As a kid, I always enjoyed hearing stories from long ago about the Ozarks. Many nights, my dad would tuck me in bed and tell me old American Indian stories of hunting parties roaming the hills of Ozark County, Missouri. Thinking back to that time, I start combing databases for forgotten stories that hearkened back to that era.
In this next series, I found an old Kansas City Journal newspaper from November 27, 1898. I not only like these stories for their scenes and action, but for the style, sentence structure, and word syntax used. Actually, there are some words used I have rarely seen in a newspapers, and some made me wonder if they were truly words. For example, the words such as "mayhap," “royling,” and “mediumship” are not easily defined because spelling has changed over the past 112 years. Nevertheless, they can be still understood because of the beautiful context in which they are placed. Also, when was the last time you have read phrases such as, “weird and wonderful picturesqueness,” “vestige of human habitation,” or “six lusty buffalo bulls?”
I have endeavored to transcribe the stories word for word. For those who are the Political Correctness Police, read no further; you will be disappointed. The words “Redman” and “Paleface” are in these stories. Sorry, but that’s how it was written at that time; therefore, I will not whitewash and filter history for those who are faint of heart or ears.
I hope you enjoy a slice of our Ozarks’ History.
LEGENDS OF THE OZARKS
folklore of an interesting and picturesque country.
How Gideon Sims Discovered the Secret of the Great Spirit –
Why the Osages Disappeared –
Old Blue Arrow’s Fate.
That remarkable region known comprehensively as the Ozarks has a charm particularly its own. Finding peace as it placed in the very center of our great nation domain. It is not known as well as it should be and it has been neglected by the very class or people who would most appreciate its natural beauties and be most moved by the fascination of its weird and wonderful picturesqueness. In the heart of this rugged country one may find himself as entirely removed from the precincts of man as though he were in the wildest regions of the Sierra Madre. It is a wonderland of hills and mountains, wild lonely gorges and beetling bluffs, clear sweet springs and swift shadow rivers with many a green fertile valley tucked snugly in between. Peace dwells here, for many years have passed since the crack of the bold robber's rifle was heard and the simple people who find a livelihood in the narrow pent-in valleys have their latchstrings constantly hanging ready to the stranger's hand and their frugal hospitality is dispensed with a generosity that never fails to warm and win the heart. It is not surprising that such a region should be rich in legend and story, tales and traditions.
It has its own peculiar kind, not radically incoherent perhaps, from the like lore of other wild regions, but tinctured with a regalia charm that cannot be mistaken by those who are familiar with its character, its people and its past. For the authenticity of the legends which follow, I will not vouch. I simply write what I have been told in the hope that the reader may be as interested in the perusal as I have been in the recounting.
Country of the Six Bulls.
The earliest name known to have been affixed to the region now known as Jasper, Newton and McDonald counties was "Country of the Six Bulls." The earliest settlers knew it by that title. The origin of the name is involved in mystery. Tradition has been handed down that the Indians at an early period killed somewhere in the region six lusty buffalo bulls, remarkable for their strength and fierceness, and from this circumstance the scene of their valorous exploit was ever afterward known as the "Country of the Six Bulls". It has been justly remarked that this explanation would seem plausible if we had the name in the Indian language, instead of such plain and unmistakable Saxon.
But we are indebted to the late Judge John C. Cox of Joplin, for an explanation which seems more trustworthy. According to Judge Cox the first white man who traversed this region was Edmund Jennings, a wild Western traveler, or the Daniel Boone or Simon Kenton type. He was unmarried, possessed of means, and belonged to a family numbering among its members several prominent mid distinguished men. He was unit adventurous royling in his disposition and some seventy-five years ago struck out on a solitary journey through the vast unexplored regions west of the Mississippi. On foot and alone he found his way into this region, and for fifteen years lived on peaceable terms with the Indians. His neighbors gave him up for dead. One day, however, to the great surprise of the community among he had formerly lived, he returned dressed in buckskins and moccasins, and so unused to the English language that it was with difficulty that he made himself understood. The people gathered for miles around to hear his wonderful stories of his life in the Western solitudes. Judge Cox, who at that time was a mere lad, on one of those occasions, heard him relate his adventures. His description of the face of the country was as accurate as could be given at that time and corresponded exactly with the physical characteristics of Jasper county. He stated that he had been in the West in the “Country of the Six Boils.”
His pronunciation of the word "boils" was so corrupt that his listeners first conceived it to be "bulls," but the old pioneer explained that he referred by the term to six boiling, bubbling streams of water that traversed his favorite region, and along whose banks for long years he had trapped and hunted. He doubtless alluded to the Cowskin Indian creeks, Shoal creek, Spring river and North Fork, and his description of the country was so complete and the marks of identification so clearly established that there is no doubt but that Jennings' "Country of the Six Bulls" was nothing else than the present Jasper and surrounding counties.
The Great Fire Spirit.
Even at the present time there are old men living in Southwest Missouri, who from their early youth Old Gideon Sims, a great trapper and pioneer who hunted every hill and fished every stream in the country of the Six Bulls. Old Gideon was a welcome visitor in the rude home of early settlers, and while enjoying the sweetness of a tender, well broiled steak of venison with a hot corn dodger, the grizzled trapper would dilate upon some great hair-raising adventure with the Redskins or hold his audience open mouthed over some weird legend of a departed race. Among the most authentic of the traditions handed down through the mediumship of old Gideon is that of the Great Fire Spirit of the Neosho Indians.
