Pioneer Story of Eugene Manlove Rhodes
In his thirty-eight years as an author, Eugene Manlove Rhodes published sixty short fiction stories, fourteen novelettes and longer serials, sixteen essays and articles, and thirty-two poems. Twelve books and two booklets also bear his name. He wrote stories true to life in western cattle country, about a hard country in a laborious time.
He wrote from first-hand intimacy with the west and its people. He died in 1934, and was, a few years later, the subject of four manuscripts prepared by two authors working for the WPA Writers' Project, authorized by Congress from 1936 to 1940.
Following is a report of an interview with Howard Roosa about his meeting with Eugene Manlove Rhodes. This interview was conducted on March 17, 1937, by Janet Smith of 1216 East Central, in Albuquerque. Ms. Smith, working for the WPA Writers' Project, wrote in 1937:
"Yes," Mr. Roosa said to me, "I am interested in the work of Eugene Manlove Rhodes. I have a copy of each of his books, but only one first edition. It's practically impossible to get first editions of Rhodes' work. I know the western representative of Houghton Mifflin is much interested in Rhodes and he says the first editions seem to have disappeared.
"And it seems just as hard to find any real information about the man. As far as I know there are no tales -- no legend that has grown up about him, as is the case with so many artists and writers. Perhaps that is because of the long period -- twenty years I believe -- during which Rhodes was absent from the west. Before he left he was just a cowboy. When he came back he was a writer. And during that long hiatus people had died and things had been forgotten. It may be that there were many things he would have wished to be forgotten. I have the impression that there was something mysterious about his leavetaking, although I can't give you any authority for that impression. Anyhow, he was a man who never seemed to care to talk much about himself.
"I saw Rhodes only once. The way I met him was almost as curious as the meeting itself. I was staying at La Jolla which is not far from Pacific Beach, California -- Rhodes home, you know, during his later years. Seems to me I heard he had to go to the coast for bronchitis. Well, anyway, I used to walk to the post office -- a distance of two or three miles. One day on the way back a man picked me up in his car.
"He was a nice fellow -- a mail carrier -- and we got to talking. I told him I was from New Mexico. And he told me that Eugene Manlove Rhodes was on his mail route and offered to show me where he lived. I had been interested in Rhodes and in collecting his work, so several days later, I went to see him.
I remember there was no one home at first, and I had to wait. Before long he came in with his wife. His wife was a charming woman -- a very – ah – I can't think of the words I want this morning -- live, that's it, she was a very alive sort of person.
"She entered into the conversation, not to monopolize it you understand, but one was always aware of her presence. I tried to get Rhodes to talk about his work, and himself, but I didn't have much success that way. He talked to me about some woman in Socorro whose writings about this country interested him. Can't remember her name now.
"Anyway, I wasn't much interested. We also talked about a number of books in which he was interested. I wish now I had had the foresight to make a list because it would have thrown light upon his reading interests. But I didn't and I can't remember one of them -- all current works at the time and none of the things that particularly interested me.
"At that time a man in Los Angeles was planning to get out a ten-volume edition of Rhodes' work for fifty dollars. We talked about that and Rhodes agreed with me that 'The Little Depippus' should have the ending used in the 'Saturday Evening Post' version rather than the one he gave it in book form. He gave me the manuscript of 'In Defense of Pat Garrett' (published in Sunset, in September, 1927).
"I don't have a very clear recollection of what Rhodes looked like – that was about ten years ago -- except that he was a little man, and he called me 'ister' -- just 'ister'.
"I don't believe his books ever achieved the popularity that they deserved. They were too sophisticated for the reader of wild western tales, and the more sophisticated reader has a prejudice against westerns and cowboy tales.
"But the cowboys liked his stories. You can't find a real old-time cowboy who doesn't swear by Rhodes. They laugh at the average western tale, but Rhodes is the cowboy's author. I remember Charles Giringo saying that Rhodes stories were the real thing.
"From something I've read of him -- I can't recall just where -- I have the impression that Rhodes hated the task of composing. He was always very reluctant to get down to the actual writing. I had a housekeeper who claimed to have known him very well. She said he wrote lots of poetry. You know he always signed his poetry 'Gene Rhodes'. I believe that his first interest in writing was in poetry, and that it was some time before he realized that fiction was more his medium.
