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Branson, Missouri   

"Sammy Lane and her friend Mandy Ford"




There are at least two excellent websites that outline the relationship between Harold Bell Wright and the city of Branson:

The wonderful Harold Bell Wright Museum and Theater, once located in a small strip mall near The Shepherd of the Hills Farm, moved in late 2004 to the World's Largest Toy Museum at 3609 West Highway 76 (Phone: (417)-332-1499, Fax: (417)-332-0017, Be sure to see the Harold Bell Wright biographical movie, produced by his late son, Norman Wright.

While you are in Branson you will certainly want to see the Shepherd of the Hills Farm, which includes Old Matt's Cabin, Lookout Tower, and the outdoor Shepherd of the Hills play.

Of course, most of the claims that certain people and places in Branson are the "real" people and places Wright described in his book are false and always have been false, but it is all part of the fun -- as long as you don't take it too seriously. Wright did love the Ozarks, he visited Branson several times, and Branson was the setting for his novel, The Shepherd of the Hills. All novels are based on an author's previous experiences, so Wright based his descriptions of locations and characters on people he had met or read about.

The natural landmarks have the best claim to be the "real" places described in the book. Obviously if an author wrote a novel about an adventure in Yosemite National Park, he would describe El Capitan, Yosemite Falls, Half Dome, Nevada Falls, Bridal Veil Falls and maybe even the old hotel and cabins. The Shepherd of the Hills is set in Branson, Missouri, so some of the hills and streams and rocks, the bald knobs, caves and old trails are descriptions of places that can still be seen in the hills around Branson.

But the people in the Shepherd of the Hills story really were fictitious, as were the cabins they lived in. Wright -- who was a novelist, after all -- said there was only one real person in or near Branson whom he incorporated wholesale into his 1907 novel, The Shepherd of the Hills. That person was "Uncle Ike," the postmaster at Notch, whose real name was Levi Morrill. In addition, Wright stated that "Old Matt" and "Aunt Molly" bore some resemblance to J.K. Ross and his wife, Molly, whom Wright had stayed with during occasional visits from about 1896 to 1906. Even so, we should remember that Wright incorporated some of these people's physical features and mannerisms into his story. The real people were still real, and the fictitious characters were still fictitious.

So "Sparky" Pearl Spurlock, a local tour guide in Branson in the first half of the 20th century, was correct if she said, "Here is Levi Morrill, the man who served as a model for Wright's Uncle Ike. But to say, "This is a photo of Uncle Ike," was clearly stretching the point because the postmaster in the fictitious story was a fictitious character, even if he looked a lot like the real Levi Morrill.

Sammy Lane, Jim Lane, Young Matt, Preachin' Bill, Mandy Ford, Wash Gibbs, Fiddlin' Jake and all the other characters existed only in Wright's imagination and in the hearts of his readers.

And this is where things get really weird. If there never was a Wash Gibbs (and there never was) then how can we have photos of Wash Gibbs' cabin? The cabin that appeared on the postcards was a real cabin, built by a real person -- who had nothing to do with Wright's story. But some enterprising souvenir peddler said to himself, "these tourists have money in their pockets that they would like to spend on more photos of  places from the novel. I bet if I took a picture of that old cabin down by the creek and called it "Wash Gibbs' Cabin by the Roark," some of those silly city folk would buy it." Some silly people still buy the cards -- like me, for example.

The same is true of "Jim Lane's Cabin." The original cabin was actually built by someone -- a real person named Baker or Smith or McDonald. Wright may have never seen or heard of that particular cabin. So how did it become "Jim Lane's Cabin?"

We probably do have an answer to that question. In 1907, the year The Shepherd of the Hills was published, a young, talented photographer by the name of George Hall was living with his parents and sisters in a log cabin in the Mutton Hollow area. It appears that one morning not long after the book appeared, George Hall photographed his parent's cabin, wrote "Jim Lane's Cabin" on the negative, printed a bunch of postcards from that negative, and sold them to souvenir shops in Branson.

And that is how the Hall cabin became the Lane cabin.

It is not likely that one person did all the re-naming of local landmarks. Almost certainly Hall, the best photographer to produce postcards in the Ozarks at that time, played a significant part. Millions of people bought pictures of the real cabins supposedly inhabited by fictitious characters, and sometimes they bought photos of real people pretending to be the fictitious characters themselves. Branson grew, and the inventors of these match-ups made money. And it was all fun. People suspended disbelief when they read the book, and they suspended disbelief when they visited Branson and bought the postcards.

And I am glad they did, because I love those old photos.

rossmemorialspurlock01.jpg (61050 bytes) Invitation: "The Ross Memorial Committee announces the dedication of the memorial to Old Matt and Aunt Molly of 'The Shepherd of the Hills' Sunday, Oct. 4th, 1925 at 3:00 P.M. in The Shepherd of the Hills Cemetery." Photo Courtesy Dave Hadsell
rossmemorialspurlock02.jpg (91793 bytes) Photo from the dedication of the memorial to Old Matt and Aunt Molly, October 4, 1925, at the Shepherd of the Hills Cemetery. Levi Morrill ("Uncle Ike"), center, leans on cane. "Sparky" Pearl Spurlock's taki is parked on left of photo.   Photo Courtesy Dave Hadsell
shepviewmaster.jpg (32493 bytes) Twenty-one stereo photos for Viewmaster.  Manufactured by GAF.
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This Harold Bell Wright web site is written and produced by Gerry Chudleigh with the help of many friends.
Copyright 2000-July, 2011 by Gerry Chudleigh
Last updated 07/23/11