The Indians told the most surprising stories of the Spirit and the intrepid pioneer resolved to see it. As redmen maintained a profound silence in Regard to its location he was compelled to use subtlety to discover it. He found that at the period of each new moon the redman sent out a delegation to carry offerings of flesh and corn to the Fire Spirit for its propitiation, so one time the wily old hunter left the Indian village a few days before a new moon and set out ostensibly on a hunt to the northward. He did not go far but hung about the vicinity with the purpose of following the party bound to the abiding place of their fiery god with the sacrificial offerings. He followed them due north for a night and a day and toward the evening they came to a big spring where they stopped to rest and cook their suppers. This spring is undoubtedly that which is now the pride of Neosho, the picturesque county seat of Newton. Dusk had hardly fallen when the Indians started upon on their journey to the northward, old Gideon still at their heels. It was well high midnight when the trapper noticed a, faint glow ahead. Upon nearer approach the glow grew brighter and the trapper distinctly felt a pulsation as though the heart of the earth were beating beneath his feet. The party had entered a warm draw or valley between the hills and skirting a thicket of persimmon trees to the right and a thick growth of oak and sassafras The Great Fire Spirit appeared before them in all his flaming majesty. The Indians cast their offerings into pillar of tire and fell prostrate, uttering strange guttural cries. Old Gideon, if we to credit his story, was not much less affected He gazed in amazement at the fiery tongue darting out from the rock mouth of the hillside and he was ready then to believe all the marvelous stories he had heard the Indians relate of the Great Fire Spirit.
The red men did not tarry long. But old Gideon determined to wait the coming of light and make a close examination. All night he watched the roaring, writhing, pulsating column of flame, but with the advent of the sunlight his awe and anxiety disappeared. In truth after a few minutes he had intimate relations with the Fire Spirit. It so happened that a fat deer browsed that way and old Gideon's trusty rifle and keen hunting knife were not long providing him with a breakfast of juicy chops, cooked in the flame of the Fire Spirit. For the Fire Spirit was merely a burning jet from a reservoir of natural gas, ignited by a flash of lightning or mayhap by an Indian camp fire or a forest conflagration. But the jet of flame no longer burns. The Fire Spirit passed away with the Indians who worshiped it.
The Last of the Osages.
The Osage Indians with great tenacity clung to their hunting grounds, in Missouri. They lingered even after the paleface had usurped their lands and built his cabin on the site of their villages. A pretty legend attaches to the story of the Osage tribe illustrating childlike superstition of the people. It is told among themselves that a medicine man who lived even before time of the great waters had proclaimed that the Osage people would live in the happy enjoyment of their hunting grounds until a time when an arrow made of human bone should be hurled into the heart of their greatest chief the hand of the Great Spirit.
And so after many ages there arose among the Osage a chief who was renowned for his courage in battle, for his skill as a hunter and for his great strength and beauty. His brother, a young brave a courageous, as skillful and as handsome as the chief, had won the heart of a beautiful princess of his tribe and had brought her to his wigwam. They were very happy until one eyes of the great chief fell upon her charms and he longed to have her for his own. It was said that he tried to kill his brother and when he failed in this he boldly set about to steal in her love from him. The silly head of the princess was turned by his flatteries, his tales of the unfaithfulness of his bother, his rich gifts and by attention of so great a man, and often at night they met under the shadow of a great oak near a high bluff which overlooked a swift flowing stream.
One night when the harvest moon was high the chief and the guilty wife sought their trusting place by the oak. As they stood wrapped in their first ecstasy of greeting, the Great Spirit looked down. When a hunter passed by the great oak early next morning he found that the awful curse had fallen upon his tribe. The hearts of the guilty lovers were cleft and bound together by an arrow whose head was made from a human bone and at the foot of the cliff with a scalping knife in his heart lay the body of chief’s brother. The next day a party of paleface hunters came into the village and foot by foot the Osage gave ground until he found his final home in the Indian Territory, far from the streams and woods on which he loved so well.
At Blue Springs, which is eight miles from Eureka Springs, is a boiling, bubbling fountain springing out of the very center of a well shaded and grassy slope which shelves gently down to the river only a few hundred feet away. The water appears blue as indigo, but when dipped up in a glass it is found to be clear and sparkling as diamonds. From the spring the water hurries away to the river, losing its tiny flood in the larger stream. Just here the river is swift and the decaying ruins of an old water mill may be seen. The rude masonry, a portion of the heavy woodwork and other parts still remain moss covered, crumbling and yet in a good state of preservation when it is considered that they are relics of old Spanish occupation, built by Spanish hands. Your guide will tell you that a long time age - a band of Spanish gold hunters settled here. Where the spring now bubbles up they sink their shaft and they mill to wash and clean the ore. One day when the men were at work in the mine a mighty roar was heard and a tremendous column of water shot from the shaft, hurling miners, timbers and tools high in the air and rushing in a resistless torrent to the river. The angry waters carried away every so in the settlement, the old mill and every vestige of human habitation. The spring has been sounded to the depth of 1,500 feet but no bottom has been touched. The Spanish miners had cut into a subterranean river.
Next week, the conclusion of Legends of the Ozarks.
Snyder, S. E. “Legends of the Ozarks.” Kansas City Journal. 41.170 (27 Nov. 1898) 16. Chronicling America. The Library of Congress, Washington, D. C. 11 Jan. 2008 http://www.chroniclingamerica.loc.gov.