At the dawn of the twentieth century, rural Americans encountered a new series of opportunities and challenges in the guise of industrialization. New methods and motivations for exploiting natural resources presented the nation with these changes. In their drive to amass large fortunes, businessmen of the Progressive Era attempted to create a nation of workers committed to productivity, sobriety, and thrift. Many rural Americans found elements of the new, industrial economy attractive, but desired to control their own entry into the marketplace. In an effort to maintain a firm hold on their workers and the efficiency of production, timber companies gained control of stumpage and forestland, and established company towns and railroads to direct the economies and cultures of communities surrounding their factories. Rural Americans, who often jumped at the opportunity to work in the new mills to acquire paychecks, were not willing, however, to completely abandon their generations-old patterns of subsistence, barter, and kith and kin connections.1
Many scholars who have studied the Ozarks and similar regions—such as Appalachia—have considered a number of explanations for why these rural Americans did not follow their fellow citizens into the industrial world. Theories of colonialism, dependency, and a culture of poverty are often advanced. Recent scholarship has tended to portray Ozarkers as intimately connected to the national economy and devoted to the same ideas of profit and acquisition as other Americans.2 I diverge from this interpretation of the region by arguing that a true social and cultural gulf existed between native Ozarkers (especially in the exceptionally rugged Carter and Shannon Counties) and the relative newcomers associated with the timber industry.
Patterns of land use and social behavior arose as points of divergence between industrialists and native Ozarkers in the Missouri Ozarks during the first decade of the twentieth century as each group struggled to define its economic and social roles. Locals who were disenchanted with the social and economic changes industry brought to the region attempted to adapt elements of their semi-subsistence lifestyle to the opportunities of an industrial economy. Much of this integration of cultures between Ozarkers and the Missouri Lumber and Mining Company (MLM), based in Carter and Shannon Counties from 1880 to the 1910s, is evident in the events that occurred during the first decade of the twentieth century in arenas such as land ownership, leisure, and economics.3
Before the timber industry arrived in the Ozarks, locals held to a way of life rooted in generations of independence. The first settlers to the region that became Carter and Shannon Counties established homesteads on a frontier, beginning by the 1820s along the rivers flowing between Missouri and Arkansas. The earliest Ozarkers purchased, or squatted on, small tracts of land along river valleys for garden crops and relied on the surrounding woods for additional food and materials to build and heat their homes.4
Ozarkers inherited their cultural, social, and political affiliations from their ancestors, mostly Scottish and Irish immigrants who came to the Ozarks via the upland South, particularly Tennessee, Kentucky, and the Carolinas, as well as the frontier regions of Pennsylvania. The historian Donald Stevens estimated that Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia, and North Carolina accounted for seventy-five percent of adult settlers who embarked on the journey to the southern Courtois Hills [a region in the rugged southeastern Ozarks containing the bulk of Carter and Shannon Counties] in the 1840s.5 The first settlers to the Ozarks (such as the Carter family from South Carolina in 1812, and the Chilton family, arriving from Tennessee about six years later) were pushing the pale of civilization and brought traditions of independence and isolation.6Several generations of making the most of kin networks and a near-subsistence economy on a frontier prompted Ozarkers to see outsiders as interlopers who brought opportunities as well as challenges.7Ozarkers responded to industrialists’ attempts to reshape society by selecting those elements of industrial life they wanted to adopt.
Pre-industrial Ozarkers maintained a relationship of non-intensive exploitation with the hills and a system of barter and trade with their neighbors. Low population density was the key that kept exploitation at the non-intensive level and allowed locals to utilize the woods without substantially degrading the hills’ ability to support future generations. Woodsburning and open-range grazing of livestock provided Ozarkers with two powerful tools in their efforts to make use of and shape the landscape. In the words of Carl O. Sauer, the talented geographer: “Fires were set habitually by the pioneers to replenish and extend the grazing lands. These fires extended the grasslands at the expense of the forest.”8 Ozarkers understood that a good annual burn removed unwanted vermin, snakes, and ticks, and refreshed the growth of nutritive grasses for free-ranging livestock. Through the use of fire, hillfolk transformed the woods into a more amenable environment for open-range grazing and subsistence farming.
