Douglas County, Missouri

Ozark County History

MOGenWeb Site, Johnna Quick -- Coordinator



It is difficult for the historian to sift out what might be exaggeration or understatement from the original historical sources available for his use and arrive at accurate conclusions as to what really was. If he ever invents a time machine, he will have solved a difficult problem. There is little doubt, however, that the way of life of the average resident of Ozark County today is one of ease when compared to the frontier way of life which Schoolcraft observed while on his tour of the area in 1818. The hunter and trapper described by Schoolcraft lived in isolation, minus even the most basic of social institutions. The life of the agriculturalist of the 1840s and 1850s described by Turnbo and Monks was equally rugged. Although the farmer of that period had the advantage of having the social institutions of church and school available, primitive though they must have been by today’s standards, he depended upon the soil (and to some extent hunting) for his livelihood and during periods of drouth suffered from want of food. The fact that the average life span was then short needs little explanation.

The Civil War resulted in a mass emigration which reduced the population of the county to the level of the 1840s, greatly retarding the development of the area. The life of the individual who lived in the county during this period, also described by Turnbo and Monks, could have been no better (it was probably worse) than that of the individual who lived during an earlier period. If he took the risk of staying in the county, he was to find himself and his family impoverished and sometimes without a home. Only a few hundred families remained in the county at the end of the war and most of those were destitute.

Although grist milling and livestock raising were introduced into the county as early as the 1830s, from all indications they were very small concerns. During the mid-nineteenth century, the lumbering industry was also introduced, but it too never reached major proportions. Families remained isolated and self-sufficient; and they witnessed little in the way of economic growth of the county or improvements in their way of life. Due to the forced isolation and self-sufficiency of the area, cotton growing, household spinning and weaving, and other pioneer industries, as well as the barter system of trade, were common for several years after the Civil War and long after they had been abandoned in other sections of the country.

Almost forty years elapsed from the date of the establishment of Ozark County in 1841 and the date of the founding of its first newspaper; and it was not until 1894, almost fifty-five years after the founding of the county, that a bank was organized. The founding of the Gazette by William A. Conklin and the Tribune by J. W. Mathews in 1876 marked a milestone in the county’s history. By then townspeople with some capital had begun to enter the county. The establishment of the Bank of Gainesville in 1894 by the Harlin brothers marked a second milestone. By that time agriculturalists were beginning to plant cash crops, barter as a system of trade was becoming obsolete, the livestock and lumbering industries were becoming of major importance, the development of mining as a new local industry was being encouraged, and the county was sufficiently settled to maintain itself. The establishment of the newspaper and the bank were indicators of progress. The institutions themselves were forerunners of modernization, and their founders played an important role in building a better life for posterity. When Norfork and Bull Shoals lakes were formed in 1943 and 1951, respectively, the resort industry was added to that of farming, livestock raising, and lumbering; and Schoolcraft’s prediction that the area would become a resort for lovers of mountain scenery came true. The county, perhaps for the first time, came into its own and could be called modern.

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Copyright © 2007-2008 by Johnna Quick