Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Thursday, December 1, 2022


 The Hills Stand Watch by August Derleth (1960)

August Derleth, the Sage of Sauk City, was a one-man pubishing phenomenon.  Novelist, journalist, biographer, essayist, historian, editor, educator, literary mentor, naturalist, and strong proponent of Wisconsin writers and writing.  Today he most remembered for his advocacy of H. P. Lovecraft's writings (and it is a given that most people today would never had heard of HPL, to say nothing of Cthulhu, without the tireless efforts of Derleth), as well as the promulgation of the American weird tale through Derleth's publishing company, Arkham House, and through Derleth' own anthologies.  Derleth is also remembered as the creator of Sherlock Holmes clone Solar Pons. a character who continues to live on through the writings of others.  During his lifetime, Derleth was considered one of the most immportant of America's regional writers; that aspect of his career has been sadly -- and unjustly forgotten.

Derleth' major work was his Wisconsin saga, a broad and sweeping look at his beloved home state, its people, its history, and its character.  As a subset to this, Derleth created his Sac Prairie Saga, with Sac Prairie serving as the fictional counterpart to his home village of Sauk City.   The overall saga consisted of historical novels, short stories, poetry, journals, young adult novels, juvenile nonfiction, biographies, and history exploring his home state with a poet's eye.   His novels covered parts of Wisonsin's history that may seem to hold little glThe Hill Stand Watchamor:  the establishment of a banking system, the torturous political path from being a territory to becoming a state, the growth and death of the fur trade, the importance of lead mining, the establishment of a railroad, the treatment of Indians, the slow establishment of trade and business, as well as both the Catholic and Protestant religion, and the importance of German, Hungarian, and Cornish immigrants settling in the area.

The Hills Stands Watch takes place in the lead mining area around the small village of Mineral Point inn the 1840s.  David Pengellen, co-owner of the local store, has just brought his new to this remote area from her native Providence.  Candace Pengellen, used to a much more active social life, is having a hard time adjusting to what is basically a frontier life despite the best efforts of a few newly acquired friends, including Aunt Marget, the widowed woman who serves as housekeeper for several of the families in the village.  The thick Cornish accent of many of the townspeople is difficult for Candace to understand and adds to her isolation.   David himself, is a clear-headed young man whose opinions and tact make him very popular.  He realize that Candace is having a difficult time adjusting.  Lieutenant Nate Parr is a former militiaman who roams the territory with Soaring Hawk, a taciturn Winnebago scout.  Parr has secret ambitions of gaining a political post after Wisconsin achieves statehood and has made numerous friends throughout the territory to help him reach that goal.  The closest thing Parr has to a frined, putside of Soaring Hawk, is David Pengellen.  When Parr meets Candace he is strongly attracted to her, a feeling he tries to hide because of his friendship with David.  Tamson Bishop is Aunt Marget's orphaned niece from Cornwall.  When we meet her she is just seventeen and is trying to rid herself of her thick accent.  As she blossoms into womanhood before our eyes, we learn that she is wisely observant and, with the exception of Soaring Hawk, the most aware character in the novel.  Tamson has a secret crush on David and will do nothing about it because of her friendship and respect for Candace.  Candace's depression grows after she has a miscarriage and learns that she is no longer able to bear children.  Also, circumstances back in Providence any possibility of Candace ever returning there, destroyinng a secret hope tht she has held onto since entering Wisconsin territory.  Slowly, Candace finds herself drawn to Parr, just as David finds himself drawn to young Tamson.  The scene is set for tragedy.

The other main character in the novel is Wisconsin itself.  The natural beauty of the land is lovingly described by Derleth, who, as I mentioned, has a poet's eye for his state.

In the background are the efforts to grow the lead mining business in the area, attempts to get a railroad to pass through Mineral Point as the demand for lead pushes the growth of the town, the incipient was with Mexico (which will mean an increase in demand for the mineral for ammunition), the possibility of some final Indian uprisings which could bring war to the territory, and the political machinations as the territory inches toward statehood.

Everything combines well into strong character studies of the main players and a fascinating view of a point in American history, as we are reminded of the difference between fate and Providence:  fate "was the anme applied to man's errors."

Well-written, literate, and perhaps a bit too, old-fashioned for many of today's readers.  Nonetheless, it's worth a try if you should happen to come across a copy.


  1. I'm a fan of August Derleth's work. I wish I spent more time searching for his books when I was in Wisconsin going to College. I know he gets criticized for his Solar Pons stories, but I enjoy them. This sounds like a book I need to find and read! this. Derleth loved Wisconsin and I did too when I lived there.

  2. Jerry, Diane and I are working on our Christmas cards and discovered we didn't have your new address. Could you send it to me at: