Thursday, November 16, 2023

The Ozarks 'convey a feeling of seclusion' but have a fascinating history and culture

The church in Rader, Missouri, still operates.
(Photo by Kaitlyn McConnell via The Daily Yonder)
No matter what state or region you call home, there's a name for you. If you're from Connecticut, you're a Connecticuter or a Nutmegger. If you herald from the West, you might be labeled a Westerner or a Cowboy. But what if you're from the Ozarks? They're called Ozarkers, and if you haven't rubbed elbows with an Ozarker, today's your lucky day.

The Daily Yonder has launched a new monthly column of featuring the life and culture of the "largely rural uplands region located predominantly in northern Arkansas and southern Missouri." Writer Kaitlyn McConnell, who was raised on her family's farm in rural Missouri, is a guide to the region she has spent years sharing on her website, Ozarks Alive. A condensed version is shared here.

"With the twist of an old metal doorknob, let me show you the Ozarks. . . . It's found in the basement of a country church built of stone, one of few remnants left of a little town called Rader in rural southwest Missouri. Founded in the 1870s by brothers with dozens of kids who begat thousands of descendants, it was once a bustling little place.

"Things have changed in the 150 years since. . . . Today, so few people are in town that the community doesn't even show up in the 2020 U.S. Census records.

"Yet, as it does in rural areas, the community still bubbles up. And in Rader, it's at that stone church, which was built with local rocks – a common Ozarkian style of construction – in 1936 after the previous wooden building was destroyed in a tornado. Ever since generations of local women have regularly taken needles in hand and simultaneously created quilts and community.

"The region can be described by geographical lines (which encompass parts of Arkansas, Illinois, Kansas, Missouri, and Oklahoma) and cultural confines, which focus on northwest Arkansas, southwest Missouri, and a sliver of Oklahoma.

"If we’re going with the cultural boundaries – the definition I use – significant numbers of white U.S. citizens began arriving in the first decade of the nineteenth century. Small communities, some tied to shared heritage, sprang up and brought people together in the largely undeveloped expanse.

"At some points, their movement was alongside the presence of Native Americans. The tribe indigenous to the Ozarks was the Osage, but a long list of others — including Cherokee, Shawnee, Delaware, and Kickapoo — inhabited the region at various times. They were ultimately forced to leave by the 1830s due to pressure from white settlers. . . . Signs marking the Trail of Tears crossings are another visual reminder of the forced, and often deadly, journey made by thousands of Native Americans from the eastern United States to Indian Territory.

"The Ozark Mountains convey a feeling of seclusion. More than a century ago, that vibe came through The Shepherd of the Hills, a phenomenally successful novel that told the story of local hill folks and their Arcadian paradise. . . . Visitors still come for the area’s scenic beauty presented in the famed novel’s pages."

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