Tuesday, February 7, 2017


A lot has been written about the origin of the celebrated flat-bottomed wooden boats used on the James and White rivers. Outdoor writer Robert Page Lincoln wrote a long article on these boats, published in the March, 1948 issue of Fur-Fish-Game magazine, for which he extensively interviewed Galena river guide and boat builder Charley Barnes.

Robert Page Lincoln was a prominent writer on hunting and fishing in the 1930s through the 1950s. Seen here dressed like a running buddy of Ernest Hemingway, Lincoln observes Charley Barnes crafting a float boat. Lincoln wrote Barnes didn’t care for the name ‘johnboat.’

Charley Barnes guided Galena-to-Branson floats for forty years and built more than three hundred of the craft used in these trips. In a 1956 interview with Springfield News-Leader reporter Don Payton, Barnes said although he had “taken commercial floats on the Current River” and heard the term johnboat applied there, “We have never used that name here.” Barnes got in to the James River float business during its earliest commercialization, but soon realized, “‘the boats available weren’t big enough to accommodate occupants for much longer than a day.’ Barnes quickly came to the realization that greater cargo space was needed for tents, food, equipment, and other gear. The result was that Barnes, still working in Branson, fabricated a boat ‘about 20 feet long and a yard wide with a snub nose and flat bottom.’” The classic “float boat” created by Barnes and other Galena builders was more stable than “jack boats” as earlier long, narrow, flat-bottomed wooden boats were called. Johnboats couldn’t be as easily poled upstream but return by railroad made going upriver by boat unnecessary.

“This photo of Charley Barnes and his two brothers, Herbert and John, was taken in 1909 about the time that the Barnes float trip business at Galena, Mo., was at the height of its success. The bass shown in this photo are the same average size as those taken now. Reading left to right are Herbert, John, and Charley Barnes.” Caption from Robert Page Lincoln’s 1948 article in Fur-Fish-Game magazine.

COMING IN 2017: JAMES FORK OF THE WHITE: Transformation of an Ozark River.  
Sample pages from this new book can be seen at www.beautifulozarks.com 
Our earlier 'river book,' DAMMING THE OSAGE, can be seen at www.dammingtheosage.com
The caption from Robert Page Lincoln’s 1948 article reads:

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Quest to Develop an Ozark River Boat


Printed postcard, 1907
The photo appears to depict a family departing for an overnight outing. Boats could be rented from lodges, and self-guided trips were common throughout the float trip era. Both paddles and poles are evident. We wish this group, dressed for Sunday school, all the best as they prepare to drift down the beautiful James in these odd overloaded, probably unstable, pointed-bow skiffs, or punts, or whatever they were called.

The genesis of the square-ended, flat-bottomed boats specifically adapted for commercial floating on the James and White rivers is poorly documented. Many theories have been advanced as to how they were developed, and how they came to be called johnboats.

COMING IN 2017: JAMES FORK OF THE WHITE: Transformation of an Ozark River.  
Sample pages from this new book can be seen at www.beautifulozarks.com 
Our earlier 'river book,' DAMMING THE OSAGE, can be seen at www.dammingtheosage.com

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Roaring River - the Back Story

In early settlement times, the spring pouring from a grotto beneath an overhanging bluff created a stream that powered water mills, once a common feature of Ozarks spring fed streams.  The last mill was converted into a hotel in 1905.  
Kansas City businessman, Roland M. Bruner bought the property that year and developed it into a vacation destination – Roaring River Camps and Hotel - during the 19-teens and twenties.  Trains brought visitors to Cassville and jitneys brought them the seven miles out to the rustic, Adirondacks style resort. 
The young lady pictured here is about to dive into the resort’s large swimming pool.  
 Bruner lost the property to foreclosure in 1928 and it was sold on the courthouse steps in Cassville. . St. Louis soap manufacturer, Thomas M. Sayman, bought the distressed property for $105,000 on November 16, 1928.  A few weeks later, December 5, he donated it to the state of Missouri.  
According to the nomination form for the National Register of Historic Places designation, both the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and the Works Progress Administration (WPA) took part in developing Roaring River as a state park.  From 1933 through 1939 Company 1713 built 33 buildings, 17 acres of beach improvements, six acres of landscaping, and miles of roads and trails.
This information is taken from the Nomination Form:
CCC Company 1713 arrived in the area in June 1933 and remained until November 1939. During this period, the CCC enrollees developed the hatchery, built new cabins and other park buildings, developed hiking trails, and repaired the damages of a disastrous flood. The major achievement of WPA workers at Roaring River was the construction of an impressive three-story stone and timber Lodge. An important survival in the park is Camp Smokey, which contains four original CCC officers' barracks.

