Branson, MO  - Vacation Travel Guide

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Branson Area Features

Branson’s History & Heritage

Photo Credit: Jeanette C Rucker

Throughout its history, southwest Missouri has been home to different peoples and cultures that contributed to the formation of modern-day Branson. Traces of those foundations can still be witnessed in this area and are certainly worth exploring. Come and learn of the past as we look forward to the future.

Missouri’s Indigenous People

The Native American presence has continually infused the area with Indian culture and traditions. Little is known about some of the earliest peoples, but what we have found is that the region was inhabited by the ancient Paleo-Indians about 13 millennia ago—at the end of the last ice age. For centuries, they roamed the Ozarks (and much of the southwest United States) in small bands. Over thousands of years, those early inhabitants gave way to the Hopewell tribe. Yet, even before Alexander the Great was born in 300 B.C., the Hopewell Indian civilization was fading. Around A.D. 900, the Osage Indians—who some believe are descended from the Hopewells—settled on lands in Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma and Arkansas. Even though there were other Indian tribes who roamed through southwestern Missouri, the Osage were likely the only native tribe to inhabit the area where Branson currently lies. This tribe was known to have strong, tall (most were over 6 feet) warrior-like people. Sadly, the Osage reign over the area ended with the Trail of Tears, though much of their heritage can still be spotted throughout the state.

At Top of the Rock in Branson, visit the Ancient Ozarks Natural History Museum where many artifacts from these native cultures are on display. Take a tour of the tools the American Indians used, see depictions of animals that were hunted, and immerse yourself in the culture of Missouri’s first residents.

European Influence and Settlement

It is possible that Hernando de Soto was the first European to venture into the area in the 1500s. Historically however, the French explorers Father Jacques Marquette and Louis Joliet are named as the discoverers of the Ozark region in 1673 and soon after, the land (part of the Louisiana Territory) was claimed for France. In fact, the name Ozark is reputed to stem from the French words “aux arcs,” which is thought to have been indicative of either the land within the arcs of the river or the arcs of the hills in the region. Forts were set up here as trade stations between the settlers and the American Indians. The land alternated hands between the French and the Spanish before President Thomas Jefferson ultimately procured the “Louisiana Purchase” for the United States in 1803.

While enjoying the rides and attractions at Silver Dollar City, be sure to stop into the trades shops. While there, you’ll see demonstrations depicting early settler life as blacksmiths, glass blowers and potters re-create trades of the past.

The State at War

Less than 20 years after the Louisiana Purchase, Missouri applied for statehood. It took two years of debate and the eventual Missouri Compromise to officially admit the territory to the Union. After Maine joined as a free state, Missouri was admitted to the Union as a slave state in 1821, balancing the number of states that supported each side of that issue. Before the American Civil War officially began, murders and lynchings were taking place in Missouri as sides for the impending war were being taken. Despite being a border state, many of Missouri’s residents fought for the Confederacy. In 1863, Jesse and Frank James became Confederate guerilla soldiers when their farm was burned and their stepfather was hanged by Union soldiers. They went on to form the James-Younger gang that terrorized people and robbed banks and trains.

Following the conclusion of the Civil War, the losing soldiers returned home to find many Union soldiers living in close proximity. The area was lawless with neighbors attacking neighbors. The mayhem needed to be contained. The Bald Knobbers, a secret vigilante group that wore black horned masks, was established to promote law and order. The goal was pure, but unfortunately, the growing group became too power-hungry and began a time of terror. They controlled the government, punished citizens for minor infractions, and murdered people who spoke against them. Eventually, many of the Bald Knobbers were arrested or sentenced to death and thee group was finished by 1900.

Did You Know?

In 1865 in nearby Springfield, “Wild Bill” Hickok killed a man, David Tutt, over a watch (and maybe a woman)—it was the town’s first street shootout. He was acquitted and went on to become a sheriff in Kansas.

Preserving the Past Through Entertainment

Harold Bell Wright’s The Shepherd of the Hills was written in 1907 and indicated (through a backstory) what life was like in Missouri during the tumultuous times of the late 1800s. The book is fictional but it was based on actual locations and people. Visitors came in droves (and still do!) to tour the farm where Wright stayed when he was vacationing in the Ozarks. This and the opening of Silver Dollar City with its Marvel Cave started the tourism boom in Branson. It was also because of the book that Branson’s Famous Baldknobbers was created in 1959. The Mabe family decided to put on a variety show for the region’s influx of visitors and chose a word from the book, “Baldknobbers,” as a stage name. They were the first performance group of its kind in Branson. Soon after, other theaters such as Presleys’ Country Jubilee were built and talented performers came to entertain the growing audiences. As the show business rapidly amplified, Branson became a well-known and popular destination for live theatrical and musical entertainment.

Today, Branson continues to entertain its guests and has become a major vacation city for families across the United States. Known for its strong family values, amazing shows, and beautiful natural wonders, it’s easy to love this city—but it’s also interesting to know how it all began.

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