Gregory Holman, KSMU: Dean Curtis is a longtime Ozarks photojournalist — I ought to say, he and I each [previously] labored on the Springfield News Leader at totally different occasions — and Dean’s images have coated the entire huge number of topics that day by day information has to supply. In 2015, he was inducted into the Missouri Photojournalist Hall of Fame. For a dozen years now, Dean has been taking images of untamed horses in southern Missouri, specializing in herds alongside the Jacks Fork and Current rivers. This fall, Dean printed his first e book of pictures, titled “The Wild Horses of Shannon County, Missouri” — a 128-page quantity obtainable for buy at missouriwildhorses.sq..web site.

Dean, welcome to Ozarks Public Radio.

Dean Curtis, photojournalist: Well, Greg, thanks. I’m delighted to be right here.

Q. So way back to anybody can bear in mind, there have been wild horses in Shannon County, and that is a bit of greater than 100 miles east of Springfield. Dean, what do we all know in regards to the historical past of those horses?

A. Well, once I speak to folks, they assume they have been round longer than 100 years, simply little bands of them. But primarily in the course of the [Great] Depression, there was additionally a horrible drought. And I feel in the event you have a look at the National Weather Service information, in ’34, and ’36, I feel, it was horrible. And once I speak to Rick Mansfield, a historian, he mentioned that farm households truly needed to transfer their livestock down by the Current River simply so they might have some water for them. And the Depression and the drought compelled lots of the households to return and search work within the St. Louis space and the metropolitan areas, they usually could not take their livestock with them.

And I do know in these days, they’d what was referred to as “open range.” They didn’t must fence of their livestock till, I imagine, the early ’60s, and the land is such there that they may allow them to flip unfastened in a hauler that was had loads of water for them, and they’d get them once they would wish them. Well, once they moved again, they simply type of left their horses to be.

And the story goes from Jim Smith, who was the founding member of the Missouri Wild Horse League — and we’ll speak about that a bit of later — that there have been was a band of seven fillies and one other farmer had this actually wild Appaloosa stallion they may not break and acquired away and joined the band of the seven fillies — and that is why they’ve type of a whitish look and a robust Appaloosa bloodline.

Photojournalist Dean Curtis speaks at KSMU Studios on Dec. 5, 2022.

Q. Now, the historical past of those herds can be a bit of complicated. This 12 months is the twenty sixth 12 months since a federal regulation was handed that permits the herds to stay in Shannon County underneath the care and safety of Missouri Wild Horse League that you simply have been simply referencing. So within the Nineties, [and this is according] to reporting by the Springfield News-Leader and Nine PBS of St. Louis. There was truly a protest, together with roughly 3,000 folks — about 500 of them on horseback. And all these people needed these wild horses to stay in Shannon County. People love these horses, proper? Did you’re employed with that Wild Horse League on this e book?

A. They have been a fantastic useful resource for among the historical past, and you understand, I so admire their ardour for actually combating to protect the horses. Now, in the event you return, the park system was based or arrange in 1964. The land had change into half about 80,000 acres, I do imagine, grew to become a part of the Ozark National Scenic Riverways. President Lyndon Johnson signed it into regulation. And you understand, numerous native households needed to depart their land as a result of it was now owned by the Park Service. And nonetheless, the wild horses nonetheless roam free. And they type of went unfettered. They had totally different park superintendents that on the time, within the early 90s, possibly late 80s, one of many park superintendents thought-about them feral animals and a non-native species. And they sought their elimination. And as soon as, you understand, this acquired out to the locals, there was super outrage — as a result of this was part of their tradition, I feel.

Q. And actually a really beloved function of Shannon County ever since then. Your first brush with the Shannon County wild horses was again in 2010. And I’m simply actually curious what you bear in mind about this primary second seeing these wild horses? Let us see it and really feel it by way of your eyes — what’s that second like?

A. Well, I discovered them alongside the Jacks Fork River, and I type of knew they have been within the space. We had completed some tales within the Springfield News-Leader about them. And you understand, it is a part of river that I canoe and camp on fairly incessantly, and I had by no means seen the horse — at all times needed to — rounded a bend, and there was some white within the bushes. I believed, “Those are the horses. Those are the horses.”

And I pulled over, acquired my digicam out, I at all times had my digicam on canoe journeys. And it was simply the briefest encounter. They have been there one minute, gone the subsequent. They acquired skittish. And it wasn’t till the subsequent 12 months, once I was tenting on the identical stretch of river, the place I used to be sitting round, you understand, with my mates by the campfire. And we heard the wild horses and I grabbed my cameras and went off into the woods — and I had hiked that space a bit, so I type of knew the place they is likely to be. I noticed them in a single pasture.

