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 (http://www.riverhillstraveler.com/ ) 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 amazon.com             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 www.beautifulozarks.com

Our earlier ‘river book,’ DAMMING THE OSAGE, can be seen at www.dammingtheosage.com

Apr 182017

We’re moving our Lens & Pen Press blog from Blogger to Word Press and will consolidate the two current blogs into one for our books–the Beautiful and Enduring Ozarks, the James Fork of the White (coming 2017), Damming the Osage, Mystery of the Irish Wilderness and See the Ozarks–and many other favorite topics of discussion. The archive of L&P posts is still available at http://lensandpen.blogspot.com/ The posts on our separate Damming the Osage website remain available at http://www.dammingtheosage.com/the-blog/

To bridge this move from one platform to another, below is the most recent (Blogger) post about Table Rock and the pre-dam White River landscape:


Shortly after Empire District Electric built Powersite Dam across the White River, creating Lake Taneycomo, the big electric company announced plans to build a 200-foot dam upriver at Table Rock Bluff.

Table Rock Dam will be built across the big sandbar,” reads the handwritten caption.
Real photo postcard, 1920s, by Payne Johnson, Branson, Mo.

Most bluffs along Ozark rivers are named. Table Rock Bluff had a relatively flat top and was accessible by road. A visit to this overlook was on many vacationers’ itinerary.  For decades locals anticipated seeing machinery in the valley below building a huge dam.  That this never occurred frustrated dam supporters and led them to question if the utility really intended to proceed. They didn’t.

The Army Corps would build Table Rock Dam many years later but the Corps didn’t build it at Table Rock. They moved the location two miles upstream to a more stable geological site, but kept the name.  Table Rock Bluff remains a popular scenic overlook, but is now fenced for safety – unlike the past as shown here.

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

Sample pages from this new book can be seen at www.beautifulozarks.com

Our earlier ‘river book,’ DAMMING THE OSAGE, can be seen at www.dammingtheosage.com

Jun 072016

#NPR mourns the loss of photojournalist #David #Gilkey, who died last week in Afghanistan. He and #Zabihullah Tamanna, journalist and interpreter, were killed when their vehicle was hit by an RPG (sad that we all know what that acronym means).

In 2008, Gilkey had a very different assignment here in the #Ozarks – photographing fiddlers in Mountain View, Arkansas. Gilkey and David Green attended the annual Mountain View folk festival and reported, “In Arkansas, Fiddlers Try To Preserve Local Tunes.” The story and a slide show of Gilkey’s photographs are still online:  http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=94076332