Early Ozarkers demonstrated humor and ingenuity
June 10, 2005
“The rural and Scot-Irish influence on the Ozarks is seen in the region’s philosophy which has often been couched in humor,” said Dr. Jim Wirth, human development specialist, University of Missouri Extension.

For example, in Jim Owen’s manuscript called “Hill-osophy,” there are these sayings about life:

According to Wirth, the tongue-in-cheek Scot-Irish bluntness can also be seen in the story of the granny woman comforting a sick relative from typhoid fever. The patient told her that he was feeling better and expected to be up in a few days. She replied, “Well, you can’t always tell by your feelings. I remember when John Teague had typhoid, he looked just about like you do and said the crisis was over and he would be up in a few days, but he was a dead man in twelve hours.”

Living in the Ozarks was often a challenge that required creativity in meeting basic needs. “For example, during food shortages in Civil War times, mothers told their children to follow the cows through the woods and gather the kinds of greens that the cows ate. Cows would not eat the poisonous plants,” said Wirth.

When there was a salt shortage, families would dig up the dirt from the smokehouse floors and filter out the salt by boiling it out from the water added to the dirt which had salty grease in it.

In most cases of illness, the housewives were the doctors, and most were medical-minded and economy-wise. They knew by memory 100 or more remedies handed down from past generations or learned from the Native Americans.

“For their drugs, they depended mainly upon the ‘yarb’ (herb) garden and the forest. Some of the herbs used were peppermint, catnip, sage, thyme, rue, horehound, sweet basil, wormwood, golden seal, sweet fennel, wormwood and horseradish,” said Wirth.

The early Ozarks of the late 19th to early 20th century was much more rural than it is now. “Over 3 million people currently live in the 92 counties of Missouri, Arkansas, Kansas and Oklahoma that make up the region known as the Ozarks,” said Wirth.

Four rivers make up the boundaries of the Ozarks: the Mississippi to the east, the Missouri to the north, the Arkansas to the south, and the Neosho to the west.

“Ozarks Profile” is a regular feature from Southwest Region News Service about a person or topic related to Ozarks history, culture or folklore.

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