There is one historic district in the park: Camp Smokey-Company 1713 Historic District. Nominated as non-contiguous sites are the following: Deer Leap Trail, the lodge, the club house (bathhouse), the honeymoon cottage, the shelter and restroom (#'s 30 & 311, and the dam/spillway.

Camp Smokey-Company 1713 Historic District is significant because: it is the only surviving Civilian Conservation Corps Officers' compound in the Missouri state park system; it is a good example of the military character of these installations, modified by rustic architectural details.
The CCC buildings in Camp Smokey are unusual survivals, because of the normal practice of razing the barracks and related structures whenever a CCC company abandoned a particular camp.
See more vintage photos and learn more details of The Back Story of Roaring River Park in See the Ozarks.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

James A. Reed, Legendary "Fighting Senator from Missouri" - Attorney in Ha Ha Tonka Lawsuit

James Reed

Press Photograph

In Damming the Osage, we began our chapter on Lake of the Ozarks with a discussion of a now-forgotten lawsuit  by the family of Robert McClure Snyder against Union Electric over the destruction of the trout pool at Ha Ha Tonka. This was a huge case that filled the newspapers and went on for years and is now virtually forgotten.

Legendary Missouri politician and attorney for the Snyder family in this lawsuit was James A. Reed, a distinguished former U.S. Senator. In what Time magazine characterized in 1927 as a forest of competing “presidential timber”, he was Missouri’s “tough-fibred, silver-topped sycamore, U. S. Senator James A. Reed”  Read more: http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,736900,00.html#ixzz2QTHc0uU8

Reed was one of the rare politicians who got on H. L. Mencken’s good side. When Reed retired from the Senate, Mencken saluted him: http://www.truthbasedlogic.com/ownman.htm 

His skill is founded upon a profound and penetrating intelligence, and informed by what amounts to a great aesthetic passion. There are subtleties in the art he practices, as in any other, and he is the master of all of them. The stone ax is not his weapon, but the rapier; and he knows how to make it go through stone and steel.

The “Fighting Senator from Missouri” was also paramour (and later husband) to Nellie Don, a Kansas City legend in her own right as founder of one of the largest dress manufacturing companies of the first half of the 20th century.

It is perhaps an understatement to say that our research led us to a cast of very interesting characters whose lives touched the Osage River.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

FACES LIKE DEVILS: The Bald Knobber Vigilantes in the Ozarks

A remarkable, in-depth and readable story of post Civil War vigilante bands in the Ozarks.
 Matthew J. Hernando’s new book, Faces Like Devils, is an engrossing account of the Bald Knobbers, a southwest Missouri vigilante movement that emerged as a result of post Civil War lawlessness.
Hernando places the Ozarks’ own vigilante groups in the broader context of American history: “Although often treated as a matter of local interest, the bloody history of the Bald Knobber organization informs a broader narrative of vigilante justice that has been a part of American history and culture from the beginning. It is a tradition literally older than the country itself.”  The Bald Knobbers are ideological cousins to the “Regulator” movements of colonial era North and South Carolina, San Francisco’s Committees of Vigilance during the California Gold Rush, ‘”fence cutting wars” in the West, and of course the KKK among many others.
This is not news for people in southwest Missouri. These were murderous nightriders whose “improvised dispensing of justice” has been written about and portrayed in locally produced plays and movies both fictional and documentary. The phenomenon has been subject of feature writers’ columns since their beginnings in the nineteenth century.  They were the heavies in Harold Bell Wright’s 1907 huge bestseller, Shepherd of the Hills. The Mabes, a talented country music family, pulled the words into one to name their Branson hillbilly music show. These popular appropriations, Hernando notes, may explain the relative sparseness of Bald Knobber scholarship: “The popular image of the Bald Knobbers may also have tainted the group with the stigma of sensationalism and provincialism, causing some historians who might otherwise have written about the group to defer from doing so.”
Two full-length books - Lucille Morris’s Baldknobbers, Caxton Press, 1939 and Elmo Ingenthron’s Bald Knobbers, Pelican Publishing, 1988 – have been published. Numerous popular articles, pamphlets and investigative journalist’s exposé have added detail and color to this compelling story.  The bibliography of Faces like Devils provides an extraordinarily comprehensive account of materials produced on the vigilantes in the last hundred years.
Hernando has absorbed all these. He has also delved deeply into voluminous court records and newspaper articles from the time. He applied microscopic examination of the condition of post Civil War turmoil that brought about this war, which involved 700-900 people at one time.  Night riding, hangings, floggings and gunfights were standard operating procedures.
Certainly this tumult was not good for business. Missouri’s Governor pushed the court system to crack down on these vigilantes in the mid 1880s. Four were sentenced to hang.  One got away.  The other three were executed in a horrifically inept public hanging on grounds of the Christian County courthouse in Ozark. 
For those that know the story – and many in our part of the country do – this is an unprecedented compendium of personalities. Though one name is popularly applied, there were two distinct groups – the Bald Knobbers of Taney County and the Bald Knobbers of Christian and Douglas counties.  The distinctions, Hernando contends, are important: “The two groups … used the same name, operated simultaneously, and inhabited roughly the same compact geographical area. Yet they exhibited such stark differences in their goals, tactics, and membership that it is sometimes difficult to see how they were considered part of the same group.” This book expertly clarifies these distinctions.
Faces Like Devils tells a gripping story with blind tigers, prostitutes that followed the railroad lines, and Yankees and Confederates fighting old battles. Hernando has produced a fascinating book, an easy read with good balance between academic research and readable prose.
 (NOTE:  This review is also posted on amazon.com: http://www.amazon.com/review/R2ZSDCV4P9UMSJ.  Check there for more information and purchase details.)

