The Ozarks Plateaus is an upland region located in the south central United States. The plateaus cover approximately 50,000 square miles and include parts of northern Arkansas, southeastern Kansas, southern Missouri and northeastern Oklahoma. The boundary of the Ozarks is generally defined to the north by the Missouri River, to the east by the Mississippi River, to the south by the Arkansas River, and to the west by the Grand and Neosho rivers.
The Ozark Plateaus consist of three sections - the Springfield Plateau, the Salem Plateau, and the Boston Mountains. The plateaus rise from the surrounding plains and are composed of igneous rock overlain by limestone and dolomite. The Boston Mountains are the highest and most rugged section, with several peaks more than 2,000 feet high.
The physical characteristics described above have influenced the cultural traits and distinguish the Ozarks region. Dr. Milton Rafferty, Professor Emeritus at Missouri State University, states that defining the Ozarks from a cultural perspective is difficult, at best. However, he identified four traits that help our understanding of the Ozarks' culture. The first trait is that the region is rural in general character. Rural suggests open country, farming and contrasts to city life. The second trait is that Ozark heritage has been strongly influenced by the early immigrants mainly from Kentucky and Tennessee (principally from Scotch-Irish stock) who first occupied the choice lands and established self-sufficient farms. Rafferty points out that because for many years only a few outsiders entered the area, the economic activities, technologies, beliefs and general way of life came to be patterned after that of the first immigrants. The third trait common the Ozarks is that Ozarkers have an uncommon sense of place. Persons living in the Ozarks think of themselves as Ozarkers and think of non-Ozarkers as outsiders. The fourth trait identified by Rafferty is the relative stability of the social system in the Ozarks as contrasted with the fluidity of social relations that is typical of the United States. Rafferty concludes that four cultural traits are hardly unique to the Ozarks. They are traits found everywhere to a certain extent, but particularly in rural America. In the Ozarks, these traits are accentuated, drawn together, and combined in unique and interesting ways.
Missouri State University, through the Ozarks Studies Institute, is committed to increasing our understanding of the richness and complexity of the Ozarks' culture. Further, the university is committed to preserving the heritage of the Ozarks. For, as Dr. Rafferty points out, the Ozarks has a culture worth studying, a region worth visiting, and most importantly, people worth knowing.