Arkansas, books, Current River, history, Missouri, Ozarks, Schoolcraft, Springfield, Steve Yates, writing
The image above is the frontispiece to Henry Rowe Schoolcraft’s Scenes and Adventures in the Semi-Alpine Region of the Ozarks Mountains of Missouri and Arkansas, published in 1853 and taken from Schoolcraft’s earlier journals from 1818 and 1819. People generally count Schoolcraft’s journals as the first piece of descriptive writing about the Ozarks.
As an explorer, Schoolcraft comes off as a klutz in his journals. His horse is constantly getting away from him, tumbling down a bank or trying to swim a river in a bad place. He and his companion employ local hunters to guide them or bring them provisions, but their guides regularly disappear with their goods or meat. He consistently chooses the wrong stream fork and has to backtrack.
But he’s not really a klutz – he’s a twenty-five-year-old Easterner with a fine education, a keen eye for geology, and a good deal to learn about the frontier. He and his companion spend the three months of their expedition in near-constant fear of the Osage Indians who roamed the Ozarks at the time, and their fear is justifiable. Had they met a band of Osage warriors that deep in their countryside, they would likely have been robbed at the least.
You can read Schoolcraft’s journal at Project Gutenberg, but a better experience is the 1996 edition published by the University of Arkansas Press. The dedicated Ozark geographer Milton D. Rafferty edited this version, and it’s nicely annotated, with Schoolcraft’s route mapped out as best Rafferty could decipher. My friend Steve Yates has written about Schoolcraft here.
Tall Steve! Thanks for heralding my love of Milton D. Rafferty’s edition of Schoolcraft. Seeing the cover again reminded me of my years as publicist at University of Arkansas Press. Rude Pursuits and Rugged Peaks had a cover on it that was pastoral, fitting, but the design team took a second take on it and that brilliant map came about. When the hardcover sold really well (UAP had arranged weekly excerpts in the Springfield News-Leader, which included mention of the book and a brief column by Dr. Rafferty about present conditions at each significant site in the journal) the paperback was readied. The three quotes from great reviews on the cover of the paperback (St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Donald Harington in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, and a columnist in the Joplin Globe) replaced the jacket copy and read like a paragraph of praise for the book. Wow, those were fun times in publishing! Dr. Rafferty came to my first reading back at Missouri State. What an honor to work with him and help him get this book to its readers! Thanks for bringing these memories back to mind!
I should have guessed that you were involved in the production of that fine piece of work! I’ve admired Rafferty’s work for a long time…..used to have a copy of “Ozarks: Land and Life” (the first version), but alas, it has gotten lost over the years.
Steve, Well you are in luck, then! University of Arkansas Press re-issued Ozarks Land and Life with a new introduction (I think; this was after I left for University Press of Mississippi in 1998) by Milton D. Rafferty. So, you owe it to yourself to nab a replacement copy! The original that you lost was from—I’m guessing—University of Oklahoma Press?
Vincent Anderson said:
Thanks for mentioning the Rafferty edition of Schoolcraft on my blog. It is a great edition & I have two copies on my shelf.
By the way, I enjoy your musings.
Thanks, Vincent! I enjoy reading your blog as well. Do you ever get over to the Ozarks Cultural Symposium that Missouri State-West Plains sponsors? I’m going to have to miss this year’s event, but they always have a great lineup of speakers.
Vincent Anderson said:
I will be in Little Rock that weekend. I’m on the Board of Directors for the Arkansas Genealogical Society & we have a conference this coming weekend.