Land History of Alford Forest
Alford Forest is situated on the east edge of the White River Hills in the Ozark Highlands. The bulk of the forest lies within 2 miles of Bryant Creek, a major tributary of the White River. Roubidoux sandstone is the bedrock over most of the area, with some of the underlying Gasconade dolomite visible in the lower hollows. Elevations range from 700 feet along the Bryant to 1,160 feet on the southern ridgetops.
To make the best use of the information coming from the forest/cruise survey we needed to put it in the context of the history-social, ecological, and economic-of the land. Our sources included the survey notes of 1848, archives of the Alford Forest going back to the early 1960's, information from Ella Alford, title abstracts, and research on the pre-settlement condition of the area's forest, especially as it relates to native management by fire to maintain grasses and savanna conditions. In addition, we had the benefit of the oral and written history on the days of the Big Mill from Noble Barker, Sr., whose ancestors came into this area in 1830.
It seems likely that land in this part of the Bryant Creek Watershed was a mosaic of forest interspersed with grasslands, at least some of it burned on a cycle of every 3 to 11 years (the burn periodicity identified by studies at Caney Mountain) by the Indians to maintain the grass for the large herbivores (woodland buffalo, elk, deer) that were a prime source of food for them. Forest would have been most dense in the river bottoms and other riparian areas, with more savanna-like conditions being seen in some of the uplands. Where there is still forest now, the basic tree species would be much the same, except for their densities in any given area. In many places these have been rearranged by human activity since white settlement.
The original land survey done by James Jackson in January, 1848 describes a primarily pine canopy in sections 10, 14, 15, 23, and 24, with an arc of pine trending in a northwest to southeast direction across these sections concentrated at the higher elevations. These pine had an average diameter at breast height (dbh) of 12" to 24" (and one at 36"!). Noble Barker says that even though the pines of the pre-Big-Mill (1920's) era were mostly "virgin", their size was surprisingly not all that large. "Most pine trees," he says, "ran from 12" to 15" in diameter, up to 18". 24" trees were unusual, and a 30" was rare." (interview, May 21, 1996)
Oak predominated, then as now, with scattered pine, in sections 21, 22, 3, 11, and 12. As with today, the north and east facing upland slopes above the Bryant are heavy to white oak. Jackson writes: "Timber White Oak, Red Oak, Black Oak, and Black Gum-understory Oak and Hickory." The Bryant bottoms still contain the species he notes: oak, hickory, elm, hackberry, walnut, sycamore, red oak, and in the understory, "Hazel, Pawpaw, Spice and Vines".
Large areas in sections 21 and 22 were described by Jackson as post oak at a dbh of 5" to 14". This is the savanna-like species composition we find today on Hawkins and part of section 23. In fact, it's fairly certain that many of the same post oaks that Jackson noted are still there. We did core samples on the Hawkins tract and some of the post oaks were 150 to 175 years old. A significant portion of the post oaks there are probably "old growth".
Noble Barker told me that his ancestors came into this area in 1830 (May 21, 1996 interview — see the section on Noble below). This is probably at the time of the first white settlement. Though there was certainly some clearing done starting at that time, it's unlikely that much of the forest was logged until well after the first railroad came through Mountain Grove in 1880, since there would be no way until then to haul logs to market.
The story of the Big Mill, Landers and Barker Lumber Company's remarkable facility-literally a small town with its center being the mill-that they ran along Cane Bottom Hollow from 1922 to 1929 is described elsewhere in this report. What Landers acquired was probably substantially like the first settlers found it in the 1830's. The Big Mill cut from 20 to 30,000 board feet per day from 1922 until the merchantable pine was all cut around 1929. Then they packed up the mill and moved it to Texas county. The pine was down, but far from out.
The Big Mill was not interested in hardwoods. In 1929, this left the hardwoods, and smallest pine. According to Noble, the land was burned then almost every year, and these fires were harder on the small pine seedlings than the hardwoods, which further diminished the pine. During the 30's the white oak was cut hard for stave bolts-barrel stave material. Indeed, the abstract record shows title transference from "D.J. Landers Lumber Co. to Robert Welch Stave & Mercantile in June, 1929. Then, Noble says, "World War II changed things. There was a big demand for anything that would make lumber. They cut everything." Even the little remaining "pines that would make a 2X4."
The Alford Family
In July, 1945 land passed into the hands of John Alford and the Alford family. According to Ella Alford, her father wanted the place for his grandchildren to go as a refuge. Since that time the land, with additions and subtractions of acreage, has been with different members of the Alford family. Ella obtained sole ownership of the present land in 1983.
From 1958 to 1975 the land was ably managed by William Ray McDonald, then husband of Ella. Since November. 1963, lands in compartment "A", 1, 2, 3, and 4 (about 2900 acres) have been in the Missouri Department of Conservation's "Forest Cropland" Program. Relations with the Department have been good all through this time, and its personnel helpful. MDC personnel have fought fires, prepared management plans, and supervised fire salvage sales for the lands in the program.
The forest was last heavily harvested in the early 1960's. Sale bid letters show that all merchantable timber from a diameter of 14" was offered for sale. Ella says that Cloud Oak, a flooring company out of West Plains, was one of the prime buyers of the timber. At any rate, the cruise summary of June 6, 1960 shows 55,274 sawlogs of primarily hardwood and about 20% pine containing 2,388,163 board feet offered for sale. About $20,000 was received for the hardwood. The pine was not cut until 1966-67. Records show 29,700 trees from 4" up cut for posts and sawlogs then for $1,255.
