This week on KRPS Presents (Episode 2), Fred Fletcher-Fierro continues his conversation with Dr. Brooks Blevins. The Noel Boyd Professor of Ozark studies at Missouri State University in Springfield. Author of the trilogy, The History of the Ozarks Volumes 1-3. Dr. Blevins and Fred speak about Volume 3, The Ozarkers, covering the past 100 years of Ozark history.
The region is similar in size to the state of New York, about 54,500 square miles. The state of New York is well known for being the head of the New York Stock Exchange and one of the capitals of global wealth. According to Blevins, the corporate wealth located in the Ozarks is vast and isn’t well known to people who haven’t visited or were born here.
“I’ve never done the math, and I don’t know that the Ozarks has more Fortune 500 companies or major corporations or family companies than any other place in terms of per capita in the United States. But certainly, I think a lot of people would be surprised at how much corporate money is situated here in the Ozarks.”
Blevins highlights well-known companies like Walmart, Tyson, and JB Hunt, all started around the same time (in the early 1960s) in Northwest Arkansas. According to the most recent information available (from 2020 and 2022) on Wikipedia, those three companies combined for over $625 billion in revenue. With nearly 10,600 stores worldwide, Walmart alone had over $570 billion in revenue when combining 2021 and the first quarter of 2022.
A constant theme in Vol. 3 The Ozarkers are the two Ozarks. One, a wealthy home of internationally recognized companies, and the other with some of the highest poverty rates in the US. Blevins says that as the Ozarks’ history continues to be written, some aspects of the area remain the same.
“It’s kind of a new story, but it’s also a bit of an old story if you’re looking at it just from the perspective of the Ozarks. It’s continuing trends that were established 200 years ago. The rest of the Ozarks often get left out, and it is kind of a different story, and that’s why I talk about it in the book, especially in the conclusion. There are at least two Ozarks. There’s still kind of the stereotypically poor rural sparsely settled Ozarks. And then you have these oases of affluence and prosperity.”
For four seasons, the Netflix show Ozark told the story of an American criminal family that relocated to the Lake of the Ozarks to launder money. However, none of the 44-episodes of Ozark was filmed in Arkansas, Oklahoma, or Missouri. Instead, the popular show was shot in North Georgia. Dr. Blevins was a fan, even though it does not accurately depict the region.
“It’s probably not as strong as it was when it first started a few years ago. When the show first started, you did have a couple of stereotypical hillbilly families. I was kind of interested in how they treated that, but most of them have been killed off by this point. And in a lot of ways, it’s just a Hollywood show. I like the show, and I’ve watched it, but I don’t really consider it all that much of an Ozark’s show despite the name.”
As a history professor at Missouri State in Springfield, Dr. Blevins teaches one of seven classes during any given semester. From Ozark 150: Introduction to Ozark Studies to History 730 American History Research Seminar. Before writing The History of the Ozark trilogy, he’d also authored Ghost of the Ozarks: Murder and Memory in the Upland South and Cattle Cotton Fields: A History of Cattle Raising in Alabama. Blevins says that he has so much research that it makes it easy to contribute to Ozark Highlands Radio, heard Sunday nights at 7 on KRPS.
“Oh, I love it. It’s one of the funniest things that I do. I’ve got so much research about the region in my career, especially in the last ten years or so, that I have just tons of unused materials. A lot of this stuff ends up on the proverbial cutting room floor. It doesn’t make it into the books, and a lot of that I’m able to use in outlets like those little back in the hills segments on Ozark Highlands Radio.”
Dr. Blevins also shared that he’s glad that the trilogy is finished, yet he also feels the need for a fourth book to the series because so much has changed since he completed research on the first three.