Ozarks Studies Symposium -2016


Tenth Annual Ozarks Studies Symposium – September 2016

Theme: Isolation and Connections in the Ozarks

Entrance to the symposium is free and pre-registration is not required. Those who attend will be invited to register on site when they arrive.

The Ozarks Studies Committee is sponsoring this program in partnership with the Missouri Humanities Council and with the support from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

The theme of the 2016 symposium is “Isolation and Connection in the Ozarks.” This broad theme is intended to accommodate consideration of a wide variety of topics related to how the Ozarks region has been viewed as a place of isolation and/or connection. Some possible topics might include why isolation and connection are sought or rejected; how music, folklore or literature comments on isolation and connection; how isolation or connection contributes to or undermines a sense of place and social stability; how these forces influence language and dialect; how isolation or connections are exaggerated; how isolation has influenced law enforcement, politics, race, class, economic development, real estate values or tourism and many other topics.

For purposes of this symposium, the Ozarks is defined broadly to encompass much of southern Missouri and northern Arkansas and adjacent portions of Oklahoma, Kansas and Illinois.



Keynote Speaker

Abby Burnett
Abby Burnett
Presentation: Gone to the Grave: Burial Customs of the Arkansas Ozarks, 1850-1950.

Before there was a death care industry where professional undertakers offered embalming and factory-made caskets, residents of the Ozarks buried their own dead. Every part of this complicated, labor-intensive process was handled within the deceased’s community by friends and neighbors. The various jobs–which had to be completed quickly, usually in twenty-four hours or less–included preparing the body for burial, building a wooden coffin, digging the grave and overseeing the burial ceremony, all the while a variety of customs and superstitions were observed.

These traditions, especially in rural communities, remained the norm up through the end of World War II. After this a variety of factors, primarily the loss of manpower and the rise of the professional funeral industry, brought about a complete change in the way people buried their dead. Though these customs are now long in the past, it has been possible to document the process through oral histories, letters, obituaries and folklore collections, not to mention the wealth of information found on early tombstones.

Abby Burnett will walk the audience through the burial process, illustrating her talk with early photographs, items from various museum collections and photos she has taken in cemeteries across the Ozarks.

