On a 160-acre homestead west of Branson, Old Matt’s Cabin (an 1886 log structure) marks the spot where Kansas minister Harold Bell Wright became stranded when the White River flooded. He stayed on, fell in love with the location and wrote a novel about it. Nowadays, Branson’s 53-year-old Shepherd of the Hills outdoor stage show retells Wright’s story in a sprawling performance featuring more than 80 actors, 40 horses, a flock of sheep, a burning cabin and a 1908 DeWitt automobile. The shows take place in an amphitheater that seats hundreds, and there’s not a bad view in the house as the story sweeps across the enormous stage, primarily a wide dirt track with a mill and open barn as a backdrop.
The show takes off at a gallop when six flag-waving horseback riders perform to patriotic songs. The Shepherd story itself winds around central themes of bad guys robbing a bank, good guys overcoming adversity and star-crossed lovers. Characters speak in thick hillbilly accents—fuel for quite a bit of laughter. Audience members are invited to square dance with the cast during intermission. Many attendees come early for the chuck wagon dinner show from 5 to 7 p.m., with performances by the Sons of Pioneers, the longest continuously performing vocal group in the nation.
Shepherd of the Hills runs May through October; tickets are $37 for adults, $18 ages 4 to 16. Various ticket packages are available, including dinner, tours and recreational activities.