Posts Tagged ‘moonshine’

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From the middle of Missouri down into Arkansas, the Ozark hills spread over the country like a green blanket.  The history of the people there are considered strange and backwards with their magic and folklore.  Their beliefs are similar to the mountain folk in the Appalachians.  Selling moonshine and being superstitious is one of the many peculiarities of this endangered culture.

In a novel, Ozark Magic and Folklore, written by Vance Randolph, there is a collection of their past beliefs and way of living.  Randolph chronicles his time among the Ozarkians, in the late 1800’s to the 1920’s,  in this in-depth look of a culture.  They believe in yarb doctors instead of civilized medicine from the cities.  A yarb doctor is one who uses herbs.  “Some of these nature doctors are women, others are preachers who do a little doctorin’ on the side, and many of them are unable to read or write.” Today though there are less and less people who use natural medicines. In my own family though there were some older family members who believed in natural medicines.  Modern medicine slowly replaced their way of thinking.

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The movie The Shepherd of the Hills, starring John Wayne, is set in the Ozarks. “A mysterious stranger arrives in the Missouri hills and befriends a young backwoods girl. Much to the dislike of her moonshiner fiancé who has vowed to find and kill his own father.”(IMDb)

“Young Matt Mathews, an Ozark Mountains moonshiner, hates the father he has never seen, who apparently deserted Matt’s mother and left her to die. His obsession contributes to the hatred rampant in the mountains. However, the arrival of a stranger, Daniel Howitt, begins to positively affect the mountain people, who learn to shed their hatred under his gentle influence the shepherd of the hills.” (Tony Ray – YouTube)  When one of the other mountain people encounter this ill fated family they avoid them and chant spells to ward off evil hexes.

The music played was the typical Hollywood style with large ballads played by orchestras.  The director, Henry Hathaway,  filmed this exceptionally well and the panoramic views of the Ozarks were captured in all their splendor.  The dialect and words were hard to understand at times but closely resembled the speech of the hillbillies.  Clothes and lack of footwear were portrayed accurately also. My favorite part was when Sammy would chant and make marks in the dirt.  This part can be found at 31.22 into the movie.  My overall rating of this movie in it’s historical likeness to the Ozarks and it’s people is two thumbs up.  Maybe I’m a sucker for a John Wayne movie, but I loved the story.


The connections I see in this movie and my time of living in the Ozarks, was running around barefoot on dirt roads and working hard.  People still today have sheep on their farms.  My in-laws had sheep on their farm until two years ago.  They would sheer them and sell the wool. It was very rare when a sheep was slaughtered.  I never heard of hexes or curses in the Ozarks.  And I don’t remember ever seeing anyone make a sign in the dirt and spit on it.  These practices are long dead in the Ozarks.  If they are practiced, then it is not where I have seen them.

The novel by Randolph and the 1941 movie with John Wayne have  similar connections with hexes and beliefs.  I could see many  things in common like not stepping in a puddle of water on a muddy road because it would be bad luck.  Or covering your eyes from dead spirits.  Similar things were documented in the novel.

Today you will not find a lot of superstitious people.  There are still good native Ozark people, but with their heritage almost forgotten they have become almost like the rest of the country.  Modern education, medicine, technical advances and conveniences have changed them and their culture.  It is sad too loose a language and culture of people.  Like the Indians who are becoming a race of lost culture, the Ozark people are loosing a part of themselves too.

There is only one Appalachian mountain top left in it’s natural state.  The others have been cut off and mined.  The people there suffer from cancers and other illnesses because of the water being polluted from the mining.  The world we live in is changing and our natural resources are in demand constantly.  But the human resource should be looked at as precious too.  When we loose all the different heritages in our country, then we loose a part of ourselves.  This novel and movie captures a part of our history we must never forget.

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Works Cited

Beaver, Jim. IMDb. n.d. electronic. 6 November 2014. <http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0034182/&gt;.

Randolph, Vance. Ozark Magic and Folklore. New York: Dover Publications, 1947. paperback.




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