Dr. Craig Albin
Professor of English, Missouri State University-West Plains
Presentation: “A Wood’s Edge”
Dr. Albin will read his short story “At Woods’ Edge” from his new short story collection Hard Toward Home. The story explores the loneliness and isolation of an Ozark transplant, Lauren, after her husband Robert, an oncologist and native Ozarker, decides to relocate the family from the wealthy St. Louis suburb of Ladue to his small hometown of Lotten, Arkansas. This story explores isolation in the context of an outsider trying to find an emotional connection within the Ozark region and failing to do so. We natives sometimes forget that for people new to the Ozarks, the region can occasionally feel like a closed society.
Dr. Sue Attalla
Former Associate Professor of Developmental English, Tulsa Community College
Presentation: From Camp Clark to Laredo and Beyond: The Ozark Dawg Song and Group Solidarity
Still performed by folk and bluegrass singers more than a century after first appearing in the Ozarks, They Gotta Quit Kickin’ My Dawg Aroun’ has a mysterious and colorful history that has largely eluded folklorists such as Vance Randolph, Alan Lomax, Fred W. Allsopp, James R. Masterson and William K. McNeil. No one attempted unearthing the song’s full history from folk origin through publication, presidential campaign, military career and later legacy. Dr. Attalla will trace the dog song’s adoption by the Southwest Missouri National Guard, outline the dawg’s military adventures and misadventures, illustrate the threats the belligerent canine posed to U.S. enemies and focus on the unifying role the song has played in fostering troop spirit and unity. She will close by briefly explaining how the houn’ dawg found its way to Aurora where it established itself as one of the country’s most unusual mascots and fight song subjects and as the unifying force behind the high school community.
Dr. Jamie C. Brandon
Arkansas Archeological Survey
Presentation: Beyond the “Bluff Dweller”: Isolation and Connection in Prehistoric Bluff Shelters of the Arkansas Ozarks
M. R. Harrington’s The Ozark Bluff-Dwellers remains the only widely available book-length treatment of archeology in Ozark bluff shelters region-wide. This is true despite the fact that it was published in 1960 and based on excavation notes from the 1920s. Harrington’s book, alongside the 1930s work of Samuel Dellinger, Curator of the University of Arkansas Museum and the writings of Sam Dickenson, avocational archeologist and newspaper editor, characterize the “bluff-dwellers” as an isolated culture developmentally behind surrounding regions. This paper provides an overview of more recent archeological work that complicates this picture of the prehistoric Arkansas Ozarks and offers possible future directions for research that can further refine our understanding of Ozark bluff shelters.
Dr. John J. Han
Professor of English and Creative Writing and Humanities Chair, Missouri Baptist University
Presentation: Isolated from the Church, Closer to Christ: Harold Bell Wright’s The Calling of Dan Matthews
Novelists who set their works in the Midwest are sometimes accused of representing the region in an unflattering light. In her lifetime, Willa Cather (1873-1947) was criticized for portraying small-town Nebraskans in her Great Plains novels as close-minded, hypocritical and unimaginative. Harold Bell Wright, who set some of his most well-known novels in the Ozarks, faced a similar accusation after his publication of The Calling of Dan Matthews (1909). Many religious readers, particularly pastors, challenged the author’s representation of the church as a hypocritical, uncaring and politicized institution. In the novel, the main character, Daniel Howitt Matthews, serves as pastor of a Protestant church in the Midwestern town of Corinth, probably modeled after Lebanon, Missouri, where the author pastored the Christian Church from 1905-07. As soon as Dan Matthews arrives at his pastorate, he encounters difficulties posed by lay leaders and gossipers within the church. After feeling isolated from his congregation, he decides to discontinue his pastoral ministry and to become a businessman so he can live by the moral teachings of Christ outside the church. Thereafter, he dedicates his life to the service of ordinary people in the Ozarks, applying Christian principles to real-life situations. The Calling of Dan Matthews is clearly informed by the Social Gospel, which Charles Sheldon advocates in In His Steps: What Would Jesus Do? (1896) and which Harold Bell Wright admittedly embraced.
Dr. Brian Hardman
Associate Professor of English, University of the Ozarks
Presentation: Isolation and Connection in the Ozarks: The Poetry of Miller Williams
Miller Williams is arguably the best known contemporary poet from the Ozarks region. However, Williams is not widely regarded as an Ozarks poet. Why is this the case? This presentation will explain two things at once: First, that Williams’s poems are, indeed, rooted deeply in the Ozarks. Second, that his approach to poetry leads readers to see in them the universal more than the particular. In other words, Williams’s poems begin in the isolation of the poet’s own experience, but by their last lines, they not only connect with their readers—they belong to the reader.
