A gang of Ozark Mountaineers

Posted January 3, 2013 at 12:00 am

Out in the country to the east of Houston, my grandfather and grandmother, Bert and Hilda McNew, had a small farm. Not far from them were farms owned by their son and my uncle, Roy McNew, and their daughter and my aunt, Mildred Daniel. Uncle Roy had three boys, and Aunt Mildred had three more.

Close by there was a family farm with six boys, by the name of Pfister. The Pfisters had one son much older than me that was one of the best basketball players Houston high school ever had. The youngest son, Jerry Pfister, was about the same age as me and my cousins – Butch, David and Darwin McNew, and the youngest of Aunt Mildred’s son’s, Roy Daniel. That group of six, plus a couple of other friends, the Morton brothers, Tom and Roy Wayne, made up perhaps the most anti-social, poorest Ozark friends that ever lived in that region of Texas county, a real backwoods group of Ozark mountaineers if there ever was one.

We had quite a bit of farm property where we could roam and explore and build forts when we were small. As we grew older we had some coon-hunting episodes, some cave-exploring adventures, some great fishing trips and we once nearly killed one of Mrs. Pfister’s geese when we tried to get it drunk on Uncle Roy McNew’s home brew. On Friday nights, we would often gather at the Pfister home and play penny-ante poker, which enabled all of us to occupy a whole evening for no more than 50¢. Those poker evenings usually didn’t cost Jerry Pfister much, as he had the distinguished honor of being the best of us at five-card draw.

Jerry had an older brother by the name of Fred Pfister who didn’t hang out with us because he was always studying. At Houston High School, Jerry and Butch and the rest of us were proud to be in the top 95 percent of our class. Fred was in the top 10 percent of his. But poor Fred never knew what it was like to draw to an inside straight or catch a big flathead catfish, or tree a coon or find a bear track in some deep passage of a Piney River cave. I don’t think he ever had a sip of Uncle Roy’s elderberry wine either.

When I said good-bye to my old friends in the farm country on the headwaters of Brushy Creek to go away to college, I didn’t know how little I would see of them as adulthood reared it’s ugly head. But on the campus of the School of the Ozarks College, there was Fred Pfister, still making the kind of grades that I hadn’t seen since I learned the alphabet in the first grade.

His girl friend at S of O, Fay Coonts, from Ava, was one of the prettiest girls on campus, a difficult thing for me and Jerry and Butch to figure out, since none of us considered him any better looking than the rest of us. I started thinking that being smart had its definite advantages. Fred and Fay were married, and he continued his education at the University of Arkansas, where he attained a Masters degree, then went on to the University of Mississippi to attain a Doctorate.

Fred came back to teach English and other subjects for almost 20 years at School of the Ozarks, which changed its name to College of the Ozarks a few years ago. And for the last 15 years he has been the editor and chief motivator behind the success of the well-known, historic magazine everyone knows as The Ozarks Mountaineer. Began in 1952 by Ozarks publisher Roscoe Stewart, the magazine was a regular glimpse of the history of our region, and inside its pages were fascinating stories about the Ozarks, it’s people and it’s history.

Clay Anderson, a journalist educated at Missouri University, and another Ozarkian who loved this land, bought the magazine in 1967, and he hired Barbara Wehrman in 1976. Barbara was the daughter of an Ozark legend I knew well, L.B. Cook, who owned the Theodosia Marina at the time on the north edge of Bull Shoals lake. L. B. wrote occasional fishing stories for outdoor magazines I worked with in the 1970’s and wrote some for the Ozarks Mountaineer. He was a good writer and a better fisherman.

I got to know Barbara Wehrman about the time I started publishing outdoor books. She took over as publisher of the magazine when Clay Anderson died in 1993, and during the 10 years she published it The Ozarks Mountaineer was in its heyday. Subscriptions exceeded 29,000. That’s where Dr. Fred Pfister enters this story again, as Mrs. Wehrman hired him as editor of The Ozarks Mountaineer. I guess when that happened, Butch and Jerry and I and all the rest of the gang, were about as impressed with Jerry’s big brother as we ever had been.

The magazine was sold by Mrs. Wehrman to a group from Houston, TX, in 2003. Subscriptions declined drastically. In December of 2012, it folded up and announced that the last issue had been published. As for me, I would like to see it resurrected, but those Texan’s want to sell it and they don’t know enough about the Ozarks to realize most of us Ozarkians don’t have that kind of money.

But I have been publishing my own magazine since 2001, and it isn’t exactly rocket science. I think I know how to produce another one like The Ozarks Mountaineer. Maybe we could name it Ozark Mountaineers. Sometime in a few weeks I am going to organize a meeting in Springfield to talk with others who have a similar interest in the Ozarks, its people and history and natural wonders. The date and time hasn’t been established but if you are a writer who has ever been a part of the old magazine, a journalist or editor who wants to throw in your two cents worth, call my office and I will give you more information. I feel very confident that Fred and Fay Pfister and Barbara Wehrman will be there as well as other area journalists.

The secret to the success of a new Ozarks magazine lies in the considerable abilities of small town newspaper people throughout the Ozarks and Ozark writers and historians and naturalists born and raised in these hills. This can work, and I’ll bet that in the coming year an “Ozark Mountaineers” magazine can continue in the path of the one that got diverted to Texas.

Please join me on my Outdoorsman’s radio program each Sunday morning from 8:06 to 9:00 a.m. on KWTO radio, 560 AM. Call in to talk about hunting, fishing, nature and conservation in the Midwest. The phone number is 800/375-0056. Next Sunday we will talk with a well-known fishing guide who will talk about catching fish in the winter.

To learn more about our Lightnin’ Ridge Publishing Company or to get a free copy of the outdoor magazine we have produced for more than 10 years, you may call our offices at 417/777-5227. Or just write to me at Box 22, Bolivar, Mo. 65613. My e-mail address is lightninridge@windstream.net and my website is www.larrydablemontoutdoors.blogspot.com