Since the mid-60's the land has had a chance to recover somewhat. The results of all the high-grade logging have taken a toll on its overall health and genetic integrity. Interestingly this is Noble Barker's conclusion as well. Noble believes that the forest has been declining for a long time. The reason he gives for this is identical to what we see. He says,, "One of the things that has hurt the timber since the beginning is leaving the trash trees, the culls." (Interview, May 21, 1996.) In other words, "high-grading", "taking the best and leaving the rest."
Research for this land history, along with the cruise/survey that we did with Clint Trammel, leads me to some most interesting revelations, particularly regarding the pine, which took the first assault of the harvest in the 1920's. In spite of everything here on the Alford Forest we still have a significant number of pine trees in the 12" to 20" classes. Some of the remaining (beautiful) pine stands are heavy in the upper size classes, and our cruise/survey reveals that pine is still our largest species component! On the 3,000 acres surveyed, we estimate that there are 33,000 pine trees with a volume of 3,700,000 board-feet, a greater number of trees and volume than any other species, including black oak, the one we thought would have won hands down. This land loves pine, and pine loves this land!
On the good side, the forest is still a forest, a beautiful one, and through its resilience still a basically intact and productive one, and that is the main thing. The earlier people did what they felt they had to do, and followed the practices of the times. And they left us a wonderful forest.
Benefactor, Friend of the Forest
Benefactor, Friend of the Forest
Miriam Ella Alford
The land that is now the Alford Forest passed into the hands of John Alford and the Alford family in July, 1945. According to his daughter Ella (who assumed the first name of Miriam later in her life, but continues to be known by most as Ella), her father wanted the place for his grandchildren to go as a refuge from city life. Since that time the land, with additions and subtractions of acreage, has been with different members of the Alford family. Ella obtained sole ownership in 1983. From that time forward she did all she could to protect the forest, including, from the late 70's on, maintaining a dialog with local and regional individuals and organizations who concerned themselves with the issues of ecological protection and management of forests to see what long term options might be available for caring for the land as far into the future as possible. In 1998, she decided to begin the process of putting the land in trust and easements with Ozark Regional Land Trust (ORLT). This culminated in March, 2005, when Miriam Ella donated a final parcel of her land to ORLT, making a total of 3200 acres to be managed by Alford Forest, Inc. At the same time, she also placed 1,013 acres under conservation easement. These lands are all part of ORLT's Alford Forest, which now encompasses 4,300 acres of permanently protected native forest in the Bryant Creek watershed - with significant river frontage.
Ella Alford was for nearly two decades in the forefront in her efforts to benefit people and nature in the Ozarks, the U.S., and internationally. She was unwavering in doing whatever she could to protect the natural integrity of the Ozarks and particularly the Alford Forest that she cared for so much as part of her family heritage. The list of people and innovative, beneficial projects Ella supported and was involved with is a long one that has never been fully compiled. Within the Bryant Watershed, the list is extensive.
Miriam Ella Alford leaves a great legacy of open-hearted alliance with innumerable things beneficial to the Earth that would not be here had she not helped to engender and support them. She exemplified the idea that ecological protection of land anywhere will need to be based in a strategy that has an economic and educational aspect at the center. Thank you, Miriam Ella, for the great Alford Forest and all the life within it that you gave to be cared for in your family name.
Noble Barker and the Old Piney Days of the Big Mill
On the evening of May 21, 1996 I went to Noble Barker Sr.'s house on Brush Creek. There he told me the story of the Big Mill and the pine of the Alford Forest. That night Noble told me that his grandfather had come to this country in the 1830's. This was the time of the first White settlement.
The span of Noble's generational memory through his grandfather goes back to the time of transition from the Indians to the new settlers. The Barker family's story is also the story of the recent history of the forest.
In Noble's words, "Landers and the Barkers got together in 1917 and formed the Landers and Barker Lumber Company. In 1922, the company built the Big Mill which included a sawmill, dry kiln, and planing mill." The Big Mill was located right on Alford Forest land, where the Cane Bottom spring branch comes out from the property and runs along Highway 95.
The mill was the center of a small town, including a company store and office, blacksmith shop, horse and mule barn, and 27 sawmill "shacks." In one of his old colorized pictures of the mill town Noble pointed to the sawmill shack where he lived with his family.
Between 1905 and 1910 John Landers bought the large tracts of land that include at least some of the present Alford Forest. The reason for buying it was to harvest the great pine stands of the area. Pine lumber was the prime marketable commodity of the forest at that time, worth the grand sum of $12 per thousand board feet, with the logs themselves going for $5 per thousand.
The mill and settlement thrived from 1922 to 1929, until the merchantable pine stands were gone. Then they packed up the mill and moved it to Texas County.
One of the most remarkable things about the mill is that it was powered entirely on gravity, water, and sawdust (and other wood waste from the mill operation). The whole operation was built to land the logs at the highest point of the bottom and roll them down to the mill. The mill ran on steam power generated from the waters of the Cane Bottom spring branch and the burning of the wood wastes from the mill itself. Waste steam from the engines was used in the dry kiln to dry the lumber. Steam power also ran the engines that planed the lumber. All from renewable biomass energy, making some serious production, from 20,000 to 30,000 board feet per day!
A number of people around the Brixey area have memories of the Big Mill, or have parents or relatives who worked there. In his fine article "The Big Mill" (from the publication The Old Mill Run), Noble tells the story far better and in more detail than I have done here, and lists all the people who worked at the mill during its brief history.