There are at least two excellent
websites that outline the relationship between Harold Bell Wright and the
city of Branson:
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,
email@example.com). 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.
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
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.
||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
||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
||Twenty-one stereo photos for Viewmaster.
Manufactured by GAF.