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Branson History - Villains, Vigilantes & Heroes
Settlers in the Ozarks
The story of Ozark Mountain Country is a story of a people and their culture and values. To a great extent, the area was once defined by its isolation. It comes as no surprise then that the folklore and traditional music of the region has it's origins deep in antiquity. The Ozark hills were settled by yeoman farmers who moved into the area from the mountains of the Carolinas, Tennessee, and Kentucky - individuals who were themselves descendants of farmers from Scotland, England, and Ireland. These hill  people brought with them stories and tales from their ancient homelands.

John & Anna RossTo the early settlers of the Ozark Mountains, life was hard. As the growing population depleted the once abundant game, residents were forced to exact a subsistence living from their small farms. When row crops like corn were planted on the steep hillsides, the region's soils, never rich or deep except on the regularly inundated flood plains, were scoured by gully washing rains. By the last decades of the nineteenth century, the economic history of the region became a story of various attempts of the local population to supplement their meager incomes.

Various industries were tried with little or no success; two examples are lead mining and the collection of mussel shells from the area rivers for the button industry. The first sustained boom to the area's economy resulted from the harvesting of local timber when the nation's expanding rail system created demand for a seemingly endless supply of cross ties. After the forests were cleared of their virgin timber, the revenue vacuum was filled by the development of the tomato and strawberry industries. The remote hill people for supplementary income sometimes used the production of moonshine.

Villains & Vigilantes
For over a century the lawlessness of the frontier has been an integral part of America's "western" literature. Normally, we think of such violence as taking place in the untamed cattle towns of the high prairies or the gold camps of the Rocky Mountains. But much of the violence associated with the frontier originated right here in Southwest Missouri. What is generally thought to be the first street shoot-out, for example, took place not in Dodge City, Kansas, or Tombstone, Arizona, but in Springfield, Missouri, when in 1865 Wild Bill Hickcock killed a man named David Tutt over a dispute dealing with a watch. The date is significant because the shoot-out occurred in the year the Civil War ended. And it was the Civil War which made Southwest Missouri a lawless no man's land.

Pre-Civil War violence started in bloody Kansas as pro and anti-slavery advocates used intimidation and bloodshed to try to drive off settlers who opposed their views. Once the war started, the hatreds spilled over into continuous border violence in southern Missouri and northern Arkansas. Although a number of major battles took place in the two states, neither side wished to expend their limited resources on the frontier. Because of this, irregular armies began operating in the area. The most notorious perhaps was Quantrill's Raiders, a group of cutthroats who terrorized Missouri and Kansas during the Civil War. In fact, they were so violent and unscrupulous that the Confederates, after originally encouraging Quantrill, would not formally commission him or support his activities. Though Quantrill was killed, other members of his gang went on to lives of violence after the war was over - characters like Frank and Jesse James and the Younger brothers.

In the southwest Missouri and northwest Arkansas area any number of unscrupulous characters used the war as an excuse to prey on the defenseless women and children who were left behind when their men went off to fight. These ruthless gangsters, who came to be known as bushwhackers, used the chaos of the war as a cover for their crimes. Of these, the infamous Alf Bolin was one of the worst. It is almost impossible for us to imagine the total devastation that prevailed in the no man's land of the Arkansas-Missouri border during the Civil War. Family loyalties were commonly split, passions ran high, and murder and thievery were commonplace. As the war dragged on and towns on both sides of the border were occupied by alternating armies in succession, the devastation to the region accelerated. Towns like Forsyth, Missouri and Berryville, Arkansas were put to the torch. Families left the area by moving further north or south, seeking shelter not only from the opposing armies but from the bands of outlaws.Sheriff John Boles 1924

The war created radical dislocations even for years after it formally ended. In the vacuum of authority, which followed the end of the war, many unsavory men seized control of civil authority. Justice was virtually non-existent, with a resultant lawlessness that plagued the area. When murder after murder went unpunished, vigilante organizations like the Bald Knobbers came into existence to impose law and order - and quickly established their own new brand of lawlessness.

While the years finally healed most of the wounds associated with the rift between Yankee and Reb, the Ozarks region has continued to be a place that because of its relatively remote and inaccessible nature has lured individuals escaping from the law, such as, the infamous outlaws Bonnie and Clyde, and the notorious gangster Jack Fleagle. So read on and learn about a few of the Ozarks historical villains and vigilantes.

City of Branson
The men who founded the town of Branson in 1903 were planning an industrial center in the Ozarks that would generate trainload after trainload of logs, lumber, and manufactured products for the outside world, thereby generating steady income for area residents. Today, as country music theaters, motels, and restaurants mushroom across the surrounding hills, an industrial boom has indeed come to Branson, but it is based on drawing tourists to the town's entertainment industry, not exporting the area's resources.

Branson Inn 1905When incorporated, on April 1, 1912, Branson had 1,200 residents. Shortly there after, the idea of Branson as a resort town began to take root, spawning a commercial ice plant, a soft drink bottling plant, a candy factory, and an ice cream factory near the waterfront. The town's three hotels - the Commercial, Branson, and Malone (the latter renamed the White River Hotel in 1937) - were catering to vacationers, and neighboring factories and businesses were encouraged to stack their logs, lumber, and bricks so that they looked more tidy.

