Sure, Branson’s other museums make for fun or educational diversions, but if you want to learn about the Ozarks from one of the most eclectic collections I’ve ever seen, the Ralph Foster Museum is at the top of my list. Even better, it’s much cheaper than the other private collections
It’s named after Ralph Foster (1893-1984), a radio pioneer who interviewed many country music stars and who donated his vast collection of Indian artifacts to this museum. Since then many more items have been donated, most of them relating to Ozarks history and folklore. Its most famous exhibit is probably the original truck used in The Beverly Hillbillies TV show.
Other items include perfume bottles, cameos, handcarved Meerschaum pipes, grandfather clocks, pocket watches, antique furniture, international currencies and stamps, rocks and minerals, quilts, musical instruments and farm tools. The doll collection ranges from Kewpie dolls (created by Rose O’Neill, who lived in nearby Bonniebrook) to dolls dressed in native costume from around the world, as well as locally made corn-husk and hickory nut dolls.
You’ll see stuffed grizzly and polar bears, a Bengal tiger and mountain lion, birds and butterflies, tributes to Ozark music personalities like Roy Clark and Mickey Gilley, and arrowheads. You can also peer into a blacksmith shop, a country doctor’s offce and an Ozarks log cabin. The more than 1,000 firearms on display are especially impressive, including rare firearms from the 17th century, Jesse James’ colt revolver, guns used by Buffalo Bill, and Bat Masteron’s cane, hat and Derringer.
In short, you can spend a couple hours gawking at all the artifacts here. I’ve been here many times, and I always find things I hadn’t noticed before. And if that works up a hunger, dine at the nearby Dobyns Dining Room, staffed by college students. Heck, you can even stay overnight campus, at Mabee Lodge.