Milling about in the Ozarks
By Doug Davison
Having heard several people talk about it over the years, I have for quite a while thought that checking out Rockbridge Rainbow Trout and Game Ranch would be pretty cool.
Being the globe trekking canine he is, Jamie wasn’t about to miss out when my wife Wendy and I went there last weekend. But he had his concerns.
“Great, another place with fish,” he said. “What about pork chops? Why not pork chops?”
While the answers didn’t come easy to the big ‘ol Corgi, and he apparently didn’t understand what Rockbridge was all about, I had done some homework online and was aware it was a historic location left over from where a grist mill had been built in the 1800s by on the banks of Spring Creek in northern Ozark County.
The early history of the place includes the story of a group of families that late in the summer of 1871 left central Kentucky and made a difficult 500-mile trip in a handful of wagons pulled by oxen and horses. Led by Captain Kim Amyx, they were on a quest to begin a new life in the Ozarks wilderness, and would end their journey at the junction of Spring Creek and Bryant Creek, near present day Hodgson Mill.
After their original settlement – complete with dam and mill – was destroyed in a Civil War battle, Ozarks pioneer B.V. Morris built a new dam and mill in the late 1860s not far away at the current Rockbridge location.
Since then, several generations of the Amyx family have lived and worked in the area. And who could blame them? It’s an absolutely beautiful setting, surrounded by bluffs and high, forested ridges, and dissected by a clear, cool-running stream.
Although much of the history of Rockbridge is preserved in the form of stories, photos, and old buildings, the current set up is worthy of a visit by both long-time area residents and out-of-area travelers. It’s a resort, but one that’s chock full of Ozarks charm and beauty. There’s lodging for both people who like rustic simplicity and modern luxury. The architecture of the buildings is a mix of old-timey, period-correct stuff from the 1800s, and newer log cabin stylings.
There’s a riding stable operation, a whole bunch of hiking trails, and a giant, 3,000-plus acre hunting preserve.
But there’s one other thing that only a scant few Midwest destinations can offer (whether run by public of private entities): trout. The cold, spring-fed waters of Spring Creek are perfect for rainbows, and Rockbridge even has its own hatchery and fishery, started in the 1950s by some Amyx family members.
Jamie was mildly impressed.
“There ought to be a place like this that raises pork chops instead of fish,” he said. “Too bad there isn’t a big pool where you can toss in a line and hook a stocked pork chop.”
“Uh, yeah,” I said. “Too bad.”
The horse stables were closed when we were there, I think because of some sort of renovation. Jamie lives where horses roam, and didn’t need to see any to know what they’re like. Or at least to think he knows.
“Those are some big animals,” he said. “I’ll bet they eat a lot of pork chops.”
“Maybe more grass and grain than pork, big man,” I said. “Their teeth aren’t designed for ripping and tearing, but for pulling and grinding instead.”
“Wow, I feel sorry for them,” Jamie said. “I’m glad I can rip, tear, pull and grind – and chew and swallow, too.”
“Right,” I said. “Only you could turn a place like Rockbridge into a pork-fest.”
“What’s your point?” Jamie said.
In Rockbridge’s fledgling days, a trip to the mill represented a chance to visit with friends and neighbors, utilize the post office, vote, or simply hear word from the outside world. It was also the spot where residents of the area could obtain meal and flour.
“What about pork chops?” Jamie said. “Where did people get those?”
“Um, from their own or their neighbor’s pigs and hogs?” I said.
“Man, that’s mean,” Jamie said. “I suppose one day I’ll be the source of a Corgi chops meal.”
“Doubtful,” I said.
Nowadays, the mill and dam on Spring Creek make up one of those must-photograph landscapes unique to southern Missouri. But, of course, the main attraction at Rockbridge is trout. And not surprisingly, the restaurant serves it in several forms.
Wendy and I had some incredible smoked rainbow served cold with wheat crackers and a cream cheese/dill dip, a plate of deep fried trout nuggets that basically went “poof” in your mouth, and a sandwich with batter-fried trout fillets.
Yum. Top notch eats.
Jamie and his “little sister” Gertie each got to munch a few bites.
“That’s not half bad,” Jamie said. “But they probably have some serious pork chops in there. Mmm, that’s the good stuff.”
“Yeah, probably,” I said. “But I’m guessing you have to have thumbs to go in there and eat them.”
“Aw, man,” Jamie said.
Toward the end of our visit, as we were walking back to the car, Jamie asked one of those questions only a Welsh Corgi could.
“So, why again can’t we move here?” he said.
“Uh, that would be the fact that we really like where we live now,” I said. “Not to mention several other factors, like horses, chickens, cats, a donkey, and, um, dogs.”
“Oh yeah,” Jamie said. “I guess there is that.”
On our way out of Rockbridge, we stopped the car right next to a tree on the creek bank where a big bald eagle was perched on a branch only about 35 feet away. But as luck would have it, the majestic bird flew away just as Wendy was about to snap what would have undoubtedly been a keeper photo.
I watched as the eagle cruised effortlessly in an upstream direction for hundreds of yards before disappearing from view.
“I’ll bet he’s going to where they keep the pork chops,” Jamie said.
“Maybe, big man,” I said. “Maybe.”
Doug Davison is a writer, photographer and newsroom assistant for the Houston Herald. Jamie is a big ol’ Welsh Corgi. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.