Barter and local exchange networks served the needs of the residents of the most rugged portions of the Ozarks who remained essentially cut off from the larger world. As late as 1876 the only three stores in Carter County were all in Van Buren, and their methods of operation illustrate the barter economy of the region. Farmers purchased supplies from the merchants with chicken eggs, which the store owners then traded for new supplies in Piedmont, Missouri, over thirty miles to the north.9 Residents of the region established their visions of communities on the bases of relationships and friendship, rather than on participation in markets for the profitable sale of goods. Ozarkers’ social relations were tight, but they had little need for trade outside of local exchange networks. These relationships with neighbors and the woods sat at the center of locals’ conflicts with timber companies. During the years of the timber boom in the region the character of these relationships faced fundamental challenges.
Outsiders who moved into the region had the advantages of money and legal authority, and initially purchased large tracts of land without the knowledge of locals. When the founders of the MLM first decided to purchase land in Missouri, they acquired the core of their holdings as tax-delinquent lands.10 In later years they purchased more land at tax sales, but also acquired land directly from hillfolk. Ozarkers and industrialists relied on the region’s natural resources, but disagreed on how those resources should be used, a difference that would lead to conflict.11
The Missouri Lumber and Mining Company’s (MLM) landholdings in Missouri began when O.H.P. Williams, a timberman from Pennsylvania, and his son-in-law, E.B. Grandin, toured some of the more rugged portions of the Ozarks in the 1870s and decided to purchase approximately 30,000 acres of timberland centered in and around Carter County. By 1880, these two men and other Pennsylvania investors formed the MLM, opened its first mill in Carter County, and shortly thereafter had a timber operation with a daily capacity of over 100,000 board feet of lumber. The investors continued to purchase timberland and had over 100,000 acres by 1884. By the end of the decade the MLM solidified its place in the national and world markets by encouraging the Kansas City, Fort Scott, and Memphis Railroad and the Cape Girardeau Southwestern Railroad to build lines into Grandin, Carter County, the company town and center of milling operations.12
The MLM gained much of its success in the region through its ability to acquire merchantable timber even when it faced a limited supply. After the initial purchases of tax delinquent and some private lands, the MLM continued to expand its holdings. The company maintained an active search for land with valuable timber and proximity to rail or river transportation. Approximately 70 acres of forest per day fell to the saws and axes of the MLM when the mills hit their maximum capacity.14
By 1906, the MLM began to encounter difficulties obtaining land because locals knew of the company’s need and sought to obtain higher prices for their land. In regards to a particularly troublesome group of landowners, C.C. Sheppard explained to White: “Mr. Webb [a native of Carter County, the company’s woods foreman, and a man who served several terms as sheriff] and Mr. Day spent a couple days along that line between Winona and Eminence and had a good effect. The farmers on Delaware Creek displayed considerable anxiety and some of them came to Mr. McGhee and asked him to close the matter up. Some of them reduced their prices by as much as $100.00.”15 Sheppard did not mention Webb and Day’s methods. Once the company discovered valuable land, it wasted no efforts in bringing the forests under its ownership. Locals who owned woodland had an opportunity to participate in the market economy not available to many of their neighbors, and they often took full advantage.
Contracts for timber cutters represented another way Ozarkers adapted to the opportunities industry presented. When unable to meet its needs with its own loggers, the MLM arranged for farmers to supply Grandin with railroad ties and timber. In 1901, the MLM found it necessary to send “notices out among the farmers, offering an increased price for ties.”16 The company designed the price hike as a temporary solution to an immediate demand for ties. Initially the MLM set the increase for about one month, but after two weeks White authorized the maintenance of the higher price for another month to meet the company’s needs.17 Ozarkers seized such opportunities as they adapted much of their lives to fit the market economy. Many hillfolk attempted to remain independent of company control yet seek much-desired cash. Ozarkers adopted those aspects of the emerging industrial system they found attractive, such as income from land sales and from timber contracts, yet rejected unwanted social and economic controls.
Grandin serves as an excellent illustration of the pragmatic approach Ozarkers took towards the MLM’s attempts to create an industrial center in the Ozarks. In spite of the company’s efforts, residents of the town and the nearby hills fought for and gained a measure of self-determination through their tenacious rejection of unwanted company authority. In addition to the control of land, leisure time and acceptance of the wage system emerged as contested terrain. These interactions suggest a complex relationship between locals and the timber industry, whereby Ozarkers sought to maintain some control of their society and the woods, while timber companies sought control of the workers and the forests.
