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Old 07-09-2007, 06:35 AM   #1
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News Story on Shepherd of the Hills 100 years

Nice Photo Gallery at the above link.^

1884 -- J.K. Ross ("Old Matt") builds the original room of the cabin.

1896-1904 -- Harold Bell Wright spends time visiting the area.

1907 -- Wright's second novel, "The Shepherd of the Hills" is published.

1911 - Ross and his wife Anna, move to Garber to escape the onslaught of curious tourists.

1926 - Lizzie McDaniel, a schoolteacher, buys the homestead.

1946 - Dr. Bruce and Mary Trimble purchase the Homestead.

1960 - The Old Mill Theatre opens and the first Shepherd of the Hills Outdoor Drama is shown with a capacity of 275, which gradually increased to 1,650.

1976 - The theater is expanded to hold more than 2,500.

1983 - J.K. Ross' house, Old Matt's Cabin, becomes a national historic landmark.

1985 - Gary and Pat Snadon purchase the Homestead and Outdoor Theatre.

1989 - Inspiration Tower opens.

1997 - The 5,000th performance makes "The Shepherd of the Hills" America's longest-running outdoor drama.

2002 - A fire destroys the Pickin' Parlor Theatre, the main gift shop and Aunt Mollie's Restaurant.

Published July 9, 2007

Shepherd of the Hills keeping history alive

Cliff Sain

According to many people, the story of Branson began 100 years ago with the publication of a book about a shepherd.

It was July 6, 1907, when Harold Bell Wright's novel, "The Shepherd of the Hills," was launched with a prerelease, giving most of the world its fist inkling of the serene beauty of the remote Ozarks hills in Taney and Stone counties.

Over the weekend, the Shepherd of the Hills Homestead, where Wright camped for two summers gaining inspiration for the novel, and where an outdoor theater version of the play has been performed since 1960, held a celebration of the event with three days of entertainment, games, speakers and food.

Residents of several area counties were admitted free to the park, located just west of Branson, as a way to honor those residents, according to Marketing Director Sharena Naugher.

"It has been the support of the community that has kept us going, so we wanted to share this with everyone," she said.

Owner Gary Snadon reflected on the importance of commemorating the event for the community, especially as the area continues to grow, receiving an estimated 7.5 million tourists a year.

"We need to keep a portion of Branson's history alive," he said. "You've got to know where you came from to know where you are going.

"You can't stop progress and I wouldn't want to stop progress, but you have to plan for it."

Rogersville resident Ken Spangler was one of the many people who took advantage of the weekend's festivities. He sat under a shade tree enjoying live gospel music on the hill where Wright pitched his tent during the summers of 1903 and '04 and took the notes that would become the novel. He said he has visited the park with his family a dozen times over the past 20 years.

"It's such an anomaly in today's world that you have entertainment like this, and instead of exploiting it, they are keeping it authentic," he said.

On hand at the celebration on Sunday was Walker Powell, grandson of Truman S. Powell, who served as Wright's inspiration for the title character. Powell said that while the book was entirely fictional, Wright did a good job of capturing the allure of the region.

"None of it was true, but he was a very descriptive writer," Powell said.

One of the fictionalizations, Powell said, was the existence of sheep.

"There were no sheep around here. There were too many wolves here to be able to keep sheep. But Wright could look out here and imagine those sheep grazing," he said.

He also said that his grandfather was about 5 feet, 9 inches instead of the 6 feet, 4 inches of the character in the novel.

Despite those differences and recent claims that the shepherd of the book actually resided in Lawrence County, Powell said there is no doubt his grandfather is the real shepherd.

"He was the shepherd. I got proof of it."

In 1941, "The Shepherd of the Hills" was made into a movie starring John Wayne, his first film in color. However, what might have been an important event turned sour, according to Special Events Coordinator Jim Grady.

"A print of the movie was brought here and shown in a tent," he said. "But it so distorted the people, places, storyline and in particular, the moral that many left before the movie was over and the others tore down the tent and ran them off the property."

Powell said he attended that screening.

"There was nearly a riot," he said. "We even got letters from attorneys asking us to sue (the film makers)."

Powell said he had a letter that Wright wrote to his grandfather, which he has since sold, apologizing for the movie and saying that he had no control over the filming.

Over the years, the play has grown from a local program that seated 275 people. Today, the theater seats 2,800, and has entertained anywhere from 6.5 to 7 million people. But all of it started 100 years ago on that hill where the 230-foot Inspiration Tower sits, atop the second-highest point in southwest Missouri.

The park has also expanded its season, adding a Trail of Lights display in 1988 that illuminates the park each Christmas season. Grady said the Snadons have made it a priority that the display always conveys the true meaning of Christmas.

Although many changes have taken place, it is easy to imagine what it must have been like for Wright.

"You can understand why he was inspired, camping here, looking over Mutton Hollow," Snadon said.
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