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History Early Settlers


Early Settlers: The 1800s

Travelers passing through this country in 1815 encountered people who still had not heard of the War of 1812. There was much land for sale from the federal government, but at $1.25 an acre, no one could afford it. Adjustments to land prices were made in 1854, and more than two million acres of Ozarks land sold for an average price of 12.5 cents per acre. 


At first, settlement consisted of isolated farms and small hamlets along rivers and navigable streams. The uplands were settled later, after roads were built. With the arrival of the railroads, settlement increased rapidly, and now there are few areas of the Ozarks where the landscape remains much the same as it was in pre-settlement times.

In early 1884 several traveling salesmen walked across the Ozarks. They came up from Arkansas along the train tracks from Mammoth Springs to West Plains. From West Plains they followed the railroad to Willow Springs, then headed west towards Springfield, through Cabool, Mountain Grove, Norwood and Mansfield. One of them kept a journal describing what he called their "peddling." This journal tells us a little about the land, towns and life of the Ozarks in 1884. 

The men bought goods, referred to as "notions," in Arkansas to sell on their trip. They bought the goods with money they earned selling fish they caught in the White River in Arkansas. Notions are things like needles and thread, knives and buttons. Such small, useful items were scarce on the frontier. They were also easy for a peddler to carry. 

The men made good money selling notions. In just a half a day in Willow Springs, the men sold $4.65 worth of goods, which was a lot of money in those days. They had problems selling their wares in some towns, however. Local merchants sometimes didn't like strange travelers taking business away from their stores. In Thayer, the sheriff even took the full pack of goods one of the salemen was carrying because he didn't have a merchant's license. Furthur west, in Joplin, some cows trampled their tent, and then the cattle herders robbed them. Among the items the cattle herders stole was a nickel-plated British "Bulldog" revolver that was worth a whole dollar! 

When the travelers left Willow Springs, they were convinced that robbers were following and planned to ambush them. The salesmen left the road and walked cross-country to Mountain Grove. They passed over hills covered with thick blackjack oak, and made their way across beautiful valleys with streams running clear, clean water. 

At that time much of that countryside was open or semi-open grassland, with widely spaced trees. Prairie grasses and flowers grew beneath the trees. The salesman who wrote the journal noted that the land between Cabool and Mountain Grove was some of the best pasture land they had seen on their travels. There were also forests of dense tree cover that made travel difficult. Near Willow Springs they saw very large pine lumber yards and mills. Cabool had a sawmill and good lumber yards, and was described as "finely situated and improving." Mansfield also had a sawmill and heavier timber. 

For those people who wanted to homestead in the area, the federal government still had land available. There was 75,000 acres of homestead land available in Douglas County, 125,000 in Ozark County and 25,000 in Wright County. This land could be had for a $2 filing fee plus $6 for a 40 acre plot. It cost only $14 dollars to homestead 160 acres of land! 


More on Early Settlers

Vist with a Pioneer Family

Pioneer Hog Butchering

Pioneer Log Building

Early Settlers in Douglas County

Tom Brown, early settler

History of Agriculture

History of Forestry

Making Tar

The Old Water Mills

  Source: "Turible Times in the Swamps and the Narrow Escapes from the Swamp Devils" by Charley Hershey, edited by Lynn Morrow, in The White River Valley Historical Quarterly, Summer 1995.