Vol. IV, No. 1, Summer 1990


The Damnable Current River Dam and Other Topics

A Conversation with Dan Saults, 1982

Part IV: The Environment of the Mind



This article continues excerpts from an extended tape-recorded interview with Dan Saults conducted in 1982 by Robert Flanders and Lynn Marrow. In earlier issues of OzarksWatch Dan described the role of the Missouri Conservation Commission in protecting the Current River, and supporting the Ozark National Scenic River-way's and construction of Table Rock Lake.

Dan Saults was a pioneer in Missouri conservation activities. He was with the Missouri Department of Conservation for a number of years, and worked in Washington, D. C. with both the Bureau of Land Management and the Fish and Wildlife Service. He retired to Branson, Missouri in 1973, where he remained active in conservation causes until his death in 1985.

In this concluding episode, Dan examines the environment of the Ozarks that exists, at least partially, in the mind. He explores notions, that are (perhaps) fanciful, about the lure of the Ozarks and describes a very special love his father had for an Ozarks river.

You had St. Louis (and to a lesser extent Kansas City) conservationists, early on, before that term was used, who liked to come out into wild places. They were deeply in love with the Ozarks, and with the Ozarks people. I know the familular myth of the hillbillies and all the rest of the land, but the opinion makers, people with money, and also people not necessarily moneyed, just had to come here [in the '30s and '40s]. They came with a great love for the landscape, and for the people who lived in it.

My own father in his many trips to the Current River, 35 consecutive Octobers, talked so much about the people as about the beauty [of the river]. He was not one who used such terms much, but he would talk of the beauty of the Current. He also talked of the beauty of the people--and he used that word. I don't remember being much inspired by it at the time, but he thought the people along the river were living privileged lives. Remember, he came from a small town of 1200 and [on the Current] he found independence-something not found in his own little town. His compatriot Walter Carr, floating the river at the same time, had the same idea--and they didn't agree on much of anything except going fishing together every October. But they painted a picture that I thought at the time (I was 20, became cynical at age 15) was mere sentimentality. Well, it was sentiment, but it wasn't sentimentality.

Almost everywhere you go in the Ozarks you find that somebody has come in here long ago seeking something--I don't know what. It's almost as though there were some sort of an emanation coming up from the ground. Lures in the adventurous.

Look at the early ones--Schoolcraft. Why was he going through this country? He was punishing himself; it was the wrong time of year! Stretch of winter in it. He had to suffer! How did Gerstaecker get into the Ozarks? What the hell was this German lad doing in the Ozarks? Playing cowboy? No, he was playing savage; and did it rather well, too. Why did he choose this place? There's something here that pulls people in. Jim Keefe (longtime staff member of the Missouri Department of Conservation) was talking about that. You know, he thinks the Little Folks have been here. He claims the Irish Wilderness

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is haunted. Well it is! Keefe is right. Go out there by yourself, stand up on those bluffs and wait. It's haunted. Not by evil spirits. But not by benign ones either. They don't give a damn about you. They're going to outlive the humans. When we're all gone they'll still be living there. Maybe they--ah, this is ridiculous. I'm having a romantic fit--going back to my childhood--getting senile!

People say you can find ghosts at the Rose-cliff [Hotel in Van Buren, Missouri, on the Current River. The Rosecliff has since burned]. Last time I was there I walked down the street across the bridge to the old hotel--it was quite true, my father was calling me. Of course, just my memory, but he loved the Rosecliff, like everything else [about the river]. When he was too old to float the river anymore, I would take him down to the Rosecliff--where they always had a deer check station-- install him in a room, then go pursue whatever I was doing with the agents. He would tote deer around, help weigh them, walk [across the bridge] over to town and get two cans of beer, walk back, sit on the balcony above the river, shivering a little--November--and drink the two cans of beer. After a while he'd walk back and get two more cans. By the time I got home he'd have drunk several beers. We'd go over, eat dinner, I'd put him to bed and say, "Dad, let me get you a case. You won't have to go over to town [so much]." He said, "What the hell you think I do this for? I like to go over to town! Don't want to get but two at a time! Keeps me going?

He would sit on the porch. When I'd come to get him after a couple of days--I'd have to move on--and hold in front of him the dream of going someplace else, to check into the deer season there, he'd go out on the porch and cry. 'Cause maybe next year he'd be dead, and couldn't come back to the Rosecliff, back to the river.

[Web site note: The complete interview can be viewed in an article in OzarksWatch Volume V, Issue No. 3, Winter 1992.]


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