Hill Folks: A History of Arkansas Ozarkers & Their Image

Hill Folks: A History of Arkansas Ozarkers & Their Image

Hill Folks: A History of Arkansas Ozarkers & Their Image

Hill Folks: A History of Arkansas Ozarkers & Their Image


The Ozark region, located in northern Arkansas and southern Missouri, has long been the domain of the folklorist and the travel writer--a circumstance that has helped shroud its history in stereotype and misunderstanding. With "Hill Folks, Brooks Blevins offers the first in-depth historical treatment of the Arkansas Ozarks. He traces the region's history from the early nineteenth century through the end of the twentieth century and, in the process, examines the creation and perpetuation of conflicting images of the area, mostly by non-Ozarkers.

Covering a wide range of Ozark social life, Blevins examines the development of agriculture, the rise and fall of extractive industries, the settlement of the countryside and the decline of rural communities, in- and out-migration, and the emergence of the tourist industry in the region. His richly textured account demonstrates that the Arkansas Ozark region has never been as monolithic or homogenous as its chroniclers have suggested. From the earliest days of,white settlement, Blevins says, distinct subregions within the area have followed their own unique patterns of historical and socioeconomic development. "Hill Folks sketches a portrait of a place far more nuanced than the timeless arcadia pictured on travel brochures or the backward and deliberately unprogressive region depicted in stereotype.


I BEGAN THIS WORK more than a decade ago as an undergraduate student at Arkansas (now Lyon) College, driven by a desire to better understand the history of a region that, as I was to discover, had been unsatisfactorily documented. Much has been written about the Ozarks, of course, but only a small fraction of it has been of a scholarly, historical nature. Folklorists and travel writers discovered this mid-American highland region in the early twentieth century. Perhaps this helps explain the paucity of historical treatment. Folklorist Vance Randolph, travel writer Otto Ernest Rayburn, and their successors have so dominated the image of the Ozarks that social scientists and historians have for the most part left the region to vacationers and folk song gatherers. Or perhaps the difficulty of identifying the Ozarks with some larger American region has been the stumbling block. The Ozark region, in fact, often seems a hybrid of the South, the Midwest, and the West. Maybe the historical oversight stems from the misconception that, as Randolph himself claimed, the Ozark region is simply a “small edition” of the Appalachian highlands.

Whatever the reasons have been, the Ozark region has largely been denied a scholarly, historical record. The ingredients for an engaging study are evident: the aforementioned disparate regional affiliations, image versus reality, and paradox. How could a region simultaneously produce a J. William Fulbright and an Orval Faubus, provide the setting for a young Bill Clinton's first political race, spawn Fortune 500 companies such as Wal-Mart and Tyson Foods, and still be saddled with an image of static backwardness, of immunity from the march of time and historical progression? What follows is an attempt to take the first step in the journey to discover the story of an American region. It is my hope that this work will spark the interest of other students and potential students of Ozark history and of regional American history.

A few things about the book, its structure, and its underlying geography deserve mentioning. Geographers have long disagreed over the . . .

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