Shepherd of the Hills Homestead Tour

Shepherd of the Hills Homestead Tour

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In the late 1800s, John and Anna Ross homesteaded 160 acres of land just to the west of current day Branson, a seemingly insignificant occurrence, were it not for a chain of events to follow, which would forever change the face of this area.

In 1896, a Kansas minister by the name of Harold Bell Wright was instructed by his physician to seek a better climate for his health, having been diagnosed with tuberculosis, commonly referred to as consumption. Having heard about the great fishing in this area, and being an avid fisherman and nature lover, he came to the Ozarks in search of such a locale. Seeking what he thought would be temporary shelter with the Rosses, due to flooding on the White River, Wright ultimately pitched a tent on what would come to be known as Inspiration Point on the Ross homestead. Wright spent the next several years getting to know the people and places of this unique and strangely romantic area, full of rich heritage and local customs and color. A lover of nature, he was constantly roaming the hills and streams of the Ozarks, capturing the setting and feeling of the land which he so vividly described in his book.

Old Matt's cabin became a very popular tourist attraction, and the Ross’ would have fifty or sixty people at a time following them around, so they finally moved across Roark Valley to Garber, Missouri. On Christmas Eve of 1910, John and Anna sold the homestead to M. R. Driver, a physical education instructor at Fairmont College, Wichita, Kansas. Driver made "Old Matt's cabin" a wayside inn where tourists could dine, and in 1913 he added a screened dining room on the north side. John and Anna Ross attended the opening, and before the season was over that year, between six and seven hundred tourists had dined at the homestead. The Ross’ lived out their days running a store and post office in Garber, both passing in 1923, and their son, Charles, ultimately married and moved to California, where he died at the age of 58 in 1934.

The tourism boom to the Branson area in general, and the homestead specifically, continued in full force, and one woman who not only made a lucrative career out of guided tours to the homestead, but actually gained personal notoriety as a local figure of prominence, was Pearl Spurlock, known affectionately by many as “Sparky.” According to her book, printed in 1936, Pearl began taking tours in her Shepherd of the Hills Taxi, traversing rugged, brutal terrain across Dewey Bald to the homestead.

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