Academic journal article The Arkansas Historical Quarterly

Hipbillies and Hillbillies: Back-to-the-Landers in the Arkansas Ozarks during the 1970s

Academic journal article The Arkansas Historical Quarterly

Hipbillies and Hillbillies: Back-to-the-Landers in the Arkansas Ozarks during the 1970s

Article excerpt

IN THE MID-1970S, THE ARKANSAS OZARKS belatedly came to grips with the legacy of the previous decade's social revolutions. While a host of challenges to America's status quo had been offered in the 1960s, the Ozarks had weathered these changes with relative ease. Fayetteville, Eureka Springs, Harrison, and other towns in the region were not centers of protest or violence. For many, the Ozarks maintained a beguiling image of a sleepy throwback to a time before industrial growth had disrupted simple living, small towns, and pristine landscapes.

Yet, change was, in fact, fast coming to the Ozark hilltops. Beginning in the late 1960s, population boomed throughout the Arkansas uplands as thousands of in-migrants-mostly retirees and returnees but also members of the counterculture-moved to the state. These disparate groups from the nation's cities and suburbs flocked to the newly created lakes and retirement villages but also to small towns and rural areas and, along the way, stirred up a potent mixture of enthusiasm and consternation among local people. At times, consternation became antagonism, the most organized of which occurred in Carroll County's Eureka Springs, giving birth to a mythology concerning hostility between native-born hill folks and back-to-the-land hippies.

Though Eureka Springs is now seen as a mecca for Ozarkian counterculture, in the late 1960s and early 1970s the "long hairs" newly residing in and around the town agitated the town's business leaders. Some of the loudest protests came from John Cross, a bank owner, entrepreneur, and community elder. Cross characterized the arrival of the hippies as at first "a trickle," but "then it was a flood." He continued:

And it got pretty bad. It got pretty bad. It got pretty bad drug-wise, it got pretty bad food stamp-wise, and it just got pretty bad. You know, this was the place to come. And it got so bad that I could see what was going on, in terms of drugs and fraud, with the food stamp[s]. . . . So, as a community leader, I picked up the phone, got the name and address and phone number of the man who was in charge of the food stamp [program] for the entire southwestern part of the United States. . . . I said, "There's a lot of fraud going on up here, and we've got a lot of these unconventional young people, backlanders or back-to-the-land people or whatever it is," saying they weren't all bad, but . . . [e]very time we'd have a motorcycle wreck, or somebody would get killed, or something, they'd be wanted in Arizona, or wanted in Florida, or something like that. So we knew we had a bunch of scumbags in town, in addition to some good ones. So I really hit a nerve.1

In summer 1972, Cross and his associates alleged that the newcomers planned to take over the town during the fall city council elections. Cross's unhappiness was seconded by the noted anti-Semite Gerald L. K. Smith, a newcomer himself. After his arrival in 1964, Smith built the Christ of the Ozarks, a statue that still looms over the town, and founded the Passion Play, attractions that brought thousands of tourists to the area. Accordingly, the Arkansas transplant became interested in local politics and concerned with the impact that people like Edd Jeffords, a journalist and outspoken member of the back-to-the-land (BTL) movement, would have on his tourist business, especially after Jeffords and others began advocating the cleanup of the town's famous water supply.2 The local newspaper, the Times-Echo, shared Smith and Cross's fears and called on the citizens of Eureka Springs to stand against the onslaught of moral laxity. If they did not, their right to vote would be lost "to someone else-who, for all you know, was a communist, an extremist of one sort or another, or a hippie who has added nothing to the community, but instead has through his philosophy torn down the moral fibers of the community." The editorial went on to declare:

the hippies, who are parasites of the community, who bring drugs into the area, who degrade the morals of the community, who add nothing to the economy of the community, should be given a quick ticket out. …

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