Since the early 1900s, “Old Matt’s Cabin” (the home of John and Anna Ross) has been of interest to people visiting the Ozarks from all over the world. Today, it remains a central feature of the Shepherd of the Hills Homestead. Why is this small, seemingly insignificant structure such an important place in the Ozarks? Why are tourists so interested in this modest, turn of the century home? History reveals the answer.
Ross and Wright
In 1882 (just two years after Ruben Branson opened the post office) John and Anna Ross homesteaded 160 acres just to the west of what is now the town of Branson, MO. In 1898 Harold Bell Wright took up vacationing in the Ozarks on the advice of his physician. Wright had health issues and his doctor felt that a milder climate would help alleviate his illness.
Over the course of several years, Harold Bell Wright stayed a short distance from the home of John and Anna Ross (Old Matt and Aunt Mollie) on what is now known as inspiration point. While there, he observed the local residents and kept notes of their everyday lives. This experience and knowledge is the character reservoir Wright drew from in writing his novel “The Shepherd of the Hills” which was released in 1907.
Wright’s Writing Draws Attention to Branson
Over the course of the following years, the success of the novel stirred the interest of many of its readers. So much so that readers of the popular book began visiting the location that contributed to the inspiration of the characters in the literary work. This interest inevitably attracted the curious to the home of the couple that inspired the characters “Old Matt” and “Aunt Mollie” – John and Anna Ross. The abode of the Ozarks family soon became a tourist attraction as many visitors continued showing up to meet and even following John and Anna Ross. Eventually “Old Matt” and “Aunt Mollie” decided that a move was in order and they moved to Garber Missouri after which, they sold the homestead, including “Old Matt’s Cabin”.
Tourism Continues to Thrive
Following the sale of the homestead in 1910, Old Matt’s Cabin was repurposed by the new owner M.R. Driver, who made the Cabin into a wayside inn that by 1913 had hosted 600 to 700 people.
Throughout the following years, tourism continued to boom in the Branson area. All the while the homestead kept the interest of tourists as well as Branson residents. Even though the homestead changed hands several times, each subsequent owner of the property preserved the memory of the historic location and continued educating tourists through various means.
The interest in the story “The Shepherd of the Hills” continued to thrive through a various avenues including tours of the homestead, plays, the current Branson show, and even films (both silent and motion picture). All of which continued to grow interest in the Branson area, the homestead itself, and Old Matt’s Cabin.
Over the years, millions of people have enjoyed the nostalgia, heritage, and ultimately the history behind this fascinating location of which the residents inspired the writer of one of the most widely read books in history to portray everyday lives of Ozark families during the turn of the century. At the center of it all rests “Old Matt’s” cabin. Just as it has since its beginning, this historical site continues to be of interest to tourists.
What began as a simple home for a small family in the Ozarks grew into the site of the birth of tourism in the Branson area. Today, the tourism industry plays a very important role in the lives of many. For vacationers, it is their family getaway destination. For locals, it means a living, a livelihood, a heritage, a heritage that many – both locals and visitors – are interested in.