Legacy of Harold Bell Wright–The Shepherd of the Hills

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Do you think about your writing having great influence in the lives of others? Do you want to be an author who leaves a cherished legacy through the pages of your work? Take a look at one simple man and his simple story: Harold Bell Wright and The Shepherd of the Hills. This could be you!

Yes, your writing becomes a legacy you leave for family, friends, and the broader audience. You may or may not even know that it’s happening at the time.

Harold Bell Wright was a writer very much like you when he wrote his second book, The Shepherd of the Hills. Published in 1907, it is still influencing the world more than a century later.

Harold Bell Wright–A Man & His Story

I am not going to rewrite Mr. Wright’s life story here, but it is a very interesting one and very much worth your time and effort. Born in 1872 in Rome, New York, he grew up a Christian who recognized the call of God on his life to be a minister. As he pastored his first church he wrote a series of stories to be used for instructing his flock. Though not originally intended to be published, they ultimately became his first book, That Printer of Udell’s.

This first book met with success and became quite popular. As you look at your own writing skills and situation, remember that he, too, just wrote about what he loved. He was not that much different than you are other than living in a different time.

For health reasons he spent some time in the Ozark hills around Branson, Missouri. Invigorated by the simple life and wholesome solid values of the Ozark mountain people, he fell in love with the people and the place. This was the basis of his second book, a novel, The Shepherd of the Hills.

When the book was published in 1907 it became popular immediately. It turned out to be the first American novel to sell more than one million copies. For years it was required reading in many schools. Even today, I have heard that it is still one of the best-selling books of all time, ranking just a little below the Bible.

Think about that! A simple novel written at the turn of the 20th century still holds that status today, seventeen years into the 21st century! That’s the power of a great story.

Harold Bell Wright–The Legacy

But there’s more! Not too long after The Shepherd of the Hills was published, people began to travel to the Branson area to visit the landmarks from the story. In the book, Wright introduces an older couple, Matt and Mollie. They have a son named Matt as well. To tell them apart, the reader recognizes them as Old Matt and Young Matt.

Old Matt’s cabin is at the heart of the entire story, and people wanted to see the cabin and the land around it. They wanted to visit the then-visible landmarks around the community. Wright’s influence over the Branson area was immense. He was responsible for bringing the tourism industry into Branson.

The Shepherd of the Hills has continued to be a huge calling card to the Ozarks region through the years. In 1960 the owners of the original land began a 57-year run of the outdoor play by the same name. It only closed down after the 2016 season, greatly missed and never forgotten.

There are reports of new life being brought into the old homestead once again. Though details have not been announced that I know of, I am very hopeful that someone with the author’s heart and the required funding and know-how revives this unique historical landmark and tradition.

The Shepherd of the Hills–Legacy Touches This Writer!

My memories are quite fond of the first time I encountered the book, The Shepherd of the Hills. I was ten or twelve years old, reading from the local library in the summer. My mother shared the book with me and I have never forgotten it.

A year of two later, we visited the Branson area and I purchased my very own copy of the book! I read it cover to cover more times than I can remember. For me it was one of those books I could almost recite page by page because I loved it so much.

I read it slowly each time, savoring the imagery and the feeling of each scene. The Shepherd of the Hills held a huge influence over my life. It made me fall in love with the Ozarks area. And it made me want to be a writer. It tapped something so deep within me I was never the same.

After reading probably four copies of it to the bone—worn out so badly they literally fell apart—I just recently bought a brand new copy of the book. I purchased it from a local store in the heart of Downtown Branson. And I fell in love with it all over again! It’s part of why I am so happy to be living in the Ozarks again!

The Harold Bell Wright Museum is now  housed in the World’s Largest Toy Museum on the strip in Branson. It is a wonderful place I am told by friends. Though I wanted to visit there before writing this post, time and circumstances prevented it, so I’ll have to do that later and get back to you!

Harold Bell Wright–An Author’s Test Of Time

The stewards of the Museum have reprinted The Shepherd of the Hills in its original format. It is wonderful! It also includes a short well-written biographical sketch of Harold Bell Wright by Elsberry W. Reynolds in 1916.

That brief biography shares how his writing of this story was truly a test to see whether he could better share his faith through pulpit ministry or through his pen. After publishing The Shepherd of the Hills, his publisher challenged him to move forward with his pen. Harold took his advice and went on to impact the world with his stories through a total of nineteen books.

Wright also accomplished another feat with the writing of The Shepherd of the Hills, one that holds great historical significance. As the stewards of the Harold Bell Wright Museum wrote in their introductory comments in the 2010 reprint of the book,

In addition to his morals, Harold Bell Wright also preserved a way of life that no longer exists. With the writing of this book, he stopped turn-of-the-century Ozark life forever. The simple hill people, their speech and way of life, have been captured here in beautifully descriptive prose. ~ Tom & Wendy Beck

The legacy is clear, his influence as an author nothing short of amazing! I often wonder if he lived long enough to know how deep his influence as a writer went. I hope so. His life was not an easy one; he faced human frailties not so very different from those you and I deal with today.

But his literature has lasted. It withstood the onslaught of more than a century of time. Lifestyles changed. Social standards and values evolved. But still, the influence and legacy of this one man, Harold Bell Wright, lives on.

Legacy: A Century In Branson, Missouri…And Still Going!

Nowhere has his legacy been more real and noticeable than in Branson, Missouri. Just the other evening I took a drive down the Strip in Branson where all the theaters and so much of the entertainment are located. There were lights everywhere, cars and people moving in every direction. Locals pretty much stay away from that area during peak seasons because there are so many people!

The city of Branson has done an excellent job through the years of accommodating her hundreds of thousands of visitors. There is shopping, lodging of all kinds, and a wide variety of entertainment options available. The city is also waist-deep in a major renovation project to make it even more user-friendly for her guests. And of course, the whole scenario is bounded by beautiful lakes all around!

Legacy: What Are You Creating With Your Writing?

And I thought as I drove slowly along that route, how different it all was 110 years ago when the presses first stamped out that original printing of The Shepherd of the Hills. Who knew it would ever turn into this! One writer took the time to publish his second book, to tell a story about what he loved, and it grew into a long-lived and wonderful family vacation destination.

What legacy are you building? What story do you have inside that you think isn’t worth telling? You’d better give it another look. Don’t cut off your own dreams. If Harold Bell Wright had said no to that urge to write, how different things would be today. Would something else have touched my heart and sparked the writer’s calling in me? Maybe.

Come On! What Are YOU Waiting For?

I’m thankful for Harold Bell Wright and for a vast number of other writers who took the time and the chance to write their stories. I am touched, enriched, and blessed by so many of them. But at the head of the list you will find Mr. Wright and The Shepherd of the Hills.

Come on. Write your story. Take the dare. The best way to fail is to never start.

I’m here to help jump start your writing project! Come on! Let’s do this thing! Contact me!

Thank you & God Bless!

Hi I'am Jane Rucker

Writing is my passion. It consumes me. What a blessing it is to work from my home studio tucked away in the Ozark Mountains of southern Missouri! I enjoy sharing my life, my faith, and the hidden treasures all around me in these beautiful hills.


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