Branson, Missouri

Branson, Missouri is a popular US attraction that is not very well known to foreign visitors. It is a family oriented vacation resort in the midlands of the USA that has become the "music theater capitol of the world." Dozens of theaters in Branson now offer shows mostly with country music or traditional family oriented themes. A whole array of other entertainment and tourist attractions are also available.

Branson, Missouri, Where the Wild and the Rustic Casts a Spell

The blue haze of early morning surrounded my encampment. Here and there campfires popped and crackled as their light projected strange shadows on nearby rocks and trees. Groups of people eating breakfast sat at lantern-lit picnic tables. Others still slept. The cool, morning air of the camping area slowly came to life with the sound of crickets.

River View near ?Branson Missouri © Ron Harmon /
Those who travel the Branson area today find that there is a certain spell cast by this wild rustic land that cannot be forgotten.

I rolled my sleeping bag and packed my gear into the car. Sunlight shot through the morning mist. Suddenly, the camp became a palette of soft greens, rich reds, and vibrant yellows. Autumn had come to the Ozarks. From my campsite, I drove over hill and hollow toward the Ozark community of Branson, Missouri. I moved along the twisting road through a wild, rugged terrain. Narrow valleys with vast swatches of color were dominated by the zig-zag rhythm of surrounding ridges. Crystal streams sparkled under a leafy covering of trees in the morning sun. The fresh air carried the scent of burning hickory from distant campfires.

On one side of the highway, I passed Old Matt's Cabin, which stands in what is called the Shepherd of the Hills Farm. Author, Harold Bell Wright wrote his now famous novel "The Shepherd of the Hills" about this house (built in the late 1800s) and the family who lived there. At the farm's Old Mill Theater, from May until late October, a large, local cast recreates the story of the Shepherd on a vast outdoor stage.

Branson is a family version of Las Vegas

A few miles past the farm, large gaudy signs announce other kinds of entertainment. There was the Andy Williams Show, Boxcar Willies, Bobby Vinton Show, The Lawrence Welk Show, and the much acclaimed Foggy River Boys Theater. Today, Branson offers a vacation from a hectic work schedule. It is like a family version of Las Vegas in the hills of Southern Missouri.

For early adventurers like Hernando De Soto, who came to the area in 1541 and for seventeenth-century French trappers, it was a gruesome rugged area that demanded stamina and work. The origin of the name Ozarks has been widely disputed. However, French documents preserved in St. Louis, Missouri, refer to hunting expeditions made by French fur-traders "Aux Arcs," or into the territory of the Arkansas Indian tribe. French settlers customarily used only the first syllable of a long Indian tribal name.

Branson is a friendly informal community

Blacksmith in Branson Missouri © Ron Harmon /
The Main attraction is Silver Dollar City, a huge theme park that allows a person to step back in time.

The friendly informality of Branson made the little community a lively place. Residents hurried about their morning shopping. Tourists strolled the streets looking for special souvenirs for someone back home. Since I had planned to eat all my meals at restaurants, the first item on my agenda was finding a place to have breakfast. There were cafes and restaurant of every variety throughout Branson. So there was definitely a choice.

In the amiable atmosphere of the Inn where I chose to have breakfast, I dined on a smorgasbord breakfast of scrambled eggs, biscuits, gravy, ham, sausage, and a cinnamon roll with coffee. The restaurant was full, so the hostess seated me at a table with a dark eye, slightly gray-haired fellow who introduced himself as Earl Lynd. "There's lots around here to see," smiled my tablemate. "The Main attractions are Silver Dollar City, a huge theme park that allows a person to step back in time and also the School of the Ozarks." Over a cup of black coffee, Earl detailed many of the sights and some history of the area. "There are many retirees living here and they come from all over the United States." he explained. "Some are from and as far away as New York and Oregon". He mused. "The Ozarks seems to be a popular spot for all sorts of people".

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The Kewpie doll was created in Branson

Rose O'Neill, one of the early advocates of equal rights for women, was an author illustrator, artist, world traveler and creator of the now famous Kewpie doll. She traveled extensively through the world, but she always returned to her home near Branson and the plot of land her family named "Bonniebrook". I learned that Kewpie was probably the most popular toy every created. There are many different varieties of the doll and the Kewpie had been represented on plates, in newspapers, magazines, coloring books, on fabrics, as ice cream and candy molds, as door knockers, and in many other ways. Ms. O'Neill wrote four novels, a book of poetry and several children's books she illustrated herself.

Rose first came to the Ozarks in 1896 and "Bonniebrook" became her retreat. In 1909 she created the Kewpie drawing and in 1913 with the help of a young New York artist she developed the Kewpie doll. This little doll made Rose O'Neill known throughout the world. Kewpie lovers come from all countries, they have come from as far away as Japan. In 1967, a week was dedicated to Rose O'Neil. Considering Rose's zest for living, they combined Kewpie and fiesta and named the occasion "Kewpiesta".

The Ozark hills are filled with old legends

The Ozark hills boast many stories of wonder, superstition and mystery. One such story is about the League of Law and Order that developed the nickname Baldknobbers.

Ozark Man in Branson Missouri © Ron Harmon /
The Ozark hills boast many stories of wonder, superstition and mystery.

At one time after the Civil War, the Ozark mountain communities were still in a state of unrest. A group of lawless men used violence to gain control of several of the county governments. These violators went unpunished because of their complete domination of these various governments. Finally, a band of 26 citizens came together to rid the Ozark Mountains of the malicious foes. Dressed in dark clothing and black head coverings they attached white beards or cattle horns for an even more morbid effect. The group named themselves Baldknobbers after the high barren hill where they held their first meetings. This vigilante group decided to rid the Ozarks of the criminals. Some of their tactics were quite brutal and the name Baldknobbers soon became attached to all ruthless venturers in the Ozark hills. Today, their memory lives on as a group of courageous neighbors who demonstrated their unity in a war against the lawless.

The most unique college in the US

On the campus of what is known as United States' most unique college - the School of the Ozarks, I took a guided tour led by a young student attending the school. As my young guide pointed out the various buildings around the campus, he explained the history of the school. He said the school, founded in 1906, was initially set up to provide an education for young persons of capable intellect but inadequate funds. My guide told me about the extensive arts and crafts program sponsored by the school and the various outlets the school provided for the exhibitions of the work.

The major attraction on campus is the Ralph Foster Museum. Devoted to the history of the Ozarks region, the museum's collections of more than 750,000 items represents history, antiques, archaeology, geology, mineralogy, natural history and westward expansion. The museum is open year round. Those who travel the Branson area today find that there is a certain spell cast by this wild rustic land that cannot be forgotten. Perhaps it's the excellent fishing that the many lakes provide, or the rugged beauty that surrounds the traveler at every step, or maybe it is the friendliness of the natives that sparks a certain something. Whatever it is - it's there and forever calling.

Written by: Ronald Harmon
Top Photo Credit: © Branson Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce
Photo Description: Branson is a family version of Las Vegas