And it did not take lengthy for them to get wind of me, they usually ran off throughout a river to a different pasture. And then I crossed the river, took my time, actually making an attempt to get as shut as I believed I might [get] to them and made my means by way of the bushes. And there have been some tall weeds by the river financial institution, and I made my means by way of them and was in a position to get inside 100 yards or so of them. And they knew I used to be there. And they instantly began to run throughout the pasture after which they stopped. And I simply sat down and watched them for a superb very long time.

And after some time, a number of of them acquired curious. And they got here in the direction of me and nearer and nearer. And I used to be simply in awe and type of the entire herd adopted them they usually acquired inside, oh, 20 or 30 ft of me. And I did not know what to anticipate from them. And so I type of eliminated myself and went again into the weeds, they usually simply sat there and grazed contentedly.

And then I acquired a bit of braver, and a bit of nearer. And earlier than I knew it, I used to be within the pasture hanging out with these stunning horses. And after a bit, they determined to enter the bushes after which to get a drink within the river. And there was an enormous black stallion that was the lead stallion of the herd that type of saved himself between me and the herd.

And I used to be type of between the bushes and the herd. And then they got here again into the woods. And trailriders have been going again into the pasture and it was like, I used to be a part of the herd and we have been hiding from the trailriders. And it was essentially the most wonderful afternoon spent with these horses. It appeared prefer it was all day, however it was solely most likely an hour. And I used to be hooked.

Q. So getting in at 100 yards is fairly shut — individuals are warned, sometimes guests are warned preserve their distance. These are wild animals, they could kick, no telling what may occur.

A herd of at least nine horses wades in the waters of a river in Shannon County, Missouri.

Book picture by Gregory Holman; horse picture copyright Dean Curtis


Longtime photojournalist Dean Curtis printed his first e book of pictures in late 2022.

A. They ought to preserve their distance. Now, the Shawnee Creek herd, which I normally {photograph}, could be very used to folks, they hang around, there are such a lot of trailriders, they usually’re subsequent to a campground. So sadly, you understand, they’re very curious animals, they usually’re extra used to folks, they usually’re prone to method folks. But you understand, I encourage folks to not attempt to pet them or feed them. It’s at all times disappointing once I see that.

Q. So along with taking greater than 100 photos for this picture e book, you additionally wrote the e book and designed the e book your self. Tell us a bit of bit about how the e book got here to be.

A. Well, you understand, I had been photographing these horses for fairly a very long time. And I might put my images on Facebook, in fact. And I’d at all times have folks say, “well, when are you doing your book? when are you doing your book? “Well, I figured, effectively, it is time to do my e book. And you understand, I had all of the images, however I did not need it to simply be images, as a result of folks have questions. It wanted to speak in regards to the historical past of the horses that we simply talked about. It needed to be a bit of bit in regards to the Wild Horse League that basically displays the numbers. And they’re charged by the regulation to maintain the numbers at 50 or under. That’s what the settlement was with the Wild Horse League and the National Park Service, and it grew to become laws in 1996. So they’ve an necessary function in retaining the numbers which are manageable.

So I began, they have been a fantastic useful resource to interview and I additionally bumped into a number of native historians like Rick Mansfield was a fantastic useful resource, after which I talked to lawyer Doug Kennedy from Poplar Bluff, who was instrumental in working with the Wild Horse League. And it was [Kennedy] that helped them have their first injunction to cease the elimination. They later misplaced in an appellate court docket, however he was essential in getting them to arrange as a nonprofit. And then to assist information the laws that was handed.

Q. Dean, are you continue to on the market taking images of those wild horses infrequently? And past that? Do we all know something about the way forward for these herds there in Shannon County?

A. Yes, I’m. You know, when I’m not doing radio interviews, I wish to spend my free time on the market. It is simply so fantastic to attempt to even discover them — and never solely the horses, the land is so spectacular in Shannon County. And there’s many days I do not discover any of the horses, however it’s nonetheless fulfilling simply to see the gorgeous land that Shannon County has to supply.

Q. Just the residing planet in our nook of the world. If you are simply becoming a member of us, we have been listening to Missouri Photojournalism Hall of Fame member Dean Curtis. Dean has been photographing wild horses within the Missouri Ozarks for about 12 years, and just lately got here out along with his first pictures e book, “The Wild Horses of Shannon County, Missouri.” It’s obtainable on-line for buy at missouriwildhorses.sq..web site.

Dean, thanks a lot for becoming a member of us on KSMU.

A. Well, Greg, it was a pleasure to be right here. I’ll have one final in individual e book signing at Bedford Camera on South Campbell, this Saturday, Dec. 10, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. So I hope to see you people there once more.

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