Little Niagara: Missouri’s best trout stream

Many, many years ago I bought a 12-year collection of old Forest & Stream outdoor magazines, from 1910 through 1922. Occasionally I read through some of them, always finding something new.

In the June 27th issue of 1914 (magazines were published weekly until 1915), I came across a fishing article written by an Edward Cochran about southern Missouri’s best trout stream, the Little Niagara River.

The following is part of that article, there’s not room for all of it. Where do you suppose the Little Niagara is? If the Irish Wilderness were not mentioned, I would figure it was the Niangua, rather than Niagara.

Larry Dablemont

Does it have another name today or is it buried beneath an Ozark reservoir? Regardless, you may enjoy reading this account of a fishing trip to the Ozarks that took place over 100 years ago.


“Hidden among the gigantic elm, poplar and oak trees of the “Irish Wilderness,” a remote and sparsely settled region of the low and ragged Ozark Mountains in south Missouri, flows the “Little Niagara River.”

It was this stream, far from anyone except a scattering few of the poor, ignorant natives of that section, and filled with fish of all sorts and a goodly number of rainbow trout, that our party sought at the outset of the open season for trout in the “show me” state.

The bad mountain roads, which are more like trails, made by the natives, no bridges, and poor method of travel, make it possibly the most difficult stream to reach in all the great southwest.

It is a region of poverty, the natives being the most shiftless and unprogressive of any in the southern states, which accounts for the bad roads and other things of the sort that must be fought on such a journey. This also accounts for the abundance of good fishing.

Upon arrival by train, we found a lumber wagon, of the rough mountain type, loaded with our provisions, tackle, a camp stove, tent, etc., A drive of thirty-two miles over rough mountain roads and trails put us at our destination.

From sunrise to sunset we traveled up and down these low, rocky hills, where is laid the scene of the famous novel, “The Shepard (sic) of the Hills,” and then we pitched camp for the night.

We retired early, and at daybreak we were aroused again for the remainder of the journey, which was seven miles of the roughest going on the entire trip. Before noon we reached the bank of the beautiful stream and found a level spot of green grass, resembling an oasis in the desert. Here we pitched our camp and gave orders to the driver to return for us in two weeks.
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The “Little Niagara” wends its crooked way through these scraggly mountains and roars over solid rock most of its course. The water is perfectly clear and cold, being fed by springs from the mountains, and the stream averages about twenty feet in width.

There are many deep pools where the rainbow trout abound, and black bass and other finny inhabitants are not scarce.

It always has been more or less of a mystery to those who have caught large rainbows out of the “Little Niagara,” how this variety came to be there. The natives claim that a New York banker and a few friends once sought to establish a camp in the wildest part of the Ozark Mountains, where they could spend one or two months every year far away from civilization.

They wanted to fish where there was plenty, and hunt where big game could be found in abundance. This was an ideal spot for both some years ago.

They found a large spring flowing out of the rocks about half a mile from the “Little Niagara.” They built a dam near the river and made an artificial lake. Into this they put thousands of rainbow trout and hired a watchman to take care of the grounds and see that no one caught the trout.

The trout multiplied rapidly in the cold spring water, but the Easteners soon gave up the camp and the dam was allowed to wash away and the trout went into the “Little Niagara,” where for many years they have multiplied, with no one cutting down the supply.

As the result the stream is well stocked. To substantiate their claim the natives took our party to the lake and there we found what remained of the dam, and the ruins of the log club-house.

The natives are not skilled fishermen. They use nets a great deal, and a croppie (sic) or a perch is as good to them as a trout.

The first day in camp we landed a good catch of trout. One in the party is a lover of bass fishing, and he came in with some of the black boys that are right next to trout when it comes to eating.

We waded the cool waters day after day for the two weeks we were in camp, often going far as ten miles upstream and our invasion against these prize beauties was successful each day. (Dablemont note — This writer is full of baloney about wading upstream ten miles and back in any Ozark river, now or then.)

It will be a century before the gamey trout is extinct in this region, because of the difficulty anglers encounter and the time required to reach this river.

It is not likely that the time will come in the next half century when travel in the “Irish Wilderness” of the Ozarks will be made easier, because railroad experts have stated that the cost of reducing the hardships of travel in that section is so great that it will not pay, the fertility of the soil being of a very low grade; and there is no other source of wealth in that country.”

(Larry Dablemont lives in southwest Missouri. He can be reached by email at, or by phone at 417-777-5227.)

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