What Are The Ozarks

The Ozarks are an isolated high altitude plateau in the central U.S.

The Ozarks are a high altitude plateau in the central United States. The relative isolation of the region and unique conditions have contributed to the distinctive culture of the Ozark’s inhabitants, mostly descendants of Scots-Irish and German settlers in the 19th century. Ozark culture typically reflects the self-sufficient lifestyle of settlers as well as their conservative and family-oriented sensibilities.

Ozark Geography

The Ozark region is a high altitude plateau that straddles much of southern Missouri and northern Arkansas and, to a lesser degree, northeastern Oklahoma and southeastern Kansas. Geographically, the Ozarks contain four distinct regions: the Springfield Plateau, the Salem Plateau, the Francis Mountains and the Boston Mountains. Although the Ozarks is often described as a mountain range, it is in actuality a plateau that has been geologically lifted and then dissected by stream erosion. The result of this repeated geological lifting and erosion is an expansive cave and aquifer — underground bodies of water — system.

Settlement History

Early European settlers in the Ozarks were Spanish and French explorers and trappers, the first being Hernando Desoto in 1541. The etymology of the name Ozarks is thought to originate either from the French abbreviation “Aux Arks” meaning “of Arkansas” or “Aux Arcs,” referring to the numerous cave formations found throughout the region. Settlement in the 19th century came predominantly from Scots-Irish and German immigrants and today the majority of the Ozark population traces its ancestry to these settlers. Due to the harsh climate and topography, large-scale farming was infeasible and the majority of settlers relied on hunting, fishing, trapping and foraging for their sustenance and income.

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Religion and Culture

Due to the self-sufficient lifestyle of the settlers, Ozark culture is generally conservative and characterized by a strongly individualistic outlook with hard work as a central moral tenant. Politically, this often translates into a conservative or libertarian philosophy. In terms of religion, the Ozarks have historically been conservative and dominated by Baptist and Methodist churches. While similarly stressing individualism and self-sufficiency, the church occupies a central role in Ozark communities, sponsoring events and acting as a social hub.

Arts and Folk Culture

Folk culture commonly associated with the Ozarks is generally derived from the 19th century settlers. Dancing and singing were typical entertainments and developed into the bluegrass and square dancing traditions. Folk tales and folklore are also commonly associated with Ozark culture. Featuring larger than life depictions of events and themes, these stories were born out of generations of retelling and embellishment. Furthermore, the necessity of settlers to make many of their own items created a tradition of crafts and folk art that continues today.