Historical Sites in Southern Missouri To Visit With Kids

By David Bryce

If you were anything like me, you grew up wanting to be a cowboy or a mountain man. You grew up on tv shows like Grizzly Adams, Bonanza, Davy Crockett, and, of course, Daniel Boone. I even had a coonskin cap and a toy Winchester rifle for when I went out to play with friends.

Of course, reality has proven rather different. I’m neither a mountain man nor a cowboy. I can’t even ride a horse. Grizzly Adams was never accused of murder (falsely or otherwise) and he had far more than just one bear. The Ponderosa Ranch never actually existed. And, most importantly, Daniel Boone never wore a coonskin cap.

Still, the power of those shows captured the imagination when I was a child. As a father I wanted to share that sense of wonder. Unfortunately Tennessee was a bit of a drive, and the Alamo even further for a car full of kids. The Rockies were certainly out of the question. But there was something I could do that might capture the spirit of things, and in a way I never experienced myself as a child.

Working for Thousand Hills Golf in Branson, MO, I was surrounded by places that were a reasonable distance for a car full of children. Southern Missouri has a number of historical sites that are fully interactive. These include historic Fort Davidson, the Bollinger Mill, Bootheel Mansion, and most importantly to those of us who grew up with 1970s TV, the home of Nathan Boone, where Daniel Boone died.

Fort Davidson (3 ½ hours drive from Branson) may seem a bit far from Lake Tahoe and the Ponderosa Ranch, but the Civil War made its appearance in Bonanza on several occasions. Fort Donaldson played a pivotal role in the war, when a small force of Union soldiers defeated the far larger Confederate army of Sterling Price. At the time, president Lincoln was engaged in a desperately close re-election campaign. Had the confederates one the battle they likely would have been able to seize St. Louis, a headliner that could have shifted the election in favor of his rival, McClellan, and ended the war with a southern victory.

For parents, Fort Davidson not only has a museum full of exhibits that older children might find fascinating, it also has a live re-enactment at the fort on September 27th and 28th this year. The chance to see the fight unfold live is an exciting moment for older children, and a chance for them to see history revealed right in front of them.

Bollinger Mill: Erected around the same time as Fort Davidson, Bollinger Mill ( 4 ½ hours drive from Branson) was built to grind corn into meal for the farms near Jackson, MO. The Mill has numerous exhibits and is, itself, still in working order. There are a number of activities that can be enjoyed by children of all ages, including the chance to grind a little corn themselves. Bring your kids to spend a little time as farmers in the 19th century.

Bootheel Mansion: The Bootheel Mansion (4 ½ hours from Branson) is another connection to the Civil War era in Missouri. Located in the Hunter-Dawson State Historic Site, this antebellum mansion gives children another look at life in the 19th century. Where Fort Davidson gives a look at soldiering, and Bollinger Mill teaches about farming, Boothill Mansion is a taste of home life. Children visiting the mansion can see what family life was like. Activities include the chance to play card games, sing, or otherwise engage in the play that would have been normal for the time.

Nathan Boone: Finally, the home of Nathan Boone (1 hour drive from Branson) is the place to go to learn about Missouri's frontier past. The youngest son of Daniel Boone, Nathan Boone was a soldier, frontiersman, and business owner in Southern Missouri during the early days of the country's westward expansion. At the site, the home and some outbuildings still stand alongside of the cemeteries for both the family and the slaves that worked the land during Nathan Boone's day. Numerous hikes and tours are available to give children the chance to understand the time when Missouri was still very much the dwelling place of mountain men and wild adventurers.

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