I have a confession to make: I have never read “The Shepherd of the Hills” by Harold Bell Wright.
For all of my fascination with our Ozarks, which I was born and raised in, the most well known novel taking place in our region has escaped my eyes.
I do intend to remedy that, though. Now, I did watch the 1941 film version, starring John Wayne, a couple of weeks ago and I liked it. I understand, though, that there are some differences between the film and the book. Still, the basic storyline for both is actually pretty interesting. It’s a story of forgiveness, with a lot of old Ozark flavor.
“The Shepherd of the Hills” was published in 1907, and takes place in the Branson, Missouri region. It probably did more than anything in later putting that small town on the map.
Wright, who was born in New York and was a pastor in Lebanon, Missouri when he wrote the book, was inspired by his doctor-advised visits to the Ozark mountains, for the fresh air and quiet, starting in 1898. He returned every year and camped out on the homestead that would serve as the setting for his book. He got to know and love the local folks and they became characters in his story.
Before he lived in Lebanon, Wright pastored a church in Pittsburg, Kansas, and before that he was a pastor in Pierce City, Missouri. In fact, the Harold Bell Wright Museum in that town is located in the former church building he used to preach in. After I read the book I’d like to visit it because, no, I haven’t done that either! It isn’t just a museum about Harold Bell Wright, but he does have a section there, so I’ve read.
I encourage you to read “The Shepherd of the Hills” along with me. A little Ozark-themed literature is good for us. I’m a strong believer in pride of place.
I’ll leave you with this little statement, which are some thoughts of mine that I scribbled down years ago and recently rediscovered:
You are from the Ozarks, my friend. Mysterious and beautiful all at once. Think black walnuts. Think white oak trees. Think narrow, icy cold creeks. Think wooded hills and hollows. Think black crows. Think dogwood trees. Think dulcimers. Think wax candles and kerosene lanterns. Think wood stoves. Think shotgun shells. Think roosters. Think dusty dirt roads. Think rocks. Think cider. Think blackberries. Think cedar trees. I love it all. Those who don't, well, they will never understand.
-Wes Franklin writes a weekly column, That History Guy, for The Neosho Daily News and occasionally for The Aurora Advertiser.