The Passing of the Pine

An article published in the August 22, 1918 edition of the West Plains Gazette called attention to what was apparent to Howell county residents; the immense pine forests were gone. Yellow short-leaf pine is the only pine species native to Missouri. It grows well all over the county but had self-seeded itself all over the northwest corner of Howell County before the first settlers arrived. Much of the rest of the county was covered by big and little bluestem grass and a scattering of pine, oak, hickory, and other species.
Under the title, "Passing of the Pine" and subtitles "Sawmills Have Depleted Forests in Ozark Region" and "One by One the Great Milling Plants Are Closing Down Until Few of Them Remain," the editor tells the story of the extraction industry created by lumber barons who came to the Ozarks to reap a fortune from the "pineries" of southern Missouri and left stripped and eroding ground in their wake. He wrote in the Gazette:
"A quarter of a century ago, immediately after the old Kansas City, Fort Scott & Memphis Railroad was constructed through the Ozark region of Southern Missouri and North Arkansas under the guiding hand of the veteran railroad builder the late George H. Nettleton, numerous large sawmills were erected at different points on the railroad. The owners of these mills were largely eastern capitalists who purchased thousands of acres of virgin timberland at ridiculously low prices and seeing the future possibilities of the lumber industry bought more whenever the opportunity presented itself."
The forests closest to Willow Springs were the first to be exploited where feeder lines were attached to the main railroad. The land where these pines were numerous happened to be the least desirable for agriculture and consequently had not been sold by the government under the Graduated Lands Act. These lands sold as cheaply at twelve and one-half cents an acre. 
The Gazette continued, "Perhaps the largest of these companies was the South Missouri Land and Lumber Company. The officials of the railroad company were the stockholders in this large corporation which owned many thousands of acres of land in Texas, Howell. Douglas, Ozark, Shannon, Oregon, and other counties contiguous to the railroad. The headquarters and immense planing mills and lumberyards of the company at Willow Springs were in charge of W.E. Drew, who was conceded to be the shrewdest lumber man in the country. Mills were operated by the company at Burnham, Horton, and other points." 
"As far back as 1883, Horton was a town which rivaled West Plains in size and importance. Today it is only a wide place in the road. The tramroad from Burnham extended to Horton and almost reached Siloam Springs. Horton was named for George W. Horton, chief engineer for the Kansas City, Fort Scott & Memphis Railroad. So much faith did the management of the Railroad Company have in Mr. Horton's judgment that they once sent him on a horseback trip of inspection from Horton through Ozark County to Harrison, Arkansas, with a view of extending the Horton branch southward. Colonel P.P. Dobozy of West Plains accompanied Mr. Horton on the trip. The chief engineer reported to the railroad company that the line was not feasible, it would cost too much money to build it. When the South Missouri Land Company went out of business, the tram road to Horton was torn up, the mills dismantled, and the lumber camps became desolate places. Huge piles of sawdust today (1918) mark the spot where once was the most thriving town in Howell county."
"At Sargent, in Howell County, the Hershey Lumber Company had a large saw and planing mill. This was in the extreme northwestern corner of the county. Tram roads extended from the busy town into the corners of Douglas and Texas counties, from whence came the great pine logs. As years rolled on, the timber became scarcer, and soon the mill was shut down. Michigan was the home of Mr. Hershey, who owned the big mill, and when the timber became scarce around Sargent, he took away the machinery and shipped it to the forests of Michigan to continue the work of increasing his bank account."
An enormous lumber processing and storage yard was created across the railroad tracks on the other side of town. The wooden boards and timbers were cut, dried, and planed into salable lumber and shipped all over the state. Missouri yellow pine was greatly desired for building at the time.
Additional forests to the east were also bought up by wealthy business concerns and waited construction of the railroad east of Willow Springs for their turn to be cut down.
The article provides details, " Another great mill that made a fortune for the owners was the Cordz-Fisher Lumber Company of Birch Tree. Henry Cordz and his brothers with Ollie D. Fisher came to Birch Tree soon after the Current River Railroad was constructed from Willow Springs to Grandin in 1888. They erected a big sawmill, put in a company store, and started a town at Birch Tree. They made money so fast that they didn't have time to spend it. When the timber in the vicinity was cut out, the mill was shut down. Instead of killing the place, Birch Tree took on new life and is now a thriving town. Henry Cordz went to Austin, Texas, and is taking life easy. His partner, Mr. Fisher, became engaged in the lumber business in Louisiana and also has large interests at Seattle, Washington, which makes him a wealthy man. This company still owns thousands of acres of cutover land in Shannon and other counties."
"When the Missouri Lumber and Mining Company shut down its large sawmill at Grandin last year (1917), it abandoned a model city owned exclusively by the lumber company. J.B. White of Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, president of the corporation, offered to donate the town, including the modern hotel, churches, schoolhouses, and other buildings, a splendid truck farm adjoining the place, and many acres of land to the Congregational Church if the church would conduct a school there, the offer was declined as the people did not consider it a feasible proposition. As the timber was cut around Grandin, the big mills were moved within three-fourths of a mile of Eminence, the county seat of Shannon County. Here a new town, West Eminence, was builded. A few months after the mill was in operation, the planing mill burned but has since been rebuilt. An up-to-date company store is operated at West Eminence by the company. The railroad from Winona to the mills and northward through Horse Hollow into Dent County is owned by the Lumber Company."
"Last month, another great milling company went out of existence. It was the Ozark Lumber Company of Winona. After having been operated for twenty-four years, the mills finally cut the last log. The man who helped cut the first logs in the woods to be sawed by the Ozark Lumber Company mills still lives at Winona, though he did not acquire a fortune and retire as a result thereof, as have the owners of the mills. His name is James Larue, and his helper was David Johnson, now a Baptist preacher and resides in Oregon County. Although numerous portable mills used in sawing oak lumber are still located throughout this section, the big mills that once sawed pine lumber are a thing of the past." 
"Riches have been made in the lumber business in the Ozarks, and the land has been cleared of the timber. The ruthless hands of the axe-man were never known to spare a tree, and where once stood giant forests of pine, there are now fertile farms and happy homes, where the tinkle of sheep bells are heard, and the dairy cows graze contentedly in the shadow of huge piles of sawdust left as momentoes of days that never will return."
The lumber barons were not required to replant trees in place of those harvested. Instead, they marketed their cutover lands for sale as potential farms in brochures and advertisements throughout the nation. Each year, springtime fires intentionally set by residents were a controlling factor in any natural pine restoration. Seeds and seedlings perished in the fires. Several varieties of oak, hickory, and other trees became dominant in succeeding years. Pine in some areas was crowded out. Following the great pine cutover, a railroad tie industry persisted in harvesting mature trees missed by large operations. 
But shortleaf pine grows well in rocky acid soil, not suitable for agriculture. A lot of shortleaf pine was reestablished on public lands through intentional seeding or planting, and government fire protection has allowed trees to grow to maturity. In non-government areas, fire control beginning in the 1930s has helped natural stands return. Today, most pine harvested here is ground into wood chips, and little of it becomes lumber. The farm where I live south of Hutton Valley began to be planted in shortleaf pine over fifty years ago. Where suitably thinned, some massive trees are now seeding themselves and creating small stands of trees similar to what existed one hundred twenty-five years ago.
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Howell County News

110 W. Main St.,
Willow Springs, MO 65793

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