Sense of Place

Explore the mystery and folklore of the Ozarks region by taking a step back in time. This series focuses on true stories from the vaults and attics of local historians.

Michele Skalicky

A little ways to the east of the Springfield city limits, in a pastoral, wooded setting, is an old white church, which still holds services every Sunday.  The current Mt. Pisgah United Methodist Church was built in 1888, just over two decades after the Civil War ended and 50 years after Springfield was incorporated. 

Bailey Vassalli / KSMU

In the days of segregation, African Americans had to refer to The Green Book to find places to safely stay overnight when they traveled.  And a three-story, Victorian house in central Springfield was on the list. 

I’m standing on North Benton, just south of Chestnut Expressway between the Jordan Valley Community Health Center and the Springfield Municipal Court building on what was the site of Alberta’s Hotel. It’s just a parking lot now, but the history of this place extends way beyond the pavement.

Springfield News-Leader

He said his name was Omar Palmer, although he answered no questions about his past. It’s been said he arrived by train in Crane Missouri around 1929-1931, then made his way about 10 miles east through Stone County to the very small farm community of Oto, to establish the first of 3 medical clinics in the area. 

Within a few years after his arrival, Omar Palmer was treating 100, 150, and even 200 patients a day at his Oto Clinic, and he was treating them for free. 

Steffen Zahn / Flickr via Creative Commons

In the Ozarks, caves serve as geological landmarks and a testament to the region's Karst topography. But some caves in the region are woven into the legends and folklore passed from one generation to the next.

One particular cave in the tiny village of Smallett, Missouri near Ava has been shrouded in mystery since the Civil War.

Today, the cave is on a farm off of Highway A. The farm belongs to the Sellars family.

Atchison Daily Globe

A woman’s alleged horseback ride through a small Ozarks boomtown in 1913 caught the attention of newspapers throughout the Midwest.

The Atchison Daily Globe in Kansas was one of the many newspapers to publish the shocking story of a bizarre night gone wrong in Old Horton, Missouri. The small community was in a part of the Mark Twain National Forest in Howell County near Cabool.

Here’s part of the newspaper’s account:

Barry County History Museum / Barry County History Museum

As we continue our series “Mysteries of the Hollers,” we now travel to Roaring River State Park, where a so-called Mountain Maid once resided in a cabin tucked away in the woods.

When people usually think of clairvoyants, they envision a woman at a carnival wearing a turban, staring ominously into a crystal ball. Jean Wallace, on the other hand was much more down to earth—though just as mysterious.

Jennifer Moore / KSMU

Near a winding, country highway, an old cemetery is nestled between a pasture of cattle and a corn field a few miles southeast of West Plains, Missouri. The Howell Valley Cemetery, originally known as the Langston Cemetery, dates back to shortly after the Civil War; several relatives of President George Washington are buried beneath these towering Oak trees.

The volunteer caretaker shows up in a rusty, green truck and steps out to greet me.

Around these parts, he’s known as Mike, or as “Dr. Moore,” a family doctor…but to me, he’s always been known as “Dad.”

Lou Wehmer

About 20 years ago, historian Lou Wehmer bought a collection of old negatives from a longtime photographer in Willow Springs.  The negatives were each four-by-five inches, from an antique, large format camera.

And one negative in particular made Wehmer gasp.

“It was a photograph of an older gentleman standing in front of a harp,” Wehmer said.

The historian in Wehmer thought, “Hm. We didn’t have harpists in northern Howell County.”

“We had fiddlers and we had guitar players. But I had never heard of a harpist. So that was a mystery to me,” Wehmer said. 

(courtesy wikipedia.org)

This is the story of a mysterious man, a pianist and music teacher by profession, who showed up in the small Northwest Arkansas town of Cincinnati in Washington County in the 1870s. He went by the name of Edwin Dolgoruki—sometimes reported as “G. Dolgoruki,” but usually as Edwin. But to this day no one is sure of who the man was, where he actually came from, or what was his real story.

(courtesy Minneapolis Star and www.ozarksalive.com)

Former Springfield News-Leader columnist Mike O’Brien wrote in May of 2001 that in 1946, a publishing house in Kansas put out a 32-page booklet called “True Stories of Peculiar People and Unusual Events in the Ozarks.”  It was written by former Kansas City newspaper reporter William R. Draper.

Michele Skalicky

Welcome back to our Sense of Community series, "Mysteries from the Hollers."

Stories of buried treasure in the Ozarks have intrigued people for decades. 

Rockbridge Rainbow Trout and Game Ranch, Inc.

Eighty miles southeast of Springfield, deep in the Ozark Mountains lies a secluded getaway spot that draws people from all over the world.  It boasts a river stocked with Rainbow Trout and a restaurant that makes one heck of a cobbler—but the town of Rockbridge, Missouri also has a gem of a past.

What started in 1841 as a settlement of migrants from Kentucky is now a 2,000 acre resort that attracts visitors year round.

 

Rockbridge Rainbow Trout and Game Ranch is home to some of the best fly fishing in the midwest.

 

Michele Skalicky

Welcome to our Sense of Community series, "Mysteries from the Hollers."

Before modern medicine was readily available, people would turn to home remedies to treat various diseases. 

When someone was bitten by an animal, especially if it was believed to be rabid, folks in the Ozarks as late as the 1930s, would pull out the family madstone or go to a local person who possessed one.

Michele Skalicky

George Washington Carver, famous for his many contributions to agriculture as a chemist at the Tuskegee Institute, was born into slavery sometime in the 1860s (no one knows for sure) on the farm of Moses Carver in Diamond, Missouri.

From what historians can tell, Moses and his wife, Susan, were fond of little George who loved to help with domestic chores.

He desperately wanted an education, but when he tried to attend a nearby school he was turned away because of the color of his skin.

Claire Kidwell / KSMU News

Smallin Civil War Cave near Ozark has a rich history, dating back to right after the last Ice Age.  It was also a sacred space for the Osage tribes. But after the Osage moved to Kansas and Oklahoma, it became a community spot for pioneers and townfolk. 

Wanetta Bright, who owns the cave and surrounding property with her husband, took us back on a trip to see the cave through the eyes of local explorers.

She says the explorer Henry Schoolcraft came to this place, describing it as a “secret of the great works of nature.”

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