Dr. Phillip Howerton
Associate Professor of English, Missouri State University-West Plains
Presentation: The History of Trees
Dr. Howerton will read from his recent book, The History of Tree Roots, a collection of poems responding to life in the Ozarks.
Dr. Mara W. Cohen Ioannides
Senior Instructor of English, Missouri State University
Presentation: Belonging to the Commune, but the Ozarks
What is not often remembered in Ozarks’ history is the experimental Jewish commune in Newport, Arkansas. The Am Olam movement was founded in the later part of the 19th Century as a part of the emerging Russian socialist movement to combat Russian anti-Semitism and help Jews flee Czarist Russia. Am Olam’s leadership brought their people to the American Midwest to farm. The push for agriculture was a way to break the Jew as merchant and intellectual stereotype. The Newport colony was their second attempt at a communal farm and the second attempt to fail. Kate Herder, daughter of one of the founders of this movement, wrote a memoir when she was in her 70s about her experiences in Newport. Because she spoke no English, her connection to the Newport community was weak. Because she was not Christian or Western European, her understanding of and appreciation for the Ozarks culture was also minimal. These factors color her relationship with Newport community, but provide us with a wonderful outsider perspective. Despite the socialist nature of the commune, it was Judaism that bound the community together and this too is important to examine. Not released to the public until 1999, the portion of Herder’s memoir that is about her experience in the Ozarks presents a colorful view of life in a forgotten Ozarks community. This paper will examine how Herder describes the community’s connection with each other which, while feeling isolated in the Ozarks.
Dr. Thomas Kersen
Associate Professor of Sociology, Jackson State University
Presentation: Close Encounters in the Ozarks: The Exploration of Anomalous Experiences and Socialization in Eureka Springs, Arkansas
Eureka Springs has become famous for hosting both a paranormal and UFO conferences every year. These events are held in a traditionally devout area where the Passion Play is also a major draw. Moreover, the town is considered to possess an “energy vortex” like the one many people believe exists in Sedona, Arizona. Perhaps because of these beliefs and events, the Arkansas’s major newspaper declared that the town was a “haven to eccentrics.” In the spring of 2016, Dr. Kersen attended a UFO conference in Eureka Springs to learn more about the spirituality of the region and ascertain if residents and others do indeed consider the place as sacred or liminal. Through observations, both in and out of the conference sessions, he focused on the intersection of community/conformity and individuality/isolation. Furthermore, he investigated the roots of paranormal activities in the Ozarks, to see if anomalous experiences are the latest variation on a long Ozark spiritual and folklore tradition. It is this rich tradition that offers answers to the various contradictions and issues of community and modernity. Lastly, the author used various unobtrusive measures to learn how mainstream and fundamentalist traditions in the area reacted to paranormal/UFO enthusiasts and activities.
Allyn Lord
Director, Shiloh Museum of Ozark History
Presentation: William “Coin” Harvey and His Monte Ne Resort
Today Northwest Arkansas is home to Walmart headquarters, Tyson Foods and Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, so it might be hard to believe that this corner of the Ozarks was ever an isolated backwater. But that’s what it was in 1900, when William “Coin” Harvey bought over 300 acres of hill-and-valley land south of Rogers and proceeded to build a resort he called Monte Ne. Along with the two largest log structures in the world at the time, Monte Ne eventually included a spur-line railroad, lagoons plied by Italian gondolas, a golf course, the first indoor swimming pool in the state and events such as fiddling contests and fox hunts. But the coming of the automobile in the 1910s made resorts less popular tourist destinations. Not to be deterred, Harvey organized the Ozark Trails Association, which promoted better roads as a means of increasing tourism. By 1927, however, much of the resort was foreclosed. Harvey’s belief in the imminent fall of civilization led him to an apocalyptic Ozarks project, but that’s another story. In 1962 Monte Ne was bought by the Corps of Engineers for the construction of Beaver Dam and most of it was razed and eventually enveloped by the waters of Beaver Lake.
Dr. Jason McCollom
Associate Professor of History, Missouri State University-West Plains
Presentation: Thomas Callahan: Ozark Cosmopolitan
This paper investigates the life of Thomas Callahan, a post-Civil War Ozark transplant, travelogue writer, politico and all-around rabble-rouser in the Bellevue Valley in the late 19th century.
Kim McCully-Mobley
Adjunct Professor of English, Drury University
Presentation: Legends, Lore & Outlaws
