- Country Music, Nature Trails, Fishing, Great Food, Museums, and the Aquarium on the Boardwalk.
- Klondike-like gold rush music boom started in the 1980s – it’s even better now.
- The Osage Indians were first here in Branson. Perhaps they were drawn here by the fantastic fishing.
By David Gray
My old friend Larry Whiteley asked me if I could describe Branson, Missouri, in just three words. I said, “Sure! Fishing, Family, Fun.” Grinning his usual warm-hearted smile, Larry said, “So true. I especially like that Branson is neatly nestled in these Ozark Hills. The four seasons add color twice a year, too. Even better, I like the many Grade-A fishing lakes and streams we have nearby – bass, crappie, trout. But you know, honestly, there is so much more to Branson that many folks never see.”
At a recent outdoor media conference event, Larry handed me a Branson Visitors Guide, and I took a day to explore more. I found Country Music, Nature Trails, Live Entertainment, Attractions, All-Day Adventures at Silver Dollar City, Camping, Golfing, Friendly people, Great food, and Museums. Don’t overlook that last one.
Family fun deserves a visit to the Branson Centennial Museum. The Museum guidebooks share that kids who learn history in school have many questions when touring historical displays.
Some things I learned at the Museum: The Branson Hills were blessed with music long before the music theaters sprang up. Before modern settlement, the Branson area was home to the Osage Indians, the original local music stars.
The Osage were well-known and admired for their extraordinary music and style of dancing.
In 1839, the first couple to settle in Branson was Calvin and Cassandra Galyer. Calvin was 15, and Cassandra was 14. Cassandra raised 11 children. Calvin was a gunsmith, and during the Civil War, he was sought by both sides as a gunsmith. When their home burned, the family hid and lived in a cave so Calvin would not be taken away by the North or South for his gunsmithing skills.
Cassandra stared at the Branson cemetery as a final resting place for fallen soldiers of both sides. None of the graves were marked Union or CSA, as Cassandra did not want the graves desecrated by the other side.
When European settlers arrived, they brought their fiddles, and the hills and hollers enjoyed the evening front porch music sessions. Each evening, the picking and playing echoed among the hills.
After the war, more settlers arrived in the Branson area. It took long days of hard labor to make a living by raising cotton, tomatoes and tobacco. Doing the wash was physical, and the phrase “Wash Day” was literal, as it took all day to do the family wash. The Museum displays include the earliest washing machines.
More recently, Branson was labeled a Country Music Phenomenon when a Klondike-like gold rush music boom started in the 1980s. Country Music stars visiting the Branson area fell in love with the Hills and Hollows, the residents, and the natural beauty here. They decided to build theaters and move to Branson to perform.
The first music performer in the area was Box Car Willie. Box Car loved being in the Ozarks and invited Johnny Cash and Loretta Lynn to perform with him.
The Ozark Hills of Branson quickly became a must-do destination for country music lovers.
Today, the Branson country music passion has grown to 24 live music theaters, and also offering music of every genre.
Fishing in the Ozarks has always been an attraction. First, the Osage Indians, then the early settlers, and later, anglers from many places have been drawn to the exceptional fishing for many species, including Bass, Crappie, Walleye, Trout and White Bass.
Today, the area’s lakes, rivers and streams offer unlimited fishing opportunities. Some of the best fishing guides provide a variety of trips on Table Rock Lake and Bull Shoals Lake, and the trout waters of Lake Taneycomo flow right through downtown Branson. Easy fishing is fun fishing.
The most famous Branson area angler is Jim Owens, who is credited with creating the first commercial float fishing service, the Jim Owen Boat Line. Jim offered tailored floats up to 10 days long. Celebrities from all over the world came to float with the Owens Boat Line. Today, you can easily find many artifacts and photos of the Owen Boat Line around Branson, including some of the old fishing tackle in the downtown Branson Bass Pro Shops.
Then there is the History of Fishing Museum. If you love fishing, take advantage of a side trip to the History of Fishing Museum. It is a beautiful attraction with 40,000 historical fishing equipment and items on display.
Fishing tackle from the Stone Age to the modern era is displayed in an easy-to-follow walk-through tour. Even more astonishing to learn is the value of some of the rare collectible items.
Want to see the first-ever modern bass boat? Here is a hint: it is a 1949 Skeeter on display at the Museum. Have you ever heard of the Spike Reel, a Haskell Fish Hook, the Snyder Reel, a Buel Trolling Spoon or the Comstock Fly Hellgramite? These rare pieces are all on display. Every old tackle box probably has a Rapala minnow in it. The Museum has one of the first Rapala lures. It was made with silver foil salvaged from chocolate wrappers.
In your garage, there may be something worth a lot of money. Ever heard of a Kentucky Tackle Box? It is a rare metal tackle box that collectors today will pay a lot of money to acquire. One of these is displayed at the Museum, and you can learn to identify one there.
Ever heard of Phillipp? It was a company that made popular trout flies. The company also made a few, very few, trout fly rods. Only three are known to exist. If you see an old bamboo-looking fly rod at a garage sale and the label is Phillip, buy it. Some say it would bring $100,000 to a collector!
I can’t wait to return to Branson with my family for the fishing, the fun, and now that I know – the museums! Below, don’t miss one of the latest attractions on the Boardwalk: The Aquarium. This facility offers a virtual 3D submarine adventure ride as you are guided through the maze of displays by Aquarius the Octopus and Finn the Pufferfish.