"His poems seem to me jut versifying really, but there is poetry in his novels. Now you take that introduction to 'The Trusty Knaves' -- about the cats, you remember.
"I remember my housekeeper saying too that he was always reading. But that wouldn't have been unusual for a cowboy in the old days. They were all much more literate than people know. I believe it was Rhodes himself who told how they would got real literature from the soap companies -- or maybe it was the coffee companies. Anyhow, some of these companies put out coupons which could be redeemed for paper-covered copies of the classics -- Dickens, Shakespeare, and so on. It was these paper-covered classics that furnished most of the cowboys' reading material in the old days."
"I'm sorry that I can't give you more information about Rhodes, but I think that if you would go to see that old housekeeper of mine, Mrs, Ostic, and get her to talk to you, you might got some very interesting material."
This manuscript reports a personal interview with Howard Roosa, known in 1937 as a collector of New Mexicana, who then lived at 1419 West Roma Avenue, in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Next month, what Mrs. Ostic remembered about Eugene Manlove Rhodes. She knew him as a younger man living with his family on a ranch near the Mescalero Apache reservation, where his father was employed.
For lots of information, and photos, of little-known and lesser-known New Mexico places, and many more pioneer stories from the WPA Writers' Project, visit "New Mexico Wanderings" at: http://www.huntel.com/~artpike/
In the May, 2001, issue of this paper, on page 8, was the first of a series of American Memory interviews in which Howard Roosa, of Albuquerque, told Janet Smith about his encounters with author, Eugene Manlove Rhodes.
Ms. Smith was working for the WPA Writers' Project when she interviewed Mr. Roosa on March 17, 1937. The Project paid authors to interview local citizens and write a report (called a "manuscript") about that interview. The goal of the Project was to collect and preserve oral histories of pioneer citizens.
During his interview, Mr. Roosa said he had once employed a housekeeper, Mrs. Bella Ostic, who knew more about Gene Rhodes. In this second part of a series, Ms. Janet Smith reports the results of her interview with Mrs. Ostic, who was 65 years old in 1937 and living in Albuquerque...
INTERVIEW WITH MRS. BELLA OSTIC
"My, yes, I know Gene Rhodes well," Mrs. Ostic answered. "Guess I hardly ever knew anybody any better than I did Gene. Come in. Sit down."
She walked over to a shelf and took down a photograph of a girl. From the back of the frame she removed several pictures, sorted them over, and handed me two of them. One was an old fashioned photograph in bad condition--a picture of a boy with a heavy determined mouth tightly shut, closely cropped hair, direct eyes, and with a slightly defiant air about him. The other was a snapshot of a man standing in profile beside a horse. He wore riding breeches, and a Stetson hat. His features were clearly outlined against the horse's dark neck--the nose aquiline, the chin definite. He had the slightly protruding sag about the abdomen--unusual in a cowboy--a picture
"That old photograph is a picture of Gene when he was nineteen," Mrs. Ostic told me. "He got mixed up in some kind of a political scrape, and somebody threw him down a well. His scalp was all torn and lacerated and they had to cut his hair off short. It was just growing out in that picture."
"What was the scrape about?" I asked curiously.
"I don't remember, and I don't know as they ever did find out who was responsible for throwing him down that well. I know Gene was a Republican but that's all that I can tell about it now."
"I knew Gene for a good many years," Mrs. Ostic went on. "His father was an agent on the Mescalero Indian Reservation, and my father was the blacksmith there.
"Gene was about seventeen or eighteen when I first knew him. He was born in Nebraska. His father's name was Hinman and he had been a senator from Nebraska. His mother's name was Julia. They had a ranch in the San Andreas and I believe came to New Mexico two or three years before I knew them.
Anyhow, I know Gene was born in Nebraska and so was his little sister Helen--Nellie we called her. She was only a little girl when I first knew them so they couldn't have been in New Mexico many years before that.
"When Mrs. Rhodes needed something done she used to send for me to come over and help her. That's how I got to know Gene so well. His mother was a politician, always writing and going to Washington and doing things like
"Mr. Rhodes was a quiet, serious man. He was a thoroughly honest man too, Mr. Rhodes was. So was Gene for that matter. I know the 'ring' at Las Cruces was always trying to 'get' Mr. Rhodes. William Riley--he died not
"Colonel Fountain--the one who was murdered, you remember, and they never found his body--was an honest man, too, and was always on Rhodes' side. The 'ring' never did succeed in running Mr. Rhodes out though. He stayed there until he was retired on a pension.
