The word "Ozark" is from the corrupted French "aux-arcs," a shortened form of a term probably meaning "to [or toward] Arkansas Post" or referring to the area where the Arkansas (Quapaw) Indians resided near this early French post in the Arkansas River delta. The Ozark Plateau region of northeastern Oklahoma constitutes only a small portion of the Ozark Mountains, which mostly lie in Arkansas and Missouri, along with a tiny portion in Kansas. In Oklahoma the Ozark Plateau region completely covers Cherokee and Adair and incorporates portions of Ottawa, Delaware, Mayes, Wagoner, Muskogee, and Sequoyah counties. Elevations range from about 650 to 1640 feet above sea level. Rocks in the Ozarks are dominated by Mississippian and Pennsylvanian carbonates, with lesser amounts of shale and sandstone. These rocks were domed upward, folded, and faulted during Tertiary time, about sixty-five million years ago. The interactions of water, lithology, and the area's structural framework have resulted in the dissection of this uplifted region into rounded ridges separated by narrow, steep-sided valleys. Dissolution of the rocks by water often forms springs, sinkholes, and caves, collectively called karst features.
The climate ranges from Humid Continental to Humid Subtropical, and mean annual precipitation is between forty and fifty inches per year. The mean annual temperature ranges from 35° F to 40° in the winter to about 75° in the summer. The region is characterized by wooded, rolling hills formed by the erosion of an uplift called the Ozark Dome. Soils in the region, formed mostly from the weathering of carbonate rocks, support forests of oak, pine, and hickory. Other common vegetation includes Indian grass, dropseed, and little bluestem.
About fourteen thousand years ago nomadic hunter-gatherer groups inhabited the Ozark Plateau. Archaeologists studied these peoples through their pictographs, burial mounds, and camp sites. In the historic era the principal American Indian tribes indigenous to the Oklahoma section of the plateau were the Osage and Quapaw, with the Quapaw inhabiting only a small area in the southeastern Ozarks. These tribes were not nomadic, but lived in villages, although they still depended largely on hunting.
The first European exploration of the Ozark region occurred around 1673, with the small expedition of Jacques Marquette and Louis Joliet. However, they did not come into present Oklahoma. The first documentation of white settlers in the Ozark Plateau came around 1705; these early pioneers, mostly French, subsisted mainly on fur trading and primitive forms of agriculture. The Spanish gained possession of the area from the French in 1770, and by 1790, the first American settlers were trickling into the area. The Oklahoma portion of the Ozark Plateau became home to the Cherokee Nation after their removal from the South. By 1890 eight tribes occupied this part of northwestern Oklahoma: Cherokee, Seneca, Wyandotte, Ottawa, Quapaw, Peoria, Modoc, and Shawnee.
During the twentieth century agriculture, particularly fruit and berry production, was important. The Ozark Plateau consists of about 70 percent forest, 20 percent pasture, and 10 percent cropland. Crops grown in the area are mainly corn, grain, and hay. The major economic activity in the region through the 1930s was extensive mining in the Tri-State Lead and Zinc District that included part of Ottawa County, Oklahoma.
BIBLIOGRAPHY: James M. Goodman, "Physical Environments of Oklahoma," in Geography of Oklahoma, ed. John W. Morris (Oklahoma City: Oklahoma Historical Society, 1977). Milton D. Rafferty, The Ozarks, Land and Life (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1980).
B. Nick Abbott and Richard A. Marston
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