Volume 1, Number 2
By Edith McCallIt is just right that the name Branson be on the map representing a thriving American town, for the Branson family for whom it is named is about as representative an American family as could be found, with members in all walks of life, in almost every state of the Union, and highly identified with every important event in American history. Other than a tiny settlement of 124 (1960 census) in Colorado, our White River Valley Branson is the only municipality in the nation carrying that name.
Records trace the Bransons back to the hardy Norsemen, whose Viking ships were first to venture across the open sea from Europe to the western hemisphere. During the centuries, the spelling of the name took many forms, seeming originally to have been Brownsen. Variations were Brinson, Brunson, Branston, Brandson and Branson. As the Branson name came into this country, the first to arrive using that spelling came from England to Connecticut as early as 1636. This established one of the many branches of the family now found in the United States.
Perhaps related to the two brothers who came to Connecticut was the George Branson reported killed by a bull at Dover, New Jersey, on July 4, 1640, long before that date had special significance to Americans.
It is known definitely that the Virginia-Carolina branch of the Bransons, from whom the Missouri Bransons appear to have stemmed, were etablished in America early in the 1700's. Thomas Branson is recorded as having arrived from England in 1703, and some students of Branson genealogy believe that an Absalom Branson was in Virginia before 1700. Arrival of two brothers, Eli and Levi Branson, possibly adding another branch to the family tree, places Bransons as settlers on the James River in Virginia about 1760. Some members of the present generation of Bransons believe this Levi and Eli to be the sons of Thomas; others do not agree that this is the same Levi and Eli. The names appear often in the family tree that it is difficult to establish exact identities and lineage.
We do know from the court order books of Frederick County, Virginia, that the estate of Thomas Branson was being appraised in 1745. In March of 1744, there appeared an entry of a case filed by one Nathaniel Chapman against Thomas Branson, Sr. The case was dismissed on the grounds that Thomas Branson, Sr. was no longer an inhabitant of the county, and refiled against Thomas Branson, Jr., his eldest son. Thomas, Jr., was ordered to pay court costs, and the case otherwise dismissed.
Branson, Missouri, 1906
"The Def't being called and failing to appear, the pl't in Court produced the Def't note of hand for 300 pounds of Crop Tobacco or Two pounds fourteen shillings and ten pence Virginia Curr'y Therefore it is Considered by the Court that the said Pl't recover ag't the said Def't the said sun of 300 pounds of tobacco or 2 pounds 14 shillings and ten pence Virginia Currency and Costs of Suit.
However, Thomas and John, Virginia tobacco plantation owners, both stood high enough in public esteem to be assigned public office. Thom as was appointed surveyor of a new road that October, from "Chesters Ferry to John Hite's." The orders for this road establish the "Thomas Branson place" as being on Crooked Run, which was in the eastern part of Shenandoah Valley frontier country under rapid development in those days, and possibly part of the land which George Washington helped survey as part of the disputed Fairfax land holdings.
True, there were some complaints filed later that Thomas was not sufficiently active in grubbing, clearing, and keeping the road in repair." Standards for roads in those days of high-slung carriage bodies and travel mainly by horseback were simply to keep stumps from sprouting badly and brush cut back, not to pave or grade. Stumps were chopped off at somewhere between six inches and thirty inches from the ground, depending upon the diameter of the trunk. Often, while a road supervisor was tending his tobacco crop, a road could grow back into impenetrable condition.
In 1746, John and Thomas Branson recorded the division of their father's land. The same year's records recognize the appointment of John Branson to be Constable, and two years later, Thomas held the same office.
There were always Bransons in the vanguard of westward movement, as well as in military engagements. Bransons took part in the French and Indian War. Since some of them lived in the area in which young George Washington was militia commander, it is very likely that at least one Branson marched in those first unfortunate campaigns, which resulted in Washington's building of Fort Necessity shortly before Braddock's defeat.
