Directly across Highway 76 from my home in Stonebridge Estates in Branson West is the entrance to a place that will take you back in time to the late 1800’s and life in the Ozarks. In those days there was no Table Rock Lake or a gazillion shows on a “strip” of highway that always has more cars on it than any other in the state. There was no downtown or landing to draw folks into this unique area of Missouri. The thing that did draw settlers to Stone County Missouri in the 1800’s was the natural beauty of the Ozark Mountains, the White River and the naturally fertile soil suitable for growing corn and wheat.
STONE COUNTY IN THE 1800s
The Delaware Indians immigrated to this region about 1800 to 1808 and remained until their evacuation under government orders in 1830 to the Kansas Territory. The settlers of the county generally came from Kentucky and Tennessee in search of a better life for their families and more land to develop.
The county was officially formed in February of 1851, out of parts of Taney County, Missouri. It was named after William Stone, a veteran of the War of 1812 and a prominent citizen of Taney County. Jamestown was named the county seat. It was later renamed Galena due to natural lead deposits in the area. Other towns, including Reeds Spring and Kimberling City, soon formed as well. Kimberling City was named after John Wesley Kimberling, who operated the Kimberling ferry. The ferry was the only way to cross the White River until the Kimberling Bridge was built.
THE CIVIL WAR
The 1850s and 60s were a time of conflict in Stone County. Debates raged over free state versus slave state status and resulted in several residents conducting raids back and forth between adjoining states. Stone County had a very small slave population consisting of 16 slaves recorded in the 1860 Census. When the Civil War began in 1861, most men fought with the Union. Several small skirmishes occurred in Stone County. On August 2, 1861, confederate troops passed through Stone County on their way to Wilson’s Creek, with a minor skirmish taking place as they traveled. The “Wire Road,” originally known as the “Old Wilderness Road,” was completed in the early 1860s for the purpose of running telegraph lines. These lines and the road were very useful during the war for communication, especially for the Union forces. Because of that, the Confederate troops targeted this road and cut many telegraph lines. In retaliation, Union troops burned one Confederate sympathizers home for every telegraph line cut!
THE BALD KNOBBERS
The Bald Knobbers were a group of vigilantes in the Ozark region of Southwest Missouri during the period 1883-1889. They were commonly depicted on horseback, wearing hoods with horns. The original chapter of this group was formed in Taney County with a rapid proliferation into neighboring counties, including Stone! The group got their name from the grassy bald knob summits of the Ozark Mountains in the area. The hill where they first met is called Snapp’s Bald, located just north of Kirbyville, Missouri.
During the Civil war, Missouri as a border state was hard hit by neighbor against neighbor bushwhacker fighting. After the war, those types of attacks continued throughout the state with perhaps the most famous being the actions of the James-Younger Gang. The Bald Knobbers groups were dedicated to protecting life and property and aid law enforcement in the apprehension of criminals, as well as opposing corruption in local government. They made many enemies, however, with whom they had several violent, and sometimes fatal, confrontations. Though initially praised for driving out the notorious outlaws, public sentiment soon turned against them. Their opponents could never agree upon a proper means of dissolving the Bald Knobbers, they did succeed in petitioning the Missouri Governor to send the Adjutant General to Forsyth to investigate and disband the group.
During the war, both armies harvested residents’ crops to feed the soldiers, forcing many resident to go hungry. Many structures were destroyed and families separated. The period of reconstruction for Stone County was difficult. After the war’s conclusion, the railroad aided reconstruction of the area. Also, in the early 1880s, a local family discovered Marble Cave, later called Marvel Cave, and opened it to tourists traveling on the railroad. As a result of that tourist effort, Silver Dollar City was born!
TODAY AND TOMORROW
My first experiences with Silver Dollar City were as a young father walking across a swinging bridge entrance to a theme park with my then, very young children. Those kids are now in their forty’s and fifty’s and there are thirteen grandkids to deal with when “goin’ across the road” to the city. Several thousand folks, young and old, file through the gates every day during the tourist season to be transported back into the late 1800s Ozarks setting that is Silver Dollar City. My kids, for lots of reasons, were attracted to one of the oldest rides in the park, Fire In The Hole! I’m sure it was mostly because of the fire theme.
In the 1960s and 70s, before the Southern Stone County Fire Protection District was formed, Silver Dollar City had their own fire department. The apparatus was housed on property and employees made up the volunteer staff. Since I was part of the staff of Fire Training at the University of Missouri at the time, several trips were made to Stone and Taney Counties to do classes for Branson and the surrounding departments. I am sure that is the reason I was made an honorary member of the Silver Dollar City Volunteer Fire Department in November of 1972.
The big news today from Silver Dollar City is the all-new tribute to the American fire service, the Fireman’s Landing. Knowing the Herschend family and their passion for authenticity, this will be the greatest project yet for the park. There are true artist at every level at Herschend Family Entertainment, from carpenters that build antique ladder wagons to the design folks who plan the site. You will all be in for a huge treat when you come to see it yourself!