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.
“You can see the outline of the original stockade in the ground,” said Emily Lovick, museum technician. The stockade itself is long gone. The earliest building still standing at the site is the commissary, which dates to the 1830s.
“It’s a beautiful old stone building,” she said.
There are at least two homes in the Ozarks from the 1820s, according to Mark Christ, spokesman for the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program.
The Rice-Upshaw House, in Dalton, Ark., southeast of West Plains, was built around 1826. According to the National Register, it “is one of the two oldest remaining standing buildings in Arkansas, and a rare surviving example of a building from Arkansas’ territorial period.”
The other home from the same period is the Wolf House, built on a hill overlooking the junction of the Norfork and White rivers. Its construction date is listed as “circa 1825,” according to the National Register.
Neither house is currently open, although they both could be in the future. Volunteers are restoring the Rice-Upshaw House. Nancy Wolf, great-great-great-granddaughter of Jacob Wolf, the man who built the Wolf House, said there is a proposal to add it to the National Park Service.
It also is a two-story dogtrot, and the overlook and home have both been restored with the aid of more than $665,000 in grants, Wolf said.
“The Wolf House, of course, is the crown jewel,” said Christ, when asked about early Ozarks homes.
Both houses and other early Ozarks log homes can be dated by examining and comparing tree rings in the logs.
Houses from the 1830s, while still rare, are more common.
The Hornback Cabin, at Carthage, may date to the 1830s. The late Bob Sheldon, who owned the nearby Old Cabin Shop, and Steve Weldon, Jasper County archivist, both put the date sometime in the 1830s.
“It is the oldest surviving building in the county,” Weldon said. “That is where the first county court was held. It was outside the cabin, under the trees.”
That first court session took place in 1841.
Ann Sugg, director of development for the Washington County (Ark.) Historical Society, said several cabins in Northwest Arkansas date to the 1830s, but nothing earlier.
The Sarah Bird Northup Ridge House is that area’s oldest residence. It is at 230 Center St. in Fayetteville.
The date given for its construction is 1836. In 1839, the house served as a refuge for Sarah Bird Northup Ridge and her children, after the assassination of her Cherokee husband, John Ridge, according to Sugg.
The house is actually still in use during business hours, and it can be opened for tours on weekends.
“There is even a cutout in the house showing the original log structure,” Sugg said.
Another early home — this one with a connection to Joplin — is the Nathan Boone cabin north of Ash Grove. Boone was the son of Daniel Boone, and was a man of the wilderness, a surveyor and a hunter with a military background in his own right. It was Nathan Boone who became a resource for families moving west, looking for land to settle.
“The Boones were westward ranging people. That’s why their input was so valuable,” said Dave Roggensees, administrator of the Nathan Boone Homestead State Historic Site.
Nathan Boone’s sons and slaves built the cabin in 1837. One of the men who Boone pointed west was a visitor from Tennessee, John C. Cox.
Cox wrote in his diary of stopping at Boone’s cabin. Cox recalled how Boone’s sons entertained his group with fiddles. It was Boone who pointed Cox toward the area he eventually would settle: Turkey Creek in Jasper County. Cox became the man considered the father of Joplin.
Andy Ostmeyer is the metro editor for The Joplin Globe.
Single pen: A single-room log cabin.
Double pen: A two-room cabin.
Dogtrot: Two rooms connected by a breezeway.
Want to go?
Visitors who want to see the Hornback Cabin may contact the Old Cabin Shop, 160 Black Powder Lane, Carthage, for a tour. Details: (417)-358-6720.
To go on a tour of the Sarah Bird Northup Ridge House, 230 Center St., Fayetteville, Ark., people may contact the Washington County Historical Society. The building is in use during business hours. Details: (479) 521-2970.
The Fort Smith National Historic Site is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. seven days a week. The cost is $4 for those 15 and older. Details: (479) 783-3961.
The Nathan Boone Homestead State Historic Site is at 7850 N. Route V, near Ash Grove. From March through October, the historic site is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays, and from noon to 4 p.m. Sunday. Details: (417) 751-3266.
<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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