The Shepherd of the Hills Book
Discover The Shepherd of the Hills book set in Branson, Missouri, the heart of Ozark Mountains tourism: plot, characters, photos, quotes, themes & author info.
The Shepherd of the Hills book is a tale of life in the Ozark Mountains more than one hundred years ago, before the train cut through the wilderness connecting the world beyond the blue line of the horizon.
The simplicity of the era belies the complex story that unfolds in Harold Bell Wright's 1907 novel, which winds like paths through the hills with mystery, murder, ghosts, betrothal, betrayal, guilt, and forgiveness, while discovering the essence of nature and of the human soul.
Among the first books in America to sell over one million copies, for a time it was second only to the Bible in number of copies sold. It has been continuously in print for over a hundred years and is required reading in the Missouri public school system.
This book is singularly responsible for the founding of Branson, Missouri, and the Branson tourism industry.
TABLE OF CONTENTS - Jump to Section
Preface of The Shepherd of the Hills Book 1907
Read The Shepherd of the Hills Book
The original text of this American classic is reprinted in this modern edition.
"Here and there among men, there are those who pause in the hurried rush to listen to the call of a life that is more real. He who sees too much is cursed for a dreamer, a fanatic, or a fool, by the mad mob, who, having eyes, see not, ears and hear not, and refuse to understand."
The Ozark Mountains
The Setting of the Novel
The Shepherd of the Hills is surely a summertime story if ever one were told, for the story moves from summer to summer with only a sentence or two for the seasons in between.
Deep in the valleys where the mists lie low upon the earth, the corn is ripening, and that crop determines the fate of the backwoods families.
Author Harold Bell Wright came to these hills in the summer of 1898 upon his doctor's advice, like the book's main character, and spent eight consecutive summers in the Missouri Ozarks Wilderness. He camped out in the corn fields belonging to John and Anna Ross. The book's characters Old Matt and Aunt Mollie are synonymous with John and Anna, and Old Matt's cabin is the Ross homestead.
It is understandable, then, that the book knows no other season but summertime.
Wright never saw the brilliant autumn foliage, the snow covered mountains and their forests heavy-laden with sparkling icicles, nor the springtime blooms of wild dogwood trees, jonquils and dogtooth violets.
Wright and his book's main character, Daniel Howitt, were looking for the same things when they began their Ozark Mountain journeys; and they found them.
The Shepherd of the Hills Setting
"The stranger searching into the mists" – thus begins the tale of The Shepherd of the Hills and of "questioning the proper course." In the summer, the "corn-planting time", the mists swirl the Ozark Mountains and drop to the valleys and draws as if clouds lose their proper place and sink to our level, forcing a notice of the things of Heaven in the dusty human path, the path "that is nobody knows how old."
"I fear that I am lost," the stranger says when a local enters the scene.
"Whar was you tryin' to git to, Mister?"
"Where am I trying to get to?" As the man repeated Jed's question, he drew his hand wearily across his brow; "I--I--it doesn't much matter, boy. I suppose I must find some place where I can stay tonight."
The Stranger is introduced as a man with a directionless life, looking only for an immediate physical need, a place to stay for the night. And then, as if a premonition of intrigue to follow:
The Stranger is directed to the home of a Mr. Matthews with this plain and simple fact, "They'll take anybody in."
"Slowly the old man toiled up the mountain; up from the mists of the lower ground to the ridge above; and, as he climbed, unseen by him, a shadowy form flitted from tree to tree in the dim, dripping forest."
On his way he watches a young woman riding a brown pony barrel out of the gate of a fence which surrounds a small farm, and strike out on the trail ahead of him. We follow the woman as she gallops straight to the home of Mr. Matthews, the destination of our Stranger and the setting of our story.
Shepherd of the Hills Homestead
The Shepherd of the Hills Characters
As the Stranger arrives at Old Matt's cabin, we are introduced to the ensemble of characters.
SAMMY LANE: Sammy (short for Samantha) is exquisitely tall as a young pine tree and is full of youthful energy that lights up a room in pleasant wonder. She is just 18 years old when we meet her, and lives alone with her father since her mother's death many years earlier.
