Aug 022017

As the release date of James Fork of the White approaches, I’ll be posting some samples of what you will find in the book. All research is not done in libraries or other books.  To write a book on a river, you have to learn the river, its people and places. Over the last several years, we have explored the watershed of the James, its tributaries – large and small, the byways, backroads and the small and large towns of its landscape.

We met people and pets, sportsmen with their catches and families recreating on the banks of creeks, playing at Table Rock, or floating the river. We found remnants of past mercantile enterprises. We ate chicken at Crane’s Broiler Fest, joined the crowds at River Jam and sought out the source of the river in Webster County.

Greene, Christian, Barry, Stone, Webster, and Taney counties. Creeks and larger streams. Dams that slow or halt the flow; a dam that wasn’t built. Drainage systems and sewage treatment. We visited them all…

Railroads, highways, dam projects, tourism, the growth of towns, agriculture, industry, media and art, political will, and cultural values—all interact. The river we see today is an outcome of all these forces. Even though transformed, and still changing, the watershed of the James Fork of the White is still in many places scenic and beautiful, and where it lacks aesthetics, it is interesting.

James Fork of the White, introduction

Jul 302017

In anticipation of the upcoming release of his new book, THE LANGUAGE OF TREES, Steve Wiegenstein is giving away five signed copies of his novel, SLANT OF LIGHT the first book of the series. Slant of Light was the runner-up for the Langum Prize in American Historical Fiction.

Slant of Light by Steve Wiegenstein

Twenty more days to sign up (open from July 19 to August 19)! More info is available  on the Goodreads site –


Jul 222017

Near where the Branson Entertainment Strip (a.k.a. state highway 76) meets highway 13, in a little town once known as Lakeview (now Branson West), hidden in a deep hollow are the decaying facilities of the Lost Silver Mine Theater, which opened in 1983. Not quite lost to history – yet – the concrete steps/seats are gathering moss, woooden letters occasionally flutter to the ground from creaking signage. In the amphitheater at the bottom of the hollow, remanants of stagecraft are melting into the ground. Here the story of the Lost Silver Mine and the Yocum Dollar played  out summer nights in the early Branson ‘boom’.

The Lost Silver Mine theater was owned, operated and supplied with a creative narrative by Artie Ayres, who like his father, was obsessed by the legend of the Yocum Dollar. Numerous different story lines have described the origins of the fabled coin (no authentic one has ever been found) and the silver mine where its ore was dug. Despite extensive searches and diligent research, no authenticatable specimen has yet been produced.

The legend itself has been around for 150 years or more. The Yocum (Y-o-a-c-h-u-m is an earlier spelling) brothers arrived in the upper White River country sometime after the War of 1812. They traded with the Delaware Indians who, as the legend says, happened to have a silver mine in the area. The details vary in different versions or more elaborate tellings, but tales of lost mines and buried treasure are not uncommon in this region. One rumored location of the lost mine was at the junction of the James and White Rivers, now under 150 feet of water. Artie Ayres, owner of the Lost Silver Mine Theater and author of Traces of Silver about the legend, has most likely had the best return on this silver investment of all the generations of fortune hunters and tellers of tall silver tales.


Find more extensive background for this entertainment relic on our new book, James Fork of the White.



Jul 202017

Today’s soon-to-be parents research names for the next scion of the family from lists of  trendy baby names, popular fiction, rock/pop stars or the hottest chick flick of the season.  “Apollinaris” hasn’t made any of these lists for a long time. But in the mid-nineteenth century, naming sources were more limited. Family Bibles, occasionally Shakespeare’s characters, or – in this case – the early saints names were tapped.  Today, July 20, on the Catholic calendar is the feast day of Apollinaris, a Syrian saint of the second century, named bishop of Ravenna, Italy by St. Peter himself. He was the first of several Appollinarises who achieved sainthood over the early centuries of Christianity. An auspicious lineage for the name of a miller on clear stream in the mid-nineteenth century Ozarks

