Wright was pastoring in Kansas when he was diagnosed with tuberculosis. He traveled to the Ozarks in hopes of regaining his health and enjoying some good fishing. (This would not have been at Lake Taneycomo or Table Rock Lake, but the original White River). It was a flood on that same river that caused Wright to seek shelter at the Ross Cabin. Summer after summer Wright returned to stay on the Ross’s property and they became the inspiration for Old Matt and Aunt Mollie in the novel. It’s is their cabin, still in its original location that people can tour today.
Wright eventually gave up the ministry to write full time, but he still managed to weave a sermon or two into his stories. In another novel, That Printer of Udell’s, he warns of the dangers of churches that talk the talk but fail to walk the walk (faith without works). In The Shepherd of the Hills, there’s almost a parable about the Two Trails: one that leads to the higher, sunlit fields and one that leads to the lower ground where “gloomy shadows gather long before the day is done.”
In the cornfield where Wright camped and wrote now stands Inspiration Tower with its 360 views of the Ozark Mountains. Here’s Wright’s take on the hills as described in the book –written in hillbilly twang…
…When God looked upon th’ work of his hands an’ called hit good, he war sure a-lookin’ at this here Ozark country. Rough? Law yes! Hit war made that a-way on purpose. Ain’t nothin’ to a flat country nohow. A man jes naturally wear hisself plumb out a-walkin’ on a level ‘thout ary downhill t’ spell him. An’ then look how much more there is of hit! Take forty acres o’ flat now an’ hit’s jest a forty, but you take forty acres o’ this here Ozark country an’ God ‘lmighty only knows how much ‘twould be if hit war rolled out flat. ‘Tain’t no wonder ‘t all, God rested when he made these here hills; he jes naturally had t’ quit, fer he done his beatenest an’ war plumb gin out.
For the last 55 years people have come to watch The Shepherd of the Hills pageant performed in Mutton Hollow. Every night the Baldknobber gang set the shepherd’s cabin ablaze and every night Sammy Lane discovers that becoming a lady has more to do with the heart and mind than fancy dresses and wealth. The pageant has fallen on hard times though. They’ve cut back performances and at one time thought they’d have to close entirely. I’ve heard the Passion Play in Arkansas nearby is also in similar circumstances. So if you happen to be visiting the area, please consider patronizing these long-standing local shows. Family passes (2 adults and up to 3 kids) are $105.04 and if you’ve priced tickets for Branson shows that’s fairly reasonable.
If you just can’t make it to Missouri this year, then at least visit through the pages of the novel. (Don’t watch the John Wayne movie—they truly just took the names and changed everything else about the story).
I’m linking up with …