Modern tourism in the Ozark Mountains of Missouri and Arkansas is concentrated around the area’s glistening man-made lakes, its fish-filled streams and rivers, and in the entertainment mecca of Branson. But recreational excursions into this part of the country began over one hundred years ago as urban midwesterners, many of them captivated by Harold Bell Wright’s novel The Shepherd of the Hills, sought the outdoors for spiritual and physical regeneration.
Morrow and Myers-Phinney excavate the beginnings of commercial tourism in the region and follow it through six decades as the influx of visitors who became familiar with the Ozarks and its investment opportunities also brought capital, new commerce, and additional residents to the hills. Chapters focus on float fishing, game parks, cave exploration, the influence of the railroad, and the men who were instrumental in the region’s transformation. The authors discuss traditional lifestyles rooted in “living off the land,” with stock-raising and lumbering providing basic subsistence, and how change wrought by tourism affected all classes of people across the White River landscape. They explain the flowering of “Ozarks folklore”—how stories told around gravelbar fishing camps and retold by newspaper journalists translated the hills’ oral tradition to mass audiences.
Although the main theme of this study is the development of tourism, it is, as well, a social history of the interior highlands of the Ozarks. We see how the residents and their way of life were discovered, exploited, and changed by new opportunities and the demands of tourism and increasing trade. As such, this book is a valuable new addition to the University of Arkansas Press’s Ozarks Collection.