In the fall of 1857,  John Joseph Hogan made his first exploratory trip to the Ozarks in search of “land for people of small means” (poor Irish immigrants). He and a surveyor explored  from Greenville to west of the Eleven Point River and back. Near the Current River they came across a mill, owned by one Appollanaris Tucker:

Traveling by way of Brunswick, Jefferson City, St. Louis, Old Mines, Potosi, Iron Mountain and Frederick Town, I halted at Greenville, in Wayne County, where I hired a surveyor familiar with the country. I examined the lands on the head waters of Little Black River, Cane Creek, Brushy Creek, in Ripley (now Carter) County, and entered four hundred and eighty acres in a body on Ten Mile Creek, making arrangements at once to put men thereon, opening and cultivating it.

With the surveyor I rode westward, across the Current River, by Van Buren, up Pike Creek, thence southward over the great divide east of Eleven Points River as far as the head waters of Buffalo Creek, thence eastward along Buffalo Creek and its tributaries to a ford on Current River. At this place there was a mill and homestead owned and occupied by a man named Appollinaris Tucker; he and his family were the only Catholics known to be residing at that time in that district. At the time of my arrival, Mrs. Tucker was in the last stages of her mortal illness, in which it seemed God’s Holy Will that she should linger until her longings could be gratified to receive the last Sacraments; and, as it happened, from the hands, of the first priest known to have come into that region of country. After Mrs. Tucker’s death, I returned homewards, by way of Iron Mountain, St. Louis, and Hannibal, to Chillicothe.

Mystery of the Irish Wilderness

We tracked in our Jeep the areas that Hogan covered on horseback when we were working on Mystery of the Irish Wilderness. We did find record of the Tuckers’ land purchases, but little else.  One of the largest springs in Missouri is Tucker Bay Spring in Ripley County. Its average flow is 24 million gallons a day. Jo Schaper notes that “very little is known about this spring, either geologically or historically. The spring is a boggy, low area (locally known in the Ozarks as a ‘bay’).”

Appollinaris and Ellen Tucker purchased government land in 1854 and 1856 in Ripley County.  . . .  There is no record of the mill after the Civil War or what became of Appollinaris. Tucker Bay Spring, large … but curiously unstudied, flows into the Current River.”

 Mystery of the Irish Wilderness, caption, page 25


Jul 052017

When working on our new book, James Fork of the White, we were struck by the continuity of sporting activities from a century ago to today.

On opposite pages we put a circa 1910 George Hall real photo postcard of giggers on the James River at Camp Yocum with a recent photograph of the Nixa Sucker Day festival. One difference—the gent in the center of the boat in Hall’s “flashlight” photo is wearing a necktie and coat. I doubt if today’s giggers dress so formally.

Nixa has a celebration based on an unprogressive method of catching an Ozark bottom-dwelling fish. Sucker Day has been held in the spring since 1957 when Finis Gold, barber, one-time mayor, and American Legion commander, invented the event. Suckers are rarely caught on hook and line. When they ascend creeks to spawn they can be snagged. They are also gigged in the winter when the rivers are clear and stockpiled in freezers. Though boney, sucker are delicious when scored and deep fried. The event has grown from a novel fish fry to include talent competitions, a Little Miss Sucker Day pageant, pie-eating and bubblegum-blowing contests, numerous craft booths and musical entertainment by bluegrass groups.

James Fork of the White, page 110

COMING This Fall: JAMES FORK OF THE WHITE: Transformation of an Ozark River.

Sample pages from this new book can be seen at

Our earlier ‘river book,’ DAMMING THE OSAGE, can be seen at

Jul 012017

Although unmarked, this circa 1890 cabinet photograph of a family gathering was acquired locally, and really looks like it was taken beside an Ozark river. Guitars, guns, and gatherings in riverine settings are Ozark traditions. Our ancestors seem to have dressed up a little more for such outings than we do today, but the strong connection between family kinship and nature remains constant.

