The dates for the 2017 Ozark Trail Festival have been set for October 13th, 14th and 15th. The Ozark Trail Festival Committee asked The Sun Times to research and review earlier newspaper records as to when the festival began and how it had changed over the years.
    The Ozark Frontier Trail Festival and Craft Show began in 1966. Chaired by Tom Olmstead, it was held at the National Guard Amory where approximately 10,000 guests from twenty-five states and three foreign countries were registered as attendees. Various pioneer crafts were demonstrated creating a unique learning experience for area school children who were bused in for the show. Featured craft demonstrations included pottery, wood carving, ceramics, making rag dolls, spinning yarn for loom weaving of area rugs and mats, and making jelly.
    The goal of the first festival was to establish Heber Springs as a unique Fall travelling location where visitors would experience the history and scenic beauty of the Ozarks. The Heber Springs towns people supported the festival by dressing in 1890 period clothing in the Main Street stores, banks, restaurants, and the court house. Women wore bonnets and long dresses and contests for the most authentic costumes were held.
    A special pageant or play entitled “Scenes from the Past” was created by Earl N. Olmstead, an attorney skilled in show productions. The play featured scenes and music depicting early pioneer living scenes such as a sitting room or parlor, a one room school house, a covered wagon and a brush arbor revival.
    In 1967, a parade was added to the events of the Ozark Frontier Trail and Handicraft Show Festival. The parade started at the elementary school, which was on Main Street, and ended at Spring Park. It was led by the Heber Springs High School Band and special guests were Lt. Governor Maurice Britt and his wife. They rode in one of Governor Winthrop Rockefeller’s antique automobiles. There were floats, made by area businesses, that depicted scenes from early pioneer days like a one room school house with desks, children and a teacher; a party scene made of youth in period garb; antique cars and trucks; and, a covered wagon with a team of oxen.
    Another first in 1967 was the jail setup on the courthouse square. An old-time moonshine still was displayed as well. Other traditions introduced were the beard and dress contests.
    The Heber Springs Optimist Club sponsored the beard contest and members served as sheriff and deputies patrolling downtown Heber Springs. They arrested any many who didn’t have a least a ¼” beard. Bail was the purchase of a shaving permit for $2.50. All proceeds went to the Optimist work with area youth activities. Beards were judged based on the longest beard, the most unusual, the curliest and the scraggliest.
    The Optimists also sponsored the dress contests. Contestant categories were by age and gender starting with boys and girls under six years old; 7 to 15 years old; 16 to adults; and, family groups.
    The Ozark Frontier and Trail Festival and Craft Show was featured in the September edition of “The Ozark Mountaineer” as “one of the most favorite fall events in Arkansas.” After 11,000 registrants at the 1967 festival, attendance was predicted to be 24,000 for this festival, more than doubling the first year.
    It was in 1968 that the Ozark Foothills Craft Guild began managing the craft show featuring Arkansas crafts. It began in 1962 in Mountain View with seven participating counties. Six years later all seventy-five Arkansas counties were members of the Guild and three Guild stores were open in Clinton, Heber Springs, and Hardy. J.O. Woolly of Quitman was president of the Guild.
    The Guild featured demonstrations at the National Guard Armory in weaving, wood work, spinning, a sorghum making mill, doll making, pottery, wood pretties, quilting and shuckery (corn shucking). Items for sale included artists’ paintings, dulcimers and “Ozark Do Nothings”.
    For the third year the pageant, “Scenes of the Past”, was featured, but it had been expanded to 175 cast members from Heber Springs residents and was held at the high school football field. Scenes had been expanded to include: “Before the White Man Came”; “Fireside Industries”; “Social Life in the Ozarks”, which included corn husking, quilting bees, and candy breakings; “Love, Courtship and Marriage”; “Political Speaking”; “Brush Arbor Revival”; and, “One Room School House”.
    Besides the craft show, parade, pageant, beard and dress contests, another event was added that would become a tradition as well – square dancing.
    Over the next eight years, the Ozark Foothills Craft Guild would expand the craft show to include demonstrations in broom making; vegetable dying, knife making, basket weaving, blacksmithing, soap making, a grist mill, glass blowing and spinning, rail splitting, wood block printing, and tie hewing. Booths were set up for artists and craftsmen to sell their creations.
