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Letter: Rhodes to Lummis

Letter: Lummis to Rhodes


Great Salutations


“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 in due time— “They had the same enemies: falsehood, pretense, arrogance, tyranny.”

Some surveyors of the field call Eugene Rhodes the best and most authentic voice among the Western storytellers of the day, and certainly Rhodes was one of the few writers 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.

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. Their correspondence evolved into a lifelong friendship. By 1927, two years before Lummis’ death, “Dear Sir” and “Dear Rhodes” had become “Dear Friend” and “Dear Gene ‘O Mine”. And now, in a promising new industry called "Hollywood," Gene's novels and short stories were being made into films. John Ford directed one calledThe Passion of the Moth.

The letters that follow don’t talk to each other—in fact eight years separate them. They don't even go together, really, springing as they do from such different circumstances, different frames of mind; but they’re two of the most striking letters from the collection. They seem to speak to the times, and to capture something of these two Southwesterners, their manners (such dissimilar types of manners!), their bygone voices.

 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.



Eugene Rhodes
Apalachian, N.Y. October 25, 1910

Dear Lummis:

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.



Photo of Charles F. Lummis courtesy of the 
Southwest Museum
Los Angeles, Calif.

January 21, 1918

Dear Rhodes:

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,

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 errors.

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 others.

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.

“Caboza” is not only perfectly proper, but the only sane thing to say nowadays, likewise “palisada”. A good many letters were interchangeable in the old Spanish—and for that matter, they didn’t spell any better than the old English or the old French, both of whom raised hell with spelling as we know it now.

“Penalosa” has only one “s”—though in the ancient Spanish the “s” was often duplicated.

Of course “Xiqilpa” is impossible in Spanish. There must be a “u” after the “q”. And you would do a great deal better to spell it with a “J” instead of an X…

(He continues a bit in this vein.)

As to any of your willfulness, I think I shall have nothing to say. I raise hell myself sometimes. But you ought to bump your own head against the wall for seriously hampering a really noble book…

(Further admonishments)

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 at all.

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)

From Sandpapers: The lives and letters of Eugene Manlove Rhodes and Charles Fletcher Lummis, by Frank M. Clark (Sunstone Press, Santa Fe, 1994). Used by permission.

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Speechless Spring 2007
Copyright © 2007 Published by
Tebot Bach