Friday, November 30, 2007

Entering the Aux Arcs

No one really knows where the name came from. Every account of basic Missouriana gives a different etymology of the term "Ozark." I've read that it comes from bois d'arc, the French name of Osage orange, a tree commonly found in fencerows in the Ozarks (and is still called bow-dark throughout the region); that it comes from "Aux Arkansas," or "to Arkansas" (but the source of "Arkansas" is just as dubious). I unofficially accept the early surveyors' explanation of the term: Aux Arcs means "to the arches," or, specifically, to the natural rock bridge that once stood as a landmark outside of Springfield, Missouri. Regardless of where the name came from, Ozark refers to the only mountain range west of the Appalachians and east of the Rockies, and encompasses 47,000 sq. miles of rugged, rocky terrain in Missouri. The Ozarks stretch from south of the Missouri River to the Boston Mountains of Arkansas. A small part of the Ozarks stretch into Oklahoma, Kansas and even Illinois. The St. Francois Mountains are the nucleus.

Culturally, the term "Ozark" carries almost as much cache as "Appalachian." In fact, the cultural heritage of the Ozarks is so entrenched in the concept of man-living-in-the-wild that locals brand their own souvenirs portraying bearded toothless men in cut-off trousers picking banjos as their blue tick hounds rest on the porch. Regardless of the commercial images of the "Ozark hillbilly," this geologically significant region is rich in a culture that begins with Native American settlements and continues today in Mennonite villages and a thriving population of Scots-Irish and German decendents.

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