This is the final blog post of our hiking in the Ozark Mountains for 2021. Our first Ozark hiking trip this year was in eastern Missouri, south of Saint Louis in Desoto, Missouri. You can catch up here. Our last blog post was the start of our week in the Branson, Missouri area. Interesting, where we stayed is called Ozark Mountain Resort. I used that as a play on words, so to speak, in my blog post titles! We enjoyed the mountains in both areas. However, I have a relative who lives in Arkansas who also likes to hike. He said it is even better there. So hopefully, one day, we will hike in Arkansas!
We ended on a cliff hanger in the last blog post, sort of. Did we visit the cabin where Matt and Aunt Mollie lived? Yes and no. We didn’t explore the history of Branson soon enough so we missed it. We had our Thanksgiving dinner in the Shepherd of the Hills complex. It was too cold and windy to go explore what all was around the restaurant. So we missed it and now have another reason to go back. We will also explore more of the history Branson. I am a bit fascinated with Harold Bell Wright’s writing and his life in case you didn’t notice in the last blog post. He is given a lot of credit for putting Branson on the map so to speak. I want to explore that idea. But in this blog, I am digging into a more obscure historical figure. Hopefully, next time we visit I will have more answers.
We have three hiking excursions, Thanksgiving Dinner and a visit to historic downtown Branson in this post. I enjoy writing these memories in this blog as it helps me relive them! And we do go back and refer to our posts from time to time – to remember where and when we visited…..various areas!
When we traveled full time, we driven by a desire to hike everywhere we visited, AND we always avoided hunting season until now! I guess this was a rookie mistake? No way do I want to hike anywhere near hunters. BUT nevertheless, I still always wear something bright orange “just in case” a hunter didn’t know the hunting dates or barriers. I had Bill buy a bright orange tee-shirt but he didn’t think to pack it. The good news is that we never heard a shot fired and we survived hunting season in Missouri!
Trip Advisors recommended this as a place to visit, #33 of 140 things to do. The Dam Complex Visitor Center parking area was nearby – then we noticed another trailhead. It was a concrete (hard on my knees), so we about gave up on hiking. We decided to walk to the nearby Visitor Center – only to learn it was CLOSED until further notice. One person nearby told us there were trails open. We just had to meander around the area, but we finally found a cluster of trails. We picked the Red and Blue loops. This would have been so much better had we also finished the Blue Loop, that would have made it about a 6 miles hiking day. We only managed 4.56 miles. The sun would have set by the time we finished it up. Here is a slide show of this interesting hike and one we will re-visit later in the week!
2. 11/23/2021 Lakeside Forest Wilderness Area: Bluff, Bent Tree, and Ridgetop Loop. We are meeting the nicest people from Branson. We spoke to several people before the hike, then in the middle of our hike, and near the end! While we only went 2.6 miles, we had a huge descent and then ascent! We unexpectedly found the Owen Homestead which we enjoyed. Below is some of its history. We chose to NOT go down the 340 (there is disagreement on how many) steps, so we opted for a deep decent trail to the lake. We hiked alongside the lake then discovered it would be easier for me to walk up the steps as we thought we were at a dead end. To me, the Hiking Trails app showed I could still avoid ALL the steps. But Bill disagreed. Anyway, it was a fun exploration hike and we would love to return and finish the other trails. Now as I write this blog post, I found valuable information on the official website – like how to utilize the GPS integrated map! But then, not knowing where we were going caused us to find hidden gems! I did use the GPS integrated map a little but didn’t really figure it out until too late….
We took time to learn more about the history of this homestead. We hadn’t taken time to see what was here, besides a challenging trail. Thankfully, they had information boards around the homestead.