"I believe Gene got along better with his father than his mother. Though his mother was very fond of him, too. She always called him 'Genie'.
"Gene couldn't ever talk just right--a kind of lisp. I don't know as you would call it a lisp either, but he couldn't pronounce 'R'. 'Odes' he would say instead of 'Rhodes'. There were other words he couldn't say too which made it difficult for some people to understand him. Although to me—I understood him perfectly.
"Gene went to college in San Jose, California. One of his college friends was visiting him one time, and he told me that when the boys asked Gene what his name was he told them, Eugene Manlove 'Odes'. They all called him
Mrs. Ostic settled back in her rocking chair. "I suppose you want to know more about how he looked than you can see in that photograph. He wasn't a bad looking boy--not good looking either. His forehead was always a little too protruding for his other features. He had blue eyes and light hair and a reddish face. He was a little above
"I remember, too, I made a harness for him to wear his gun under his shirt. He always seemed to think that people didn't like him, and that somebody was going to shoot him or something.
"Gene was always kind of retiring. He lived at the Mescalaro agency for more than eight years, and I don't believe he ever had more than a bowing acquaintance with a few of the girls. He was no good at all as a mixer. He always seemed to feel that people didn't like him. And I guess they didn't very well. He was too far above the people that we had at that time. His mind was too good for our class of people. Except for this wife, I never knew him to have any women friends except the two Cassad girls in Mesilla Park.
"I remember once those two girls and a Manlove cousin of his stayed at our house for two weeks and they all went fishing a lot. But except for them I don't think he was friends with any girls. I never heard him speak much of men friends either, except for one fellow, Charles Lummis.
"Gene always had a kind of gloomy outlook on life. He hardly ever laughed, and I don't know as I ever did hear him tell a joke. He always liked sad things, sad poetry and sad songs. One thing he loved, and that was to sing. But it was always some kind of a sad song. I remember he used to come over to my house. Maybe we'd be making bread, my sister and I. But Gene would call to my sister, 'Come on, you and Bella, I want you to sing La Golindrina for me'. And nothing would do but we'd have to leave our dough and come into the parlor where the organ was and sing songs. When Gene got a notion to hear something, he was going to have it.
"The words to that song were not the same as the words they sing to La Golindrina now. It was something about a man who would never see the shores of Spain again. 'Nunca mas, nunca mas to ve'. A very sad song, and Gene
"He was really the strangest boy. He would go from one thing to another--just that changeable. We used to ride horseback together, and sometimes Gene would be telling me a story and suddenly burst out crying, for no
"Of course, Gene was always scribbling. While others were talking in a room he was scribbling something most of the time. When I knew him he used to write poetry more than prose. His poems were always about something sad. I remember one--let's see--those poems are at home in Tucumcari with some letters from him in a receipt box. I wrote the boys to send them, but they never did. Well, anyhow, I remember the last line of one of them was 'that
"Before he left New Mexico, Gene had quite a number of things published in a magazine called 'Out West'. I remember he brought that paper over to me and wanted me to subscribe to it, because he said he was going to write for it. I did, but I never had much faith that Gene would ever publish anything much. Gene was usually considered a fool by everybody, poor fellow. I never thought he was a fool but he did seem to be awfully erratic.
"He would do the craziest things of any fellow I ever knew. I remember once he wrote me a letter at midnight from the top of a mountain peak. It was the peak where he is buried. They call it 'Rhodes Peak' now. I had asked him
"Another thing about Gene, he was a great gambler. I guess that was the only thing Gene did that I didn’t think was just right. I never did see him drink, but they used to say if he sat down to a gambling table, there was no dragging him away. Even in gambling though, he was always honest. A man told me once that he was a good card player, but the reason he didn’t make a success at gambling was because he never would do anything the least bit dishonest."
I asked Mrs. Ostic if she knew why Rhodes left New Mexico for the East. "He married the school teacher in Tularosa," she answered. "She was from New York State and she wanted to go back East."