In The Ozarks: Land and Life, Milton Rafferty described the relationship of Ozarks people and their landscape:

Generations of the same family often lived in the same community so that family history intermingled with the landscape in an uncommon way. Life is integrated with the landscape in a natural way that is understood by everyone. Thus the Ozarker is a kind of homespun Lockian who thinks of the landscape as an object that penetrates the mind and alters the man.

From Chapter 3, “Gravelly Geography,” of our forthcoming book, James Fork of the White: Transformation of An Ozark River.


Jun 272017

Real photo postcard by Hall. Probably taken in Stone County, Missouri, but Arkansas sounded more primitive. The hog’s board collar is to keep it out of fenced gardens. Cattle and hogs were released in the woods to feed themselves. The destructive rooting of feral pigs was, and still is, an environmental problem.

Though the hillbilly icon didn’t emerge for several decades, the Ozarks has been depicted as a primitive place inhabited by people living a pioneer lifestyle since the early 1800s. This mythos was rejected by progressive Springfieldians, but in Galena, and the White River Hills, it was a component of tourism.

Arkansas was held to be slightly more regressive than southern Missouri but only slightly so.

(Page 72 in the forthcoming book, James Fork of the White: Transformation of an Ozark River.)

Jun 102017

In 2012 we published a 304-page book about the transformation of a big, muddy river that rises in the tall grass Kansas prairie then cuts into the northern flank of the Ozark uplift before emptying into the even muddier Missouri River. Damming the Osage is a history of engineering interventions justified by questionable hydrologic theories. Human cupidity orchestrated many of these unharmonious projects.

This October, we will publish our second “river book”: James Fork of the White: Transformation of an Ozark River. In this we look at the watershed of the river that rises in Webster County near Marshfield, wends its way to Springfield, running along its eastern edge and then drains south to Table Rock. The James – unlike the Osage – feels the effects of a major metropolitan area on its watershed. The James was a storied Ozark float stream; the Osage, a prairie-born, rich but unspectacular stream, home to a prehistoric fish.

The James is definitely a different river and this is a different book. More pages (352), more illustrations (because we have more pages!) to examine, discuss and showcase that different river and the people who live and recreate along its course.

Look for it this fall!

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Apr 302017

Any kayakers out there? The “Osage Howler” 61-mile race from Bagnell Dam to the Missouri Department of Conservations Pike’s Wildlife Area Access is happening on the full moon night of June 10-11.

The race is sponsored by the Lake of the Ozarks Watershed Alliance (LOWA).



Apr 212017

A visitor driving into the St. Clair County seat, Osceola, today sees a small town with some 19th-century store facades, a classic Art Moderne movie theater (now empty), a mural proclaiming its rich and sometimes violent past and a million-dollar jail. Courthouse towns are more resistant to oblivion than many small towns. And Osceola is just a mile off US Highway 13, a major north-south artery. Beyond the square, a fatter Osage River stalls as it becomes the backwaters of Truman Reservoir. The riverfront is quiet – no boats or fishing docks or swimming beaches. Only the mural, “A town where history lives,” hints at the town’s rather amazing story.

In his new book, Osceola: A Town On The Border, Lawrence Lewis defies the borders or boundaries of the local history genre, opting instead for setting his small hometown in the context of history, philosophy, and environmental wrangling. Lewis identifies three key events that have shaped the town and brought it to its current state: the burning of the city by Jim Lane and his Kansas bushwhackers during the Civil War; 1870 bonds on the taxpayers to build a railroad that never materialized; and, last, the building of Truman Dam and the tremendous impact that had on the small city’s politics, population, and tax base.

The event that still rankles and has shaped its self-image was the 1861 burning of the town by Kansas Jayhawkers. Before the Civil War conflagration, Osceola had been a bustling trade center. In his research, Larry Lewis found an enthusiastic description penned by the newspaper editor in 1860: “Osceola can boast of better hotels, more accommodating landlords, deserving landladies, prettier women, handsomer men, faster horses, warmer weather, meaner water, more business, better whiskey, lager beer and ale, and (fewer) churches, preachers and church-going people and Sabbath Schools than any other town in the state, St. Louis not excepted.” With such a lively burg and its likely prospects for prosperity, it’s no wonder the event is still central to the town’s identity.