As the creator of Grandin and the employer of its residents, the MLM sought to establish the use of time and space in the community to meet corporate ideals. John Barber White, the company president, expressed his understanding of the town in a letter to William Warner, a Republican from Kansas City whom Missourians sent to the US Senate in 1904: “Grandin is, as you are aware, a sawmill town. Our company, of which I am president, owns every house in it. It was started twenty-five years ago with a few houses and a sawmill, but to keep out whiskey and bad people we decided to build houses and not sell any land until we were all through with our manufacturing.”18 The MLM considered the creation and maintenance of a controlled idyllic community in the Ozarks well within its purview. The company’s efforts to speed social change among hillfolk led to occasional bouts of resistance as locals melded pre-industrial and industrial patterns of behavior.
Social change pervaded the developing New South. At the end of the nineteenth century, the South went through a period of industrialization, which forced its rural people to confront the market economy that much of the country had already adopted.20 Southern men developed clear distinctions between their public and home lives. In public, Southern men drank, swore, and fought, but they left these behaviors in the streets and taverns. Southern towns were home to such marginal behavior, as well as to churches and revival meetings, which presented men with an opportunity to retain membership in moral society. Conflict occurred when outsiders came to Southern communities and attempted to change this dualistic identity to fit Northern patterns of morality and productivity. Southern men confronted a situation in which they could no longer publicly reject the dominant vision of morality and escape censure by remaining respectable at home and at religious services.21
Hunting quickly emerged as a point of contention between Ozarkers and industrialists. Pursuing game presented Ozarkers with an opportunity that accommodated economic strategy, traditional pastime, and leisure activity, while offering a means of combating the moral suasion of the MLM. As men lost economic independence to the timber industry, they often sought additional sources of sustenance for their families.22The argument that men turned to hunting to augment their meager industrial paychecks, thereby proving their ability to provide for their families, fits well within the historiography of masculinity. Men who left their positions as artisans or farm workers to become industrial laborers lost their ability to identify themselves as men when they no longer held sway over their own daily schedules and relied on employers for cash to supply their families’ needs. These men often responded by creating a new masculine identity through distinctive patterns of leisure.23 Hunting, already deeply ingrained in Ozark culture, supplied men with a uniquely masculine leisure activity and a means of provisioning their families. By the first decade of the twentieth century, the combination of a diminished woods and new game laws meant Ozarkers often resorted to trespass and poaching as they followed generations-old hunting practices.
Even the conception of hunting marked a point of divergence between the cultural beliefs of Ozarkers and industrialists. The Grandin Herald regularly denounced locals who violated game laws. In 1906, the paper condemned a man for fish bombing and a group of hunters for violating the state’s game laws while the men were in Carter County. As a voice of reform, the newspaper called for convictions of folks who refused to accept the middle and upper-class notion of hunting as sport rather than as a source of food.24The conflict between the newspaper and Ozarkers reflected the national trend of a growing tension between elite and common hunters. The late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries witnessed the growth of private groups formed to shape hunting into a sport regulated by state agencies.25 The MLM undoubtedly held to the idea of hunting as sport. By 1893, the Carter County Fishing and Shooting Club, certainly not an association in favor of hunting for sustenance, began to show up as a regular entry in the company’s account books.26 Ozarkers, however, chose to define the act of hunting in a way that suited their needs rather than the desires of industrialists.
Another way Ozarkers expressed their independence from industrialists was by gambling in their leisure time. Locals engaged in the activity as much more than an opportunity to dispose of free time; it allowed men to sit in the company of others and communally reject the boundaries outsiders attempted to place on their lives. The MLM responded by diligently working to rid its communities of this risk taking.27
The control of public space emerged as a means of authority the company struggled to exert in its battle against gambling. The company’s chief cashier F.W. Wright suggested to J.B. White: “I believe it would be advisable to have the Spread Eagle house near the Y—torn down, as it has lately been made a rendezvous by gamblers etc.”28 A week later White wrote to Howard Davis of Grandin: “I understand the prosecuting attorney has made some arrests for gambling. This will be a good thing if they can break it up. It may throw you out of the use [of] a few men in the start but it will save you trouble in the future.”29 White knew that the arrests would leave the workforce depleted, but he thought company authority would prevail. Risking hard-earned money on card games and other such entertainments demonstrated a fundamental difference between Ozarkers and the MLM. Locals lacked the overriding drive to accumulate and hoard wealth, and freely risked money for entertainment. Gambling was a part of the cash-economy, but antithetical to the basic tenets of industrial society at the beginning of the twentieth century.