Hobart McQuarter, who had a boat factory and a bulk gasoline business on Branson's waterfront in conjunction with his passenger service up and down the lake, built Branson's first vacation cabins - the Sammy Lane Resort - just upstream from the Main Street Bridge. The cabins stood on stilts and were anchored with cables to keep floods from washing them away. The women of Branson, many of whom were employed or helped operate family businesses, organized a Civic League in 1914 and begun what would be a decades long effort to beautify the streets, establish parks and make life better in their community. They paid off the debt on the old community building and in 1936 supplied the land where a new community building was erected. They planned community celebrations and activities and provided the town with a well-equipped municipal bathing beach and picnic ground on Lake Taneycomo.

By the 1930's Lake Taneycomo had become an inexpensive vacation spot easily accessible to distant or nearby cities by car and train. Visitors drawn by street fairs, parades community picnics, and boat races, as well as by the scenic lake and hills helped the town's businesses survive through the Depression and bank failures.

After World War II, many artists, craftsmen, and retirees came to the area, along with returning servicemen and war industry workers. One of those returning workers was artist Steve Miller. In the late summer of 1949, he and businessman Joe Todd dreamed up the idea of putting a huge lighted Adoration Scene on the Mount Branson bluff, across Lake Taneycomo from downtown Branson. With help from local carpenters, the creche scene's figures, up to 28 feet tall, were in place for lighting on the first Sunday of that December, in front of thousands of awe-struck visitors. In 1953, with more people coming for the lighting each year, the sponsoring Chamber of Commerce took a leaf from Branson's long history of Santa Claus parades, pet parades, and costume competitions, and added an Adoration Parade to the lighting ceremonies. The parade and ceremony, kept free of commercialism, today draws crowds as large as 30,000 people.

Table Rock Dam & Lake TaneycomoPreparations for the construction of Table Rock Dam began the year after the first Adoration Parade, and continued through most of the 1950's. When the dam was completed in 1959 and water rose to its expected average level, Branson's citizens were relieved that floods no longer threatened their waterfront. Tourists came in growing numbers to enjoy the big new lake, the Herschends' 1890's Silver Dollar City theme park, and the Trimbles' new outdoor theater at the Shepherd of the Hills Farm. Resorts near Branson and on downstream were encouraging their guests to fish and visit the area's new attractions. Lake Taneycomo was too cold for swimming now that it was fed by the deep cold waters of Table Rock Lake. Branson's merchants welcomed the increasing number of tourists.

In 1960, just as tourism began to increase rapidly in the area, the Missouri Pacific canceled all passenger service on its White River Line. With so many visitors arriving by automobile, traffic on winding U.S. 65 to Springfield often slowed to a crawl. To shorten and straighten the 75-mile route down to 40 miles, dynamite crews and earth moving equipment blasted a road through the limestone hills between Springfield and Branson. A four-lane bypass was completed in the mid 1970's. The bypass rerouted U.S. 65 away from Branson's congested downtown business district and provided interchanges at Highway 76 and at Highway 248, and a new bridge across Lake Taneycomo. At that time, businesses were just beginning to develop along Hwy. 76 west of Branson with only a few scattered shops and five music shows. A decade later, eleven more music shows and many restaurants, motels and tourist attractions had extended the built up area three miles further west. The number of music shows, which started with the Baldknobbers in 1957 and increased to sixteen in the 1980's, now exceeds thirty; and with the addition of the Ozark Mountain Christmas Celebration, the tourist season has increased to nine months.

In the first half of this century, Branson's citizens worked very hard to turn their town into a prosperous industrial town and still attract sightseers and vacationers. Today those aims are one, and Branson residents and their mayor, city council, the Chamber of Commerce, and the Downtown Branson Betterment Association face many new challenges as they go about the business of welcoming and entertaining more than a hundred thousand visitors each day in their small town in the Ozarks.

History of Silver Dollar City
Silver Dollar City has developed into one of the most successful theme parks in the United States. Situated at the site of one of the Ozarks oldest and most enduring attractions, Marvel Cave, Silver Dollar City literally sprang from the ground. The cave, which has been designated a National Landmark by the U.S. Department of the Interior, is important not only because of its subterranean features, but also because the origins of Silver Dollar City are tied to its development. 

The first oral record of Marvel Cave comes from the Osage Indians. The first written record was noted during an 1869 expedition. Henry T. Blow of St. Louis, a lead mining magnate, led a party of six miners into the cave. They found no lead before returning to St. Louis, but convinced that the flat wall of one room was composed of marble, they originally named the cave Marble Cave. The cave remained undisturbed until 1882 when another group of entrepreneurs, led by Mr. T. Hodges Jones and Truman S. Powell of Barton County, entered the cave in hopes of finding lead. Jones and Powell found huge amounts of bat manure, or guano as it was called, and the flat wall, which they, too, believed to be marble. Two years later Jones bought the property and, with several of his friends, formed the Marble Cave Mining and Manufacturing Company to mine the cave. The company planned a town, Marble City, on the rough hilltop near the cave and in 1884 recorded a plat map at the courthouse in Galena. Although a few lots in the new town were sold, little development seems to have taken place.

