Ozark Outdoors

Gray/Campbell Pioneer Expo offers chance to learn pioneer ways

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A rainbow lights up a section of the Missouri prairie. There are only a limited number of native prairies left in the Ozarks.

A rainbow lights up a section of the Missouri prairie. There are only a limited number of native prairies left in the Ozarks.

It is ironic that the Gray/Campbell Farmstead now is adjacent to the Kickapoo Edge Prairie.

John Polk Campbell Campbell found good soil when he found prairie. The original Gray/Campbell home was occupied by the Campbell family from 1865 to the 1950’s. It was moved to the Nathanael Greene Park in 1984 when the Kansas and James River Expressways were about to be constructed.

Indeed, the Gray/Campbell Farmstead and the 1860s Pioneer Expo on Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 19 and 20 invites visitors to enjoy a unique opportunity to walk the Kickapoo Edge Prairie while also enjoying a celebration of pioneer life at the time the Grays and Campbells settled Springfield, along with seven slaves to help develop the homestead.

The Gray/Campbell Farmstead is the oldest house in Springfield, Mo. The Farmstead is located in the Nathanael Greene Park within the Springfield Botanical Gardens at 2400 South Scenic. Along with the oldest house in Springfield (circa 1856), there is a log kitchen, a two crib barn, and a log granary. The House was built by James Price Gray and was later sold to his brother-in law, John Polk Campbell, the nephew and name-sake of the founder of the city of Springfield.

The Kickapoo Edge Prairie is literally a small remaining section of the original.

Under the sponsorship of the Friends of the Garden, the Missouri Department of Conservation planted the Kickapoo Edge Prairie in 2002. The Springfield-Greene County Park Board and volunteers with the Missouri Prairie Foundation, Friends of the Garden, Master Gardeners and Master Naturalists all cooperate in maintaining the garden.

Besides being a reservoir of medicinal herbs, scientists are still discovering that prairies make good grazing and hay these days just as they did for the Campbell clan nearly 160 years ago. Many prairie species develop roots as deep as 15 feet. These roots can actually mine the subsoil for nutrients and minerals. As many as a third of the plant’s roots prosper and die off annually and are replaced by new roots. The old roots become organic matter improving soil structure and porosity.

Kickapoo Edge Prairie is a recreation of the original prairie that grew on the site.

Kickapoo Edge Prairie is a recreation of the original prairie that grew on the site.

Initially the garden was a beautiful blue in deep summer due to a copious amount of invasive Canadian Musk Thistle, a gorgeous but still a noxious weed. Many volunteer hours and years later it has been almost eradicated and replaced with 68 native prairie species. A healthy native prairie may easily contain over 300 native prairie species. Plant by plant volunteers are taking us there.

Of the nearly 50 gardens at the Springfield Botanical Center, the Kickapoo Edge Prairie it is the most wild and diverse. From butterflies to deer, groundhogs to grasshoppers, prairie voles to hawks and even an occasional fox and coyote are all welcome and have their niche to fill at this garden.

It is not hard to imagine a sea of grass spreading out before you. Few

trees, only sky all the way to the horizon. This is what being on the prairie was like. Before John Deere created the steel plow, the prairie sod was too tough to plow.
With a little imagination, even the small field of the Kickapoo Edge Prairie Garden can give visitors a sense of what challenges the early pioneers faced.

George Freeman is a veteran journalist and photographer. An award-winning writer, editor and columnist in Springfield, Mo., with more than 50 years experience. His preference is for positive and uplifting stories about people, places, traditions and trends that make the Ozarks one of the most livable regions anywhere. A member of the Garden Writers Association of America, he is a past-president of the Society of Professional Journalists of Southwest Missouri, the Kansas and Ohio AP societies; a board member of Friends of the Garden and a member of the Rotary Club of Springfield. In 1976, he traveled to India as a member of a Rotary Foundation Group Study Exchange Team.

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