AUNT MOLLIE: Wife of Mr. Matthews, Aunt Mollie welcomes young Sammy who has come as an uninvited guest for dinner. But it is clear from the outset that there is no such thing as an uninvited guest to Aunt Mollie, who only wants to know why it has been almost a week since Sammy dropped by and is genuinely concerned that some illness might have been the reason. Aunt Mollie, we learn, is a surrogate mother to the teenage Sammy. Aunt Mollie greets us at her doorway with a "frank countenance and kindly look."
OLD MATT: Old Matt, Mr. Matthews, is introduced as "the strongest man in the hills" and stands a whopping "six feet four inches in height, with big bones, broad shoulders, and mighty muscles." He carries an anger toward a man "that blackened my life" and five deep sorrows for five sons buried beneath the pines. Under the tallest pine lies an unspeakable sorrow, a buried daughter he cannot mention.
Old Matt and Aunt Mollie
Early photograph of John and Anna Ross, the characters of Old Matt and Aunt Mollie in the book.
YOUNG MATT (GRANT): In the full vigor of youth, Young Matt is a physically powerful figure, resembling his father, and is "fearless and frank, but gentle and kind" like his mother, Aunt Mollie. It is said that he has "honest eyes" and it is revealed that his eyes are obviously attracted to Miss Sammy Lane and vice versa.
DANIEL HOWITT: Our Stranger from Chapter I is identified as Daniel Howitt, a lonely soul bereaved of wife and daughter and of a son who ran off 15 years prior and hasn't been heard from since.
Howitt was forced to leave his home in the city for health reasons. He found his way to the Ozark wilderness:
"because I was hungry for this":
He waved his hand toward the glowing sky and the forest clad hills. "This is good for me; it somehow seems to help me know how big God is. One could find peace here--surely, sir, one could find it here--peace and strength."
PETE: We learn that Pete is not capable of even tending sheep, something any 15-year-old the world over should be able to do. The book was written before words like autism and the like were used, but we are introduced to Pete in Chapter III as "the voice from out the mists", raising an alarm from his wild wailing songs piercing the night, which bring Aunt Mollie to tears and Old Matt to mutter, "Poor boy, poor boy." Pete bears an uncanny resemblance to Howitt's missing son, Howard.
OLLIE STEWART: The intended husband for Sammy Lane. He's a local boy with rich relatives in a city beyond the blue skyline. He has a small frame, without shoulders it seems.
MANDY FORD: Sammy's best friend since childhood.
JIM LANE: Sammy's father.
WASH GIBBS: Jim Lane's friend and cohort with "the look of a sheep killin' dog", whose father was killed by the government for moon shining. He is part of the notorious criminal gang, the Bald Knobbers. Wash is known as the "champion strong man and terror of the hills", but has yet to challenge the muscular Young Matt.
Chapter III closes with the supernal mists obstructing a clear view:
"the drifting mists from ridge to ridge became a sea of ghostly light."
Old Matt asks Howitt if he believes in haunts, whether the dead can come back and walk among the living. The scene ends with Pete's troubling cry:
"seeming at last to lose itself in the mists."
The Plot of The Shepherd of the Hills
Old Matt views Howitt as a learned man, cultured, a man who must know more about life than he. This 'city vs. country, rural vs. best society, backwoods wife vs. fine lady' is a theme carried throughout the book and is critical to the plot. Old Matt confides in Howitt.
Old Matt tells the story of his daughter, Maggie, how she lost her mind to unrequited love for the man who abandoned her and how she died giving birth to Pete, passing her troubled soul to his and haunting the next generation. It is Maggie's grave that is under the tall pine tree in the family cemetery on the homestead.
Old Matt speaks of the haunt down in Mutton Hollow and how people say it's Maggie, come back to wait for her lover, a young artist who came to paint the Ozark hills one summer and lived in a small cabin Old Matt owns in the Hollow. The little cabin became his art studio for that single summer.
He promised to come back, you see, but after he left he sent Maggie a letter saying that his father would never accept their marriage for he was from a proud family and she was but a backwoods girl.