    In 1969 the Guild introduced Native American crafts where canoe making was demonstrated.  Native Americans from the Tsa-La-Gi Village near Tahlequah, Oklahoma included Cherokee, Comanche, Pawnee and Kiowa. These tribes demonstrated the dances, songs, folk stories and other rituals of the Plains Indians. The Cherokee Native American Culture between 1817-1828 would be featured in 1970. In 1838, one branch of the “Trail of Tears” ran through Heber Springs. The Cherokee participants demonstrated arrowhead making and performed the “stomp dance”.
    1969 was the Sesquicentennial Celebration of Arkansas. Arkansas became a United States Territory in 1819. The Arkansas Traveler Folk Group featured the “Arkansas Traveler Play” set in 1840. The Athena Club sponsored a box supper. Young ladies would bring a prepared supper in a decorated box to be auctioned. Young men were expected to bring money to buy the supper box of their favorite gal.
    Muzzle loading demonstrations and tours of the Greers Ferry Lake area were part of the 1970 festival. Later, muzzle loading rifle contests would become part of the traditional festival events. The Ozarkana Village was created at the Cleburne County Fairgrounds, which was located at Walnut and South 3rd Street, highlighting the Appalachian Mountain settlers. Religious singing also became a traditional part of the festival for the first time.
    In 1971, the Ozark Trail Festival was touted as “the most unique arts and crafts show in America”. The Antique Consignment Auction was added and the number of craftsmen increased to seventy-five. The parade featured a Scottish band with bag pipes and new entertainment, “Heritage Program”, was produced featuring area musicians singing the traditional folk songs of the Scots and Irish, who were the early settlers of the area. Bag pipes, drums and the traditional dances were featured, also. New contests were added in wood chopping, horseshoe pitching, bean-flip (slingshot) shooting, and spinning.
    In 1972, the Ozark Trail Festival was featured for the first time on state-wide television. Heber Springs residents were introduced on the Cal Dring’s Country & Western Show, which aired weekdays at 7:00am on Channel 7. The Eye on Arkansas show, seen weekdays at noon on Channel 11, promoted the festival as, “The event will cover a wide spectrum of Ozark crafts, music, superstitions, apparel and antiques that make up the lore of a colorful people in American History.”
    Thirty-five regional musicians performed the traditional ballads of Scotland, Ireland and Great Britain. Along with song, fiddle playing, gourd playing, picking bow and dulcimer playing were unique performances.
    Water witching was introduced as a new contest in 1972. Water witching has been used for centuries using telepathic means with a divining or dowsing rod to locate a water source. Dowsing tools can be made from two L-shaped copper rods, a willow branch, and a weight tied to a string.
    Over the years, the Ozark Trail Festival committees found unique events to host during the festival along with the traditions that had sprung up. The Heber Springs Rotary Club sponsored the Antique Show & Sale for several years in the National Guard Armory contracting with several antique dealers. New plays like “Hillbilly Weddin’” and “Feudin’, Fightin’ and Fussin’” were performed. The Ozark Folk Heritage Musical Program featured a variety of folk music with dulcimers, banjos, picking bow, the gourd, the autoharp and the fiddle.
    A canoe and kayaking contest was held on the Little Red River by the Quapaw Council of the BSA. There was a boy’s and girl’s division as well as a coed division. The race started at the Dripping Springs Public Access and ended at the Pangburn low bridge.
    By the tenth annual Ozark Trail Festival, the Ozark Handicraft Guild sponsored over 140 craftsmen and the Guild had become nationally renowned. The Ozark Trail Festival committee is working hard to make this year’s festival bigger and better than last year’s event as well.
    Vendor booths will open at noon on Friday, October 13th. Featured pony rides will be available on Friday only. At 5:30pm, “The Heber Haw Show”, will be featured. The festival parade kicks off at 11:00am on Saturday starting at the Harps parking lot, down Main Street, and ending in Spring Park. Featured contests include a Dog Show; Beard, Bonnet and Western Garb; and, the Ozark Trail Beauty Pageant that begins at 1:00pm. A car show will be held at the Cleburne County Court House starting at 10:00am. The Kimberlie Helton Band from Jackson, TN will kick off their concert at 7:00pm. There will be a Sunday church service at 10:00am. The festival ends