Andy ostmeyer ozarks was home to ‘last group of untouched rivers’ in the country lifestyles entertainment, life and more electricity symbols worksheet


It happened in 1961, when Douglas came across a picture of Big Bluff that appeared in Time magazine for a story it did on outdoor recreation. At nearly 600 feet, it is said to be the highest sheer face bluff between the Rockies and the Appalachians.

Less than 3 river miles apart, Big Bluff and Hemmed-In Hollow are just two of many dramatic features on the upper Buffalo River and part of the reason this area — revered by canoeists, hikers and lovers of rugged and wild places — compels such pilgrimages.

In trying to understand why the Ozarks ended up at the forefront of the nation’s river conservation efforts with a number of milestone accomplishments and why several Ozark rivers went first into the pantheon of protected rivers, including the Buffalo as America’s first national river, the upper Buffalo is another good place to put in.

The Buffalo also tells another story about Ozark rivers — their being part of an “arrested frontier.” That’s what academics call places such as the Ozarks, meaning the region had been largely bypassed by progress. Some disparage us as “backward” and “hillbilly,” but I prefer “spared.”

Along the Buffalo River, homestead patents were still being granted on the eve of World War II, and hundreds of acres were never in fact claimed but simply transferred from one federal agency to another when the river became part of the National Park Service.

During a public hearing to help determine the fate of the Buffalo, one of the nation’s most experienced wilderness canoeists, an outdoor writer who had logged thousands of miles with a paddle, described the isolation he experienced along the Arkansas river: “In 130 miles of its length from Ponca to the White River, there are no towns along its banks. In this whole distance there are very few cabins. If compared with Canadian and Alaskan rivers, such as the Peace, Mackenzie and Churchill, and even the Yukon, there are fewer cabins and less people. On its entire length, it is a scenic gem.”

The fact that the Buffalo had escaped development nearly became its undoing. The same year that Time featured Big Bluff, the Buffalo River Improvement Association organized, arguing that dams were necessary to create lakes, lakes to bring development, and development to bring money to a region that didn’t have much of it. Among other things, the group claimed that nearly three-quarters of the homes in Newton and adjacent Searcy counties still lacked flush toilets and running water at the time William Douglas was flipping through the pages of the magazine and falling under the river’s spell.

I was skeptical, thinking the figure had been ginned up by supporters of the dams on the Buffalo to boost their case, but then I remembered previous river stops at the preserved cabin of Eva Barnes “Granny” Henderson on the upper Buffalo. She lived there by herself into the 1970s, without modern conveniences, daily drawing water from the river.

I remembered visits to the preserved farmstead of Sod and Ida Mae Collier, in the middle Buffalo. They were granted a homestead patent for that site in 1937. The farm did not have electricity or indoor plumbing as late as 1961, according to the National Park Service.

In truth, the thin soils and steep slopes of the Buffalo River country and for that matter much of the Ozarks did not lend themselves to the kind of row-crop agriculture that brought so much of the Midwest into the economic and social mainstream. The late Ozarks expert Milt Rafferty noted in his book, “Ozarks, Land and Life,” that 9 in 10 farmers in the Arkansas Ozarks still farmed with animals at the end of World War II, long after after other areas of the country had begun using tractors. Once the region’s timber boom ended, jobs moved out, the population moved out and large parts of the region reverted to a semi-wild state. Newton County saw its population fall by nearly half between 1920 and 1960; during what Compton called the “exodus,” he wrote that land in the Buffalo River watershed could often be acquired for back taxes.

In a coincidence of fortuitous timing, Douglas came for his canoe trip in the spring of 1962, camping on the upper river, including a visit to Big Bluff, and that spring Compton, a Bentonville doctor, was picked as president of the newly formed Ozark Society.

The visit by Douglas brought national attention to the Buffalo as a place worthy or protection — Compton wrote that the importance of the visit cannot be “overemphasized” — just as the Ozark Society was organizing for battle. “We will contest the destruction of this river at all stages whatever …” Compton announced in a letter to lawmakers that spring.

“All of us who have been on it love it,” Douglas later wrote of the Buffalo. “It would be sheer desecration to destroy it by a dam or otherwise. It should be kept in perpetuity as a remnant of the ancient Ozarks unspoiled by man. Its fast water and its idyllic pools make it a bit of heaven on Earth.”

Two years later, in his book, “The Quiet Crisis,” Udall singled out the Buffalo in Arkansas and rivers in the Missouri Ozarks as places worthy of going to the front of the line as the nation’s first efforts were underway to protect rivers. And as a long-serving secretary of the interior, Udall would be instrumental in protecting many Ozark rivers, fighting to keep the Buffalo free of dams through the 1960s.

Just as some hoped — and others dreaded — development came. Sam Walton opened his first Walmart in 1962 in Rogers. Who would have guessed that in the lifetime of many of those who fought for the Buffalo the nation’s largest corporation would be based but an hour or so from Granny Henderson’s cabin? Who would have guessed that Northwest Arkansas would become one of the nation’s fastest growing areas, projected to hit 800,000 people by 2030, according to one study, and shortly afterward to be on its way to a metro area of a million people? The Springfield metro area, just an hour or so north of the Buffalo, has climbed past a half-million residents now, and it is home to some of the fastest-growing counties in Missouri. Branson lures 9 million visitors a year to the Ozarks, who come here first in their mini vans and then return in their moving vans as they look for a place where something unspoiled endures.

According to historian, author and photographer Tim Palmer, the fight to protect the Buffalo River in Arkansas was one of the first in the country that included “river people” — canoeists who had been floating the river and wanted to see it protected.