"I don't know, Mr. Howitt; I don't know. I've thought a heap about it, I ain't never seen it myself, and it 'pears to me that if she COULD come back at all, she'd sure come to her old Daddy. Then again I figure it that bein' took the way she was, part of her dead, so to speak, from the time she got that letter, and her mind so set on his comin' back, that maybe somehow--you see--that maybe she is sort a waitin' for him there.
"Many's the time I have prayed all night that God would let me meet him again just once, or that proud father of his'n, just once, sir; I'd glad go to Hell if I could only meet them first. If she is waitin' for him down there, he'll come; he'll sure come. Hell couldn't hold him against such as that, and when he comes--"
Dan Howitt sighs in agony and buries his head in his hands from the recognition that his son Howard must be the jilting lover who ran out on Old Matt's daughter Maggie because of her perceived, low cultural status, that Pete is his grandson, and that Old Matt has a burning vengeance against "the proud father" of such a young man.
Dan Howitt never knew his son had fallen in love during that summer he spent painting the Ozark Mountains.
His son came back with more paintings of a beautiful young woman than of the hills he went to capture. One exceptional painting of this woman, standing by a woodland spring, smiling, and offering a cup of water, became his son's most famous work. But as his fame grew, his soul diminished into madness and his art critics began to refer to him as Mad Howard. That is when his son vanished.
Howitt is convinced that if the dead do return, his son would return to that cabin where Maggie posed for his paintings. Thus, the stranger in the night becomes inextricably linked to the Matthews family, with a foreboding sense of an impending confrontation if Old Matt discovers his true identity.
Because it is said that Maggie's ghost restlessly roams Mutton Hollow searching for her lover, no one will stay in the cabin to tend Old Matt's flock of sheep.
"And this is how it came about that the stranger, who followed the Old Trail along the higher sunlit ground, followed, also, the other trail down into the valley where the gloomy shadows are; there to live at the ranch near the haunted cabin--the shepherd of Mutton Hollow."
The Shepherd of Mutton Hollow
Daniel Howitt, the Stranger, becomes The Shepherd of the Hills, but he is more than a shepherd of a flock of sheep. Involved in his own personal quest for expiation from God and man, he becomes the shepherd of the people in the Ozark hills. They begin to call him Dad. And so the childless stranger becomes, like the Biblical Abraham, a father to many.
Shall I take you further down the path of this story? Shall I speak of Sammy's journey to womanhood, of Aunt Mollie's wisdom, of the drought, the lost gold mine, the marriage, the funerals, the robbery, the fist fights, the ghost and the bloody saddle, Dr. Coughlan's arrival, the coming of the train?
No, for this is Harold Bell Wright's tale, and the better telling is his.
Quotes from The Shepherd of the Hills Book
More Novels from Harold Bell Wright
Inspiration Point - Sammy's Lookout from The Shepherd of the Hills Book
Inspiration Tower at Inspiration Point
Since the first publication of The Shepherd of the Hills, tourists have flocked to see Inspiration Point (Sammy's Lookout), the picture on the first edition book cover and the setting for a major scene in the story.
Inspiration Point is the highest hilltop in Southwestern Missouri and the views of the Ozark Mountain Range from the point are second to none. In 1989, Inspiration Tower was built in memory of author Harold Bell Wright. The 230' tower is a major tourist attraction.
On this point overlooking Mutton Hollow, Harold Bell Wright wrote this story, his most famous novel.
Branson Missouri Vacation Packages
Old Matt's Cabin Today
Take a tour of Old Matt's Cabin, Missouri's number one historic destination. Watch the outdoor theatrical production of the story from the book, The Shepherd of the Hills.
The Shepherd of the Hills Homestead Tour
Tour Old Matt's Cabin and Homestead
Tour Old Matt's Cabin and Homestead (on the National Historic Registry) when you visit Branson, Missouri, and take a tram ride through the 160-acre site.
Top off the tour with a riveting performance at The Shepherd of the Hills Outdoor Theater, where the book is brought to life in a dramatic play with 90 actors and actresses, 40 horses and mules, a flock of sheep and a set the size of a football field.
