At the end of the nineteenth century, the rugged landscape of the Courtois Hills in the Missouri Ozarks was host to an isolated society of tenacious inhabitants, who subsisted almost entirely on the resources of its rich forests. It was this same valuable timber that drew the Missouri Lumber and Mining Company to the area and sparked an enduring cultural and environmental struggle. David Benac examines the struggle between residents and outsiders through government documents, company records, local newspapers, and oral histories. He reviews more than sixty years of major social and economic changes for the hill folk and for the forest itself. In less than a century, the Courtois Hills saw the end of a near hunter-gatherer existence, the rise and fall of the profitable but devastating timber industry, and the beginning of a new era of conservation and environmental awareness.
David Benac’s Conflict in the Ozarks is an extraordinary account by a resourceful detective who has tackled the tedious details in the archives to create a readable story of company towns, how they functioned, and what happened when the company left. Benac shows how Scotch-Irish Ozarks culture accommodated modernity and then returned to traditional ways to survive a grueling economic depression. As the first scholarly overview on the development of Missouri’s modern forestry institutions, this book is a welcome and original contribution that will challenge researchers to compare the Courtois Hills to other Ozarks sub-regions.
—Lynn Morrow, Historian, Missouri State Archives