Monday, October 3, 2011

Pioneer Descendants Gathering - Douglas County, Missouri.

Writing stories, transcribing newspapers, or decipher documents can sometimes seem to cause an estrangement from the elements that one can be researching. The remedy for this predicament is to go somewhere and re-immerse and discover the true pleasures & hardships that wrought about the first love and simple connections of our Ozarks’ History

To this situation, I found a simple answer for this weekend; it is called the “Pioneer Descendants Gathering,” hosted by Dale & Betty Thomas.  Simply put, this is one of the best kept secrets of the Ozarks. This couple has provided this venue, free of charge, for the past ten years on their farm on Bryant Creek. That’s right; exhibitors and participants have been coming here the first weekend in October, at no charge, for the last 10 years because of Dale & Betty’s love of what they treasure from our Ozark’s past. This gatherings not thrown together haphazardly. All exhibits, demonstrations, and animals must be approved by the Dale & Betty; everything has a purpose in teaching & retaining past Ozark customs & traditions. This event is also promoted by many of the descendants of Tom Brown and John Burden.

On my trip from Arkansas, I drove down one of the many scenic highways in Ozark & Douglas Counties. One such highway is 95. This road snakes through a beautiful hardwood & pine forest, passing nearby old Rockbridge, Missouri. Then, I took Highway 14 and headed west after I made it to Gentryville. There is no way to arrive at the Pioneer Descendants Gathering there by accident; it must be found on purpose. In looking back at its’ placement in the wilderness, I believe this is just one element in keeping the genuine uniqueness of this event.

Double Click on Pictures to Enlarge.
Highway 95.
If one is traveling from Ava, Missouri, it is 18 miles East on Hwy. 14 to County Road 341, and then follow the signs. If traveling from Mountain Grove, Missouri, take Hwy. 95 South to Gentryville, Missouri, turn right on Hwy 14, drive West 4 miles to County Road 341, and follow the signs to the “Edge of the World.”

At the beginning of County Road 34, there are 2 signs:"Pioneer Descendants Gathering" &"Yates Cemetery 3.7 Miles."

County Road 341.
The Hill Before the Great Descent.
“Check Brakes…End of the World.”
Near the bottom of the hill is the Yates Cemetery before passing by Dale & Betty’s House. After arriving at the bottom of the world and parking, everybody has a chance to contribute in helping Dale & Betty to continue this annual event. There is no pressure in compelling people to give.  But after seeing & meeting people and connecting with our past, why wouldn’t someone give to an endeavor like this?
I have been to town square celebrations and amusement parks that had portions of this venue, but there is no comparison to what can be experienced at this event. Additionally, these  re-enactors have connections to the Ozarks which fall into the following categories: American Indian, Mountain Men, Territorial, Civil War, Ozark Pioneer, Spanish American War, and World War I. Before anyone asks why Spanish American War and World War I re-enactors are at the Pioneer Descendants Gathering, we had young men from the Ozarks who fought and died in these wars. I have a total of 3 great uncles & 4 great, great uncles, respectively, who lived through these wars and came back to the Ozarks. It is all these eras and events that make the tapestry of the Ozarks.

Re-enactors and vendors camp overnight modeling their respective time era with their accoutrements in tow.
Ozark Cooking.
Here is the running list of what was available: Antique Engines, Old Implements & Covered Wagons, Flint Knapping, Rope Making, Corn Grinding, Broom Making, Steam Tractors, Blacksmithing, Muzzle Loading Shoot, Wagon Rides, Wheel Wright, Rail Splitting, Cross Cut Sawing, Molasses Cooking, Wood Carving, Wool & Cotton Spinning & Weaving, Knife Making, Chair Canning, Ozark Rock Candy, Soap Making, Basket Weaving, Apple Butter Making, Apple Head Dolls, Candle Making, Red Oak Shingle Making, Historical Clothing & Patterns, and Sunday Service in the morning at 10 am. There is live music throughout both days with local bands. All you need is to bring your lawn chairs. Food & drinks are available. This is a family friendly area with no drugs & alcohol. There are no pets, dirt bikes, 3 or 4 wheels. Clean port potties are provided for men & women. Over-night camping for vendors is welcome, but arrangement must be made by calling 417-683-2482.

A Partial View of One Side of the Camp.
As I walked into the encampment, I was greeted by Betty Thomas selling raffle tickets for a quilt. She was stationed at the entrance and greeted everybody with genuineness, care, and hospitality. After speaking with her, I came across a young girl with her goat in harness pulling a split oak rail.
Girl & Goat in Tow.
Though I will only cover a few Ozark Craftsmen, it will only be a portion due to the concentration of these men & women in one place. So remember, there are many more at the gathering than space will allow me to mention.
Old Engines & Tractors.
Old Engine Used To Cut Ozark Red Cedar.
Pumping Water.
Pumping Water.
Ozark Wagon Rides.
Gathering Under the Pavilion to Hear Local Bands.
Wheel Wright & Wagon Maker
Dale Thomas is an Ozark craftsman is every sense of the word. Dale is an accomplished Wheel Wright and can build the complete wagon of our former Ozark pioneers. Dale also has two men that work with him as Apprentice Wheel Wrights, Ed Miller in his 3rd year and Charles Witter in his 2nd year.
The Wagon Maker
Bryant Creek Wagon Works
Rebuilt By
Dale Thomas
Rt. 5 Ava
Ozark Relic Comes to Life.
The work, time, and expertise that goes into producing each wheel is amazing. Each wheel takes about the total of 80 hours. The wood for each spoke must be cured for 4 years. It takes anywhere from 45 minutes to carve one spoke; there’s 14 spokes to a wheel. If a spoke happens to have a knot or crack, it must be discarded, and a new one must be made to replace it. The steel rims are cut from ¼ inch steel, roll/crimped into shape, and ends are connected.