Osceola native and St. Louis teacher, Lawrence (Larry) Lewis is shown in this photo from the late 1960s wearing a poncho for protection against morning rains and mist from the water flowing over Osceola Dam. Ancestors of Larry’s settled near the Osage River and its tributaries Tebo Creek and Hogles Creek in St. Clair, Henry and Benton counties, Missouri, in the 1830s.


As well as intriguing stories and characters, Osceola: A Town On The Border, relates some little-known geologic history. Only recently was it determined that Osceola sits in a bowl created by an asteroid strike 350 million years ago. “Kaboom…” announces Chapter 2, which is devoted to this geologic peculiarity. One of the 50 largest impact craters on earth, it may be the largest exposed impact crater in the U.S. The impact somehow created perfectly round rocks that are scattered all over. Sometimes called “Osceola round rocks” or “Weaubleau eggs,” they look like geodes but are not. They’re often embedded in foundations or stone fences in Osceola. The composition of impact breccia is not often discussed in local histories. Throughout the book, the author weaves tidbits of scientific information into the story of the town.

The seat of St. Clair County, Osceola once bustled, its riverfront busy with occasional steamboats. Frequently visitors needed transport upriver to Monegaw Springs, a spa of health-giving waters and bluff-top views of the river. Lewis has searched existing written accounts of Osceola and includes good amount of his own family history.

No book on this part of the country would be complete without mentioning the gun battle at Roscoe between two of the Younger brothers and Pinkerton detectives sent by the railroad from Chicago to capture the train-robbing associates of Jesse James. Roscoe is on the road between Osceola and Monegaw, where the Youngers liked to hang out. John Younger and two of the Pinkertons were killed in the shootout. Dr. Lawrence Lewis was one of the post-mortem attending physicians.

Truman Dam at Warsaw blocked paddlefish from the upper Osage and drowned their spawning grounds. Today, the Missouri Department of Conservation artificially raises paddlefish. These hatchery-raised fish are stocked in the lake and make spawning runs up the Osage but reproduction is very rare. Osceola is also not far from significant waterfowl hunting at Schell-Osage.

Although the Osage River (now backed up by Truman Dam and Reservoir) still forms one border of the town, Osceola is “Not the River Town it used to be,” as Chapter 5 is titled. The riverbank is now owned by the Corps of Engineers and is off limits to commercial marinas. “Some losses are forever,” Lewis sums up the story of Truman Dam and Reservoir and his hometown.

One might not recognize Osceola as a seat of Platonic philosophy, but as a result of the work and life of Thomas Moore Johnson, “the Sage of the Osage,” Osceola was at one time the center of Platonism in the Midwest. Johnson was an acquaintance of the New England transcendentalists and collector of learned tomes, leaving a renowned library (known locally as the “book house”) of esoteric and wide-ranging works of philosophy and religions of the world in many languages.

Lewis’s research ranges widely from court records of the environmental lawsuit and scientific analysis of the meteor strike to historic correspondence of citizens and more recent personal reminiscences, his own and those of other longtime residents. The town this book reveals is surprising. Readers will go on a voyage of discovery in Osceola: A Town on the Border.

This review is also published in the April issue of River Hills Traveler ( ) In addition to the review, we provided RHT a number of vintage photos of Osceola on the Osage.

OSCEOLA: A Town on the Border, by Lawrence B. Lewis, is available on             CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2016.Paperback, 174 pages. $18.99

COMING IN 2017: JAMES FORK OF THE WHITE: Transformation of an Ozark River.

Sample pages from this new book can be seen at

Our earlier ‘river book,’ DAMMING THE OSAGE, can be seen at