Circuit court records for Carter County provide another glimpse into gambling in the Ozarks. Between 1890 and 1920, the court heard only four cases for criminal gambling, even though the MLM and reformers, such as the newspaper editor, considered it one of the most pressing social problems the Grandin area faced. This difference suggests the inability, or unwillingness, of county officials to indict or convict locals for gambling.30 Ozarkers enjoyed the inherent camaraderie and risk involved and refused to give up the practice, or to report or convict fellow gamblers.
Views on the consumption of alcohol also revealed contested terrain between Ozarkers and industrialists. As in other early twentieth-century company towns, Grandin’s owners, the MLM, maintained a patriarchal attitude towards its workers, a relationship evinced in the use of alcohol. Grandin was not unique in this conflict over alcohol. Drinking and drunkenness emerged as a notable issue of contention in industrializing societies throughout the South and the West. As industrialists, Progressives, and Victorians moved into rural regions they clashed with locals who held to pre-industrial notions of productivity and morality.31 The issue of alcohol use pervaded the conflicts in Grandin between individuals from the North and those whose ancestors hailed largely from the upland South. Though whiskey flowed when White entertained guests in Grandin or at “the clubhouse” on the Current River, the MLM felt it had the right to determine proper behavior for its employees, and banned alcohol and anything else that interfered with an individual’s ability to work.32
The case of Dr. C. Rhea provides one of the best illustrations of the MLM’s attitude towards alcohol use among its employees. Although the company held doctors in high regard, not even they were immune from the MLM’s efforts to rid the town of what it considered an efficiency-destroying evil, drunkenness. In 1906, the MLM hired Dr. Rhea, a resident of nearby Oregon County, to fill in for physicians on vacation. Shortly after hiring Rhea, C.C. Sheppard, a key company official in Grandin, informed the absent general manager that the new doctor “returned from his trip among the loggers over near Ellington in an intoxicated condition.” This simple partaking in local customs with the loggers set in motion a series of actions, as Sheppard explained to White: “We were immediately notified of the fact and Dr. Roth was sent from Store #8 to Store #9 camp that night. Dr. Blount was sent from here to Store #9 camp Sunday afternoon via Van Buren, to relieve Dr. Rhea and he came in to Grandin yesterday.” Sheppard immediately fired Rhea and promptly sent him “home on today’s train.”33 Away from the oversight of the company, Rhea had joined fellow Ozarkers in the enjoyment of camaraderie and whiskey. When he came out of the woods and into the realm of the MLM’s cultural influences, however, he was reminded that the company had no tolerance for any employees wasting time inebriated.
The MLM continued to attempt to control its employees’ use of alcohol, though locals refused to acquiesce to company control of leisure. When Sheppard discovered a source of the whiskey being bootlegged into a company logging camp, he wrote to White to propose bringing in federal marshals to stop the flow.34 White replied: “Let Sheets or Clark [minor company officials] write U.S. Marshall. You don’t want to figure in it personally.”35 White realized that if Ozarkers considered Sheppard responsible for bringing federal marshals to the camp to prosecute distillers, the local manager would lose what support he enjoyed. Despite its efforts, the company could not completely end employees’ use of alcohol, but it did combat conspicuous use. The MLM, exhibiting good business sense, refused to hire individuals with a history of drunkenness and fired anyone caught bootlegging or intoxicated, even when the employees were away from the job. The company also encouraged churches to promote sobriety and sponsored social associations with temperance agendas.36 The company’s frequent and repeated disciplinary actions concerning the use of alcohol indicate a continued refusal among Ozarkers to obey the restrictions and a persistent effort to maintain self-determination in leisure.
Locals supplied themselves and their friends with bootlegged alcohol despite the MLM’s objections. In Van Buren, the administrative seat of Carter County, local officials arrested Bill Parker on charges of public nuisance. The details of the case reveal that the court suspected Parker of “harboring a blind tiger.” The term blind tiger, used in the early twentieth century to denote an illegal drinking establishment, arose because owners of illicit saloons placed stuffed tigers with glass eyes in their legitimate businesses as an invitation to potential patrons. Officials in Van Buren accepted Parker’s pool room (his legitimate business), but could not condone a known source of liquor in their community.37
Bootlegging remained a persistent way locals demonstrated their vision of society when they made alcohol available to neighbors and escaped into the woods before the company could intervene. This was a blending of kith and kin connections and utilizing the woods as a place of refuge. In 1908, the Herald noted: “Sheriff Gunn, Constable Hiltibidle, T.M. Lawhorn, and W.C. Gunn made a raid on some Bootleggers [sic] who were operating on Current River. They captured the men and seized about two gallons of whiskey.”38Even though bootleggers received fines, they continued to distribute their product. The circuit court records for Carter County demonstrate a regular stream of bootlegging and offenses related to drinking. Whether or not Ozarkers acted with a social agenda, the making and consuming of whiskey offered locals an opportunity to demonstrate their independence from the industrial society promoted by the MLM.