Bransons took part in the Revolutionary War. Since many of the veterans of that war were partially paid in Ohio land grants, that may be how Bransons came into possession of acreage in the Scioto River Valley in Ohio. A will recorded for Lionel Branson, in April of 1809, leaves to his children many acres of land, ranging from estates on the waters of Lost River in Virginia and tracts in Shenandoah County to approximately six hundred acres of land in that Ohio region. A few years previous to that, an Abbeville Courthouse, South Carolina, record shows an estate of land and slaves being left by one Eli Branson. Hence we see that prosperity was coming to at least part of the Branson family and that its geographical representition was spreading.
The Connecticut branch of the Bransons were, in the meantime, represented in the movement of others from that state to the "Western Reserve", which was the northeastern corner of what is now the state of Ohio, including the city of Cleveland, which was founded by the Connecticut travelers who first ventured into that area for the purpose of settlement.
Wherever frontiersmen ventured, there seem to have been Bransons. Some followed their Carolina neighbor, Daniel Boone, into Kentucky. Some went to Tennessee, perhaps along with the Crockett family, who were also neighbors back in Virginia. One of four Branson cousins who left North Carolina to settle in Tennessee about 1789 was John Branson, a great-grandson of Thomas. John's grandson, born just west of Chattanooga, Tennessee, in 1819, was named for the hero of the Battle of New Orleans of the War of 1812 (in which we also find Bransons fighting), and became Andrew Jackson Branson. According to Mr. Joseph M. Branson of Kansas City, Missouri, this was the branch of the Branson family which moved to Gasconade County, Missouri in 1829, when that area was the nation's westernmost frontier. Most of the Bransons had large families, and Andrew Jackson Branson was no exception. He married in 1841 and he and his wife had eleven children.
Among the children of Andrew Jackson Branson, we find several who, fascinated as their ancestors had been by the magic of the words "Go west", headed across the plains and the mountains to California, Nevada and Colorado, establishing branches of the Branson family in the far west, where they are still well represented today. In the years that A. J. Branson's children were growing up, there were other Bransons journeying to California in the fever of the Gold Rush.
Records available to the author of this article are not clear as to the exact line of Reuben S. Branson, who brought the name to Taney County, Missouri early in the 1880's. His grand father may have been Andrew Jackson Branson's father and that individual his uncle. "A Reminiscent History of the Ozark Region," published under unidentified authorship in the last years of the nineteenth century, and reprinted in 1956 by Ramfre Press, Cape Girardeau, Missouri, states that Reuben was born in Gasconade County in 1853, the son of Valentine and Alpha M. (Sherrill) Branson, natives of Bledsoe County, Tennessee. This may be in disagreement with the theory of others that Reuben was in the same direct line as some of the other Missouri Bransons.
This same authority states that Valentine's father was Andrew Branson, the same name given for the father of Andrew Jackson Branson, but it is very possible that this was another man by the same name. 'His father, Andrew Branson, came to Gasonade County, and died there before the (Mexican) War," states the "Reminiscent History", which agrees with data from other sources giving Andrew Branson's life span as 1789-1835.
Ruben S. Branson, for whom Branson, Missouri is named was one of thirteen children, who, in turn, branched out to many parts of the country. "The Reminiscent History" reads as follows, concerning this family:
Reuben S. Branson
We see from the foregoing that the Branson name entered the White River Valley through several channels. There may have been cousins who also migrated in this direction. Some went on to Arkansas, and descendents are living there now.
Rueben Branson came to Taney County when the center of activity was along the White River, and Forsyth had long been established as the county seat. Kirbyville, the nearest town to the homestead site that Rueben chose, was not on the river, but on the freighting road that came up from Harrison, Arkansas, en route to Springfield. Rueben's claim was about four miles east of Kirbyville, and about seven miles upriver from Forsyth.
