We have just been rereading DUST OF THE DESERT for the first time in many years. It's later than we thought. Suddenly, the contemporary character sketches you painted so vividly on your old broken-down Underwood just a couple of years more than a quarter of a century ago are no longer contemporary. They have become a part of a period in the Southwest that will never be relived. The backdrops and the opportunities have changed. The characters have been superseded by a different breed of man with different incentives, environment, and necessities. A review of George H. Doran's introduction brings the transformation into sharp focus.
DUST OF THE DESERT is truly a graphic account of a period in Southwestern life that has become an important bit of Americana. Ethel, Dale and I would like to have it become a part of the FIVE FOOT SHELF we determined should comprise the minimum effort of ARIZONA SILHOUETTES before we call it "thirty". May we have the privilege of republishing it? And may we share with you its dedication to the Tom Boy you met in the desert . . . the girl we have always known as Mabel.
George W. Chambers,
It is almost half a century since I first made acquaintance with the desert and the Southwest and then only by way of the somewhat forbidding sand-colored windows of a Pullman car. My introduction being none too propitious, for years I eschewed the desert and reached Southern California by the fastest train available.
In the autumn of 1899 I was ordered to the Southwest for reasons of health. I came to Arizona—to a little oasis spot called Oracle, forty miles north and slightly east of Tucson. Thither I betook myself one October day. To reach Oracle it was necessary to journey by way of Tucson, in those days an important old pueblo but serenely and completely Western and frontier. The principal hotel was the San Augustin, a building transformed from the first church in Tucson into a Spanish inn. The road to Oracle was by stage over the foot-hills of the Catalinas. Starting at eight in the morning the trip consumed anywhere from six to nine hours depending on the condition of the roads and the arroyos. There was one change of horses and for the sandier arroyos an extra team to pull us through. It was real old-fashioned stage-coach travel by a triweekly service. To one of my urban mind I was bound for journey's end but it was an agreeable route to the beyond. We reached Oracle at three o'clock in the afternoon to find a little settlement of two ranch-houses and one private dwelling.
Quickly I learned that the place had derived its name from a ship called The Oracle which sailed from Nova Scotia by way of Cape Horn for San Francisco. Inland trekked the sturdy blue-nose prospectors in search of El Dorado. A prospect was located—and the potential mine called Oracle. As prospects have a habit it proved too elusive of gold and Edwin S. Dodge abandoned his search and established a ranch, The Acadia, named after the Province of his origin. It was located at the fork of a road at the right leading to Mount Lemmon and at the left to Mammoth, a mining center of promise. In time the ranch became a desert inn, a stopping-place for miners and cattlemen. In time it grew to be known as a health ranch.
In my day we were a segregated company of twelve, all gathered from east of the Mississippi. Our only occupation being to get well, we had much time for meditation and discussion. Meditation meant largely to dwell upon the marvels of the climate, the sunsets, scarcely equaled by those on the Nile, the invigorating sun-cured air, the thunder of the exquisite silence—but perhaps chiefly the sense of freedom, the desert's noblest gift to man.
Our discussions ramified from contemplation and adjusting of the state of the Union to frequent and active debate as to whether or not a motor car could ever be built successfully to make the forty-mile trip from Tucson to Oracle. Finally we concluded the pneumatic tire never could conquer the sands of the desert. (The other day over a perfect highway I made the trip in fifty-two minutes.)
The country at that time recked little of fences —indeed about all I heard there of barbed wire was the Christmas gift of $100,000 worth of seven per cent American Steel and Wire preferred (later to become a part of the United States Steel Corporation) from Isaac Elwell, he of John W. Gates and barbed-wire fame, to his daughter, a guest at Oracle.