Violence was another persistent problem in Grandin that related to changing ideas of society and gender, and led to a re-envisioning of leisure. There were several cases of murder or attempted murder in the region with a diverse range of circumstances. Harry Numbers shot and wounded Cora McGriff, the half-sister of his dead wife, in what Numbers and McGriff called a case of jealousy. When Numbers went before the judge for the incident, the Grandin Herald noted: “The woman in the case, who was shot and was the chief prosecuting witness has married the defendant and refused to testify and the case was dismissed.”39The case could illustrate the casual use of violence and Ozarkers’ willingness to dismiss it, or the oppression of a woman by a violent and unstable man. In either instance, the case points to the unsettled nature of society in Grandin as locals tried to deal with a changing way of life.
Other cases emphasize how random the consequences could be in a society prone to violence. On one occasion a randomly fired bullet killed a local farmer, J.L. Abrams, who was conducting business in the town of Winona. Even Ozarkers who tried to remain independent of the timber companies had to do business in towns where violence often reigned.40 The Ozarks at the turn of the century struggled through the difficulties of reconciling the competing interests of the industrial and the traditional world.
Violence occurred at all levels of society in Carter County, and the most dramatic and cases found their way into local newspapers, but circuit court records are necessary to illuminate the grim picture of violence in the region. Between 1880 and 1920, the court heard at least 120 different cases of violence. This category includes murder, rape, assault, carrying a concealed weapon, and a host of other crimes. Males perpetrated every one of these actions.41 The frequency of violence and the fact that it remained the sphere of men provides insight into the region. Men claimed power through the often recreational use of firearms and rejected the dictates of reformers and timber companies by forcibly imposing their will on neighbors.
Reformers in Grandin recognized that violence in the community often occurred as a demonstration of masculinity, and they combated it on that level. The Grandin Herald stated:
There is a certain class of people who think it a proper thing to carry a gun. In their minds they would not be men if they did not have a gun or some other weapon on their person with which to settle any dispute that might come up or some grudge that might exist. In our opinion such creatures are cowards, low down, dirty contemptible cowards, who haven’t the least spark of manhood in their make-up.42
Divergent attitudes towards violence defined one of the crucial points separating ideas of manhood in the Ozarks. Ozarkers refused to give up their independence to own, carry, brandish, and fire weapons during their leisure time. This uniquely masculine entertainment offered men an obvious method to establish manliness and independence in a manner contrary to the industrial ideals of hard work, thrift, self-control, and responsibility.
Much of the nightly gunfire in Grandin and other Ozark towns led to no serious injury and served primarily as an outlet for the tensions of men who engaged in a physically difficult and dangerous occupation. In 1906, the Herald noted: “We understand that a bunch of warrants have been turned over to the constable for the arrest of the pistol toters who persist in shooting up the town at all hours of the night.”43 Although warrants were issued, there is no indication that any arrests were made. This suggests either the unwillingness or inability of the constable to carry out his duties. Because the constable maintained a close relationship with the MLM, it is unlikely that he did not intend to assist the company in its efforts to bring peace and productivity to Grandin. It is more likely that he found it difficult to arrest individuals who exhibited what locals considered acceptable behavior. Rural communities throughout the nation that were on the cusp of industrialization often became fertile grounds for violence. The hillfolk who stubbornly refused to abandon their guns and violent leisure practices in accordance with the dictates of the company fit within a well-developed pattern of social accommodation.44
Ozarkers refused to let the issuance of warrants ruin their fun. In 1907, the Herald opined: “The fellows who shot off their revolvers a few nights ago immediately after some young ladies had passed them on the main sidewalk, deserve both a fine and imprisonment for carrying concealed weapons.”45 This episode suggests a great deal about Grandin. The location, on the main sidewalk, is important. If young men could stand in the middle of town and fire revolvers without being prosecuted, a large segment of the population must have been indifferent or cowed. Although the editor never mentioned the intentions of the fellows in question, two main possibilities exist. It is possible that the men merely sought the ladies’ attention, something they undoubtedly achieved. Just as likely is the possibility that the men were exerting their control over a public space, the main street at night, and demonstrating their masculinity by threatening the female interlopers. It was also a clear re-appropriation of a public space from the social control of the company.
