Advice on Ozarks Homesteading

Paul Durand provides sage advice for those considering homesteading in the hills of southern Missouri and Arkansas.rkansas.
By Paul Durand
May/June 1975

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.
PHOTO: FOTOLIA/BONNIEMARIE


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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.


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Post a comment below.

 

utinkiam
11/7/2013 9:45:02 AM
I am going to assume that the person who wrote this article in 1975 had an axe to grind because HE could not "hack it" in the Ozarks. Now I am not sure of the availability of good land in the Ozarks in 1975... BUT I do know today that you can find land that is fairly priced. I also know that you should do your own due diligence as far as utilities to the property, cost of a water source etc but that is the same anywhere as is making sure the owner has clean title to the land. Being raised in rural Missouri and having family that live in the Ozark Mountains I know a fair amount about the people and if down to earth, no B.S. types if folks offend you than the area may not be for you but for the most part folks are accepting of others and will just leave you alone if you do not reach out to them. Having said that once you get to know people they are more than willing to provide advice and in many cases help. I for one am glad the Ozarks may not be for everyone and just maybe we can preserve one of the last true holdouts honest,hardworking people.

Amber
9/29/2013 1:39:53 PM
I agree with mrliveoutdoors. This is disappointing. Maybe you are upset with someone you have recently dealt with in the Ozarks but that is no reason to make us all sound like some Deliverance episode. Our children are just as creative and smart as children from other areas. Our programs are just as progressive as well. I feel that you are giving sound advice as far as saving your money and being ready for constant hard work but this article is very offensive to those in the Ozarks area. This is similar to someone saying that all New Yorkers are in need of anger management classes and that women would definitely be mugged If they went there. This "advice" article should be removed. It was very negative.

mrliveoutdoors
5/4/2013 4:51:05 PM

I am from the Ozark area you are discussing and find your tone in this article a little offensive. You make it sound as if stepping back to the dark ages and the local people are all in-bred, ignorant, one eyed hicks and exposing your precious children to our children will be horrible! Your stereo-typing is horrendous. And the way you view our back yard as a commodity to be seized and taken for the plunder from the locals is all in the same bad taste. The Truth is we are educated most likely as well as anyone reading this article and those who pursuit this life could learn a lot form us "Good Ol' Boys," after all... we can Survive. Speaking of being Progressive and being stereotypical yourself: Why in the world would a Progressive (Socialist) want to move to the Ozarks to "get off the grid"; after all the Federal Government will take care of you and give you the entitlements you hold so dear in your hearts. Obama will let you move in with him. You are the one's who vote for Big Gov intervention plus the moral and financial mess we find ourselves in anyhow. Why run and hide now in our Utopia? Your article in not 'progressive' in the purest sense of the word but divisive. A little respect goes a long way;)









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