The Vanishing Ozarks from Missouri History Museum on Vimeo.
This film by my estimation was produced somewhere between 1958-1961 after seeing the Pontiac on the ferry. It was hard to quickly research the year, the shot went by pretty quickly but I know I am in the ballpark as there were a couple of early Volkswagon’s spotted as well on the riverbank.
By the third decade of the twentieth century, the loss of the forest resulting from the hinterland development threatened traditional ways of living along the Current River even more than had the many social and economic changes of the lumber and railroad era. Timber, the resource that attracted the railroads and many people to the Current after 1880, showed signs of playing out soon after 1900. The forest was the foundation of the uplander culture. It housed the game that the uplander hunted and fed the hogs that the hill families ate. The uplander-frontier culture’s economic tradition was based on a reactive relationship with nature. Before the introduction of large-scale lumbering, the settlers made few visible changes to the natural environment. Their hunting practices helped to deplete much of the big game but their open range livestock grazing had little impact on the forest. The loss of so many trees through unbridled lumbering, however, damaged the natural and thus the cultural habitat of the traditional homeland.
Some Ozark and state leaders saw tourism as the economic salvation of the region. The early development of modern recreation on the Current and Jacks Fork rivers accompanied the introduction of railroads into the southeast Missouri Ozarks. There were two trends in the growth of recreation. First, the railroad and lumber companies encouraged sport hunting and fishing. The depletion of the wildlife and the exodus of the large pine lumber corporations limited this activity and, by 1914, the promotion of recreation began focusing on attracting tourists to the areas scenic beauty. Although tourism boomed around the springs of southwest Missouri and northwest Arkansas during the previous century, it was slow to develop in the more isolated Courtois Hills. Unlike lumbering and hunting, tourism was an unfamiliar concept to most residents of the Current River region.
Urban businessmen formed several hunting and fishing clubs and built cabin retreats on the Current River after the Current River Railroad laid its tracks to the mill of the Missouri Lumber and Mining Company. In 1888, the year that the railroad was completed, businessmen from St. Louis, Kansas City, and Springfield, Missouri, established two clubs. Sportsmen in St. Louis chartered the Current River Fishing and Hunting Club with a five-dollar membership fee. Another group from Springfield and Kansas City organized the Carter County Fishing and Shooting Club and charged its members twenty dollars to join. The Current Local reported that the club had 125 members and that Alex Carter, a leading political figure in Carter County, appeared to be the only member from the county. The incorporators of the club were mostly officials of the Kansas City, Ft. Scott, and Memphis Railroad, the parent company of the Current River Railroad. With lumber from the Grandin mill, the members built a clubhouse six to eight miles south of Van Buren on a bluff overlooking the Current.
In 1912, another Springfield group incorporated a club, Shannon County Hunting and Fishing Club, and built cabins on the Jacks Fork. Again, as the purpose of the corporation stated, it solicited an exclusive membership:
“The object and purpose of this club shall be to furnish facilities for bringing together as often as may be, gentlemen in commercial, manufacturing and professional pursuits throughout Southern Missouri for educational, and for recreation and improvement . . . [and] to develop the mental and moral faculties of its members.”
The Shannon County Hunting and Fishing Club out lasted the other organizations and continued to exist into the 1980s.
The records of the Carter County Fishing and Shooting Club described something of the logistics and recreation activities of late nineteenth century float trips down the Current and Jacks Fork rivers. Because of the club’s association with the Kansas City, Fort Scott and Memphis Railroad (later part of the Frisco line) and because of this railroad’s partnership with area lumber companies, club members had ready access to the main KFS&M lines and the lumber trains. The sportsmen often traveled by train to Chicopee or to Chilton and from there headed the short distance downstream to the clubhouse. The favored pastime was floating and fishing down the rivers and, at least until 1930, most parties recorded in the club registry their catch and sometimes highlights of their trips. A 1907 entry by sportsmen from Carthage, Missouri, stated:
Put in Jack’s Fork about 3 miles above Eminence May 24, 1907, and floated to Club House. River about 18 inches high. Caught 60 bass, one jack salmon, one shad. Saw first engine cross Jack’s Fork. E. B. Jacobs caught a double consisting of two 3-pound bass. Had a fine time and good ride with Andy Pitman (guide) in gasoline boat.
This brief trip record noted an important transportation improvement furnished by the lumber railroad crossing the Jacks Fork. Before the construction of the tram in 1907, the fishing parties heading for the upper Jacks Fork had to depart the KFSM track at Birch Tree or Winona and travel overland by wagon to the river. They then floated downstream in canoes or johnboats, the latter was most common on the Current. The early johnboats were built of pine planks sixteen to twenty-four feet long. They were narrow (often three feet wide), flat bottomed, with slightly beveled sides. “Bow and stern [were] blunt, and the bottom at both ends tapered upward so that the boat [could] be swung easily in the current by a boatman operating with a single paddle from the stern.” Boards for making boats were carried to the departure point, along with the other sporting gear, and local woodsmen/carpenters built the boats on the spot for the fishing parties. The club records indicated that members organized float trips of varying lengths. Some excursions started up at Round Spring, on the Upper Jacks Fork, at Van Buren, or a number of other locations.
During the last two decades of the nineteenth century, the tallies of fish caught boast of the Current and Jacks Fork as a “fisherman’s paradise,” but a marked decline appeared after 1900. In 1946, Charles Callison, secretary of the National Wildlife Federation, demonstrated the decline by examining the number of fish caught by members of the Carter County Fishing and Shooting Club during the decades 1890-1940. The last column of the table, displaying a person’s average catch per day, reveals two dramatic declines: first, after 1900, the catch dropped from 13.5 to 7.3 and then, after 1920, fell from 8.8 to 5.9. The number of recreational fishing trips, themselves, decreased sharply during the Great Depression decade of the 1930s. Yet the trend reflected more than just the extensive removal of fish by sportsmen. The gigging and illegal dynamiting of fish by the residents of the Current River basin also contributed to the decline.
(Excerpt From the National Park Service)