The Herald made opposition to the carrying of weapons one of its main causes. The paper editorialized: “If the sheriff wants to make some fees or wants to make a record for himself as an officer, we suggest he start right here in Grandin and make a crusade against the fellows who are never known to be without a gun or a dangerous knife upon their person.” In the same article the editor opined: “We will venture the assertion that if he would search every fellow whom he sees upon the streets after eight o’clock at night, that he would find either a gun or a dangerous knife upon at least three out of five.”46 Because Ozarkers refused to accede to reformers’ visions of moral society, nightly gunfire remained a common part of life in Grandin.
Ozarkers’ extended their acceptance of violence as a means of dispute resolution into their conflicts with the MLM. Frequently stymied in attempts to maintain a connection to a pre-industrial socioeconomic system and to establish a sense of independence through peaceful means, Ozarkers often took their frustrations out on the symbolic institutions of the company. In addition to two episodes of burning down the schoolhouse, locals vandalized railroads and the company store. Because these institutions had the ability to represent the industrial world, it is likely that they symbolized the unwanted changes the company brought to the Ozarks.
The MLM’s railroad, its lifeline to the outside world, stood as a visible symbol of the encroachment of industry into the region. With ownership of over 200 miles of track, the MLM and its allied companies recognized the importance of rail lines.48 Occasionally vandals attacked the railroad by placing obstructions on the tracks, such as in 1905, when an engine derailed after running over a chain. As in most cases, the perpetrator was never found.49 Generally railroad crews noticed and removed obstructions before accidents occurred. In 1907, C.C. Sheppard, the company’s active director in Grandin, described to White a series of acts of vandalism:
During the week of December 4th we had some trouble on our Shannon County tram near our Store #9 camp in Horse Hollow on account of some obstructions being placed on our track. Our steel gang was gping [sic] out on the North Main line when they went to work and the engineer noticed a log lying in the middle of the track and saw it in time to stop the train and remove it. They went up to their work and later in the afternoon had to return to the camp for some water and on their return trip found some angle bars laid on the rail. They discovered this in time to stop and remove them in time not to derail the train. Proceeding a little further they found a spike driven between the joints of the rail and discovered this in time to remove it without accident. The next day one of the men in our section crew found a short piece of steel rail laid on the track but he removed it before the train passed that way.50
These actions posed a serious problem for the company in terms of productivity and safety.
Sheppard felt obligated to make a strong reply to the challenge. He informed White: “I sent Mr. Hiltibidle [the constable] up there and after spending two or three days on it he found that two young men had done this work.” Sheppard continued: “After Sim [Hiltibidle] gathered sufficient evidence he arrested these two young fellows and they admitted to him in the presence of witnesses that they put the obstructions on the track.” The primary responsibility resided with a twenty-year old named Conway. In identifying Conway, Sheppard stated: “He worked for some time driving a team but his work was not satisfactory, and as Hanson [his supervisor] could not get him to do a good days work he discharged him and he has not worked in any other departments since that time. We understand that he was pretty angry because he had been discharged.” Sheppard then told White: “We thought best to make an example of these young fellows and Hiltibidle filed information against them at Eminence [the administrative seat of Shannon County], and they have been arrested and put in jail there.” 51 The MLM undoubtedly saw this as a serious challenge to their authority and worked to ensure that it would not happen again.
Unfortunately, we do not have Conway’s side of the story. The events suggest the possibility of a case of industrial versus pre-industrial worldviews. As a teamster, Conway performed a difficult and dangerous job, which he may have obtained because as a farmer he had experience handling horses and mules in the rugged Ozark terrain. The MLM relied on railroads to get logs to the mills and lumber to the market, but with at least eleven mule teams and two teams of oxen, animal power was necessary to get logs to the rails and onto the cars.52 Conway may have longed for his lost agricultural pace of life and rejected the forced productivity of industry.53 The MLM responded by firing him. While it is possible that Conway missed a lost way of life, he may also have simply been lazy, resented the company for firing him, and sought revenge.54 Hillfolk who targeted the railroad extended their cultural acceptance of violence to include protests at the changes the company brought to their lives. When changes threatened their way of life, Ozarkers lashed out the best way they knew. Even those hillfolk who tried to embrace the industrial economy often found challenges they could not have expected.
