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History Patterns of Migration

Patterns of Migration: Where Ozark Settlers Came From 

Most settlers in the first waves of Ozark settlement were white people from the states to the east, most of them immigrants or the children of immigrants from the British Isles. This is how the United States was settled, first on the Atlantic seaboard, and then moving westward as those communities filled and property had all been claimed and sold at a high price. Since Native Americans did not believe in the ownership of land by individuals, virtually all of the land to the west was as yet unclaimed except by individual European countries who had made government-sponsored explorations of some parts. 

The Spanish had explored much of the Southeast, South and Southwest, and the French had gone far inland by way of Canada and New England. The United States claimed much of the French occupied territory after the French and Indian War, and acquired the rest in the Louisiana Purchase. Spain had focused its colonization in the South and Southwest, occupying most of what is now Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California. Through territorial expansion, the United States seized those territories in the Mexican war, fought in the 1840s. Native Americans had occupied all those lands at the time of European settlement, but had been heavily decimated by smallpox and other diseases brought by Europeans to which they had no immunity. Consequently, when the mass of settlers from the east moved into those lands, they encountered almost no opposition from the lands' former inhabitants. 

When white settlers arrived in the Ozarks, the Osage were using the Ozarks as their hunting ground. The U.S. government eventually persuaded the Osage to move west to Oklahoma, under threat of force, beginning in about 1832. Then several other Indian tribes who were being pushed from the east, like the Delaware Indians, the Cherokee and others, moved through the Ozarks. By the time of the Civil War, Missouri and the Ozarks were populated almost entirely by first or second generation Europeans. By then, settlers from the British Isles had been joined by immigrants from other European countries. Some Ozarks communities today are populated by people whose ancestors are mostly from Italy, Poland, France or Spain. 

The Tennessee hill folk of the Appalachian Mountains and Cumberland Plateau were especially attracted to the Ozarks. Many of them had originally come from northern Ireland and were known as "Scotch-Irish." Irish from southern Ireland were often drawn to cities, where they found work in factories or in the mining towns of the northeast and southwestern Ozarks. Many Germans also came to the Ozarks, and settled along its northern and eastern edges along the big rivers in towns such as Hermann. The French, the first Europeans in Missouri, settled in the eastern Ozarks, where many towns have French names, like Bonne Terre. Pulaskifield, in southwest Missouri, was settled by Poles, and its next door neighbor, Freistatt, was settled by Germans. A few miles south, in the northern Arkansas Ozarks, is Tontitown, settled by immigrants from Italy. Before 1860 settlers came mainly from Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia, in that order. Some also came from the Midwest states of Ohio, Indiana and Illinois. From 1860 to 1900 settlers came mainly from Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, and Kentucky, along with some from Tennessee.   

Sources: Historical Atlas of Missouri by Milton Rafferty, University of Oklahoma Press, and additional anecdotal information by Ozarks residents.