By Bill Cooper
The Missouri Ozarks offers literally thousands of places to explore the outdoors. I have visited and explored many of these fabulous features over the last 50 years. Recently I enjoyed the opportunity to re-visit many of my favorite spots on the Ozark landscape.
The southeast Missouri town of Doniphan extended an invitation to members of the Missouri Outdoor Communicators to visit the natural beauty found there.
A half dozen members of MOC arrived at Southern Comfort Cabins and RV Resort on the banks of Current River, courtesy of owner Teresa Whiteside Friend.
Doniphan is home to some extraordinary cultural displays of Ozark history. Our group first visited Tom Kennon’s Blacksmith Shop, which operated from 1929-1980. Local blacksmithing fans demonstrated the making of knives and assorted ornamental pieces. Ripley County Commissioner Keith Whiteside and 10-year-old son, Cooper, allowed us to get close while they began making a knife from an old railroad spike.
The Heritage Homestead stood next to the blacksmith shop. The ancient log cabins gave us a glimpse of what life was like for early settlers in the Doniphan area.
The nearby Current River Heritage Museum displayed fabulous collection of artifacts from around the Current River area. MOC members were particularly interested in an old river boat used for gigging on Current River, when pine knots placed in a wire basket was the only source of light. Forty foot long steering oars, which were once used to steer massive rafts of railroad ties downriver proved most intriguing.
Back at Godsys River Cabin we enjoyed a delicious dinner of BBQ pork and all the trimmings. Afterwards members of the U.S.F.S. Doniphan-Eleven Point Ranger District of the Mark Twain National Forest spoke to us about forest service policy regarding the nearby Eleven Point Wild and Scenic River, as well as the 16,500 Irish Wilderness along the Eleven Point River.
After nightfall several MOC members climbed into gigging boats to try their hand at gigging suckers in Current River. Matt Smith and I teamed up in one boat, while Barb Ostmann and Kyle Stewart manned the other boat. Current River is especially beautiful at night. We all were relatively inexperienced giggers and quickly developed a new found respect for suckers and the river men who pursue them.
Midnight proved a bit late for me. I went to bed fully exhausted. Daylight came quickly, however. Soon the smells of breakfast lured us back to Godsys Cabin, where Kyle and Matt had prepared a breakfast feast to remember.
After breakfast MOC members split up for the day’s activities. Jon Neporadny and Zach Smith teamed up with Scenic Rivers Guide and Tours smallmouth fishing guru Billy Smith for a day of smallmouth fishing. Barb Ostmann, Kyle Stewart and I met up with Keith Whiteside for a hiking tour of Eleven Point River attractions, 30 minutes west of Doniphan.
A cool, cloudy morning greeted us as we parked at a small lot just off Highway 142 and began a one mile hike into the Narrows, which took its name from a steep hogback ridge between the Eleven Point River and Frederick Creek. Four springs grace the rugged area - Morgan, Blue, Jones and Sullivan. Most of the human usage of the area centered at Thomasson Mill, which is now called Morgan Spring. From the late 1800s until the early 1930s a gristmill operated there. The Morgans ran an aquaria plant farm there from 1951 until 1978. The U.S. Forest Service purchased the area in 1972.
From The Narrows we traveled to Bose Mill and Turner’s Mill further up Eleven Point River. Boze Mill operated in the 1850s. The 30-foot tall water wheel from the mill still stands in the spring branch below the old mill site. Turner Mill operated from the 1850s to the 20th century. Both Boze and Turner Mill lie in the rugged hill country bordering the Eleven point River.
MOC members enjoyed an incredible evening meal in Doniphan at Mi Casa. We sat outside in the pleasant night air and listened to countless stories from MOC member Dennis Whiteside, who grew up in the Doniphan area.
After dinner a few folks returned to the river for more gigging, while the rest of us relaxed around the campfire. Sleep came quickly after another long day outdoors.
Barb, Zach and I met up with Forest Ranger Ed Sherman and Recreation Technician early the next morning for a hike into the Irish Wilderness. Sherman discussed wilderness policy while Lee revealed fascinating facts about the history of the Irish Wilderness. Our MOC trio hiked into the wilderness a couple of miles just to get the feel of a true wilderness area.
Doniphan is truly an outdoorsman’s paradise. I thoroughly enjoyed my return visit to my favorite spots in the Ozarks.
The Missouri Outdoor Communicator’s Doniphan Fish, Float ’N Fun Event was sponsored by Southern Comfort Cabins and RV Park and Godsys Cabin, SouthernComfortCabin.com; Pioneer Heritage Homestead, Tom Kennon Blacksmith Shop, Current River Museum Aden Welcome Center, doniphan.org; Patsy’s Journeyman Restaurant, facebbok.com/Patys JourneymanRestaurant; KC’S on the Current, kcsonthecurrent.com; ScenicRiversGuideService, Scenic RiversGuideService.com; Mark-Twain National Forest - Eleven Point District, fs.usda.gov/recare/mtnf/recarea/?recid+2164; Missouri Conservation Heritage Foundation, MOCHF.org; Conservation Federation of Missouri, ConFedMO.org; and Toyota Motors of North America, Toyota Newsroom.org.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Bill Cooper is an award-winning outdoor writer and member of the National Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame and lives in rural St. James. He is host of “Outside Again Adventures TV-Online” and “Wild at Heart” on ESPN 107.3FM in Rolla. You can follow Cooper at www.facebook.com/OutsideAlways, www.aoutdoorstv.com and www.espn1073.com.