Rural Missouri - July 2018 - 9

Left: A burly Wash Gibbs (Shane Corporon) tries to pick a fight
with Young Matt (Kelby Edmondson). Both men happen to be in love
with Sammy Lane. Above: The mysterious, well-loved Dad Howitt
(Greg Winters) and Aunt Mollie (Angela Coffelt) try to calm Sammy
Lane (Lindsey Breeden) after she learns of her father's recent death.
Below: The Shepherd of the Hills now offers activities all day long,
including ATV excursions, rope courses, rides down the Vigilante
Ziprider or the eight-station zipline, horseback trail riding and more.
"Harold Bell Wright was great at writing characters and intertwining their
lives to keep things interesting," says Keith Thurman, director of the Shepherd
of the Hills outdoor drama. "You could take this book and easily turn it into a
television show like 'Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman' or 'Little House on the Prairie'
and make it a hit today."
Keith started out in the drama at the age of 19 playing a Baldknobber vigilante and a musician in the square dance scenes as needed. "It wasn't too long
before I was hooked," he says. This September will be Keith's 51st year with the
outdoor theater. He's served as the show director since 1981, and according to
Jeff, "eats, sleeps and breathes the place."
"People who come to see the show get sucked into the story," Keith says. "It's
a Western, a mystery, a drama, a love story. There's horse chases, shootin', fire
and kissin'. What else could a person want?"
Keith says the Shepherd of the Hills is a legacy to the Ozarks.
"If he hadn't published his book in 1907, I don't believe Branson would be
what it is today," he says. "It would probably just be a little fishing town."
As a young child, Jeff recalls watching Keith perform in the play.
"Keith was the first person I saw play the part of Young Matt," Jeff says. "I
remember going to school after having breakfast with my granddad and Keith
and telling everyone, 'I had breakfast with Young Matt.' It was a big deal."
After decades of directing the show, Keith says he's watched generations of
family members grow up in the play.
"I've pretty well raised my own Little Petes, Sammy Lanes and Young Matts,"
says the veteran director. "There's one family where the grandfather, father,
grandson and great-grandson have all been in the show over the years."
These days, Keith says the majority of people who come to see the play
haven't read the book, but he always recommends they get around to it.
"Bottom line is the book is just good reading. The moral and spiritual values
in it are as good today as they were 100 years ago," Keith says. "People love that
good vs. evil, and good always wins."
Currently, the evening drama runs from late May to mid-October.
Fun for Everyone
You can't see them rounding the bend yet, but the steady clip-clop of hooves
on gravel and the occasional "neigh" signals that a group of trail riders is headed back to the corral.
Until they pass, another group with a different kind of horsepower waits on
the dirt path, revving motors in anticipation.
"Now that looks like fun, too!" exclaims a horseback rider passing the ATVs
raring to hit the rugged trails.
"We really weren't using much of the 177 acres except for horse trails," says
Jeff. "We cleared two trails, added ATVs to the mix and everyone loves it. Now
that we know it's a hit, we're planning new trails to keep things interesting."

Jeff says when he and Steve bought the park, they wanted to keep visitor's favorites while offering them new options. Fans can rest easy knowing
the Shepherd of the Hills outdoor drama and drive-through Christmas Trail of
Lights display are still options. Fans of the former annual car show can look
forward to the Shepherd's Show-N-Shine Car Show this September.
Of course, Inspiration Tower still stands on the site. Built on one of the highest points in Taney County, travelers can see its copper roof peeking over the
trees as they drive the highways in the area. Those who take in the view of the
Ozarks from the top can see nearly 80 miles into Arkansas on a clear day. It's
easy to see why Harold stopped here once you've seen what inspired him.
Visitors may choose to take a trip down from the tower's top in the glass
elevator or maybe via the Vigilante ZipRider from 170 feet in the air. From special chairs, riders fly down the half-mile trip at speeds up to 50 miles per hour
high above the tree tops, then ride a tram back to the tower.
"It's a fun, fast ride with a view you're not likely to forget," says Jeff.
For those who like more conventional ziplines, the park now offers an eightstation zipline on the property. Like more of a challenge? Try the multi-level rope
course perched at 1,362-feet, the highest elevated rope challenge around.
The latest addition of Lil Pete's Playland is sure to be a favorite of parents
and kids alike.
Once tickets are purchased, parents and kids can enjoy nine holes of miniature golf, tree houses connected by swinging bridges, a barn with an indoor
maze (with a slide exit), timed obstacle course, pony carousel and a petting zoo,
much of which is covered by huge shade trees. A snack bar, toy shop and pintsize train are also part of the play zone. And the best part is there's no limit on
how long you can stay.
Jeff says the pioneer town facade drivers pass on Highway 76 will soon serve
as home to the ticket office, gift shop and restaurant.
Other entertainment options include the comedy of Jim Barber and, this fall,
the return of the popular Sons of the Pioneers. Both ticketed events have the
option to add a meal before the show. Music fans can also look forward to a
few outdoor concerts at the venue, too, such as the Ozark Mountain Daredevils
performance in September.
If horseback or ATV trails aren't your thing, opt for the Homestead Tour and
take a tram ride to historic spots on the property to learn more about the Shepherd of the Hill's history and how it came to be.
From the top of Inspiration Tower, Jeff looks out over the beautiful countryside which inspired the book, recalling the voice of his granddad once again.
"That's why this matters. That's why I want this to keep on going."
Shepherd of the Hills Homestead Adventure Park is located at 5586 W. Highway 76 in Branson. For more information call 417-334-4191 or go to, or follow them on Facebook at The Shepherd of the Hills.

center photos courtesy of the Shepherd of The Hills Homestead Adventure Park

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Rural Missouri - July 2018

Rural Missouri - July 2018 - Intro
Rural Missouri - July 2018 - Cover1
Rural Missouri - July 2018 - Cover2
Rural Missouri - July 2018 - Contents
Rural Missouri - July 2018 - 4
Rural Missouri - July 2018 - 5
Rural Missouri - July 2018 - 6
Rural Missouri - July 2018 - 7
Rural Missouri - July 2018 - 8
Rural Missouri - July 2018 - 9
Rural Missouri - July 2018 - 10
Rural Missouri - July 2018 - 11
Rural Missouri - July 2018 - 12
Rural Missouri - July 2018 - 13
Rural Missouri - July 2018 - 14
Rural Missouri - July 2018 - 15
Rural Missouri - July 2018 - 16
Rural Missouri - July 2018 - 17
Rural Missouri - July 2018 - 18
Rural Missouri - July 2018 - 19
Rural Missouri - July 2018 - 20
Rural Missouri - July 2018 - 21
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Rural Missouri - July 2018 - Cover3
Rural Missouri - July 2018 - Cover4