"Didn’t he get into trouble of some kind?" I persisted. Mrs. Ostic looked at me sharply. "You mean something dishonest? Nobody could make me believe that Gene was not a distinctly honest man. He always was. If he didn’t cheat at cards he certainly wouldn’t cheat in the cattle business, or in any other way. He was always getting into a fuss over gambling things, debts and things like that, but I know he never did anything dishonest.
"I remember three days before he left New Mexico he came to our house for dinner, he and his wife and his mother. Like usual, he had a gloomy look. As I say he always had a gloomy outlook on life, but I’m sure there was nothing special bothering him. If there had been I would have known it.
"That was the only time I ever saw his wife. She was a big woman, rather pretty too. But she was a very proud woman. I remember when Gene came in he kissed me the same as he always did, and he said, ‘Bella, I’m going to leave New Mexico in three days, and I want some of that good tapioca pudding you make, because I may never get any more of it.’
"I told him I didn’t have any tapioca in the house, and he said, ‘Well, we’ll excuse you to get some then.’ Gene was always fond of tapioca pudding.
He hated green peas. I remember one day Mr. Roosa was reading a book by Rhodes, and he looked up and asked me if I knew any kind of food that Eugene Rhodes especially disliked. Right away I said ‘green peas’. And it was green peas he had written about in that book.
"To get back to the last time I saw him though, after dinner we all went for a walk around the sawmill. And all that time and during dinner I don’t think his wife ever said a word. I guess she thought he was too free with us poor people and she didn’t like it.
"That was in 1903 that he left New Mexico and I never did see him again. Some years after that I saw something about him in the paper, and I wrote to him. As I said he had some stories published in ‘Out West’ before he left and he had the manuscript of that story, ‘Paso For Aqui’, but I never did expect him to get much published or amount to anything. When I saw that in the paper, I was glad he had made a success, and I wrote him care of his publishers, and told him that there was still somebody in New Mexico who remembered him as ‘dear Gene Rhodes’.
"He answered right back. He told me that his oldest son was named Percy Allen. Percy Allen was the name of a song he was very fond of and we used to sing it together. It was supposed to be sung by a woman who said that if she had been able to marry her true love she would have had a son cradled under the wildwood tree. Her love was named Percy Allen.
"Many years later he wrote me again from New York. He said he wanted to have a horse and a cow and live the way he used to in New Mexico, but he couldn’t make it work out very well. He told me, too, that his nerves were all shot, and the reason was that one of his sons had been killed in the war.
"The next time I heard from him he was back in New Mexico. He wrote me from La Luz that he had come back to get color for some of his stories. After that he left for California."
Mrs. Ostic began rocking again and it seemed that her story was ended. Remembering the introduction to ‘The Trusty Knaves’, I asked her if Rhodes liked cats. She smiled and said that he certainly liked her cat.
"He was always jumping up from the table to give that cat something to eat. "We didn’t have a piano in our house, but we had an organ. When Gene would play that organ, the cat would come running from wherever he might be and walk up and down in front of the organ dragging his tail on the floor. I always thought that cat believed it was his tail that made the noise.
Anyhow, whenever Gene would start pumping the organ, in two minutes the cat would be right there, prancing up and down, and dragging his tail. The cat was called Antonio Joseph.
"I taught school in Lincoln for a while, and I took a kitten and a little dog away from some children who were abusing them. I named the cat Antonio Joseph and the dog Catron. They were the two big political figures in the State at the time. Both the cat and the dog seemed too weak and bedraggled to live long, and I said that whichever one died first, the man for whom he was named would be defeated. On election day the little dog Catron died, and Catron was defeated. When I took the cat home and showed him to Rhodes he said, ‘I like the cat all right, but I don’t think much of his politics.’
"Rhodes was boarding at our house at the time. It was after his mother and father had left the reservation. One morning I was sleeping late, and Gene woke me calling at the foot of the stairs, ‘Bella, Bella’, he called. ‘Hurry and get up. Antonio Joseph is Josie. She’s had kittens.’ That was one of the few times I ever heard him say anything funny, and even then he didn’t smile.
"Gene had a horse, too, that he was very fond of. Docre was his name and Docre was a mean animal. But Rhodes thought the world of him. Docre would throw him. Rhodes wasn’t a good rider, and Docre knew it. That horse would dump him about every day, but Gene would stay with it. I’ve seen him ride a bronco and be thrown as much as three times, and get up and ride him again."