Rueben had been brought up as a farm boy, but had taken all the "schooling" he could get. Common school was all that was provided while he was at home, but he later obtained further formal education at his own expense, enabling him to become a teacher. He was always an avid reader. He taught school in Osage and Gasconade Counties, and in the year 1877, he married Mary T. Cooper of Osage County. The couple broke the tradition of having a dozen or so young Bransons, and are reported as having but two children-Lucy M. who died while young, and James J. They also raised a niece, Mary E., daughter of Rueben's brother, Valentine.
After his marriage, Rueben came to Greene County, around 1880, and went into the drug business at Brookline Station for a few months. He then moved to Taney County, taking his stock with him, and adding to it to open a general store near the White River, "about seven miles above Forsyth," where his store also became a post office in 1882., officially listed as Branson, Missouri.
Apparently Mr. Branson found a buyer for his store about 1884, when Mr. William W. Hawkins was appointed Branson's second postmaster. Mr. Hawkins was postmaster when, in 1902, the name was changed to Lucia. It was officially under that name for only two years, according to United States Post Office records, and became Branson again in 1904. The Lucia post office is reported to have stood just above the present Branson High School.
In the meantime, Rueben S. Branson became county assessor. The Branson name was well known in the county by then, long before Branson as a city was big enough for much notice.
A school record of Oak Grove School, just off Long Beach Road, shows among the pupils in February, 1888, Sammie, Willie, and Eddie Branson. In Forsyth, Rueben went from the office of assessor to that of county and circuit clerk and recorder. Later he opened a distillery near Forsyth, and also operated a boarding house.
Reuben's brother, Galba, in the meantime, had become sheriff of Taney County. There was trouble at a picnic on the Fourth of July in 1889, and "Gab" was killed before it was over, as was a United States marshall.
Interest in Branson as a commuity with good business prospects surged when it was learned that the railroad would soon come to it. Among the early merchants to open establishments was Mr. Samuel Parnell, who brought his stock of goods from his Kirbyville store to the new town in 1903. The streets had very recently been laid out and the public was advised to "look out for stumps."
In 1904, a new bank, a hotel and a livery stable were opened. A new school district was organized the following year, as the railroad's completion continued to attract new residents. By 1912, when Mr. R. O. Whelchel, in partnership with Mr. W. H. Bennett, opened his hardware store, the brick buildiing now housing the Security Bank and another brick structure across the street to the southeast showed the town's growing prosperiity. The first steel bridge in the county was being contracted for to cross the river at Branson
But just a few weeks after Mr. Whelchel's store opened fifty years
ago this August, Branson's business section was burned down, almost in its
entirety. The fire reported to have started in the Commercial Hotel, where
Dillon's store now stands, when someone left the flame burning under a kerosene
heated flatiron. The flames swept through the town too swiftly for effective
control. The present Security Bank building was among the few left standing
when it was over.
Apparently, the city that bears the name of the fine old American family of Branson, had enough of its pioneering spirit to rebuild itself better than before and to continue its growth, long before the building of the dam at Powersite created Lake Taneycomo and inspired the tourists business which now contributes so heavily to Branson's prosperity.
Reuben Branson lived to see much change in his namesake town. He died in Forsyth in 1935. While most of the Branson family members have left the White River Valley, there is a grandson of Reuben's brother, Lewis, still residing on one of the farms the Bransons homesteaded in Taney County. He is Albert Branson, whose farm is on bottom land a short distance above Highway K Boat Dock.
(Acknowledgements - Several members of the Branson family very kindly sent material to aid in the preparation of this article, and we are most grateful to each of them. Especially helpful have been Mrs. Mabel McClellan of Albuquerque, New Mexico, Melissa Branson Stedman of South San Gabriel, California, Mr. Joseph M. Branson of Kansas City, Missouri, and Reuben S. Branson's grandson, Mr. Dillard M. Branson of Jefferson City.)
Copyright Ó White River Valley Historical Quarterly