ASH FLAT, Ark. (AP) - When you talk about multi-generational families in the Ozarks, one common theme you’ll find is land.
Many families still live on land that was owned by their parents or grandparents, sometimes even further back.
Many of those families trace their land back to one brave soul who decided to take a chance with homesteading in the sparsely settled hills. The Katrosh family is one of them.
Often, descendants live on a smaller slice than their forebears did, choosing to divide the original homestead into smaller tracts or sell it. But the Katrosh family has held on to Cedar Curtain Ranch for a century, through economic depression and family hardships.
The Daily Guard reports that Gov. Asa Hutchinson and Arkansas Secretary of Agriculture Wes Ward inducted 40 farms into the Arkansas Century Farm Program at the State Capitol on Oct. 27. The Century Farm Program recognizes Arkansas farms of 10 acres or more owned by the same family for at least a century.
Among those honored this year was Cedar Curtain Ranch. The land is currently maintained by John Katrosh and his wife of 44 years, Judy, as well as their children.
The Katroshes break the mold as to what many people would envision as a century farm. Nobody has lived full-time on the property for almost a century nor are there any crops or livestock grown on the property.
Also, the label “Century Farm” isn’t quite accurate.
The Katrosh family’s ownership of the property actually goes back more than a century ago, to John’s grandfather, Mathias, who actually began homesteading the land in 1912. But, he did not get it deeded to him until 1917. The deed was signed by then-President Woodrow Wilson.
“We had a 100-year celebration of our own in 2012,” John said of an event that was attended by around 20 descendants of Mathias.
Journey from the east The land was originally homesteaded by Mathias and his wife, Maria Katrosh, who came to Arkansas from Kingston, Pennsylvania. Mathias first stepped foot in Arkansas in Hardy, where he disembarked from a train.
“I was told that Katrosh is Austrian-German,” Katrosh said.
Mathias and Maria came to Arkansas with six of their nine children. One of those children, Peter, is John’s father. He was 5 years old when the family came to Arkansas.
Mathias was reportedly persuaded to settle in Center by his brother, Charley, a master mechanic who was trained in Germany. He was a single man who traveled around the country looking for work, something that led to employment at Henry Ford’s automobile workshop in Michigan.
Charley had read about land being offered to homesteaders in Arkansas while reading the newspaper. This motivated him to move to the state to set up his own homestead, which was near Ash Flat. He not only found land but also met Ethel Moody, who he wound up marrying.
It was after all this good luck that he contacted his brother Mathias, encouraging him to move to the state.
From 1912 until 1923, the Katroshes homesteaded, farmed and raised children on the property at Center. Back then, it was a bustling town with a cotton gin, a hotel, a general store and a school.
“My grandpa was one of the few guys with a checkbook,” John said.
Journey back east and return In 1923, Mathias and his family returned to Pennsylvania to help one of their daughters who had an ailing husband. Mathias would wind up spending the rest of his life in Pennsylvania, but his son, Peter, would come back to the land in which he spent his youth.
In their absence, the Great Depression hit, dealing central southern states like Arkansas particularly heavy blows. For Center, it was fatal, resulting in its becoming little more than a wide spot in the road, with just a couple of churches.
“Dad came back in the 1930s,” John said. “Everything was gone.”
During the family’s absence, people had stripped the cabin of not only its wood, but also took whatever was in it. John said that his father eventually found his mother’s stove at someone else’s house, but he let them keep it.
Only a small glade is left where the family home once stood. Glass from broken jars can still be found around where the building once stood.
Cedar Curtain Ranch The Cedar Curtain Ranch isn’t actually a “farm,” per se. Instead, it’s land that’s used for wildlife conservation and management.
Instead of cotton and cattle, which used to be popular in the area, the Katroshes planted natural grasses and provide a home for wildlife. John said that they work a lot with Rebecca Long of the Sharp County Conservation District to help make the land return as much to its natural state as possible.
The 160 wooded acres is unreachable by regular roads. The nearest highway is 354, which bypasses Center. To reach the Cedar Curtain Ranch one has to leave the road and follow an easement through a neighboring property, which is a cattle operation, for 1.25 miles. That doesn’t sound like much, but since most of it is off road, the trip can take around 20 minutes, and more than that if the weather is bad.
On the way there, several gates must be opened and a big creek crossed. Eventually, after passing by dozens of curious cows, the open field turns back into a forest.
The small road that follows the easement begins going uphill and after a few more minutes, one will find themselves in front of a small one-room cabin across a small yard from a small sawmill. These and a couple of shelters for vehicles are the only structures on the property.
Mathias would eventually come back to Arkansas full time in the 1960s. Although he lived elsewhere in Sharp County, Cedar Current Ranch was never too far from his mind.
“The cabin was built by Dad in 1971,” John said. “He did the cabin by hand.”
John said he and Judy helped with the roofing of the one-room cabin. The cabin isn’t large, but it contains a loft, which is connected to the ground floor by stairs, a cooking stove and a heating stove. There is no electricity, but John said he hopes to add solar panels in the future.
Peter continued his work on the ranch until he died in 1979.
John continues work on his father’s cabin. The wood is cut down and made into boards at the ranch. The sawmill has helped to keep the importation of building wood to a minimum.
John not only makes use of the trees for lumber, but he also works to protect them from fire. Cedar Curtain Ranch is criss-crossed by several 16-foot wide fire boundaries. The boundaries are for not only access, but helping control fires during burnoffs, which help re-invigorate the forests.
Joining the land At the highest point of the property is a cemetery where three members of the Katrosh family have their final resting place. Surrounded by split wood fencing, the three graves marked by large rocks are those of Peter Katrosh, his wife Victoria, who died in 2002, and John’s brother, Peter A. Katrosh, who died in 1989.
Tucked into the large stone that marks his father’s grave is an American flag. This rock, which his father dubbed “mail pouch rock,” is the only rock that was natural to the spot.
The large rock has a hole in it which lore says may have been used for the original American Indian inhabitants, whose arrowheads are still found on the property occasionally, to leave messages for each other. John and Judy plan to join Peter, Peter A. and Victoria when their own time comes.
To access the cemetery, family members and guests have to take four-wheel drive vehicles up the hill over the rough terrain.
It’s one of the most isolated spots on an isolated property and thus one of the quieter. It’s also one of the best places to hunt deer on the property, with a deer stand not too far away from the small cemetery.
“This is one of the places I like to come,” John said. “We’d like to make this a park one day.”
Information from: Batesville Guard, http://www.guardonline.com/
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