Why are the Ozarks known for hosting the likes of bandits, gangsters and outlaws? Why are the stories of these men and women still being passed down from generation to generation? Why are we still talking about buried treasure, romantic trysts and quick getaways? Why are we still fascinated the lives, antics and deaths of those who terrorized these hills and hollows? Outlaws from Jesse James to Cole Younger to Jake Fleagle to Ma Barker to Bonnie and Clyde were drawn to the area for a variety of reasons. They were connected through family, friends, cohorts and colleagues of a varied sort. They were often isolated as they were on the run or hiding out in the various nooks and crannies available here. Loyalty because of the Civil War, family ties, or past debts kept them tied to the land, the people, the climate, the culture and the age-old philosophies involving underdogs and Robin Hood. This presentation will explore their need for connections and their unavoidable bouts of isolation as a result of their life choices, personalities, opportunities and downfalls. We will talk about their habits, their reading choices and their self-doubts.
Mark Morgan
Associate Professor, Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism, University of Missouri-Columbia
Presentation: Hunting and Fishing Tales
Hunting and fishing play an important role in Ozark culture, far greater than the economic impact or number of participants each year. However, it only takes a few generations for outdoor sports to disappear. Part of the decline nationwide might be due to nature deficit disorder, a term used to explain the divide between children and nature in modern society. Many factors, including technology, have made a negative effect on children’s outdoor play behavior as compared with time spent in nature by those in previous generations. A number of strategies are needed to maintain its viability. Folklore publicizes the core values of hunting and fishing, such as being outside, stress release, skill development and camaraderie. Carefully selected stories, coupled with historical literature, will be used to create a powerful narrative that explains the reasons for participation, other than harvest. Often the source of humor and exaggeration, stories are an important oral tradition in the Ozarks, as popularized by the late Vance Randolph. Folklore promotes literacy, dialogue, social bonding and even tourism.
Lynn Morrow
Former Director of the Local Records Preservation Program, Missouri State Archives
Presentation: Combat at Burnett Spring: Lessons for Ozarkers
Senior citizens remember watching Gene Autry, Gabby Hayes and Hopalong Cassidy on black and white television in conflict with “claim jumpers” in the Wild West – the Ozarks has its versions, too. We can know some of them through judicial controversies that provide a window to community entertainment much lauded in Ozarks folklore and history. At the center of the Burnett Spring dispute, overlapping claims to one of the region’s great springs for commercial saw milling resembles the famed “shingled land claims” of litigious Kentucky speculators. Our setting is the Daniel Morgan Boone & James Morrison preemption claim and subsequent competitors for a premium mill seat. First settlers were rarely far beyond the long arm of the law. By 1830, in the Big Piney River Valley, competition for profits in lumbering and rafting brought a rural citizenry into new government rules and justice in the courts that represented a watershed for some cultural practices–brawn yielded to law enforcement–and due process brought modified behavior among “rough and ready” timbermen. “Combat at Burnett Spring” is an archetypal story about the spread of democracy across the frontier as settlers squatted and claimed land. Pioneers’ efforts were not easy, nor were they cheap. Even in a society dominated by barter arrangements, successful entrepreneurs generated cash profits somewhere; the somewhere for Piney lumbermen was St. Louis. The 1830s settlers, who lived full lives in the backcountry of the Piney Ozarks, became more connected to the larger state and national society quicker than many thought possible.
Dr. Jared M. Phillips
Adjunct Professor of History, University of Arkansas-Fayetteville
Presentation: Hipbillies and Guerilla Presses: Forging a Social Network across the Ozarks and Beyond in the 1970s
This paper discusses the varied forms of communication utilized by the back-to-the-land community of the Arkansas and Missouri Ozarks during the 1970s. By arguing these in-migrants inserted themselves into regional and national conversations, the paper shows that “hipbillies” were central to national policy shifts regarding pesticide use, cultural preservation and more. Utilizing letters, memoirs and publications, such as the Ozark Access Catalog, Living in the Ozarks Newsletter, Mother Earth News, this paper shows how hipbillies, while living remotely, were not isolated in the hills. Indeed, they forged regular connections across the Ozarks in Arkansas and Missouri (and beyond) through these publications, all the while discussing high-profile issues. Not only did they comment on these major topics, but they utilized the newsletters and magazines as a proto-social media system in order to ask questions about farming, Ozark folk culture and customs, land purchasing, childbirth and more. This aided the creation of a vibrant community intent on forging a deep revolution aimed, in part, at breaking free from the mainstream, capitalist systems. These conversations, then, were able to aid in preserving selected Ozark traditions applicable the creation of an economy of scale, a la Wendell Berry and Henry David Thoreau. Such an interpretation of the back-to-the-land community helps broaden our understanding of this unique social movement while further illustrating that the Ozarks were never truly isolated, nor isolating, for those who chose to move into the hills and hollows in the Arkansas-Missouri border country.
