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History The Europeans

The Scotch-Irish and the Coming of the Railroads 


The first white settlers to arrive in the eastern Ozarks likely came up the White River from the Mississippi around 1810, and then up the Current, the Black, and the North Fork of the White River from there, into the deep oak, pine and hickory forests of the Ozark Highlands. 

By 1800, most of the lands to the east had already been settled and the land claimed. Those who arrived later had to choose between going south around the rugged Ozarks hills, heading north toward the St. Louis area, or simply forging ahead into the tangled wilderness. 

The Scotch-Irish 

Most of those who chose the third route were of Scotch-Irish heritage, come to the new world as indentured servants, bondsmen, younger children of landed gentry who had no hope of a sustainable inheritance, and adventurous entrepreneurs. Some came escaping hardship and oppression; some were fleeing the law. A more rough and tumble crew could scarcely be found. They were searching for land for the taking. It would take all the sweat, blood and tears of each of them to carve out a home in this rock-hard, beautiful land. But settle it they did, and stayed. It didn't stop them because in many ways it was just as beautiful, and just as hard, as the lands from which they'd come. But where they'd had nothing, here they could have what they could master. Today, a drive down any country road in the watershed will still yield an abundance of proud Scotch-Irish surnames, from Collins, Martin and Cochran to Medlock, Harlin and Pease. 

Like the Scotch-Irish, most northern Europeans sought out a terrain more like that they'd left behind. Thus, most German natives settled farther north around the Missouri River, or went on west to the edges of the Great Plains. Scandinavians thought even that too temperate, and headed north into what would become Wisconsin, Minnesota and the Dakotas. A few of each group migrated into the Ozarks a little later, after roads were built. 

The Coming of the Railroads 

The next wave of European migration into the Ozarks occurred with the arrival of railroads. Newly arrived immigrants from many European countries were pressed into service as laborers in the expansion of the railway system. One railway line came east from Springfield and passed through the northern edge of the watershed, leaving behind some who quit laying track in order to settle on the high Ozarks plateau. They built or enlarged the towns of Mansfield, Norwood and Mountain Grove while the railroad continued on east to Willow Springs, where the railway lines split. One portion continued on east to Poplar Bluff and beyond, the other headed southeast through the towns of West Plains, Brandsville, Koshkonong and Thayer before exiting the state at Mammoth Spring, Arkansas. All along the line, names of Italian, Czech, Bavarian and Bohemian extraction began to be added to county records. The Europeans had arrived. 

More about railroads in the Ozarks, including a railroad spur built to connect the main line at Mansfield with a growing settlement in a valley that would be called Ava. 


Source: Historical Atlas of Missouri,by Milton Rafferty, University of Oklahoma Press. 

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