Keith A. Sculle
The Tomahawk Trading Post—More than a Store
Talk of Table Rock Dam had excited vacationers about the Missouri Ozarks at least since the 1920s. So, it is not surprising that actual completion of Table Rock Lake in 1958 touched off momentous changes in the surrounding landscape. According to Milton Rafferty's classic regional study, The Ozarks: "Warm‑water fish, particularly bass, crappie, and channel catfish, make Table Rock Lake one of the most popular fishing spots in the Ozarks." Peter Herschend, whose lease on Marvel Cave profited from the lake's opening, added from personal experience about Ozark tourists that for those "who travel by automobile, no single event so focused on one point in time has had the impact of Table Rock Lake." Vacationers craved memories and mementos for reliving their experiences in the area after they returned home. Roadside shops, often nostalgically called "trading posts" for the frontier stores where locals bartered in exchange for outside goods, gave vacationers the chance for bringing home those treasured souvenirs.
Jerry Causey, owner now of Jerry's Boat & Mini Storage in Hollister, took the time to recall how his family came to the Table Rock area and started one of those roadside shops dealing in coveted memories. Jerry's father and mother, Gerald E. (born 1917) and Mary Josephine or "Jo" (born 1915) were attracted to the White River Valley area from southeastern Missouri. "A working partner in all of their business ventures," Jo owned and operated the Arrowhead Gift Shop in Esther, Missouri, with Gerald while a large appliance distributor in the area also employed him full time. Their son cannot now recall what drew his parents into the gift-shop trade and both are deceased (mother 2001; father 2002). Yet, it is obvious that the husband and wife team found the work agreeable but, about 1954, the realignment of the highway bringing customers bypassed their shop by three miles, diminishing their income. In 1959 or 1960, they investigated locations in the Ozarks where they foresaw better prospects. Near Bull Shoals, Arkansas, they looked at and evaluated one of the many products of the new tourist landscape in the area, a building owned by the mother of Pete Engler. Pete was a wood carver who, with Junior Cobb, would later produce a large, eye‑catching totem poll for the building near Table Rock Dam, which the Causeys did purchase.
Ultimately, "I think the attraction was Table Rock Lake and the fact that southern Mo. and northern Ar. [kansas] were considered the heart of ‘The Ozarks,'" Jerry wrote. The Causeys narrowed their final choice to a location they later advertised as the "south gateway to Table Rock Dam" at the junction of highways 65 and 165. There stood the Mount Como Inn, a restaurant ripe for conversion. It was also historic ground; for before the restaurant, it had been home to the creative Horine family. Harold Horine had originated, about 1930, the popular Como‑Craft Pottery, and his mother, Maude M. Horine, a friend of Rose O'Neill, who created the Kewpie doll, was a writer who added to this site's local landmark credentials.
The Causeys bought the property and renamed it the Tomahawk Trading Post. Their son already knew the trade, having worked since fourth grade in his parents' shop in Esther, Missouri, and helped at the new location until 1962. That year, when he graduated from high school back in Esther, Missouri, he moved to live, as well as work, at the new shop. On the backside of their souvenir postcards, his father scripted the store inventory in a pseudo‑local dialect: "Jist Packed with Gifts & Souvenirs, Injun Moccasins & Jewelry, Fireworks, Hand Blown Ozark Glass with Honest to Gosh Ozark Smoked Hams and Bacon, Jellies, Pecan Candies and Country Sorghum." Jerry remembers that his mother made all the jams and jellies and the whole family smoked the meats. Local craftsmen made various goods including coffee tables and oak baskets. Driftwood from the local lakes was also sold along with various souvenirs made in Japan. Business was good but highway realignment once again threatened. The right-of-way "take line" for the new Highway 65 ran right through the Tomahawk Trading Post, and in 1972 the Causeys were forced to relocate their store about an eight of a mile north of the first location. They added a small snack bar and Conoco gas station.
Ozarks tourism had brought the family into the area and given the family a foothold. They saw no reason to return to southeastern Missouri, but changing circumstances in their new home area continually necessitated new businesses in new stores. In 1980, Jerry bought the second Tomahawk Trading Post from his parents, but found business declining. He explained that "travelers had become ‘destination travelers.' They became less interested in stopping anywhere between home and where they were going." Jerry attributed this changed behavior to the fact that cars had been made more comfortable since his family started in their roadside businesses and travelers did not feel the need to stop and relax so often along the way. Jerry first moved into Branson downtown and then moved westward as the town expanded, in order that he not depend largely on highway shoppers before they reached town. A succession of four new shops resulted: "The Family Tree" (1980–1985) in downtown Branson; "The Ridgerunner Gift Shop #1" and "The Ridgerunner Gift Shop #2" on Highway 76 (1982); and "Starbrite Jewelry" (2001–2002) in downtown Branson. He and his parents also operated a wholesale jewelry business (1975–2001).
With genuine warmth, Jerry Causey narrated these events about how his
parents and he came to the Table Rock and Branson area. In retrospect, the
changes which the souvenir shops introduced on the Ozark landscape and
gilded tourist memories may not have been any less influential on the people
who ran those shops. These seemingly "small" shops and the portable
memory-makers purchased from them surely belong to more than the tourists
who sought them out.
Brochure for the Tomahawk Trading Post
The author thanks Jerry Causey for the telephone interview (October 28, 2004), the letter, postcards, photographs, and brochure he shared from his family records (postmarked December 16, 2004), and his verification of the information about his family's businesses in this article (return copy postmarked September 7, 2005).
Herschend, Peter. "An Advocate Looks at Ozark Mountain Country." Ozarks Watch: A Magazine of the Ozarks, III: 4 (Spring 1990). 22.
Morrow, Lynn and Myers‑Phinney, Linda. Shepherd of the Hills Country Tourism Transforms the Ozarks, 1880s—1930s Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 1999, 194.
Rafferty, Milton D. Ozarks Land and Life. 2d ed. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 2001. 229.
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