A Few Stories From The Ozarks

Feb 2, 2018

TOH 2-18

This is Marideth Sisco for These Ozark Hills. Doesn’t it seem like just yesterday we were welcoming in the New Year, and now February has come up and the weather has been a roller coaster with its 60-degree temps one day and down into the teens the next. It’s enough to make a person start crying Uncle, except that’s not what we say down here. I don’t know if you know this, but for some reason the only way in the Ozarks to signify that you’re giving up a fight is to call out “Calf Rope.” Yes, calf rope. I know. It makes no sense to me either. But that’s just how we do it.

And that reminds me of a story told some years ago by Doctor Bob Flanders, who along with Dr. Robert Gilmore, you may remember, created the Center for Ozarks Studies at MSU many decades ago. Attending MSU in the 1980s, I ran across Dr. Flanders in an odd way. and managed to sit in on some several of his lectures, I didn’t actually attend his classes, but I was doing my work-study gig in the technical services area of the library, tending to the darkroom that was kept for faculty members and making copies of photos and videotapes as requested. While doing that, I ran onto a collection of Dr. Flanders’ lectures that was waiting to be copied. I began the task, and boy was I was hooked. Now technically I wasn’t playing hooky, because the videos had to be copied in real time, and the only way to make sure nothing went wrong in the process was to watch them – so I did. I remember one lecture where he talked about having interviewed the people in some remote area, and how they’d told him “We used to have deer and turkey around here, but they all went away.” He would pause for dramatic effect, and then shout “They didn’t go away! You killed them all and ate them! You make it sound like they all just moved over to the next county or something.’

I remembered my folks saying the same thing. When I was growing up, if you wanted to go deer hunting, you went to Colorado.

He told the story of how the deer and turkey had been brought back, by the Missouri Department of Conservation and how that outfit was brought into being by folks here who’d been talking to Aldo Leopold and read his book “Sand County Almanac.” They weren’t just readers. Aldo had bought a cabin down east on the Current River, down by Arkansas. He invited his friends down to hunt and fish and experience the deep Ozarks as it was in those days. And it affected them. Time and conversations went on, people realized something should be done, and about that time they heard a last remnant population of wild turkeys had been found in Ozark County, in the Caney MT wilderness area. And a few deer. Just a few. You see, in those days, folks who wanted a reliable way to put meat on the table hunted with dogs. And the wilderness was almost too rugged for dogs. Almost. Something needed to be done before everything was lost.

Funds were allocated, the land was acquired by the state, and a man who lived on a farm adjacent to the wild area was hired to put a fence around it to keep out the dogs. Somewhere in the 1950s, Bernice Morrison and his father, Joe, and a couple of stout mules, put a woven wire fence all the way around the 7,000 acres of Caney Mtn. Wildlife Area. Starker Leopold, Aldo’s son, was the biologist charged with the restoration effort for the deer and turkey, and it worked. Joe’s cabin and Starker’s are still there at Caney MT if you want to look for them. Bring your four-wheel drive. And that’s how we have deer and turkey today. I learned that from Dr. Flanders and later, when I moved to West Plains and went to work for the newspaper, I got to interview Bernice and hear the story first hand.

But back to Dr. Flanders, I remember another story. I love this story. He’d been out driving around over in Shannon County trying to find out why so many of the old homes were built with two front doors, side by side, opening into two different rooms. I know you’ve seen them. And he was wondering why do they do that. At last, out in some woodland glen, he found a fellow building a brand-new house with the two front doors side by side. He got out of the car and he was so excited and he accosted the fellow, explaining to the fellow he’d been looking everywhere for why that was done. He said the fellow looked at him like he was crazy, then said, “Well, that’s how you do it.”

And so there you have it. And if you’re ever wondering how it is that this old lady keeps coming up with all these tales out of the Ozarks hills, here’s the truth. I turn on the computer or open up my mouth and they just fall out. And that’s how I do it. This is Marideth Sisco for These Ozark Hills. Thanks for listening.