Alex Primm
Oral History and Independent Scholar,
Presentation: Ozark Political Dynasties: The Carnahan Family and Their Connections to Public Service
The grandchildren of A.S.J. Carnahan are unique in carrying on a tradition the family began in the Great Depression some 80 years ago. Currently the late Gov. Mel Carnahan’s son Russ is running to be the state’s Lieutenant Governor. Russ lives in St. Louis, has been a three-term U.S. Representative from that region and has entered the fray once again. His sister Robin served two terms as Missouri Secretary of State. What has been the significance of their family’s political history and public service? The late A.S.J. Carnahan began his political career as a county school superintendent in the Ozarks then became a U.S. Representative known for supporting President John F. Kennedy’s liberal foreign policy. How has the family history in the Ozarks influenced the several Carnahan office holders who have had active political careers? Have family members developed business interests in the state’s metropolitan areas out of frustration with the slow pace of Ozark life and lack of commercial opportunities? Are Ozark politicians forced to face a career focused on volatile social issues such as abortion, guns and religion in the public sphere, or can regional politicians offer leadership significant in other areas on the state and national levels? This paper will offer an oral history approach not only to the Carnahan family, but will also take a look at the late U.S. Representative Dewey Short, as well as other well-known Republicans, incumbent Senator Roy Blunt and, John Ashcraft, the former U.S. Attorney General, both hailing from the urbanized Ozark Queen City, Springfield and now at least part time in Washington D.C.
Leslie Reed
English Instructor, Arkansas State University
Presentation: Life on the Fringes: The Desperate Reactions of Isolation and Marginalization in Daniel Woodrell’s Tomato Red and The Death of Sweet Mister
The Ozarks are often considered a region of small, tight-knit communities and the idea of a small community creating a safe, nurturing environment for raising a family is a wonderful thought–a thought that is true for many people. However, a resident sometimes does not fit the unspoken standards needed for inclusion in the community and for anyone who lives on the fringes of these small towns, being marginalized can create a very isolated existence. The marginalized characters in Daniel Woodrell’s Tomato Red and The Death of Sweet Mister reveal the consequences of this isolation. Their lives are ones of very little societal security, leaving the so called American Dream and its accompanying idea of community, out of reach–even when they fight for it. Controlled by dire circumstances, they have few ways to establish significance in the community, but what is easily available to the marginalized people of the rural Ozarks is using their body to establish power over others in a will to endure and perhaps improve, their difficult station in life. In this presentation, Ms. Reed will demonstrate the direct correlation between the isolation of the marginalized individuals and the need to use violence and illicit activity for survival and finding significance in a situation where control over one’s life is difficult, if not impossible, to achieve. By showing this correlation, the cause of widespread aggression becomes clear: people will use whatever means they have to gain autonomy for their place in a community–even if violent and illicit behaviors are the only options.
Lydia I. Rees
Arkansas Archeological Survey
Presentation: Beyond the “Bluff Dweller”: Isolation and Connection in Prehistoric Bluff Shelters of the Arkansas Ozarks
M. R. Harrington’s The Ozark Bluff-Dwellers remains the only widely available book-length treatment of archeology in Ozark bluff shelters region-wide. This is true despite the fact that it was published in 1960 and based on excavation notes from the 1920s. Harrington’s book, alongside the 1930s work of Samuel Dellinger, Curator of the University of Arkansas Museum and the writings of Sam Dickenson, avocational archeologist and newspaper editor, characterize the “bluff-dwellers” as an isolated culture developmentally behind surrounding regions. This paper provides an overview of more recent archeological work that complicates this picture of the prehistoric Arkansas Ozarks and offers possible future directions for research that can further refine our understanding of Ozark bluff shelters.
Steve Sitton
Site Administrator, Thomas Hart Benton Home State Historic Site
Presentation: Thomas Hart Benton in the Ozarks
