- The Shepherd of the Hills
"The Shepherd of the Hills" is a book written in 1907 by author
Harold Bell Wright. It depicts a mostly fictionalstory of mountain folkloreand has been translated into seven languages since its release. It is also depicted in a popular outdoor play numerous times each week in eleven of twelve months each year, in Branson, Missouri. The play features more than 80 actors, 40 horses, and an actual nightly burning of the cabin. [http://www.hbw.addr.com/shepherd.htm] [http://www.branson-shows.net/tours/tourDetail.cfm/tid/2297]
Author Harold Bell Wright began visiting the
Ozark Mountainsin southern Missouri and northern Arkansasin 1898 at the bidding of his physician, who recommended two vacations a year in a more suitable climate for health reasons. In following his doctor's advice, he became acquainted with John and Anna Ross, known locally as Old Matt and Aunt Mollie. The people he encountered during his eight summers spent camping on the Rosses' land were the inspirations for his characters in the book. [http://www.theshepherdofthehills.com/history.php] [http://www.branson.com/branson/shepherd/history.htm]
The story depicts the lives of mountain people living in the Ozarks and the mystery surrounding an old man called 'The Shepherd of the Hills,' who's called Dad Howitt. The backdrop storyline surrounds the pretty Samantha Lane, called Sammy, and her love of Young Matt, Grant Matthews. The shepherd, an elderly, mysterious, learned man, escapes the buzzing restlessness of the city to live in the backwoods neighborhood of "Mutton Hollow" in the Ozark hills.
The story slowly builds up to an inevitable confrontation between Young Matt, and the story's bad guy, Wash Gibbs. Gibbs leads a marauding gang of outlaws, called The Baldknobbers, who terrorize the countryside wearing frightening masks with horns at their top and who rob banks and settlers as they see fit. The story centers around Young Matt and Sammy becoming lovers, but with Wash Gibbs being jealous and wanting Sammy for his own and with another "city feller" named Ollie, who also wishes to marry Sammy.
The "main" story, however, is the "history" shared by Grant Matthews, Sr., called Old Matt, and the Shepherd, involving the daughter that Old Matt lost and her orphaned son, young Pete. Throughout the story, there is a
ghostly person, masked, and always hiding in the shadows who befriends young Pete Howard. Dad Howitt spends his time alone, acting as a mediator and friend to the mountain people, and trying to recover from his tragic past, which includes the assumed madness and subsequent suicide of his only surviving child, his artist son.
The Shepherd becomes friends with the Matthews family, the strongest, most respected family in the hills. They love and trust him. Unbeknownst to them, the man who betrayed their daughter, the father of her illegitimate son little Pete, was the Shepherd's son.
Years earlier, the Shepherd's son had returned home after spending time painting in the mountains, and one of his paintings became famous, as did the son. That painting was of a young girl, pretty, standing beside a creek, and was the Matthews girl, daughter to Old Matt. The son had fallen in love with the Matthews girl, but he believed that his father's pride of family and place would never allow him to be reconciled to a marriage to an Ozark country girl. The son packed up his paintings and returned to the city, leaving the girl with the impression that he was returning, but from the city he sent her a letter explaining that his father's pride and high social position made it impossible for him to ever marry the girl. He kept the girl and his relations with her a secret from his father, but this secrecy drove a wedge between the young man and his father, although his father never understood why. Meanwhile, his love for the Matthews girl and his guilt over abandoning her were slowly driving him insane.
Some years passed, and the son becomes increasingly depressed and eventually leaves behind his city life, feigning a suicide. He goes to the Ozarks and learns the Matthews girl is dead, but that he has a son who suffers from some mental instability. The young man hides in the woods, befriending his son and living like a hermit, trying to atone for the wrongs he has done.
The Shepherd is suffering a mental breakdown of his own over the presumed death of his son (his wife and daughter had died many years before). A pastor, he realizes that his faith has never been real to him, that he has no knowledge or understanding of the Good Shepherd he is supposed to be representing as a pastor himself, and this crisis of faith pushes him over the edge. His doctor recommends he take a long vacation, so he changes his name and spends some time wandering around the country, rediscovering and strengthening his faith. Eventually, he moves to the hills to connect with what his son loved most. Here he finally learns of his son's secret, the subsequent death of the Mathews girl death, and the identity of young Pete as his grandson. He keeps this and his true identity from everyone, knowing that Old Matt has sworn he will kill the son who abandoned his daughter, as well as his proud and arrogant father, if ever he sees them. The Shepherd also hopes to do what he can to atone for his son's crime and intends to spend the rest of his life helping these people and teaching them about the true Shepherd.
It is later discovered, although only as he lies dying of a gunshot wound, that the ghostly character who lurks in the shadows throughout the story is the son. He has befriended his biological son Pete and allows himself to be seen only by him. His father, the Shepherd, discovers this only shortly before his son is shot while risking his life to save others. We learn that his son had lived for these many years in the mountains, finding it to be the only way to be close to his son, young Pete.
The Shepherd then confesses his identity to Old Matt and tells him that the betrayer of his daughter is still alive, but dying and desires to be forgiven. After the Shepherd's confession, Old Matt, angry, finds it within himself to forgive both father and son, and he and the Shepherd go to the bedside of the Shepherd's dying son.
The son looks at the painting of the Matthews girl, seemingly unaware that her family and his father were present. He speaks to her of their life together, saying, "I loved her, I--LOVED--HER. She was my natural mate. My other self. I belonged to her, she to me."
For a time he lies exhausted; then he rises on his arms and says, "Do you hear her? She is calling. She is calling again! Yes, sweetheart. Yes, dear, I am coming!" With that, the son dies.
The story then skips ahead many years to an artist wandering through the mountains, looking for inspiration. He meets an older man, and the two men converse casually for a time. For a few days they see one another regularly, conversing, and one day the old man invites the artist to his home. Inside, the artist takes special note of how nicely decorated the home is, and he is especially interested in one room, where paintings of good quality are hanging. He notices that the largest painting is veiled, hiding its content. The old man never offers to show the young artist that painting, and the young artist does not ask, but remains curious. The artist leaves the mountains, but returns the following summer.
He is greeted by the mountain folk, those closest to the old man, and discovers that the old man had died. It was then that, as requested by the old man, the veiled painting is revealed to the young artist, who then becomes excited, knowing it immediately as the famous lost painting painted by Mad Howard, as the Shepherd's son had been dubbed. The young artist asks excitedly, "Where did you find it?" They enter another room, as they begin telling the story of the Matthews girl, the artist, the guilt-ridden old man, and the larger story of atonement, forgiveness, reconciliation, and redemption. [http://www.xooqi.com/iboox/chaps/0088/0001.html]
Joy N. Houck, Jr.
* [http://www.theshepherdofthehills.com/ The Shepherd of the Hills Outdoor Theatre Official Website]
* [http://www.gutenberg.org/dirs/etext03/shphl10h.htm Text of the story] at
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