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Letter: Lummis to Rhodes
Letter: Rhodes to Lummis
“Two good men, Lummis and Rhodes. They loved a
good fight as much as a good laugh and they gave their strength to
support their friends and confound their enemies.” These lines open
the Forward to Frank M. Clark’s Sandpapers: the lives and letters
of Eugene Manlove Rhodes and Charles Fletcher Lummis (Sunstone
Press, 1994), and if they raise a question in the reader’s mind it’s
answered a few lines later— “They had the same enemies: falsehood,
pretense, arrogance, tyranny.”
Some surveyors of the field call Eugene Rhodes
(1869 – 1934) the best writer and most authentic voice among the
western storytellers of the day, and certainly Rhodes was one the
very few who actually lived the life—though more as horseman than
cowboy. He himself admitted he had a way with horses but no great
talent for managing cows.
In the pre-sound era a number of his novels and
short stories were made into films. John Ford directed one called
The Passion of the Moth.
Charles Lummis published some of Rhodes’ first
efforts in Land of Sunshine (later Out West), at a
time when the struggling writer sorely needed the $10 a story. But
by all accounts he also needed Lummis’ alternating confirmation of
his talent and exhortations to improve.
The correspondence evolved into a deep,
lifelong friendship. By 1927, two years before Lummis’ death, “Dear
Sir” and “Dear Rhodes” had become “Dear Friend” and “Dear Gene ‘O
The letters that follow don’t talk to each
other—in fact eight years separate them. But they’re two of the most
striking from the collection, and seem to speak to the times and to
capture something of the voices, the characters, of the two
Both letters appear in Sandpapers: The lives
and letters of Eugene Manlove Rhodes and Charles Fletcher Lummis,
by Frank M. Clark (Sunstone Press, Santa Fe, 1994), and are used
here by permission.
Photo of Charles F. Lummis courtesy of the
Los Angeles, Calif.
January 21, 1918
Just got your letter of the 13 today. Have had the book (West is
West) for several weeks; and by robbing my pillow have waded through
It is a Powerful Book. It deserved to have been printed by
someone who knew a fount of type from a tin can, evacuated. It still
hurts my Virgin Feelings to see misspelling and typographical
You have done a very extraordinary thing. Very uneven, in places
hazy, not entirely pulled together to a final Draw-String Novel made
up of episodes. But you have made the Best-Talking book that ever
came out of the mouth of the West. The language they use on occasion
is frequent and painful and free.
You have three heroes, any one of whom is good enough for a whole
novel—and all so different that they would do for three. I think
probably you were wasteful to chuck them all into one book. “Dick”
and “Crooknose” and “Emil”—they are people. You also have some
And to my surprise you have some Desirable Ladies.
I surely hope that you will be shamed by this blacksmith imprint,
and insist on a new edition, and go over it yourself, and not only
kill the compositor and the proof-reader but also get yourself
together a little….
[Here Lummis details some mistakes in names and punctuation.]
I often think back to the times when I first bumped your knuckles
for doing just what you do now. I never saw any work of yours that I
didn’t admire. I never saw any of it that I didn’t want to kick you
for not doing it better, as you are perfectly competent to do. I
guess I never saw any of it that I didn’t tell you about it what I
am telling you now—that you have done a great thing but ought to be
ashamed for not doing it better….
[Lummis cites more mistakes.]
All here is very tame and steady. We are taking care of the
missions and preparing to seed the Southwest with little regional
history-rooms to save their own mementoes, and the Southwest Museum
is the liveliest thing you ever saw in education. And everyone is
well and busy. And we have times here every now and then that would
do your heart good and would even reconcile you to temporary absence
from the East. If you could be wirelessed over here for one of our
Sunday evenings, I think you would not mind the lost motion or Time
Power to your elbow! I have enjoyed this book as few in many
years. That is the reason I am fussing to cuss you about it.
With love and best wishes for you and yours,
Always your friend,
(Charles F. Lummis)
Apalachian, N.Y. October 25, 1910
Our little Barbara left us yesterday. The one whose photograph I
sent you was twenty months old—born on the birthday of one of our
boys and died on the birthday of another.
It was diabetes—and we have known for some days that there was no
hope. Friday my wife spoke to me of the letter you wrote me when you
lost your little one* and what you wrote of it in Out West and we
have spoken and thought of it of often since. I have the letter and
did keep that number of Out West but may not have it now. But we
remember and it has been a help.
My three wild wayward boys were all good to Barbara, and all
loved her dearly. We were all together on the old farm—a merry and
happy summer—and she was the life and heart of it for all of us. She
was brave and merry and gay and sturdy and jolly. She was desired
and welcome. I have not been able to write my stories for months and
I am so thankful now, because I put in almost every hour with her as
play fellow and caretaker.
We are going to be sensible and keep her place in the circle,
keep our memory of all her pretty baby ways for a blessing and a
comfort and a joy and not make grief a curse. We will speak freely
of her and not give up to bitterness and rebellion. Such a great
style of baby, her mother said.
We will not put her memory away in the corroding dark but keep
her place bright and be grateful that she stayed so long to try to
bear out what would have shamed her had she lived. There have been
many shames and dishonors that stained my life, and every one of
them now makes it easier to bear her leaving us, for she is beyond
the reach of time. You know, I have no creed but I know it must be
well with the child that is past uncertainty or doubt. No fear. And
the sorrow is not for her, of course—life is not so sweet—but for
us—she was brave and gritty above all things, first of all, and then
merry and gay—and it would not become her mother and her dad to be
quitters. So we’ll just do the best we can and keep going. And
welcome life back again and not shrink from laughter when it comes
but be glad knowing she would be glad if she knew. It has been a
wonderful twenty months, too good to last. But the light of it and
the joy of her will stay with us.
Your friend Rhodes
Of Gene’s grief May wrote: “Barbara died on Fred’s birthday,
October 24, 1910. She was Gene’s idol. I really thought he would
lose his mind with grief. He never completely recovered. We stood
beside her wasted colorless form in the dimness of the small bedroom
where her body had been placed in front of the open window with the
blinds closed. Gene turned the slats of the blinds and let the pale
October sunshine fall on her.
‘She will be shut away from the sun so long,’ he said, his
voice hoarse with grief.
He wrote a little letter to God, telling Him her favorite
games, that she likes to help, and would he put her in the care of
some very motherly angel. Dry-eyed, we both signed it. We were too
cursed for tears.”
* Amado, firstborn son, died of pneumonia in 1900. He was six.