A Young Girl’s Story of Growing Up on the Current River

My beautiful mother, Judy Maggard Stewart, was born and raised on the upper current river.  The first time she took me down the river in a canoe I was six months old.  In addition, Sundays were church and river days.  We would stay at the river til dark.  As a result, those were glorious family days.  She is a huge reason I am the women I am today.  Consequently, she has instilled her love of the river in me.

This is her story: a local historical account of life on the river.  The last time the park service tried to close the rivers she was prompted to tell her story.  As a result of this article and her being vocal, she is now leading instrumentally within many organizations.  She works within Friends of Mt. Zion, Akers Cemetery Board and the Shannon Country Museum Association, where she is President.  In addition, Judy was invited to collaborate as a community member with the Park Service.  So with no further ado, here is her story.  I do hope you enjoy.

I CAN HEAR CURRENT RIVER CRY

Growing up on the Current River where the river ran through my back yard at Akers, MO makes me feel very, very fortunate to have had the opportunity to grow up in such a beautiful area and has left me with wonderful memories. The river is where I go to meditate and enjoy God’s beautiful creation of nature and the beauty around it and celebrate the happiest and heal the saddest moments of my life.

River and Land

My love for the river and land at Akers runs very deep. The land had been passed down through my family for generations since the Civil War in my mother’s family (Loreen Purcell Maggard.) Akers was the trade center for the community for miles around. Members of the Purcell family lived up and down the river from Akers. Beanie Purcell lived down the river across from Cave Springs. They farmed, trapped, fished, logged, and raised hogs and cattle to make a living.

 My grandfather, George C. Purcell owned the country store (on the hill above the Junction K and KK.) He owned seven sawmills and much of the land surrounding Akers.  Some family members were even moonshiners. They also ran the ferryboat. Members of his family (Frank Purcell, Marion Purcell, George Purcell and finally my mother, Loreen), were the postmasters at the Akers Post Office which was inside their country store.

The Country Store

The country store met the needs of all the community. Shoppers could shop for food, dry goods and even get a haircut. It had a potbellied stove so many hours were spent socializing and telling hunting stories and whatever was on one’s mind at the time. The upstairs of the store housed the Oddfellow’s Lodge. They had an initiation chair that they would have the fellow sit on and the  legs would collapse. I have fond memories of tricking my friends with that chair (The lodge had disbanded before I was born.) The telephone office was there also. A member of the family had to be stationed at the phone and connect all the neighbors who received calls.

Mt. Zion Church

Mt. Zion Church sat at the top of the hill above Akers. The land where the church house sits was donated by my grandparents and built by the community. My father was very proud of his part in building the church. I remember riding horseback in front of Robert Crosswhite to church on most Sundays while Mt. Zion Church was operating. My family attended many baptisms at the river below the ferryboat. Revivals, singings, community dinners and gatherings were held at Mt. Zion. It is a beautiful rock building.

After the park service took over, they gave everything away that was in the building and wanted to tear it down. The Missouri State Historical Society got involved with the community members and thank God the building was saved. It is sitting there empty when it could be used as an inspiration point, museum, and be used for community events. I would like to see it restored to its original state. Rev. Yount and later Rev. Wobus preached there.

Akers School

The Akers School sat on the east side of Gladden Valley Creek. In her early years, my mother taught there. My sister, Omaleta, had her for a teacher. Unfortunately, the park service tore the school building down years ago. I spent many hours playing in that building. Mom also taught for a period of time at Bluff school. The Bluff school house still stands but is in dire need of some tender loving care. Schools up and down the river have been destroyed or painted park service colors and used for storage instead of being preserved for historical purposes.

Akers Cemetery

The Akers Cemetery sits on the hill overlooking Gladden Creek north of where the school sat.  Both sets of my grandparents are buried there as well as aunts and cousins. My great- great grandparents on the Purcell side are also buried there. Several graves are marked with cave rock. My parents are not buried there because my mother feared the Park service would let it grow up and be destroyed. Before the national park, she and Dad and other community members took very good care of the cemetery.

My brother Gene and I sit on the Akers Cemetery Board. He is the president; Richard Purcell, vice president; Jim Purcell treasurer and I am secretary at present. I never want the Akers cemetery to grow up and be destroyed like many cemeteries up and down the river. For example, the pre-Civil War Purcell family cemetery located on what was the Beanie Purcell place across from Cave Springs is grown up, grave markers lost, and cannot be found unless if you know exactly where you are going. Veterans are buried there. I never want the Akers cemetery to suffer the same fate.

