints of a couple of the newsmen who found the adventure a bit "arduous," the governor's trip and the Ozarks received national publicity. 
Several years after the governor's float trip, in 1912, a group of Midwest investors formed a corporation, the Crystal Spring Town-site Company, in Kansas City and purchased the Shannon County mill hamlet, Alley, from John Knotts for $15,000. The new corporate owners envisioned sweeping new developments for the site and the region. Based on the stated purpose of the corporate charter, they expected to establish townsites in Shannon and surrounding counties, to exploit the hydraulic power potential and the mineral resources of the area, and to operate manufacturing enterprises. They also intended to bring people to this still isolated spot by promoting Alley as a "pleasure resort" for an urban-weary middle class. 
A Kansas City art dealer and principal investor in the company, Conrad Hug, ran the Crystal Spring corporation. Hug emigrated from Germany to the United States in 1884 and worked as a carpenter building picture frames. His interest in art led him to jobs in the art departments of major St. Louis and Kansas City department stores and, from there, he developed a business career as an art dealer and eventually operated his own firm. He and his family often spent their summers at Alley where Hug directed most of the new developments while enjoying and promoting a bucolic life in this perceived wilderness. In combining pleasure and business, the family posed for a number of promotional postcard photographs at their camp on the Alley Spring branch. Conrad Hug's wife and children would stay at Alley during the summer months while the "businessman-father" divided his time between Kansas City and the Ozarks. Reflecting his prosperous middle-class status, he could travel in one day by trains from Kansas City to West Eminence and then by road for the final four miles to Alley. 
In August 1912, the first reported gathering of recreationists from outside the area descended on Alley. The Winona branch of the International Order of Odd Fellows (IOOF) sponsored an outdoor conference of the Missouri Grand Lodge of the IOOF. An estimated five hundred Odd Fellows travelled on a chartered train to West Eminence and then rode or walked to the picnic ground. In what historian Robert Flanders described as "feats of logistics," an unprecedented catering effort provided food, sanitary facilities, and transportation for the men. The role of the Crystal Spring company in promoting the affair at Alley remains unclear. The corporate owners, however, sought to bring such activities to the site and probably participated in some way. 
The Crystal Spring company brought a number of modern changes to Alley. These ranged from importing free-standing-glider swings to rebuilding the old store. The Current Wave called the lawn swings an attractive addition to "the park," and this new luxury item symbolized the promotion of adult relaxation instead of "children's play."  The new two-story store, built in 1913, displayed the town-like style of building described previously and contained a soda fountain. An outside rear stairway provided entry to the second floor. The owners intended to develop the top level as a hotel for tourists, but it never really served this purpose. A former inhabitant of Alley remembered that a local resident, "Old Man" Masterson, occupied the second floor, and the Hugs used it during some of their vacations. Lacking any partitions, this floor mostly served as a gymnasium for the young people of the Alley community. The soda fountain in the store indicated that Hug expected to tap hydroelectric power from the spring, but the generator ("dynamo") connected to the main turbine of the mill never supplied power for refrigeration. The generator, however, furnished electric lighting to the mill, store, school, picnic ground's dance floor, the White House, and the Buxton house. The light bulbs of the entire complex were turned on and off by throwing the clutch on the dynamo. Conrad Hug and his company also supported the 1914 construction of a concrete spillway on the mill dam, but natural forces destroyed it by 1923. 
The Shannon County residents of the Alley environs showed little outward dissatisfaction with the new owners and developments at Alley. The investors in the Crystal Spring company leased the operation of the commercial facilities to onsite managers. In 1913, Conrad Hug arranged for John Liebinger, one of the Kansas City stockholders, to paint the store and mill. At the time, Taylor Gates, a timber man who had once lived in Alley Hollow, operated the mill and store. His elder sons, similar in age to Liebinger, helped in painting the structures. They painted both buildings white with green trim and, after completing the job, in a display of friendship, Liebinger inscribed the inner wall of the mill office with their names:
Baz the Sucker
Most of the operators lived or had once lived in Shannon County and, besides some of the physical changes and summer presence of the Hugs, the local function of the mill hamlet remained basically unchanged during the tenure of the Kansas City corporation from 1912-1924. It still remained too isolated to support a large tourist industry. The roads were not designed to carry heavy traffic. These years, however, marked a transition from mill hamlet to park in the history of Alley and probably provided the most significant early example of promoting the scenic beauty of the Current River basin to the mass tourist market. In 1924, the Crystal Spring Town-site Company sold Alley to the State of Missouri, and Alley became one of the first state parks. 
The state's purchase of Alley, along with other Ozark sites, reflected the seriousness of the deforestation to the Current River homeland. While the boom of corporate lumber brought an unprecedented degree of economic and social progress to the area, it also disrupted the characteristic independence of the uplander culture. In the early nineteenth century, American settlers, those Scotch-Irish uplanders who established the Current River homeland, adapted their traditional hunter/stockmen/farmer lifestyle to the rugged southern Courtois Hills. Their preference for living in this isolated region reflected a fierce independence. Yet the early settlers were not completely self-sufficient. Trade with the outside world for staples, such as salt, and even participation in commercial agricultural markets beyond the Current basin were part of the homeland from the beginning of white settlement. Nevertheless, the preferences and habits of the uplanders and the Current River environment defined the homeland culture, not the outside forces. This changed in the latter half of the nineteenth century. First, national developments such as the Graduation Act of 1854 and the Civil War weakened this self determination. Then, the railroads and lumber corporations shattered local control by developing the region as a hinterland of the national economy and beginning the mass destruction of the forest. In the early twentieth century, many Ozark politicians and business interests saw the promotion of tourism as an economic necessity for the region.
Last Updated: 02-Mar-2005