The Shepherd of the Hills Live Outdoor Performance
Branson Tourist Guide Books
Branson Missouri Shows
Branson, Missouri, is the Live Music Show Capital of the World, with more than 100 different live shows in 50 theaters – something for every taste.
Branson Special Vacation Attractions
Branson offers Lake Cruises, Golf Courses and the Silver Dollar City amusement park. There's something for everyone.
Fun Things To Do In Branson Missouri!
'Ozark Mountain Wilderness in Summer' is courtesy of Wikipedian Kbh3rd. Photos of Britney Spears in Branson Concert and Branson Lake Cruise are courtesy of the Branson/Lakes Area Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Writer Fox (author) from the wadi near the little river on April 02, 2015:
Thank you Susie. This is the book that put the Ozark Mountains on the tourism map. Yes, they did make a movie about it, but it doesn't follow the book exactly. I think you can see it on YouTube.
Thanks for your comments.
Susie Lehto from Minnesota on February 20, 2015:
I would love to vacation in the Ozark Mountains. I have not read any of The Shepard of the Hills books. Although, I vaguely remember watching an old movie by the same title with John Wayne in it.
This is a awesome hub Writer Fox.
Writer Fox (author) from the wadi near the little river on December 10, 2013:
I'm so glad you stopped by to read this, Victoria Lynn. You live in a beautiful place with a rich history. Northwest Arkansas first became a tourist destination when The Shepherd of the Hills book was published.
Victoria Lynn from Arkansas, USA on December 10, 2013:
Your hub makes me want to read this book again! Your photos are beautiful and add so much. I'm glad you mentioned this hub in your comments on my Mt. Sequoyah in Fayetteville, AR hub. Thanks!
Writer Fox (author) from the wadi near the little river on June 13, 2013:
Thank you for your comment. I appreciate it.
Eiddwen from Wales on June 13, 2013:
A wonderful review and voted up.
Take care and enjoy your day.
Writer Fox (author) from the wadi near the little river on June 11, 2013:
It's not too late to read the book. I promise you will enjoy it so much you'll plan a trip to Branson to see where it all took place.
Jaye Denman from Deep South, USA on June 11, 2013:
The title of this book and its author jumped off the screen at me because I recall my grandmother telling me in the mid-1950s how much she enjoyed the story. She raved about what a wonderful writer Harold Bell Wright was, so I'm surprised I didn't read it then. Her brother often sent her copies of books he enjoyed, and she passed some of them on to me, but SHEPHERD OF THE HILLS was not among them. I don't know what happened to it.
It's obvious from your review--I should have read that book!
Writer Fox (author) from the wadi near the little river on June 11, 2013:
I hope you do go back and see the Shepherd of the Hills Homestead. It will mean so much more to you when you have read the book. Thanks so much for commenting here about your experience in Branson.
Marcy Goodfleisch from Planet Earth on June 11, 2013:
Years ago, I saw the outdoor pageant of Shepherd of the Hills, in Branson. I guess it's still going on - it was in a great setting, and was charmingly produced. We didn't go to the music shows - only did the pageant. Your hub has taught me many things I hadn't known about the history of the book - now I want to go back and see it again!
Voted up, and shared!
Writer Fox (author) from the wadi near the little river on May 29, 2013:
It sounds like you have a real collector's item, first edition copy of The Shepherd of the Hills. I'm delighted that my review inspired you to read it. You will NOT be disappointed!
Sparklea from Upstate New York on May 29, 2013:
Voted up, useful and awesome!
My husband and I visited Branson Missouri over a decade ago, one of the best vacations EVER. It was there I found a copy (maybe at a garage sale?) of the book 'The shepherd of the Hills' by Harold Bell Wright.
I had no idea why I bought it, it was if I was 'supposed' to have this book.
I am an avid reader, but I forgot about it until this hub! I immediately located the hardcover edition, dated 1907 on my book case.
I am going to make it a point to read it.
This hub is phenomenal with all the information you provided, which will help me greatly when I read this.
THANK YOU for this terrific and useful information! blessings, Sparklea :)