We were in Branson, Missouri last week. One of the shows we saw was called the “Baldknobbers.” I was not sure what to expect. I thought, perhaps, there would be some old, funny, bald guys telling bad jokes. I was wrong. It turns out the “Bald Knobbers” were not bald at all. At least we don’t know if they were bald because they wore hats. Instead, they were called “Bald Knobbers,” because they met secretly on the top of grassy bald knob summits in the Ozark Mountains. This happened between 1855 to 1899. They wore black, horned, hoods with outlines of faces painted on them. Here is an article about them in Wikipedia:
They appear to have been Republicans, because they were pro-law and favored the Union during the Civil War. They were opposed by the Anti-Bald Knobbers, who apparently were pro-confederate. They were vigilantes who at least started out helping the law, but then appeared to have crossed the line on occasion. The original Bald Knobber, Nat Kinney, was apparently a Democrat, but was also considered to be a Republican, because he supported the Union. He ended up shooting Andy Coggburn, in “self-defense.” Coggburn had been rude and mocked the group. Kinney, also a preacher, had apparently gone there to preach but got distracted. The story gets more than a little murky, but eventually Nat Kinney was shot, in “self-defense” by Billy Miles. The story gets weird with a botched hanging where the sheriff didn’t realize that if the hanging rope was too long, the people getting hanged could drag their feet on the ground.
Apparently, this resulted in a play called “The Bald Knob Tragedy of Taney and Christian Counties.” This was based on a novel called “The Shepherd of the Hills,” which apparently featured the Bald Knobbers as the villains. It is sometimes difficult to separate the good guys from the bad guys in these types of situations.
The “Baldknobbers” was the name of a Country and Western Comedy Review, founded by the Mabe family in 1959. It does not appear to have anything to do with the original “Bald Knobbers.” It was the first music-show and it is what made Branson famous. When we saw the “Baldknobbers,” several family members, continue to carry the Mabe torch started by their parents and grandparents in 1959. It was a fun show. If you go to any shows, you are likely to find other members of the Mabe family, or other performers who started out, at some point, performing for the Baldknobbers. Branson is that type of place.
While we were there, we saw advertisements for the “Shepherd of the Hills” play, which is still performed at an outdoor theatre. Since it was raining most of the time, we did not consider attending, but it is still held on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. The play, apparently, was based on the Novel, “The Shepherd of the Hills.” It wasn’t until after we returned home, that I learned anything about the play or the “history” of the Bald Knobbers.
In any event, this is a reminder that truth is often stranger than fiction. It is hard to imagine anyone being part of the original Bald Knobbers or the Anti-Bald Knobbers could have possibly predicted that the ultimate result would be modern day Branson. But, as I look in the mirror, I am reminded that, yes, sometimes, bald is beautiful. The people we met in Branson were very friendly and that also was beautiful. They did not wear silly hoods or even masks, which made it even better.