By 1889 much of the Guano had been mined from the cave, the marble wall proved to be limestone, and no lead ore was found. The mining company, which had developed so quickly, ceased operation. The history of the cave took another turn in 1889 when William Henry Lynch, a Canadian miner and dairyman, purchased the cave and a square mile around it for $10,000. Lynch, with the aid of his family, proposed to open the cave to sightseers. The Lynches began operation of the sightseeing venture in 1894 with a grand celebration and a few visitors. The venture was not immediately profitable and was closed until Lynch could raise additional capital to reopen the cave sometime after 1900. The cave has remained open since then, making it one of the oldest continuously running tourist attractions in the Ozarks.

When William Lynch died in 1927, ownership of the cave passed to his daughters. Shortly there after, the Frisco Steam Train - Silver Dollar City name of the cave was changed to Marvel Cave. The Lynche family operated the cave for nearly fifty years until a Chicago vacuum cleaner salesman, Hugo Herschend, purchased a 99-year lease on the cave. After Hugo Herschend's death, five years after he began managing the cave, his wife, Mary Herschend, took over the day-to-day operations of the venture. With the aid of her two sons, Jack and Peter Herschend, Mary Herschend was able to implement vast improvements to the cave, including a  train that pulled visitors 218 feet, from the depths of the cave up to the surface. Once the train was in operation the Herschends felt the development of the cave was complete and immediately began to search for ways to expand their growing attraction. Anticipating additional tourists to the Ozarks, they wanted to create an attraction that would attract even more tourists to the cave.

The Herschends decided to build an Ozark frontier town on the acreage surrounding the sight of the cave. The new attraction was named Silver Dollar City. Silver Dollar City originally was the sight of five shops, a church, a log cabin, and a street production reproducing the feud between the Hatfields and McCoys several times daily. With the growing numbers of tourists visiting the attraction each year, the Herschends were able to add many new shops, as well as, rides and variety shows. Today Silver Dollar City plays hosts to thousands of visitors each day during the tourist season.

Shepherd of the Hills Farm
Old Matt Cabin at Shepherd of the Hills Park
Signs all over Southwest Missouri proclaim it - businesses, motels, tourist attractions, and billboards affirm it - the region is Shepherd of the Hills Country. From every direction roads lead vacationers to the Shepherd of the Hills Homestead perched high on a ridge just west of Dewey Bald. From early spring until the end of October, the Homestead introduces visitors to the old J.K. Ross cabin and farm. The people and events of Harold Bell Wright's 1907 novel are immortalized in The Shepherd of the Hills Outdoor Drama. During the day, guests tour the very log house where Wright first experienced Ozark Hospitality. Old-fashioned jitneys pulled by giant Clydesdale horses offer rides around the upper part of the Homestead. Motorized trams ply the steep wooded hillsides, dropping folks off to watch Ozarks artisans at work and to explore the rustic village, which, after dark, becomes a giant stage where Wright's book is brought back to life. Visitors stroll about the Homestead, walk or ride to Inspiration Point, and ascend the 230 foot enclosed tower to enjoy views of the hills and valleys for miles in every direction. Near the base of the tower are stone sculptures of characters from The Shepherd of the Hills and the reconstructed ninety-year-old church similar to those in which Wright preached during the years he lived in the Ozarks.

Shepherd of the Hills Outdoor Drama - the early yearsOn Saturday night, August 6, 1959, The Shepherd of the Hills play was first presented in the Old Mill Theater at the Shepherd of the Hills farm. The actors who performed that night and through the early years of the play were drawn from nearby communities. In the years since, many of them and their children and grandchildren have continued to be involved with the play, and have become leaders in the development of many of Branson's current businesses and musical and recreational attractions.

In 1985, Gary Snadon announced that he had bought the Shepherd of the Hills farm. Snadon, a local resident, performed one of the lead roles in the Shepherd of the Hills drama for several years in the 1960's. He chose as his business manager Jerry Coffelt, who had been involved with the farm and play for many years. Soon after Snadon took over the farm, the name of the attraction was changed to the Shepherd of the Hills Homestead and Outdoor Theater. His stated objectives were to keep the play and the farm faithful to The Shepherd of the Hills book, and to entertain the customers. His ownership has brought a full schedule of daytime entertainment and activities to the Homestead. 

The Entertainment Industry
As Branson and the lakes area gains national attention for drawing to its stages large numbers of the nation's most popular aThe Baldknobbers - Branson's 1st shownd enduring country and western stars, it is easy to forget that the area did not become a magnet for country music celebrities overnight. The entertainment industry is here because of a long and involved history. The area's tourism began with fishing in the White & James Rivers and then in the lakes. It continued to grow with caving in Marble Cave, the revival of the area's craft industry, and visitors' interested in the setting of a best selling novel, "The Shepherd of the Hills". In Branson you can explore the histories of Silver Dollar City, the Shepherd of the Hills, and the Country Music Boulevard - the three most visited attractions in the Ozarks.

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