Mrs. Ostic stopped again, and I asked her if she knew what kind of books Rhodes had been especially interested in.
"His people didn’t have many books," she said. "We didn’t either. People didn’t have so many books in those days. But I do remember that he often told me the stories of Shakespeare’s plays."
I remarked that I had heard that Rhodes hated the actual task of writing, that he even said he would never touch a pen or pencil again if he could think of any other way to earn a living.
"He might have thought that," Mrs. Ostic answered. "But he couldn’t have kept from writing. He was always writing. When other people in the room would be talking and fooling, Gene would be over in some corner with a pencil, scribbling. I always wondered why he didn’t write about the Indian people because he was very much interested in them, and was always taking notes."
I realized suddenly that it was considerably past lunch time and rose to go. As I was pulling on my gloves, Mrs. Ostic said, "One thing about Gene Rhodes, he would stop anything anytime to help a person out. Once we had a diphtheria epidemic on the reservation. There was no hospital, no doctor even, and everybody was afraid to go near the people who died of it. And Gene and my father laid out the little body, made the coffin, and lowered it into the grave. The only people at the funeral were Gene and my father and my sister and I. Eight children in one Indian family died, one after the other, and every morning Gene stopped by to bring them water and see if they needed anything.
"Toward the end of the epidemic the government sent a doctor, a colored man. He was a good doctor and a fine gentleman, and we used to invite him and his wife to our house. But all the other white folks on the reservation would out them. Except Gene—he used to come over to our house often and play cards with them.
"I guess that’s all I can think of to tell you about Gene right now. I didn’t know any of the important things about him, but I used to know him pretty well. Maybe if you come back some other day I’ll think of some more things."
INTERVIEW WITH MRS. A. S. HOPEWELL
"I’m sorry I never knew Eugene Rhodes," Mrs. Hopewell told me. "He did work on my husband’s ranch, the John Cross Ranch, near Palomas. That was before I was married—I suppose it must have been about 1893 and 1894 that he worked there. I never saw him, but I’ve heard the other cowboys speak of him. They used to be always laughing about Rhodes for reading all the time. I’ve heard them tell how he’d be riding along, reading a book and paying no attention to his horse, when suddenly the horse would shy at something and Rhodes would lose his seat. One time they told about his leading a pack animal when the horse jumped and Rhodes flew off and away went the mule.
"My son, Robert, knew him in Santa Fe after he came back to New Mexico from the East. Maybe he could tell you some things. He’ll be in, in a minute.
"Would you like to see some pictures of the ranch? Here’s one of the outfit, but I guess Rhodes wasn’t in that one."
While I was looking at the pictures, Mr. Robert Hopewell and his wife came in. They were interested in Rhodes but had only seen him once or twice.
"I saw him a few times in Santa Fe after he returned to the West," Mr. Hopewell said, "and we had a great time talking over old times and places. He would ask me about different characters down around Engle and Palomas, whether they were still alive, what they were doing now. He had a phenomenal memory. I remember at the time I had just read a story of his in the Post—I can’t remember just which one now—in which he described a certain trail I knew very well. He described it perfectly—every turn, every tree and stone you might say. I thought at the time that it must have been many years since he had been over that trail. ‘Nearly thirty years’, he said when I asked him about it."
"Don’t you remember the time we played bridge with them in Santa Fe?" young Mrs. Hopewell broke in. "How he would bid and then rush around the table and look at his wife’s cards and tell her how to bid? She knew a lot more about the game than he did, but he always told her how to bid and she never seemed to mind. She was a great big woman, very New England in appearance, and he was such a little man. And all the time he called her ‘Missie’. I don’t think we ever did hear him call her anything but ‘Missie’, did we?"
Mr. Hopewell laughed as he recalled the incident his wife described. "I’ll tell you," he said. "I’m afraid we can’t help you very much because we knew him so slightly, but I can give you the names of some people who knew him well, and you could write to them, though I doubt if some of those cowboys would sit down and write a letter that would be of much use to you. If you would go down and talk to them that would be the best thing. You could undoubtedly get some good material from Mrs. Jewett Gal Elliott, if you would just write to her in care of A. [?] Fall. You know he was very much interested in Rhodes. I wouldn’t be surprised if he was the person who first encouraged him in his writing. Rhodes lived in a house of his at one time. The others you might not have much luck with unless you could talk to them but I’ll give you the names."