The MLM’s actions in dealing with accidents demonstrate its exploitation of its workforce. The company provided relief to some injured workers, but only when those employees professed loyalty. Profits remained much more important than safety. When a Mr. Snider complained about safety conditions at his job, White told Sheppard:
After such a complaint has been made by Mr. Snider I believe it is unsafe for us to have Mr. Snider work at that kind of work, and I wish you would have a talk with Mr. Snider and see if you cannot get him to take another job. I am afraid that there will be a serious accident and as Mr. Snider has called our attention to this, if there should be an accident it is going to be made expensive for us.55
It is unclear who Mr. Snider was, but there is a good chance he was from a long line of Ozarkers. With six Sniders listed as head of household in Carter County in the 1870 census, it was the most common surname in the county.56 Snider was an individual who desired the benefits of a job with the company, but under better terms.
Specific injury cases demonstrate another aspect of the relationship between the MLM and its employees. In 1889, Mike Carmody approached the main mill’s large circular saw and waited for it to come to a stop so he could sharpen the teeth. Through what appears to have been negligence, the sawyer moved the pin that controlled the log carriage’s progress before the blade reached a complete stop. This caused the carriage to creep towards Carmody and the saw. Another mill employee saw the impending danger and “hollered.” Carmody heard the shout, saw the carriage, and leaped for safety. In the process, his foot struck the carriage, sending his knee into the sawblade. The man was immediately transported to the company hotel where a doctor amputated the saw filer’s leg, but Carmody died shortly thereafter.57
The attitude of the MLM towards its employees is evident in its reactions to the injuries of two men, Mike Carmody and James Parker. In a statement the MLM collected regarding Carmody’s accident, a coworker testified: “Mr. Carmody was what is known as a ‘rusher’, and was always anxious to make his work show up well.”58 The second man, James Parker, worked for the MLM feeding wood into a lath mill until he accidentally cut off part of his hand when he tried to clear away sawdust that was inhibiting the machine’s performance. Parker claimed “that the Lath Mill was out of repair; . . . and that the Mill Foreman, Mr. A.R. Commins would not allow Jas. Parker to raise the tightner and stop the saw; and that A.R. Commins had given him a task of 16000 Lath per day; and if he stopped the Mill he could not have made the number of Lath, and would have lost his job.”59 Carmody climbed the carriage tracks and stood in front of a still-spinning saw to demonstrate his industriousness and his adoption of the values the MLM espoused. Parker, who also chose to participate in the industrial economy, lost his fingers because he attempted to meet a quota that prevented him from taking necessary precautions to clean his equipment. These cases (from the perspectives of the injured men) demonstrate the MLM’s power over its workforce. The cases also show the tragic results that awaited many workers who succumbed to the MLM’s demands rather than fighting back or protesting, as had Mr. Snider.
One tool available to the company in its efforts to construct and maintain a paternal relationship with its labor force was the hospital association, created in 1890. Such an association may at first glance seem an unmitigated good.60 When typhoid fever struck the town in 1906, company employee R. W. Cook enlisted the services of a doctor from outside the community because he felt the company’s physicians did not offer his stricken daughter the proper care. When Cook’s daughter died despite the additional treatment, he asked the MLM for assistance with his bills for the treatment by the outside doctor on the grounds that he had been paying into a fund for medical treatment. The MLM refused, claiming the hospital association, which was the recipient of his payments, was a completely independent institution, for which the company merely collected.61 The company may not have profited directly from the hospital fund, but it did employ the doctors and determine where and when they would work. This incident demonstrates how the MLM established itself as the only source of treatment for injury and sickness. Though many Ozarkers gladly welcomed the newfound access to modern medicine, the service did allow the MLM to expand and exploit workers’ dependency.
A related problem White noticed was the frequency of sickness in Grandin. He lamented to Sheppard: “For some reason it takes more medical attention to look after our Grandin plant than it does in Louisiana.” He determined that “at Grandin it would seem to indicate that the Missouri climate requires more physicians than does that of Louisiana.”62 On the same day White observed to Johnston: “At our mills at Clarks, Fisher, and Victoria, La. we do not have nearly the amount of sickness that we have at Grandin.” White then surmised: “I believe from observation at Grandin and from observation at the other mills that there is a much larger percentage of employees who go to the hospital for medical treatment at Grandin than our other mills. They have gotten into the habit.”63 There is a hint of resistance to the MLM’s imposition of the industrial work ethos in Ozarkers’ patronage of the hospital. Could White have been subtly urging Johnston to be wary of workers’ claims of sickness? Whatever his intent, his statements seem to suggest that some workers took advantage of “sickness” to avoid a day of work. There is true irony in workers using the company’s hospital association to skip work in the mills.
