Branson, Missouri, is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world. The city has more than 50 theaters as well as restaurants, shows, and outdoor attractions including three large lakes. Much of the tourist-centric entertainment you’ll find in Branson today stems from the history and culture of the Ozarks region.
It’s a fascinating part of the country, and the following are some of the things to know about the Ozark culture and how this feeds into what Branson and the surrounding areas are today.
What Are the Ozarks?
The Ozarks are also known as the Ozark Mountains or the Ozark Plateau. The Ozarks cover a relatively large portion of northern Arkansas, and they also extend into most of southern Missouri. Two mountain ranges actually make up the Ozarks—the Boston Mountains in Arkansas and the St. Francois Mountains in Missouri.
The Ozarks span almost 47,000 square miles and are the biggest highland region between the Appalachians and the Rockies. Significant cities in the Ozarks include Bentonville, Fort Smith and Branson. St. Louis, Missouri, is also on the border of the Ozarks.
The term Ozark is also used to refer to the culture, dialect, and architecture of the people living on the plateau. The earliest settlers in Missouri came from the Southern Appalachians at the start of the 19th century.
Books that are set in the region include Where the Red Fern Grows and The Shepherd of the Hill. There are newer references to the Ozarks in movies like Winter’s Bone, which talks about the contemporary culture in the area and the effect of drugs.
The culture of the Ozarks is very similar to that of the Appalachian area of the country. The terrain of the area kept Ozark settlers isolated throughout the years. People in the Ozarks primarily hunted and raised livestock for survival.
There are also modern homesteaders in the Ozark who raise their own food, homeschool their children, and make arts and crafts.
Religion is significant to social life in the area, and especially the Baptist and Methodist churches.
Traditional culture includes stories and music as well as folklore that’s been passed down through generations. Square dancers were highly popular into the 20th century. Stringed instruments are central to the music, with the fiddle being most relevant.
There was a dialect called Ozark English spoken in the area, similar to the Scotch-Irish dialect spoken in the Appalachians. Interestingly, the Beverly Hillbillies hit television show had main characters who used the Ozark dialect.
The region remains largely rural, but some cities are growing economically in the area, too, including Bentonville and Branson. The area is now home to major companies like Wal-Mart and Tyson Foods.
It’s hard not to consider the natural beauty of the rugged Ozark region to be part of the culture. There are waterfalls, lakes, caves, and springs. There are also caverns and sinks. Ozark National Forest spans more than a million acres and has 300 miles of hiking trails. Other state parks in the region preserve the beauty of the area but give you accessibility to enjoy it.
The music of a region is one of the best ways to learn about the culture and history. Branson puts some of this music on display in its many theaters and you can check out when different shows take place at bransonshows.com
There are many options to enjoy music in other ways. For example, the Branson Regional Arts Council in association with Ozark Mountain Music, will often present programs emphasizing fiddle music and historical songs from the area’s early settlers.
The fiddle music from the Ozarks is still common and the style of music serves as a foundation for other types, including gospel and country.
The fiddle was important historically because it helped sustain settlers who went across the Mississippi River.
Food is always an integral part of the culture, and the Ozarks are no exception. Ozark cuisine still relies on traditional methods like canning. Many families have recipes that go back generations, and they’re still in use.
Ingredients commonly used in the food in the Ozarks include millet grains, sorghum butter, and pork.
What About the History of Branson?
Branson is perhaps one of the most well-known cities in the Ozarks, but it has plenty of its own history beyond what it’s now known as—a tourist destination.
Branson’s history dates back to the 1800s with the settlers who moved from neighboring states and were English, Scottish, and Irish by descent. Many had made a living farming in Kentucky and Tennessee, but these areas became depleted and violent after the Civil War.
Then, in the early 20th century, Branson started to develop more into what we see today.
The city is named after Reuben Branson, who owned a general store and post office in the 1880s.
The popularity of Branson started after the novel “The Shepherd of the Hills” was published about life in the Ozarks. Then, people began visiting the region to see for themselves what was depicted in the book.
The White River and its abundant fishing and Lake Taneycomo were also instrumental in Branson becoming a tourist destination. Table Rock Dam made Lake Taneycomo into a cold water fishing spot.
The Baldknobbers Jamboree performed the first show in Branson, and from there, the theater scene started to grow. In 1967, Presley’s Country Jubilee started with comedian Gary Presley. The Shepherd of the Hills outdoor pageant was created around this time and is still performed today.
Country music artists like Roy Clark started coming to the area, and now, even though it’s small, Branson has earned the title of the Live Entertainment Capital of the World.
The history, music, food, and cultural elements of the Ozarks are fascinating. From the rugged lifestyle of settlers to tourist destinations, it is interesting to see what’s changed in the area, but also what’s stayed the same throughout the years.