Persons in other parts of the state who should be able to give biographical material concerning Eugene Manlove Rhodes (suggested by Mrs. Bella Ostic, 104 Wilson Avenue, Albuquerque):
Almo Blazer, Mescalero, New Mexico
Elizabeth Garrett (daughter of Pat Garrett), Roswell, New Mexico
James Hinckle, Roswell, New Mexico
Jap Coe, Ruidoso, New Mexico
Dana Rossman, Antonito, New Mexico
Persons living in other parts of the State who should be able to give information concerning Eugene Manlove Rhodes (suggested by Mr. Robert Hopewell, 619 West Copper Avenue, Albuquerque):
Jewett Fall Elliott, c/o A. [?]. Fall, Tres Ritos, New Mexico
Johnny P. Dines, Winston, New Mexico
Lee Nations, Arrey, New Mexico (near Hot Springs)
Harry Benson (Bartender - Buckhorn Saloon) Hot Springs, NM
Leonard Goins (Bartender - Buckhorn Saloon) Hot Springs, NM
Mr. James Threlhold of the New Mexico Book Store suggests writing to the Western Representative of Houghton Mifflin who, he says, in very much interested in Rhodes, in connection with his early published stories:
Harrison Leussler, c/o Houghton Mifflin Company, San Francisco
More About Rhodes - A Letter to the Editor
Responding to Bob Hilliard’s letter in your last issue, the University of Oklahoma Press published a full-length biography of Rhodes "A Bar Cross Man: The Life and Personal Writings of Eugene Manlove Rhodes" (1956) by W.H. Hutchinson. The same author later edited an anthology of EMR’s writings (The Rhodes Reader), as well as a bibliography of same (A Bar Cross Liar). The New Encyclopedia of the American West, edited by Howard R. Lamar, list several other Rhodes books with which I am not familiar. Other than the New Encyclopedia…, I am not sure whether any of the above books are still in print.
One book that definitely would be of interest, and is readily available, is C.L. Sonnichson’s classic Tularosa: The Last of the Frontier West. "Doc" Sonnichson devotes a chapter to Rhodes, whom he calls "The Bard of Tularosa," as well as providing much information concerning the times in which he lived and people he knew (e.g., Oliver Lee, who was his close friend, and provided the model for at least one of his leading characters.)
Another author with information to provide is W.A. Keleher (The Fabulour Frontier: Twelve New Mexico Items, and Memoirs: 1892-1969, among other wonderful books). As Chairman of the Board of Regents of what is now New Mexico State university, Keleher initiated the successful effort to secure a legislative appropriation to place a bronze plaque to mark the site of Rhodes’ grave. The marker bears Rhodes’ name and the dates of his birth and death, as well as the phrase "Paso por Aqui."
Rhodes’ grave is located in what is now the White Sands Missile Range, and is generally "off limits" to the public. Keleher gives the location as "the summit of the San Andres Mountains… in a shady glen… eighteen miles… (east of) Engle, through Rhodes Canyon on the road to Tularosa," and says that the site provides "a magnificent view of the San Mateos." The "road" in question, now closed, is one which Rhodes, himself, is credited with having laid out. Sonnichson, in at least the first edition of Tularosa, provides a map showing that the road followed almost a straight line from the town of Tularosa, across the San Andres, to the town of Engle, which lies to the east of Elephant Butte Lake. As both towns still exist, you can pretty nearly trace the route by laying a ruler on any road map between the two places.
I have not visited the grave site myself, but have been told that the WSMR does periodically permit visits. I expect that the Alamogordo Chamber of Commerce would be a good source of information concerning when and how to visit the grave.
I highly recommend the Hutchinson and Keleher books if you can find them. Also George Curry’s autobiography. However, I would start with Sonnichson’s Tularosa, which can be found in paperback in many book stores, and, I expect, on Amazon.com.
I hope the above will be of some help to Mr. Hilliard in beginning his exploration of Rhodes’ life and writings. It is a journey well worth taking.