The first inhabitants of the Ozarks were the ancestors of Contemporary American Indians who arrived in the region as long as twelve thousand years ago. At the time of European contact, the major Indian groups in the region were Osage, Illinois, Missouri, and Caddo, all of whom eventually ceded their lands and moved west. At later dates Kickapoo and Cherokee occupied western areas of the region, although they, too, eventually settled in Oklahoma. The first Europeans were the Spanish in the mid-1500s, but the area was not settled until the French established Ste. Genevieve in 1735, followed by other French settlements in the eastern Ozarks. It was not until after the Louisiana Purchase in 1803 that largescale immigration and settlement began. Many of these settlers were native-born Americans of Scots-Irish ancestry who migrated west from Kentucky and Tennessee and the Appalachian region in general. Wealthier migrants settled in the border areas; others, in the interior regions where the soil was poor and land cheaper. The population of the Ozarks was eventually dominated by these settlers, producing an Ozark regional culture similar in many ways to the Appalachian regional culture.
Although the Ozarks is thought of and is largely populated by Whites of British ancestry, other groups also have settled there. In the north are a number of German communities, and there are an identifiable population of African-American Ozarkers (many of whose ancestors entered the Region during the first years of settlement), a few Italian and Swedish communities, and, in the last 20 years, some Amish and Mennonite communities.