When we decided to visit my mother-in-law in Fayetteville, Arkansa on the occasion of her 90th birthday, I didn’t imagine I would be dropped into a global education classroom, but I was wrong. As part of her celebration, she wanted us to take her to Big Cedar Lodge in the Ozark mountains, just across the border into Missouri. Big Cedar is a beautiful wooded tumble of lodges, golf courses, docks, and other outdoor activities on the shores of Table Rock Lake. We spent two days there taking advantage of mini-golf, swimming, paddle-boating, hiking, a self-guided tour of the area including a waterfall cavern and eating at several of the many fine restaurants on the property.
The resort’s initial buildings were lavish homes built in the 1920s by railroad executives and business tycoons. When the Great Depression hit, the property went into disarray, and was revived in 1947 by real estate developer Dan Norris. It wasn’t until the property was acquired in 1987 by Johnny Morris, owner of Bass Pro Shops, that the resort began to take shape as a world class destination. At first, I found the notion of a business tycoon in the hunting and fishing industry with a global perspective to be an oxymoron, but I became intrigued and impressed. One of Johnny’s mottos is “We all live downstream,” and he is committed to doing his part to protect the earth. The resort employs a myriad of conservation measures, including recycling, water treatment and usage, composting and wildlife preservation. Apparently, although hunters and fishermen are often at odds with other environmental groups there is a huge and powerful movement amongst game hunters to protect the natural world. Even if it is simply to preserve wild lands for hunting and fishing, the end result is good for the planet. The more I think about it, the more it makes sense; I would like to learn more and expand my horizons on this issue.
Equally surprising, and in fact, mind-blowing, was the Ozarks Natural History Museum on the property. Situated right next to a world class golf course, driving range, pro shop and a bar housed in Arnold Palmer’s family barn (relocated there) is the most extensive and impressive collection of Western United States Indian artifacts I have seen. The thousands of square footage in room after room, of arrowheads, axe heads and other tools, clothing, jewelry, drums and other instruments was a stunning collection in the sheer number, beauty, and array of objects. There were also many works of art depicting Native Americans, including a few Edward Curtis goldtone photographic prints made from the original negatives.
The museum had a strange “thrown-together” feel as if it were someone’s homegrown project rather than the national treasure it is. There were no maps, very few explanations of context, some moving quotes by Native American leaders juxtaposed with sections that contained more information about the people who found the artifacts than the artifacts themselves. Once in awhile there would be an acknowledgement of the atrocities committed against Native peoples, but there was no overall lens through which the viewer was to understand the displays. Another somewhat jarring aspect of the collection were skeletons and recreations of huge mammals that once roamed the Ozarks. Though interesting to see their sheer size and vicious adaptations, I would have preferred to have a map, a guide, a sense of the eras represented, an explanation of the distinctive geology and natural history of the region. The exhibit ended with several rooms depicting guns and other Civil War memorabilia without much of a sense of the role Missouri played in that conflict or how the war shaped the region.
Walking through the museum was like a walk through time without a map. It made me wonder about the curation. The Native American artifacts were especially breathtaking and a reminder of how advanced those civilizations were when white settlers and soldiers called them “primitive.” I was simultaneously impressed with the cultures developed in the West, and grief-stricken at the genocide and ethnic cleansing perpetrated on its people. It reminded me that all land in the United States is stolen land and we have much to atone for. I was left with two haunting images. One was a photograph of Native American leaders lined up with the owners of Big Cedar Lodge at the opening of the museum. The caption stated the friendship between these two groups and how much the Native leaders liked the museum, but I wish I could talk to them about what they really thought, as I suspect it was more nuanced than portrayed. The second was a replica of Fraser’s “End of the Trail” statue which sits in an infinity pool at the edge of the End of the Trail Bar. All text surrounding this statue says it is a tribute to Native Americans, but I found its Indian rider slumped over his horse looking down in defeat extremely problematic and sad.
All in all, this has been both an enjoyable family vacation, and an enlightening global education experience. The trip has reminded me of the importance and lasting nature of a global perspective. Once you have it, you see it everywhere.