From the above information board:
“Married at the ages of 15 and 14, Calvin and Cassandra Gaylor laid claim to their land grant of a small property on the banks of the White River. Calvin learned the gunsmith trade, and made guns from rough stock and repaired guns for other locals. During the Civil War, Mr. Gaylor took refuge in a cave on the west end of this property. The cave later became known as “Old Soldier’s Cave” and is located on what is now known as Lakeside Forest Wilderness Area. Calvin would hide in the cave for several months while enemies try to “destroy” the gunsmith and his workplace. During these long months, Cassandra would make the dangerous trip every day to supply her husband with food and supplies, while also maintaining the farm and caring for their children. During one particularly difficult winter and in desperate need of supplies, Cassandra traveled on a mule to Forsyth where her brothers could supply her. On her return trip, she traveled at night to evade attackers. When she approached the once frozen river, it had broken up. She was forced to cross the ice cold water holding her mules tail. In 1866, at the age of 44, Mr. Gaylor succumbed to lung disease, likely acquired during his time in the cave.”
“Old Soldier’s Cave located along the Taneycomo Trail past the Waterfall and Grotto.” There has been a draught so we didn’t see the waterfall! We are destined to return!
The information board continues:
“Located along what is now known as Branson Heights bluff is a small cave known as the Old Soldier’s Cave. Name of the cave is derived from Civil War times when a local man by the name of Calvin Gayler hid in the cave for months to avoid being called into service during the war. The Gayler’s came to the Branson area in 1839 to lay claim to a small land grant property. Over the years Calvin and his wife Cassandra expanded the property along the areas of downtown Branson, and even to the area that is now Lakeside Forest Wilderness Area. Baylor, a gunsmith by trade, quickly became a target at the onset of the Civil War. The wife of Giller’s grandson was quoted as saying, ‘I suppose they were after him because he was a gunsmith and helping the opposite side. I don’t know which side he was on, but since I never heard of them owning any slaves, I presume the North.’
“Because of the constant danger that Calvin was in, he decided to take refuge in the cave. Pansy Bennett, one of Giller’s granddaughters wrote, ‘granddad Gaylor was a gunsmith and for the duration of the war had a choice of hiding or being taken prisoner, he chose hiding in a cave.’ The cave that Calvin hid in was extremely small, and required Calvin to crawl in. Once inside, the cave opened up to a 20′ x 35′ room that was tall enough to stand in. The cave also had a crack that served as a natural flu for fires. The last owner of the property, Dr. Lyle Owen, expand the entry of the cave to the size it is today. During this time in the cave, Calvin relied on his wife Cassandra to bring him food and supplies. Pansy Bennett would later go on to say, she (Cassandra) knew ‘if granddad’s hiding place was discovered, he would be killed immediately.’ Cassandra would use a signal system to alert Calvin if it was safe for him to come out to get his supplies. A white cloth would indicate that it appeared safe, while a colored cloth was used if danger was present.
“Following the war, Calvin would return to his family, but would live only for a short time. In 1866, Calvin died from lung disease that was likely acquired while hiding in the cave. Pansy wrote, ‘Granddad contracted lung trouble resulting from exposure of living in the cave for so many years. He lingered about a year after the close of the war.'”
I’ve found this so interesting as there isn’t much more written about Calvin and Cassandra Gayler – on the web or on the official website for this homestead and area. A great grandson, I imagine, did attempt to get more details to write up. But it looked like he never finished his research. So one main discrepancy is that the official website says Calvin only lived in the cave a few months. But the letters written by his granddaughter says his lung disease was probably a result of him living in the cave for years – until the war was over. So just a few more interesting tidbits I found: Calvin Smith Gayler was born 1822 in Tennessee, and died in 1866 in Newton Township, Taney County, Missouri. Cassandra Ann Parrish was born between 1820-1823 (“Find a Grave says 1823) in Pleasant Township, Franklin County, Ohio, and died in Bickles Cove, Stone County, Arkansas. They married in 1838 and had 10 children, all born between 1839 and 1860. The war began in 1860 but Arkansas didn’t secede until May 6, 1861. Missouri didn’t secede. How they came to this area, which is very close to the Arkansas/Missouri border is unknown. We could assume he was being sought for duty by Arkansas because one grandson opined since they didn’t own slaves, they were for the north. This is bolstered by the fact Missouri didn’t secede. So how this woman took care of 10 children while her husband hid in a cave for perhaps three years is beyond me. But the Branson websites say he was only in the cave for four months….I think closer to four years….but who am I? It’s a story I would love to learn more….