Akers Store

After my parents were married, they built the store where it stands today. Half of the building was our home and the other half was the store. The store had a post office built in one corner of the building just like my grandparents store. My mother was the Post Master there as well as my father being the barber. It was the hub bub of the community. People gathered around the wood stove and told stories. In addition, people still traded for most everything they needed. Salesmen and traders would come through the area selling their goods and would repair what needed repairing.

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Ozark Mountain People

Traditions and the Ozark Mountain People culture continued. The neighbors would take turns having square dancing in their homes. My father (Buck Maggard) was the fiddler on most evenings and my uncle Doc would market their moonshine. (My parents met each other at one of these dances.) Life at Akers was good.

The Story Unfolds

My parents, Buck and Loreen Maggard, bought a couple of canoes from Sears and Roebuck catalog to rent to people who might want to float, fish or just enjoy the Current River. He also built a campground on both sides of the river for campers to use. My dad would use his red

1950 model one and half ton cattle truck to haul floaters to and from the put in and take out points on the river. The people would ride in the back with the cattle panels protecting them. remember some people enjoyed the ride in the truck almost as much and their boat ride. 

 Canoeing really became popular. He bought Grumman aluminum canoes, Osage canoes, and various brands over the years. My parents never turned anyone away on reserving a canoe.  They went and bought more until they had around 300 canoes before the Ozark National Scenic Riverways bought their land by eminent domain and reduced the amount of canoes they could rent.

 I will never forget the devastating news that the government was taking our property for recreation, the land that was so dear to us. It felt like we had a death in the family. I will never forget when the federal marshal came to serve papers on my father. My brothers (Eugene and Dwight) and I were instructed that we could not accept the papers so we turned the marshal away three or four times because dad was not present.

The Papers

Well, one evening when everyone was sitting around the stove telling stories, the marshal came in and joined us. After a while he asked if anyone knew Buck Maggard and one of the local drunks spoke up and said, “There he is!” So the papers were served!!! After the park service came in, I will never forget that feeling of emptiness that I felt when I floated the river and all the neighbors were gone. There was not any one to stop and visit or share goodies like watermelon and pastries as you floated down the river.

 Currently, my brother Eugene and family have the concession at Akers. They have a canoe rental and store where things that you might need on the river can be purchased. Eighteen years ago the park service closed the campground at Akers which had really hurt the economy.  It cuts to the core that land that even the Indians loved years ago and tourist once enjoyed camping upon was closed by the government so that the sounds, smells and beauty of the river at that point can’t be enjoyed as it had been for years.

Maggard Cabin

The beautiful farm up the river that belonged to my grandparents and later my uncle Dee and Aunt Pearlie across from Welch’s Cave was also purchased by the government It had a huge barn that housed all the animals from the chickens, sheep, horses and cows. The park service tore it down. The house (Maggard Cabin) was torn down to the log frame and is about half way restored. My aunt Pearlie and I loved fishing at the family’s favorite fishing hole where she helped me catch my biggest trout.

Everyone Deserves To Be Able To Enjoy The River

I can hear Current River cry because all the people who grew up, loved and respected the river have had to move away. There is not anyone left to care for the land, the traditions, the culture and the structures (school houses and churches). It is the Ozark National Scenic Riverways responsibility to preserve the history and culture of the area. So far they have shirked their responsibility. It has always left a sour taste in my mouth when park service personnel have asked what a building or place looked like when it was the park service that tore it down.

Rules and regulations are being implemented to govern the park and limit the amount of tourists/users. It appears that the park service does not have the funds or manpower to manage all the acreage they took from all the people. Consequently, they need to come up with a plan that will protect and take care of the river and preserve the culture and traditions of the Ozark Mountain People. Everyone needs to be able to enjoy the river, not select few and never ever shut it down again!
Judy Maggard Stewart
Jstewart001@centurytel.net

I can hear Current River Cry: Her StoryConclusion

Seems like, at this time the park is working hard to restore and preserve our rivers and local area.  Tourism is a huge part of my life.  In addition, the river is a huge part of my life as well.  Rather, my family survives off horses and trail riding.  However, even though our people come here to trail ride, I believe its because of our beautiful river.  It is breathtaking to see and experience.  Consequently, I hope everyone does take the time to enjoy it.

In addition, you might want to read some of articles we wrote during the river flood of 2017 and how you can continue to help the river people.  If you are are planning to float the rivers, you can check out our canoe rentals too.

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