The Landscapes of Henry Rowe Schoolcraft: Epsiode 3 | KBIA

The Landscapes of Henry Rowe Schoolcraft: Epsiode 3

May 23, 2016

Twenty years ago, when Milton Rafferty republished Henry Rowe Schooclraft's 1820 Ozarks journal, Rafferty introduced the explorer Schooclraft to a new generation of scholars. Schoolcraft's journal is unique in that he describes flora and fauna in the pre-statehood Missouri Territory in a way that no one else had to date.

An Ozark stream flows along a gravel bed this past December. The forces that altered the Missouri landscapes in the past 200 years are the focus of this three-part series, The Landscapes of Henry Rowe Schoolcraft.
Credit Trevor Harris / KBIA


When he arrived in Springfield over 40 years ago to teach Ozarks geography, Milton Rafferty was eager to get his hands on any existing literature on the region.

I got acquainted with the literature - what there was of it - and source materials. I tried to find things to read about this area. I came across Carl Sauer's 'Geography of the Ozark Highlands'. That's a great book. And I came across the Schoolcraft journal and I just was fascinated with that j0urnal. So, when I got down here,  I started using it to teach my classes because I like to take examples of local geography and show them how much things change over time.

There's a great passage in Schoolcraft where he talks about riding out on the Kickapoo Prairie, which is essentially Springfield today. I would tell the students to go look out the window and see what they saw and then, I'd read them that paragraph or two from Schoolcraft where he told about riding out into a prairie where the grass grew so tall it would hide a man on horseback... That was just a great example for students to se how change much change.

Rafferty's republishing of Schooclraft's journal is used by a wide range of researchers and academics to understand what the Ozarks looked like before very many whites ever set foot here. Based at Missouri State University, The Center for Archaeological Research is in a non-descript building on the edge of campus. It is there that Assistant Director Jack Ray and his staff catalog and maintain a collection of artifacts unearthed at numerous previous Ozarks digs. Ray has read the Schoolcraft journal, too. He wants to locate the exact location where Schooclraft came across the Osage camps. These camps, Schoolcraft wrote were abandoned for the winter. Ray thinks that the archeological record at such a site could tell us much about how Indians in Missouri lived before and just after European contact.

There is an about eight- or nine-mile stretch where Schoolcraft first came into the Swan Creek Valley somewhere around the present community called Garrison and where he left Swan Creek Valley at the tributary of Elk Horn Creek. Somewhere in that nine-mile stretch he passed three Osage hunting camps... These hunting camps were established where they built huts and lived there for a moth or more.

Ray would like to dig at these sites for evidence of Osage hunting activities. To fund his work, Ray has a proposal in to the Oklahoma-based Osage Nation. Ray is counting on the subsurface material to be largely unscathed by the forces of time. One of those forces that continues to impact the Ozarks forests is fire or more accurately fire suppression. Where fire formerly roared unchecked across the Ozarks landscape, today wide-spread settlement encourages the suppression of wild-land fires. These fires had a major impact historically on the species mix found in the Ozarks, species that Henry Rowe Schooclraft noted when he walked through the area almost 200 years ago.

Author Paul Nelson said that settlements of Indians in Missouri dates to 12,500 years at Springfield-area sites. 

Native Americans have had a tremendous influence upon shaping the character of our landscape. They have shaped it through the use of fire. Native Americans periodically set fire to the landscape for a variety of reasons. It is because of that that much of North America, its character at the time of settlement - by people like Henry Rowe Schoolcraft - was a landscape that was varied and quite different from what it is today and what we see in the modern world. That landscape and its character looked the way it did because of the common use of fire by Native Americans, which almost occurred on an annual basis.

In our modern era, fire remains a little used tool. Today, a few public agencies and some private landowners are using controlled burns to suppress woody growth in fields and stimulate species diversity. One area near Columbia where such burns are common is Callaway County's Prairie Fork Conservation Area.

Through the series, The Landscapes of Henry Rowe Schoolcraft, you have been introduced to a range of Missourians who are changing the landscape or imagining what things were like before the large-scale changes that white settlement has brought to Missouri. Forces such as timbering and ranching continue modify our landscapes while providing much-needed jobs. Some forces such as fire and forest restoration continue to be used selectively.

With support from the Missouri Humanities Council, KBIA has produced a poster representing the route that Schoocraft took during his 1818-1819 Missouri walk. For classroom or personal copies of the poster, contact KBIA's Trevor Harris at 882-6129.

Listen online to The Landscapes of Henry Rowe Schooclraft episodes 1 and 2.

Research for this series also generated an article in Missouri Life magazine.

Hear new episodes of Thinking Out Loud each Tuesday evening at 6:30 on KBIA.