Saturday, May 2, 2015


Some might ask if the "Irish Wilderness" is a geographic place - or an Irish state of mind? Our book Mystery of the Irish Wilderness explored the history of a real place in the Missouri Ozarks, once populated by real Irish immigrants seeking a new life, a place now a component of the National Wilderness system.

Come to find there are other Irish Wildernesses, like Mount Irish Wilderness in Nevada's Basin and Range: "a 28,274-acre parcel less than two hours’ drive north from Las Vegas, harbors the parched region’s most precious resource: water."

And in 2013, The Irish Department of Art, Heritage and Gaeltacht and Coillte signed a Memorandum of Understanding, creating the country's first wilderness area in the Nephin Beg Range of North West Mayo.  This is a project with a twist ... the plan is to "rewild" 4,400 hectares of land to provide "a dedicated wilderness of forest, mountain, bog, river and lakes in the Nephin Beg Range." Wild Nephin is a fascinating and ambitious project, it's "the first of its kind in Western Europe."

An Taoiseach Enda Kenny TD, photographed at Néifinn Fhiáin in North Co. Mayo with from Left to Right Mr. Jimmy Deenihan, Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Dennis Strong National Parks & wildlife Services, and Bill Murphy, Head of Recreation Coillte to mark the  signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between Coillte and the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht that designates 11,000 HA along the Nephin Mountain Range as Ireland’s first wilderness area. March 14, 2013
(Images released by Ken Wright Photography)

Friday, March 20, 2015

OSCEOLA Book Signing

Many thanks to Larry Lewis of Osceola for arranging our presentation to the St. Clair County Historical Society last week. With Larry’s recommendation and the support of Angie Jones, Director of the St. Clair County Library, we were invited to discuss Damming the Osage with the members of the Historical Society.  The town of Osceola and much of St. Clair County were deeply affected by the changes brought on by the construction of Truman Dam and Reservoir. Leland was a plaintiff in the lawsuit filed by the Environmental Defense Fund (1972) to stop or reduce the size and impact of the dam. It was a position that put him (then) at odds with many people in at least three, maybe four counties. Feelings were strong during the lawsuit. People took sides with strong opinions. We were curious to see what the reaction was to our description of events.

Osceola Book Signing

The gathering was cordial and the audience knowledgeable about the events and issues. Indeed, we learned a lot from them. Personal stories of life on the Osage River pre-dam, paddlefish season,  the Civil War and its aftermath, outlaws and their final resting places, and meteors (that’s another post!) were lively, informative and added an intimate perspective on the costs and consequences of such huge and intrusive projects.

We showed our book video and one titled Osceola’s Lament evoking the after-dam realization that reality doesn’t begin to meet the optimistic promises of the dam-builders and promoters. Sadly, many of the negative consequences predicted by that lawsuit seem to have come to pass. Today, many residents are unenthusiastic about the monstrous and shallow reservoir that destroyed so much of the history and natural resources of the area.

Many thanks to Jim Arnett of Leawood, Kansas for taking the photographs.  (click on any photo to enlarge and start slide show)

OSCEOLA Book Signing