The Ozarks’ roots as an entertainment hub stretch back to the mid-1950s, when Springfield rivaled Nashville as the nation’s country music capital. Springfield was home to the first televised country variety show, “Ozark Jubilee,” broadcast live from the city’s Jewell Theater. It featured top stars, including Johnny Cash and Patsy Cline, and brought fame to others. Springfield’s own fame fizzled out after ABC canceled "Ozark Jubilee" in 1960, but the show’s legacy remains in Branson’s thriving attractions and tourist industry.
The Ozarks inspired the television series “The Beverly Hillbillies,” which ran for nine seasons beginning in 1962. Creator Paul Henning developed the show based on memories of childhood camping trips to the Branson/Springfield region and his interactions with residents there. Five episodes from season eight were filmed at the Silver Dollar City theme park in Branson. Henning donated the original Oldsmobile truck featured in the series to the Ralph Foster Museum, where it is now on display.
In 1926, officials gathered in Springfield to propose the name “Route 66” for a new highway stretching from Chicago to Los Angeles. Today, Springfield is considered the birthplace of the now-famous “Mother Road” and celebrates the distinction with the Birthplace of Route 66 Festival, held on a stretch of the old thoroughfare. Route 66 has long since been replaced with more modern roads, but glimpses of the original road—along with cultural sites popular during its prime—are available to those who travel off the beaten path.
Springfield boasts its own regional variation on the Chinese-American dish cashew chicken, made with deep-fried chicken and a brown sauce over rice. The dish was created by David Leong, a Chinese immigrant seeking to merge his culture’s cuisine with Midwestern tastes. It is now served across the state of Missouri, and even earned a write-up in The New York Times in 2009.
“Wild Bill” Hickok earned notoriety as a sharpshooter after the nation’s first Old West gunfight in Springfield’s Park Central Square. Legend says the 1865 duel started over a poker game where Hickok lost his pocket watch to Dave Tutt. The next day, Tutt wore the watch out on the town to boast his win, humiliating Hickok and inciting an argument that ended in a quick-draw duel from 75 yards. Tutt shot first, missing Hickok; Hickok returned fire with a fatal bullet to Tutt’s heart.
The Ozarks have also inspired numerous books. Among the most famous is “The Shepherd of the Hills,” penned by minister and author Harold Bell Wright and published in 1907. The folkloric portrait of life in the Ozarks was an instant hit, selling millions of copies in multiple languages. Today, the tale takes the stage nearly every night from May to October at the Shepherd of the Hills Homestead and Outdoor Theater.
Springfield’s Chamber of Commerce once presented visiting luminaries the Ozark Hillbilly Medallion. Honorees include President Harry S. Truman, businessman J.C. Penney, U.S. Army generals Omar Bradley and Matthew Ridgeway, disc jockey Nelson King, and radio and TV personalities Johnny Olson and Ralph Story. Y’all come back now, y’hear?
Springfield founder John Polk Campbell arrived in the region in 1829 with his brother Madison and after finding a natural source of water chose to settle there. To stake his claim while he traveled to his home in Tennessee to fetch his family, Campbell carved his initials in an ash tree—and that, apparently, was enough to keep others at bay. He returned the following year to establish a bustling log cabin settlement, which was designated the Greene County seat in 1835.
The Ozark region was bitterly divided between North and South during the Civil War—even when burying the dead. When Springfield National Cemetery was founded in 1867, soldiers were buried in separate Union and Confederate sections over five acres. The Confederate Cemetery Association donated an additional six acres in 1911, on the agreement that the site bury only Confederate soldiers in future years. That provision has since been amended, and today any veteran can be interred at the site.
The Springfield Cardinals, an AA affiliate of the St. Louis Cardinals, brings crowds flocking to Hammons Field. But this isn’t the first Cardinals team in town: During the 1930s and ‘40s, the Cardinals owned a minor-league squad in Springfield that brought future Hall of Famers such as Stan “The Man” Musial and Dizzy Dean to the Ozarks. The club moved to St. Joseph, Mo., in the early ’40s, only to return 60-some years later.
Now that you’ve boned up on Branson, Springfield history and more, check out our facts about Lafayette.