Ozark River Book Honored in 2019 Indie Book Awards

Urban ambitions and the Arcadian spirit swirl in the story of a famed Ozark float stream

“James Fork of the White: Transformation of an Ozark River” by Springfield (Mo.) authors Leland & Crystal Payton has been named by the Independent Book Publishing Professionals Group one of the best indie books of 2019. 

The Paytons’ book is a finalist in the Regional Non-Fiction category of the Next Generation Indie Book Awards, the world’s largest not-for-profit book award program for independent publishers.

Having Springfield, the largest city in the Ozarks, at the top of its watershed has had an enormous effect. This goes beyond the obvious utilization of its flow for water, waste treatment and recreation. 

With superior media, educational and economic and political assets a city can define a region to advance its own self-interest.

As the James cuts into the limestone to the south, a mythos evolved concerning the log cabin folks who settled there. Hill folks, later called hillbillies, were images of Ozarkers that Springfield Chamber of Commerce President John T. Woodruff despised. 

Primitive vs. progressive is a conflict with continuing effects on our relationship with nature. This book explores the influence of geography on culture while acknowledging that there are more scientifically verifiable implications of land use on stream transformation.

“We spent five years driving gravelly back roads searching out and photographing the crumbling foundations of old water mills, springs, caves, and antique bridges,” said Crystal. 

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“Railroads, highways, dam projects, tourism, the growth of towns, agriculture, industry, media and art, political will and cultural values all interact,” Leland interjected. 

“The river we see today is an outcome of all these forces. Even though transformed and changing, the watershed of the James Fork of the White is still in many places scenic and where it lacks esthetics, it is intriguing.”

After years of research, a mystery remains. The Paytons never found an explanation that holds water why this river is called the James.

“James Fork of the White” is an all-color, 352-page book that sells for $35. It’s available on amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, or at beautifulozarks.com.

The Paytons have collaborated on a dozen books on the Ozarks or pop culture. “Lens & Pen Press’s earlier river book, Damming the Osage,” was awarded a silver medal by the Independent Publishers’ Book Awards in 2013. 

Their next book, “Lover’s Leap Legends: From Sappho of Lesbos to Wah-Wah-Tee of Waco,” will be published in February 2020. 

They have two sons: Strader, a foreign service officer with the State Department; and Ross, a writer and a podcaster.

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