It’s amazing to me to realize how little time it has taken to create the amazing “Live Entertainment Capital of the World” we now know as Branson. The area was first explored less than 200 years ago, at which time, inhabited mainly by the Osage Indians, there were only a small handful of white settlers who lived in hand-built log cabins in the area. Back then, there was no Table Rock Lake, no Lake Taneycomo, no Bull Shoals Lake…only wilderness filled with Elk, Deer, Wolves and Bear. What was then called the White River has been modified by hydro-electric dams into the lakes we now know and love but back then, it was dangerous and difficult territory.
Everyone who visits Branson has to travel on the freeway, called Highway 65, the 4-lane speedway that runs all the way from Little Rock through Branson to Minneapolis. Few of us know, however, that Highway 65 from Branson up through Springfield is named the “Schoolcraft Freeway.” Named after Henry Rowe Schoolcraft who is best known for his famous poem, The Song of Hiawatha, was the first explorer to travel through southern Missouri. In 1819 he and his companion, Levi Pettibone, made an expedition from what is now Springfield down through the Branson area and into Arkansas, after which he published his Journal of a Tour into the Interior of Missouri and Arkansaw in 1821. The whole journal makes interesting reading and can be downloaded at the link below.
Schoolcraft’s journey was embarked when he was 26 years old and inexperienced in the skill and discipline of exploring the wilderness. Leaving with a pack horse, insufficient supplies and hunting gear, he and his partner went on what would become an adventure of danger and discovery, lasting much longer than anticipated. They travelled over 900 miles in 90 days from Potosi, Mo South West through Branson and then back to the Springfield area along a trail that later was built into that leg of Freeway 65, now called the Schoolcraft Freeway. Along the way they encountered dangerous wild animals, hardships, hunger, and vital assistance from the earliest settlers of the region. Thus was born what we now recognize as typical Missouri friendliness and hospitality. Of course, the settlers and hunters they happened upon lived in cabins, which has become to this day, the preferred lodging in Branson, Mo.
Stay tuned and come back often to this blog. We’ll continue with more details and stories of interest about the history and development of Branson in future articles.
CabinLife1820.jpg reprinted from http://shs.umsystem.edu/historicmissourians/name/s/schoolcraft/
Schoolcraft Journal: https://ia800208.us.archive.org/15/items/Henry_Schoolcrafts_1818_Ozark_Journal/schoolcraftsjournal.pdf