The Shepherd of the Hills invited us to the grounds to do a review for them. Before going, our awesome coordinator for the day, Traci, heard the story of our son, Milton, and planned an extra special day for us. So some of the events we did were added to make it extra special for our family but we had a wonderful time even with the normal attractions that everyone can attend. This will be done in two parts. Due to the weather we were unable to attend the drama, but we hope to return to do a review on that at a later date.
On July 20, 2013, our family headed out at 7:00 am for Branson, MO. The weather was threatening rain, but that didn’t dampen our family’s outlook for the day. We were excited to get to see everything at Shepherd of the Hills and enjoy the day as a family. We were greeted by Traci and made to feel special. Even Suzy was made part of our family. We met up with Traci several times throughout the day and fell in love with her.
Our day began with meeting our awesome “guide” for the day, Jack. He loved doing “special” things for the kids. He made our day VERY special. We started off our day with the Homestead Tour. One thing that was made clear at the start, Jack loves his job. He has worked in some capacity at the Shepherd of the Hills for years and he makes an awesome guide. He made the story of the place come alive, which not everyone can do. The main stop was at the old cabin where John & Anna Ross (later known as Old Matt & Aunt Molly) lived and the story was based on. When the book was published in 1907, people began to flock to the place and their private life was no longer private, so on Christmas Eve 1910, they sold the homestead to M. R. Driver and he turned it into a wayside inn where tourists could dine. The Ross’s attended the opening and before the end of the year between 600-700 people had dined at the homestead. The Ross’s lived in Garber, MO running a store and post office until they both died in 1923. Their son, Charles moved to California and died at the age of 58 in 1934. Pearl Spurlock began the first homestead tours in her Shepherd of the Hills Taxi. The Drivers sold the homestead to a banker in Springfield in October 1926 which was given to his daughter a few months later. She originally lived in the homestead but in 1934 she had her house in Springfield taken down and brought to the homestead and rebuilt. She was the first to start the reenacting of “The Shepherd of the Hills”.
Dr. Bruce and Mary Trimble bought the place in 1946 and after his death his son Mark Trimble took the place over. The tours had continued over the years but August 6, 1960, Mark Trimble started “The Shepherd of the Hills Outdoor Drama”. In 1985, the place sold again to Gary and Pat Snadon and they expanded the events to include daytime visits and nightly plays. In 1989, he decided that an Inspiration Tower should be built on the site where Harold Bell Wright had spent his time looking out over Mutton Hollow.
From the house we went to the place that Harold Bell Wright spent his summers pitching his tent. The view was beautiful and I would love to be able to wake to that site. Mr. Wright was a minister in Kansas and in 1896, he was told by his physician that he had to find a better climate for his health, due to him being diagnosed with tuberculosis (know as consumption back then). He loved fishing and came to the Ozarks. But he had to look for shelter due to the White River flooding and sought temporary shelter with the Ross family. The Ross family gave him permission to put his tent on what would years later become know as Inspiration Point.
Next stop was at an old country store where they sold cold old fashion drinks, snacks, and tourist type of items.
The next stop was at a little run down cabin with moonshine being illustrated from the old days. A cute play was put on and a volunteer from our group was used to take part in it. What was the drama? You will just have to go on the Homestead Tour to find out! It was out in the open fields in this area where the Boldknobbers met. The sad part was that it wasn’t just “plain” people that took part in the Boldknobbers but also ministers.
After the Homestead Tour, Jack took us to the Inspiration Tower. It is 230” tall and was built in 1989. Its opening celebrated the 100th anniversary of Harold Bell Wright’s first visit to the area. It weighs 3 million pounds and cost around $1.5 million to build. It contains over 92,000 pounds of structural steel and can withstand constant wind of 172 mph or gusts of up to 224 mph. The elevators are made of glass and are neat to go in, unless you are a dog. Suzy wasn’t impressed with this part. During Christmas it is made into the largest Christmas tree. The tower is open year around. The look out area (glassed in) makes it where you can literally see for miles. The view is awesome. Throughout the outlook you will find pictures taken through the years of the drama, little sayings from the drama and a look out spy glass.