More history of the homestead:
“Wilbur Winchester built a vacation home on the property using local rock in 1911. Upon his death in 1933, the home and approximately 90 acres were sold to a Lyle Owen, a 27-year-old Branson native, for $14 an acre. Dr. Owen would spend many years as a professor of economics at the University of Tulsa. He moved his parents to the site, and later retired there himself in the 1970s, where he lived until the late 1990s. Unfortunately, a fire in October 2015 destroyed the original home (pictured on the website).”
Some of this information does not match the information board pictured above. So it is really confusing to understand all the facts. But the information about the stone steps was very interesting.
3.11/24/2021 Table Rock State Park. Back to the White River Trail System. We returned to complete the Blue Loop. We are so glad we did, hiking 5.5 miles. We took a few short cuts and regretted them once we finished. This slide show mainly contains images of the blue loop. It was challenging as you will see in the elevation pictured in the final All Trails app image. We didn’t need to take any shortcuts as we had plenty daylight left and we both felt great afterwards!
In between these hikes, we drove into downtown Branson and on another day, we walked around the town. Impressions? We’ve never met anyone that said Branson was a must go to place to visit. When we told people we had reservations here, they grimaced a bit – so I’d quickly add, we were going there to hike! Bill wanted to see Branson Landing’s Crown Jewel, but we needed to go at night to really see how spectacular it is:
“Branson Landing features a scenic boardwalk along with a 1.5 mile Taneycomo Lakefront. At the heart of the landing is a vibrant town square terracing down to the $7.5 million spectacular water attraction features the first-ever merging of water, fire, light and music. You will be amazed by the dazzling interplay of water fountains shooting 120-foot geysers and fire cannons blasting all choreographed to the light and music.
“The water and fire spectacle is a creation of internationally renowned Wet Design, producers of world class shows for downtown Disney marketplace in Orlando, Universal City Walk in California and the Bellagio in Las Vegas.
“Enjoy spectacular performances of the Branson Landing Fountains starting at noon daily.”
This is in part what it looks like in the daylight. Can you see it? And I guess it only gets a small portion of the “Jewel.”
So now a few pictures to show more of Branson Landing, where we stopped after our hike at Lakeside Forest Wilderness (11/23/2021):
We were determined to see downtown and/or historic Branson. We drove around after we ate our Thanksgiving Dinner at the Shepherd of the Hills restaurant. No pictures of our dinner or the restaurant. It was very cold and windy there – it is on a hill! I can’t believe these are the only pictures I took. So my conclusion? Everyone we talked to that lives here LOVES it! No one was bothered by the tourists, knowing it is what brings in revenue. It is definitely a tourist “town.” We really enjoyed the Sight and Sound Theatre, the beautiful views, the hiking and of course, visiting a dear friend who lives here. I do want to return as we left a few things on the table to finish.
I will finish this post by reflecting on what a family man said to us on Thanksgiving Day. He moved here to raise his family! He said it is the perfect environment, based upon Christianity. I decided to look up a way to validate or better understand his sentiments. So I discovered someone else was fascinated and wrote a book to fully explain the phenomenon.
Over the past century, Branson, Missouri, has attracted tens of millions of tourists. Nestled in the heart of the Ozark Mountains, it offers a rare and refreshing combination of natural beauty and family-friendly recreation—from scenic lakes and rolling hills to theme parks and variety shows. It has boasted of big-name celebrities, like Wayne Newton, Andy Williams, and Petula Clark, as well as family entertainers like Mickey Gilley, the Shanghai Magic Troupe, Jim Stafford, and Yakov Smirnoff.
But there is more to Branson’s fame than just recreation. As Aaron K. Ketchell discovers, a popular variant of Christianity underscores all Branson’s tourist attractions and fortifies every consumer success. In this lively and engaging study, Ketchell explores Branson’s unique blend of religion and recreation. He explains how the city became a mecca of conservative Christianity—a place for a ‘spiritual vacation’—and how, through conscious effort, its residents and businesses continuously reinforce its inextricable connection with the divine.
Ketchell combines the study of lived religion, popular culture, evangelicalism, and contemporary American history to present an accurate and honest account of a distinctly American phenomenon.”