I've written three books on Missouri history and I'm still amazed at how many interesting stories there are still to be told about this state's fascinating past. One of them is the tale of a dedicated Irish priest who set up a colony for Irish immigrants in the rough hill country of the Ozarks. Mystery of the Irish Wilderness by Leland and Crystal Payton is the latest release from Lens & Pen Press. The Paytons are well known for their beautiful photographs of the Ozark region, and like their earlier books this volume is filled with them. The text is interesting too, telling of Father John Joseph Hogan's efforts to develop and serve two different colonies in widely separated regions of Missouri, one in the northern prairie, and the other in the Ozarks near the southern edge of the state. The first colony prospered, but the other disappeared during the chaos of the Civil War.
The Paytons meticulously reconstruct what could have happened to the colonists, and found that at least some seemed to have returned to the region after the fighting stopped. Most, however, moved away to parts unknown, so an enduring air of mystery still surrounds Hogan's Ozark colony. To complete the story, the book covers Hogan's rise to become the first bishop of Kansas City and St. Joseph's, and the successful fight by twentieth century preservationists to get the "Irish Wilderness" declared National Forest.
I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in Missouri, Irish-American, or Catholic history. I also enjoyed the Paytons' book See the Ozarks, also from Lens & Pen Press, about the development and reinvention of the rural region into a major holiday center. It's full of images of vintage postcards, a hobby of mine, so it was an easy sell for me!