History of Lake of the OzarksOzark Heritage
Several hundred years ago, the tall, handsome Osage Indians roamed the hills and valleys of what is now Missouri's Miller, Camden and Morgan Counties, which surround the Lake of the Ozarks, the northern foothills of the Ozark Mountains.
Pause for a moment, at the top of a bluff, and gaze at the Ozark forests and the water below. Imagine tribes of Osage Indians pushing patiently through the trees hunting deer, turkey and other wildlife. By the streams, they fish and capture beavers.
As the Native American hunters move through the woods, they leave their signal to those who follow the thong tree. They select a white oak sapling and a green-forked limb (thong) from another tree and bend them together. With the sapling bent horizontal to the ground, it points toward a spring or cave for the other members of the tribe. Look around on your walks and hikes through the local woods, as thong trees can still be found in the area today.
Caves abound in the Ozarks, offering temporary shelter to the Osage Indians. Ha Ha Tonka State Park is an excellent example of local "karst" topography which is characterized by caves, sinkholes, underground streams, large springs and natural bridges. Just beyond and between the hills and rocky cliffs, the transition areas of plateaus, where prairie grass grew and where the Native Americans planted their crops of corn, beans and pumpkins can be found. Farmers in this three-county area continue to turn up arrowheads as they till their fields...constant reminder of the land's predecessors. Picture the white man moving from the Mississippi onto the Missouri River, then through the tributaries of the Osage and Niangua Rivers to this beautiful, lush new land.
Possibly the earliest meeting of the Osage and explorers was in 1710, when a Frenchman named Claude DuTissent visited and hunted with the Osage tribes. But it wasn't until a century later that the natural wonders of the Ozarks were described by Lewis and Clark as they explored the frontier.
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Gradually, commerce began between the traders from St. Louis and the Native Americans. The Osage bartered beaver and other animal skins which found their way to the eastern colonies of the United States and Europe, where they were fashioned into top hats for men and capes for women. As the traders moved into the area, the Osage ceded parcels of land to the federal government which eventually took a familiar action. In 1825, the Osage tribe was moved to reservations in Kansas and Oklahoma.
The Ozarks then became wide open for settlers who came primarily from Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia. Among them were hunters, such as Daniel Boone, who made a livelihood of trapping animals for their skins. However, most of the newcomers were farmers who built their log homes and churches and tilled their fields with oxen and mules. They grew crops of hay, soybeans and corn, and raised cattle and pigs to meet their needs of self-sufficiency.
Life in the Ozarks wasn't all work. The pioneers also met their need for social interaction by gathering as small communities, enjoying box suppers and music played for square, round and clog dancing. These are activities which have been passed on through generations and which visitors can enjoy today in the small town street dances and festivals, and in the music shows where mountain music, country, bluegrass and gospel tunes are an inherent element.