Thomas Hart Benton was Missouri’s most famous painter. He was born in the Ozarks, in Neosho, in 1889. As a child and later as an adult, he often floated the Ozarks’ rivers and walked its hills and valleys. He produced many paintings of the landscape and the people. He also wrote extensively about the Ozarks, sharing stories of his experiences in the region and describing how the isolation of the residents there in the 1930s produced a unique character. This PowerPoint presentation includes many examples of these paintings and quotations from the “Rivers” and “Mountains” chapters of his 1937 autobiography, An Artist in America. Also shown will be several clips from the 1971 EPA documentary A Man and a River, which focused on Benton’s float trip on the Buffalo River.
Dr. Rajiv Thakur
Associate Professor of Geography, Missouri State University-West Plains
Presentation: Knowledge Economy in the Ozarks: Opportunities and Challenges Foreign
Dr. Thakur will also introduce posters by three of his students, “Direct Investment in Missouri: Policy Geography” by Jacob Hollback, “Ozark Industry: An Atlas of Selected Economic Sectors” by Curtis Kelm and “New Americans: Cultural Geography of Russians in South Central Ozark” by Anna Protensko.
Eric Tumminia
Adjunct Professor of English, Missouri State University-West Plains
Presentation: Hardwood Hop: The Songs of Eric Bogwalker
The songs of Eric Bogwalker explore the ecology and rock’n’roll-ology of the Missouri Ozarks where he was raised, as well as the interplay between the global and the local. Bicycle treks in the Pacific Northwest collide with Appalachian anti-coal activism in the songs of Eric Bogwalker and the Guatemalan Highlands high-five the Ozark Mountains. Eric will give a brief, five-minute introduction and artist’s statement and then perform a few songs with the accompaniment of a small band.
Dr. Steve Wiegenstein
Program Director for Humanities, American Public University System
Presentation: This Land Isn’t Your Land: The Rhetoric of Public Land Acquisition on the Current and Eleven Point Rivers
The recent efforts by the state of Missouri to acquire land along the Current and Eleven Point rivers and to turn that land into components of the state park system have met with opposition among some local opinion leaders. To longtime observers of the Ozarks, the language employed in this controversy will seem familiar; that’s because it echoes the rhetoric used during the debate over the creation of the Ozark National Scenic Riverways fifty years ago. This paper examines the language of ownership and stewardship as deployed in the ongoing debate over the proper role of government in preserving the Ozarks’ scenic resources.;
Barbara Williams
Art Instructor, Missouri State University-West Plains
Presentation: From Myrtle to Dora
This is a coming-of-age story set in rural Oregon County, Missouri, during the 1950s, a time of relative innocence and relative isolation and a look at how radio, magazines and the postal service brought a wealth of outside culture to the area. A short wave radio enabled teenagers to keep up with the Top Ten Hit Parade from Chicago’s WLS, to listen to commercials for bleach creams and hair straighteners and receive the news that Hank Williams had died in the back seat of a car and that Buck Nelson reported being taken up in a spaceship to Mars from his farm in Mountain View, Missouri. The consequences of answering a pen pal invite from the pulp magazine Ranchland Romance was a deluge of junk mail; a submission to a “Draw Me!” ad brought snobbish big city salesmen to our door and a letter from a preteen girl in Oregon County to a young female friend in Douglas County included comparisons of personal hygiene practices without the benefit of running water.
Steve Yates
Assistant Director and Marketing Director, University Press of Mississippi
Author Morkan’s Quarry and Some Kinds of Love
Presentation: Sandy and Wayne: A Novella
Steve Yates will discuss and read from his new book from Dock Street Press, Sandy and Wayne: A Novella. Sandy Coker—lead inspector for the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department—meet Wayne Sheridan from Sedalia, Missouri, dirt foreman on the biggest heavy construction job Sandy has ever supervised. Wayne, meet Sandy, an independent yet lonely woman who’s about to introduce you to “1.3-million dollar bungle.” On interstate jobs pounding through the rugged, crumbling shale of the Boston Mountains in the Ozarks, the stakes are excruciating. Federal money is piled as high as Mount Magazine. Contractors, always savvy and sometimes unscrupulous, bear constant vigilance. Maybe the worst thing that could happen to a lead inspector navigating this cutthroat, muscular world is love. Steve Yates tells the story of two lost hearts, their harbored ambitions and the secret that threatens to tear them apart.


10th Annual Ozarks Studies Symposium

September 23-24, 2016

Theme: Isolation and Connections

Entrance to the symposium is free and pre-registration is not required. Those who attend will be invited to register on site when they arrive.

The Ozarks Studies Committee is sponsoring this program in partnership with the Missouri Humanities Council and with the support from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Thursday, September 22, 2016
On the Mezzanine, West Plains Civic Center
7:00 PM
Sponsor: West Plains Council on the Arts
Isolation and Connections in the Ozarks: Images by Artists of the Region