Recently on this blog I profiled the noted Appalachian author Jesse Stuart. Stuart, born in Greenup County, Kentucky in 1906, was a prolific writer who published novels, short stories, essays, books for children and youth, and autobiography. His memoir of teaching in rural Kentucky, The Thread That Runs So True, published in 1949, has long been a classic work about American education and is one of the first popular teaching memoirs. Stuart, a man of enormous energy, authored more than sixty books, many of them set in the rural Kentucky he knew so well.
One of those books, Hie to the Hunters, appeared sixty-five years ago. Hie to the Hunters, released in May of 1950, tells the story of two boys: Didway Hargis, known as “Did,” and Jud Sparks, known to his friends as “Sparkie.” Did and Sparkie are a kind of Tom and Huck duo. Did is a boy from town who is rescued from a beating one day by local bullies thanks to Sparkie. Sparkie, a boy from the hills, takes Did home to his parents—and Did eventually decides he wants to stay with Sparkie’s family, much to the dismay of his own family back in town. Did takes to the life of the hills, sleeping alongside Sparkie in the barn and learning to trap, hunt, plow, and perform other tasks that are part of a rewarding but hardscrabble life in the mountains. The boys become inseparable.
Ruel Foster, in his Twayne’s study of Stuart published in 1968, describes Hie to the Hunters as “a beautiful agrarian hymn,” while also placing it among Stuart’s minor works. The novel is full of lyrical descriptions of life on the land that are contrasted with down to earth descriptions of some of the tasks and routines of mountain life—such as how to fell a tree properly or how to strip tobacco.
There is also a subplot concerning a feud raging between tobacco growers and fox hunters, which echoes a larger conflict of town versus country. In the end, Did is reconciled to returning to his family in town although he remains friends with Sparkie. Country life has matured and toughened Did, and he has developed a deep love for the hill life.
Hie to the Hunters is a simple and entertaining story that still charms readers with its lyrical descriptions of the mountain earth and the self-reliant ways of its people. I can easily see this novel being made into one of those brightly colored rural-themed Disney films of the 1950s and 1960s. The story lends itself to that kind of treatment. Incidentally, only one of Stuart’s works was made into a film. A ninety-minute movie version of his much-anthologized short story “Split Cherry Tree” was released in 1982. Colleen Dewhurst starred in the picture.
Hie to the Hunters by Jesse Stuart. Whittlesey House (McGraw-Hill Book Company), New York, London, Toronto. 1950.
Jesse Stuart by Ruel Foster. Twayne’s Publishers Inc., New York, 1968.