There were those hillfolk who enthusiastically supported the Employees Hospital Association and the MLM’s offer of medical support into their lives. Peter White, no relation to J.B. White, serves as a good example. He and his family lived about three miles down river from the nearest company camp or town. Even though he did not work directly for the camp and lived a distance from medical assistance, White maintained membership in the hospital association for himself and for his family.64
As it planned to close its mill at Grandin, the MLM demonstrated the importance of its role to the town and the workers. By 1907, the MLM stopped paying workers in cash and switched to company checks and credit, redeemable at the company store. White noted that the company “posted notices that we can pay no currency, and that if our employees insist on waiting for cash for their services we shall shut our mills down.”65 A week after discussing the postings, White told W.W. Warren in Louisiana that the MLM “expects to have to pay them [the workers] their next pay day in orders on our grocery.”66 This coupon system left Ozarkers in a difficult situation. Sheppard noted that the MLM’s locomotive machinist stated that “he had some money on hand and some of the men were willing to discount checks to him if he would cash them.” Sheppard continued: “The men would be very foolish to pay him anything to cash the checks for them but there are some who will do it, just as there are men who will draw our coupons and sell them at a discount of from ten to twenty percent.”67 A couple of years from the final closure of the mill, many Ozarkers had incorporated so many elements of the cash economy that they looked at a return to an economic system based on barter with some trepidation.
After trying to make ends meet with company coupons, the MLM’s employees had a new problem in the summer of 1909, when the MLM began to inform them their services were no longer needed.68 The Grandin mill closed in the fall of 1909, with little warning for the majority of the company’s workers, who had no chance to plan alternative economic strategies. After it closed its operations in Carter County, the MLM relocated to neighboring Shannon County where it lasted for less than a decade before once again relocating, this time to Louisiana.69
The closure of the mills left many Ozarkers in desperate straits when the company left. Dr. Johnston wrote to White expressing his concern for people left behind after a group of Ozarkers confronted the doctor about their options. White replied to Johnston:
When we move away from Grandin we will, of course, not move these people. I note this class of people drift in from the surrounding country where there are public works, and they are doubtless encouraged to come by others who sympathize with them. . . . It is singular that we have so many of these cases at Grandin, and I hear of none at any of our other mills in Louisiana. I think that there is less poverty and less suffering among the white people of Louisiana than there is in southeast Missouri; doubtless there is a good reason for it.71
White expressed his philosophy clearly. He felt that any economic problems in the region were solely the fault of Ozarkers. He encouraged his friend to accept this Social Darwinism and allow newly unemployed Ozarkers to fend for themselves. Ozarkers who had pinned their futures to the MLM were left without a source of cash in a cash economy.
Once the MLM made public its plans to leave Grandin, locals were concerned about how they would adjust to life without the timber industry. In another letter to Dr. Johnston, White wrote out an impromptu monologue he claimed to have delivered when some employees confronted him at the company store. White wrote that he told the crowd he:
considered it much better for them to have a small farm and a garden even if they lived in small log houses and raised their living and have their hogs fattening on the mast, that they would be better off than working around a sawmill and paying rent, that only those who have good health can work every day can afford to stay around public works, on account of some fixed expense that is going on all the while whether they work or not, while if they have a small garden or a small farm they have something growing and are paying no rent.72
This statement departed from the company’s earlier efforts to extoll life in Grandin as idyllic, filled with high-paying jobs, and possessing all of the amenities of a modern city. When the company needed workers, it enticed them to town with the promise of a cosmopolitan life. When it pulled up stakes, White assured Ozarkers their subsistence lifestyle would be more fulfilling.
The efforts of the Missouri Lumber and Mining Company to establish a city in the heart of the Missouri Ozarks with all the amenities and social values of urban America brought it into direct conflict with the residents of the region, who accepted employment with the company but not the new vision of society. Outwardly, the company maintained control of resources and the economy. Ozarkers, however, refused to give up control of their lives. Locals never went on strike, but they did generate the power to choose which elements of the industrial society conceived by the MLM to adopt. When the company refused to pay workers in cash, employees found an entrepreneur willing to cash their company checks. Ozarkers struggled to retain control of their leisure time and rebelled openly when they perceived the company’s railroads or school challenging their visions of society. Society in the region emerged as a blending of elements of both industrial and subsistence systems. As the company attempted to shape society to reflect its values of propriety and productivity, it found the limit of its powers when it ran into the desires, independence, and self-sufficiency of the hillfolk.
© David Benac