The Story of Cutting the Last Great Virgin Forest East of the Rockies
Kenneth L. Smith
978-0-938626-69-5 (paper)
July 1986 / 2006


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Sawmill is a history of logging in the Arkansas and Oklahoma Ouachita Mountains from 1900 to 1950, a penetrating study of the lumber industry, and a significant view of man’s interaction with a major forest resource. It is also a social history in its account of the lumbermen’s quest for the last virgin timber and the effects of its depletion. Kenneth L. Smith interviewed more than three hundred people to develop this lively history of the cutting of virgin shortleaf pine forests.

The Caddo River Lumber Company and the Arkansas mill towns of Rosboro, Glenwood, and Forester provided jobs and homes for many during the brief heyday of the big sawmills. Smith takes a close look at several important timber companies, and at the personality of T. W. Rosborough, a man who bought and sold vast tracts of land and had an almost fatherly concern for both white and black sawmill workers.

The recollections included here provide insight into a population that lived through the Depression years in isolated mountain communities where cats were sometimes sold as possum meat, and where men enjoyed weekend “sip and sniff” poker parties. The book is richly illustrated with photographs from the time of the mills and includes a foldout map.

Sawmill was originally published in 1986 and reprinted in 2006.

Kenneth L. Smith is the author of The Buffalo River Country and Illinois River. In 1967 he was named Arkansas Conservationist of the Year.

“A valuable historical record of an era where written history is sparse.”
Choice Magazine

“In Arkansas, social history and the natural environment are closely linked, and Ken Smith writes with a sharp eye on both. His beautiful Buffalo River Country remains a classic, his latest work, the encyclopedic Buffalo River Handbook, informs and delights, but Sawmill may be his most important book. This detailed account of logging in the Arkansas and Oklahoma Ouachita Mountains during the first half of the 20th Century allows the reader to walk the vast uncut forests, hear the bite of the ax and the saw, and see the literal coming of age for the lumber industry in Arkansas, along with its subsequent passing. A great lover of Arkansas’ natural heritage, Ken even-handedly tells the story of the mills and the once virgin forests, and of the people whose lives were intertwined with the fortunes of the industry. And whether he is describing the intricate dance between the sawyer and the band saw or the style of the black baseball teams sponsored by the company, he writes with genuine respect for the most significant accomplishment of the era: large numbers of jobs, especially during the Depression. In Ken’s epilogue, the passing of the old cut-and-get-out style of lumbering is recorded, and the mention of new companies, like Weyerhaeuser Company, is made. Now, in first decade of the 21st Century, as we face these “new” companies moving on as well, Sawmill provides valuable backstory for, of all things, the future.”
—Dana Steward, editor of A Rough Sort of Beauty: Reflections on the Natural Heritage of Arkansas

Winner of the Virginia C. Ledbetter Prize

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