In his seventh year as a performer at Branson's Silver Dollar City, Mitchell bills himself as "America's Singing Cowboy," and in a vocal style reminiscent of Western balladeer Gene Autry captivates crowds of cowboy music fans seated on benches in the shade of oaks outside the city's Red Gold Heritage Hall.

Mitchell is just one of a host of Western performers at the Ozarks theme park during September and October as part of the new "Salute to the American Cowboy," scheduled in conjunction with the long-running fall Festival of American Music and Crafts. Headliners include singer-songwriter Michael Martin Murphey, who opened the show with a concert Saturday night, as well as Riders in the Sky, Sons of the San Joaquin, Roy Rogers Jr., the Sons of Tennessee, cowboy poet Waddie Mitchell and Western TV and movie stars Buck Taylor, Robert Fuller, Peter Brown and Kim Darby.

Day in and day out, as the headliners come and go, Mitchell sits on a bench in front of his old chuckwagon, strums his guitar and croons soothing cowboy tunes of years gone by.

Affable and as unpretentious as an old oak fence, Mitchell is somewhat of a headliner, himself.

The 50-year-old crooner grew up on the family ranch between Wichita Falls and Jacksboro, Texas. Contemporaries of Charles Goodnight and Oliver Loving, his ancestors arrived in 1852 to help settle the Texas frontier and establish the famous cattle trails that herds followed to the railheads His great uncle, Joseph Carroll McConnell, was a Texas legislator and wrote a history of the West Texas frontier.

Other members of his family continue to raise cattle on the a large spread that boasts three historical markers. In a trunk in his camp, Mitchell keeps copies of Commanche "depredations" reported on the ranch.

Raised in the Western traditions, as a young man Mitchell spent many nights sleeping on the range, in the same wagon parked behind him now at Silver Dollar City.

In about 1973 Mitchell took a job riding broncos, both bareback and saddled, with the Lone Star Heritage Wild West and Rodeo Show. When the show went on the road he also drove the chuck wagon and later became a cowboy singer.

In 1983 he won a country music award as the most promising cowboy solo artist, but rather than pursue a high-profile recording career he said he decided to remain independent. "In my heart, I'll always be a cowboy. After praying a lot about it, I decided this was the best way."

Though Mitchell and his wife, Eileen, call the STM Ranch in Jacksboro home, the couple is on the road 10 months out of the year.

Mitchell's credits include appearances on the "CBS Morning Show," "Good Morning America," the A&E Channel, the Nashville Network and many others. He has been inducted into the Gene Autry Museum in Gene Autry, Okla., and has been performing in Branson for 10 years, starting with the Mutton Hollow Theatre.

Every bit as authentic as his 1882 chuck wagon, Mitchell strives to preserve cowboy music as "a wholesome, clean, colorful part of Western history," honoring both God and country, he said.

When he sits down with his worn guitar, it's not a job, it's a calling - to preserve the best of the West as "America's Singing Cowboy."

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