Apprentice Wheel Wright, Ed Miller, shows the device use to bend 1/4 inch steel into a wheel rim.
Wheel Wright Shop.
The rim it is heated in a fire pit for at least 3 hours in order for it to expand.
The Team of 3 Work Together.
The rim is then pulled out of the coals and quickly brushed/cleaned off.
The hot rim is place rapidly placed on the wooden wheel.
Snapping the Rim into Place.
Pitchers of cold water are poured over the rim, causing the hot steel to cool & contract around the wooden rim.
Finished Product...1 Wheel = 80 Hours.
Soap & Shingles
Terry & Cathy Wyatt from Eminence, Missouri, were also a popular exhibitors & re-enactors. Cathy makes homemade lye soap, cooked in an old kettle. She warmly welcomes every passerby and walks through the process of making soap. She also sells her soap for a nominal fee, but the history lesson in 3 minutes is far more priceless.

Cathy Cooking Lye Soap.
Terry splits red oak wood into familiar shingles that once was a mainstay & adorned the roofs of every log cabin in the Ozarks for years.

Finished Product.
Ozark Rock Candy
This candy was use for diluting the harsh taste when hard cider or whiskey was use for "Medicinal Purposes." The candy was dropped into the glass, and sizzled in order for the sugar & flavoring to do its’ magic. The term came to be known as “Rock & Whiskey.” 

My favorite flavor…cherry. A bag of homemade rock candy was only $1.00. I should’ve bought more. Most of it was gone by 1:00 pm.
Bag of Rock Candy…$1.00.
Stilling Molasses
Tony& Linda Stillings, with their grandson Caleb, are a family that puts to practice of passing on their tradition of pressing & cooking molasses to the 4th generation. They usually plant from ½ to an acre of cane each season. Tony& Linda also have a gathering at their farm to make molasses on the 3rd Saturday every September.
Molasses Exhibit.
Cooking & Skimming the Molasses.
Grinding Corn
While there, their grandson, Caleb Stillings, was also demonstrating grinding corn for chicken feed, grits, and corn meal. While watching him, I was reminiscing about the time, as a child, grinding corn in the same manner. Granny Anderson would fill her apron and I to would fill my shirt with cracked corn; then we would call & feed the chickens.

Broom Making
The Andersland Family from Nottinghill, in Ozark County, Missouri, makes handcrafted brooms the old fashion way. Deb and her daughter, Emily, apprenticed at the Ozark Folk Center in Mountain View, Arkansas, and are accomplished in their art. Their website can be found at www.nottinghillcraftworks.
Making Brooms.
 Old Weapons / Spinning Cotton & Wool
Butch & Dawn Stone are a couple that shows their heart for Ozark Customs. Butch is a well-known Ozark trapper, bowyer, and hunter.  He is known for making beautiful, handmade primitive bows and knapped arrows, flintlock, and percussion guns. He is a craftsman of turkey calls and primitive archery equipment.

Dawn has an excellent reputation for dying wool and is the shepherdess.  Working with the wool includes: shearing, washing, carding or combing, spinning, knitting, felting or weaving.  Depending upon the project, the wool is sometimes dyed, usually with natural or vegetal dyes.  Being a botany major in college, Dawn prefers to collect and use plant materials from the local area.  Osage orange wood shavings from Butch's bow making also yields an excellent dye.
Dawn Spinning Cotton. Cotton Plant in the Foreground.
Ozark Delights
P. O. Box 154 
Ava, MO 65608 
(417) 683-2060
Butch & Dawn were also demonstrators in the past at Silver Dollar City’s National Harvest Festival for 2 years.
Rope Making.
Rope Making.
Rope Making.
Some of My Souvenirs: Soap $1.00 & Beeswax Candles $1.25 Each.
In looking back over the day, I had not only learned about my family’s customs & traditions, I experienced them once again. It drew my heart in admiration and respect for these who came and pioneered this rugged wilderness; they made it their home. They didn't endure it only for themselves, but for future generations. I believe this is one of the unique qualities of the people who live in these Ozark hills.

I ask you, Dear Reader. Do you know where you’ve come from. Do you know where home is at? Even of it seems you too are in a rugged wilderness, I believe we all have a longing for a sense for home. In meeting many of these people for the first time, there was a sense of belonging…a sense of an Ozark hospitality & home. If you too would like to experience this for yourself, I invite you to make your plans for next year, the 1st weekend in October, to the 11th Annual Pioneer Descendants Gathering. Together, we can make it a part of our ongoing Ozarks’ History.

Thanks Dale & Betty Thomas. 

The 2014 Gathering Info.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this wonderful piece. This gathering gets better every year!