Since offering a piece of land for sale, I've received scores of letters from sincere, good people who want to live simple, natural lives in the seclusion and beauty of a wild forest area. I agree with these folks' motives, and wish them all possible luck. . . but the tone of their correspondence reveals so much unrealistic wishful thinking that I doubt their chance of success homesteading in the Ozarks.
For that reason, I would like to offer some facts for all potential homesteaders to consider before they actually buy property and try to make a go of rural living. Although what I have to suggest relates specifically to the Ozarks of southern Missouri and northern Arkansas, I think most of it is relevant to any genuine "deep country" area.
The Ozarks is (or are) a beautiful wild region of several hundred square miles . . . mainly a land of low rolling hills covered with oaks and other types of trees. Summers are hot, winters are mild and short, and spring and fall are wonderful. Relatively few people live in the district. Towns are small and far apart, farms tend to be limited in cultivated area, and the majority of land holdings are just virgin forest, left idle and untouched for the most part. This is, in fact, one of the last sections of real "country" left in the U.S.
If you have a well-established source of income apart from the Ozarks (and are so constituted that you can thrive on solitude or the company of interesting guests from "outside"), you can live among our hills in peace and beauty . . . as close to nature as anyone could wish. But if you must rely on making money within the area — by selling craft items or garden produce, or by working full or part time — it's extremely unlikely that you'll make a go of homesteading in this or any other genuine "deep country" location. The advantages of suburbia simply don't coexist with true wilderness. In fact, it's their absence that gives such a region its character.
In most cases it's a myth that a person can settle in the depths of the country and maintain himself there. . . unless he or she is willing to devote him or her self to continual hard work, with little time to enjoy life or pursue whatever mental and cultural pleasures he or she favors. Only the rich can lead full, beautiful lives in a really wild area. Most others are enslaved to endless drudgery and penny-pinching. Think hard and realistically before you make the leap.
Furthermore, if you have children and genuinely love them, don't cripple their minds by subjecting them to the low level of "education" that prevails in such parts. The public schools naturally reflect the attitudes of the local voters . . . who are for the most part ignorant, want to stay that way, and have no use for ideas brought in from "outside" by upstart city folk. (Incidentally, how you look has little effect on your acceptance. If you dress well, you're a city dude and therefore suspect. If you have long hair and want to live simply, you're a hippie and even less welcome.)
Since few progressive people are moving into the portion of the Ozarks I'm referring to, alternative schools are almost non-existent and are not likely to be established because of lack of interest. Do you want your children to be decently taught, and to come under the influence of other youngsters at least no more ignorant and savage than they are themselves? Then spare them the stunting effect of deep-country residence, with its non-education and warping social contacts.
Actually, it's quite possible that none of this information will be of genuine value to you, because there's almost no acreage available in the Ozarks (unless you want promoters' "vacation properties" close to tourist attractions and the like). Few of the present owners are interested in selling off part of their land . . . and good places, with woods, a meadow, and a reliable year-round spring and/or stream, have seldom come on the market during the past several years.
In the event that you do find what seems to be a real dream property, go much farther than checking out the title and other facts about the parcel itself. Look at the whole area relative to schools and services, moneymaking possibilities, and the availability of whatever supplies you must have. Lacking both local earnings and a steady income from elsewhere, you could very easily lose your land and all the money, work, and love you've put into it.
If you're beguiled by the thought of cheap land and low taxes, remember that such conditions result from lack of conveniences, job or other income opportunities, good educational facilities, and satisfactory social experiences. And as soon as you find some or all of the above, you're back in the high rent district with stiff taxes, stifling building restrictions, soaring land costs, noise, dirt, and pollution. You can't have it any other way.
On the other hand, if the dream of living in unspoiled country means enough to you that you're willing to do whatever is required to make it come true, find your place but stay in an area where you can make a living . . . paying off the land and visiting it whenever possible. When the homestead is paid for, and when you have several thousand in the bank — far more than enough to buy all the materials and equipment you must have, and to cover your living expenses for at least two years — then move to the property and give rural life your best try. Your chances of success on the homestead will be immensely better under such a plan. And if you can't make it, at least the land is yours and won't be lost through inability to meet the payments. You can still take another try at farming later, or sell the acreage (perhaps at a profit).
To try to buy land while living on it and attempting to make money from local sources is begging for disaster. A few have succeeded — just enough to lure the starry–eyed dreamers — but most don't. Be cautious about the whole idea, for a costly and painful experience can result if you ignore the realities of such a venture. Don't leap into deep-country life (in the Ozarks or anywhere else) without knowing the total range of facts as they relate to your needs and abilities.