Another thing that is housed in the Inspiration Tower is the Ziprider. It is 170 feet high, ½ mile long and goes 50 mph. Did we ride this, no. We did watch them go flying down the hill but no one in the family was interested in this part of the activities. This part is open Valentine’s Day through New Year’s Eve. If there are storms that move in this part does have to shut down due to high risk.
Our next stop was at the Horseback Trail Ride. Again, we didn’t go on the trail ride, even thought Abigail would have loved to. But we did get to meet one of the guides, Desiree. We loved getting to know her and her beloved horse and dog. She is getting to do a job that she loves and she gets to be with her beloved animals every day to do her job. Another thing we noticed is how good she is with children, especially with handicapped children. She allowed the kids to feed her horse, Ramey, his favorite treat, Oreos. She also brought her dog, Bandit, out. He and Suzy were introduced and seemed to get along.
From the trail area we walked back up the hill where we drove over to the Inspiration Tower and went out to the little picnic area they have set up. We enjoyed sitting in the shade and eating our lunch and watching the birds and the different people go down the Ziprider. After we finished eating the kids went out to the monument area and wanted their pictures taken with the different main characters in the story.
After lunch Jack surprised us with a special trip to see the awesome miniature horses that are on the place. This isn’t part of the tour but one of the extra surprises they gave our family. The kids loved getting to pet them and give them treats. We also got to see the sheep that they use in the drama and a couple of the donkeys that the owner has.
After spending around 45 minutes with the miniature horses and the sky was threatening to rain, we went back to the Inspiration Tower, took a few more pictures, and then parked our car at the Sons of the Pioneers where we were to eat supper. We spent a little bit in the car cooling off and giving everyone a break. Then we decided to walk the grounds of the homestead to get some more pictures. It is a nice walk and lots of beauty to enjoy.
We made our way to the Morgan County Church that sits on Inspiration Point. It was built in 1901 and rebuilt at the Shepherd of the Hills in 1990. They hold weddings in the chapel. It is a beautiful building with a piano and two old pump organs. One of the pump organs is off limits to anyone playing it but the other one is still workable and I loved getting to sit down and playing on it for a little bit.
Next was a highlight of the day! We were privileged to get to go to the Sons of the Pioneers Chuckwagon Dinner Show. Wow, make sure to go to this HUNGRY! As you go into dinner you get your picture taken. Then during the dinner they bring by for you to look at and offer it to you for a small price. We were surprised to be given our picture as a gift from the group. This will be cherished along side the picture that we took in 2004 from there. The waiters and waitresses are wonderful and make sure that you have your drink refilled at all times. I can guarantee that you will be full by the time you are finished! The corn is the best corn I’ve ever eaten and yes, it is served with the husks on it.
During the meal you will enjoy some great music. The pre-show is a young lady that sings like Patsy Cline and Loretta Lynn and does a great job. Then the Sons of the Pioneers take the stage. You will hear a variety from some of the original songs that they sang back with Roy Rogers to hymns. Another surprise was in store for Milton! Ricky Boen, fiddler, had Milton come to the stage and help him play one of his songs. Milton loved this and did a super job. Yep, Ricky Boen will always be thought of in a special way from this visit. The two kids loved listening to the music and even sang along with them on songs they knew. During the break they signed pictures. Milton was given a Shepherd of the Hills hat and shirt and all of the Sons of the Pioneers signed his shirt. Yes, this was a wonderful day for all us. We were able to enjoy everything and it was also fun to get to watch the kids have a mini “wish trip” too.
The next stop was the Shepherd of the Hills drama show. We took the tram to the stage area and went to our seat. The clouds kept rolling in and the storm got closer. Desiree and a couple of her friends came up to visit with us, when the owner of the place got up and announced that due to the terrible storm moving our way we needed to leave the grounds immediately. So, we didn’t get to see the drama that night. We do hope to be able to go down and see the drama before the season ends and do a review on that portion, too. We took the last tram out and saw Traci once again before we left. What a day! Yes, we had a super day and you will too if you will take a day to go and enjoy the history packed into the Shepherd of the Hills Homestead. Everything there is educational and there is so much to take in while having loads of fun! The staff, ALL of them, are wonderful and you will find a smile on their faces and willing to answer questions.
We want to say a BIG THANK YOU to everyone at Shepherd of the Hills for an awesome day and we look forward to seeing everyone again!