AgEBB-MU CAFNR Extension

David Burton
Civic Communications Specialist
2400 S. Scenic Ave.
Springfield, MO 65807

January 4, 2019

Everyday Life Customs in the Early History of the Ozarks

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — Marriage, funerals, hunting and religion were also subject to unique customs in the Ozarks according to David Burton, county engagement specialist in community development with University of Missouri Extension.


Regarding courtship and marriage customs, early Ozarkers referred to courting as "they're talking." Ozarkers also believed it was best to get married in a room where the boards ran long-ways in front of you if you want to stay married.

Wedding garments were white ("marry in white and you'll always be right"). At the bride's house, they had a dinner and although dancing was a religious taboo, they did allow a wedding dance. On the next day after the wedding, there was a dinner at the groom's house.


Funerals were long and drawn out and were often held in the home.

"Because there was no embalming you had to bury quickly in warm weather. The funeral process included a big dinner, singing about 20 songs in mourning over the casket, and graveyard preaching," said Burton.


There were unique Scot-Irish expressions of hospitality. For example, "Come in and eat a dirty bite," "Come in and see how our poor folks live," and "Come down to our shack and stay. It leaks awful but we let the visitors sleep in the dry spot."

Moonshining was plentiful, but there was more of it in Kentucky than in the Ozarks. Alcohol produced in the Ozarks region was often called "White Mule" (called this because of its kick and being almost pure alcohol).

"The early Ozarks never resembled the Wild West: they bootlegged but never had the saloons and whiskey killings of the Wild West," said Wirth.


Most Ozarkers lived off the land, taking advantage of the area's abundant fish and turkeys, rabbits and squirrels. Hogs could be butchered and packaged for $5, and turkeys were herded like cattle.

In fact, Springfield was a hen-raising area and Crane annually hosted its Broiler Festival.

Country ham was cured using salt and brown sugar. Red pepper was used to keep away the insects. The ham was slowly smoked for two to three weeks with sassafras and hickory bark.

After butchering, soaps were made with the renderings and cracklings when mixed with lye (lye was made by pouring water through wood ashes).


Most religious customs in the Ozarks (baptizing in the river and brush arbor prayer meetings) came from the Baptist and Methodist traditions of Tennessee. Favorite old songs included "Amazing Grace" and "How Sweet the Sound."

Circuit riders (preachers who rode between churches) often used the phrase of May Kennedy McCord to caution their arrival, namely, "If the Lord willin' and the Creek don't rise."


The early Ozarks of the late 19th to early 20th century was much more rural than it is now.

"Over 3 million people currently live in the 92 counties of Missouri, Arkansas, Kansas and Oklahoma that make up the region known as the Ozarks," said Wirth.

Four rivers make up the boundaries of the Ozarks: the Mississippi to the east, the Missouri to the north, the Arkansas to the south, and the Neosho to the west.


For more information, contact Burton at the Greene County MU Extension office in Springfield by telephone at (417) 881-8909 or online at Burton is author of the book, "A History of Rural Schools in Greene County, Mo" and "Directory of Historic and One-Room Schools in Missouri." His books are available for purchase at the University of Missouri Extension Center in Greene County or online at

Source: David Burton, (417) 881-8909

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