By Andy Ostmeyer
Dec. 13, 1818
“We are now at the last hunter-settlement on the river, which is, also, the most remote bound to which the white hunter has penetrated in a southwest direction from the Mississippi River.”
So wrote Henry Rowe Schoolcraft, during the winter of 1818-1819, on a journey he described as being into the “interior of Missouri and Arkansaw.”
The Ozarks through which Schoolcraft wandered on his three-month loop is a far cry from the Ozarks of today. The last hunter-settlement that he noted in 1818 was just to the east of present-day Branson, which is visited today by millions of tourists.
Although Schoolcraft couldn’t envision the Ozarks as it appears nearly 200 years later, it’s possible to get a glimpse of the Ozarks he saw — the original Ozarks, known to that first generation of explorers and settlers. Just as in Schoolcraft’s time, it still requires a bit of wandering — through old records, and along back roads and rivers. But remnants of the original Ozarks are out there.
Some of the earliest surviving evidence of European penetration in the region dates to 1816-1817, according to records.
The Craighead-Henry House in Caledonia, south of Potosi, is listed as “one of the oldest known structures in the interior Ozarks,” according to the National Register of Historic Places. The house, a two-story dogtrot, dates to 1816.
And despite Schoolcraft’s claim that he had reached the western edge of European settlement near Branson in 1818, he was just simply wrong.
A year earlier, American soldiers had erected a wooden stockade at the junction of the Arkansas and Poteau rivers and named it Fort Smith, after their commander. Schoolcraft was but 150 miles northeast of there, as the crow flies. Traces of that early fort still exist at the Fort Smith National Historic Site in Fort Smith, Ark.
<img src="http://www.joplinglobeonline.com/images/zope/extra.gif" border=0>Original Ozarks: Evidence of settlement before 1830 hard to find<font color="#ff0000"> w/ slide show</font>
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