We health-seekers were not by any means the sole guests of the ranch. For brief stays hither came prospectors, miners and stockmen. If it was not old Tumbleweed himself, his veritable counterpart made monthly pilgrimage to the ranch on his burro. He was, and mayhap still is, seeking his lost paradise of yellow gold. Others of those in this book I met and came to know—and respect. One little mining man, a genial soul, came frequently to my cabin. We had become comfortably friendly. One day, very good-naturedly, I addressed him as "you little bantam." Quickly I saw my error. With an apparently equal good humor he picked up my one hundred fifty-six pounds and six feet and stretched me prone on the road, where gently and firmly he pressed my ear into the granite—my first lesson that quality and not quantity was the real measure of a Westerner—and I learned about miners from him.
So passed a winter and a spring of such tranquility and comfort as I had never before known. I had made a friend of the desert.
The time approached when almost with reluctance I found myself completely recovered in health, and I had to fare forth to the East and urban living. Soon I was to discover that I had established a nostalgia for the desert which hitherto, but in a lesser degree, I had reserved for city streets and the sea.
I was in love with the desert. As frequently as my affairs would permit I returned to the West and its people, always looking forward to that day when not as a health-seeker but as a willing captive to the charm and peace of the desert, I would make my home amid the hills and the sand and the cacti—but chiefly with the wholesome hospitable people of the great open country.
That day has come. My little bungalow in Tucson, two miles from the center of town, was homestead land in 1900 and later. The University of Arizona, which is at my door, was then described as being "on the hill away out in the desert." I may take luncheon one day in my own home and my midday meal the next in Park Avenue, New York, but even the thrumming on a schedule as regular as clockwork of the giant airliners over my very roof cannot lure me from the peace and quiet of my desert.
With all the changes in transportation and living, with all the inventions of these very modern days, there still remains a real West—not the frontier of fiction and melodrama but a genuine West made up of miners, stockmen, cowboys, greasers, rustlers in a quiet way, bad men if you will, but not with the badness of the cities.
It has been said of New York, certainly in the days of Arnold Bennett's visit in 1911, that a broad highway extended from Twenty-third Street to 125th Street bounded by the east side of Sixth and Eighth Avenues and the west side of Lexington Avenue within which was confined the elegance, luxury and cosmopolitanism of the Empire City. To the east and to the west was the real New York which decided who should be mayor and what party should govern or misgovern the greatest seaport in the world.
Similarly throughout the West there runs a highway which contains the New West of commerce and sophistication, relieved by a few skyscrapers, illuminated by myriads of electric display signs, and dotted with thousands of service stations. To the right and left of this zig-zagging highway -- in very short distances as distance is measured in the desert country -- one quickly enters upon the Old West -- ranches, farms, cattle ranges, cactus forests -- all primitive in their physical aspects.
From this country comes the real bone and sinew of the West; from here governments are made and policies controlled. He is a daring aspirant for political power who would ignore the temper and spirit of these real old-timers.
It is into this country from off the main-traveled roads that Jack Weadock has gone for his color and his romance. He has captured the spirit of the West by way of a series of portraits related only because taken as a whole they go to the making of an unforgettable canvas of a great land that is and was. Most of these portraits are current, but he has not hesitated to accept well-authenticated legend and grace his gallery with ancestral portraits, for in this West time moves so swiftly that ancestors have been acquired with each passing one or two generations. Jack Weadock is of the soil. Born thirty-seven years ago on a farm in Ohio, he came West as a boy and at the earliest permissible age enlisted in the regular army of the United States serving in Custer's Regiment, the Seventh Cavalry, and doing border-line duty until America's entrance into the Great War when he became a part of the A. E. F. and participated in seven major engagements during his eighteen months active service in France. While on duty as an infantry scout he was gassed at Montfauçon. Later he returned to his cavalry regiment and there remained until, on river guard near El Paso, he was so badly wounded that he was forced to retire to civil life. He took up newspaper work as reporter and editor in Texas and Arizona, but at no time in his life has he permitted himself to be far separated from men, horses and cattle and their activities.
In reviewing Weadock's portraits I am reminded of my old friend Bob Davis, who is by way of being one of the greatest of artists with camera and pen. One day a few months ago I was thrilled by Bob's invitation to join his gallery of immortals. Initiation into this noble company consists of the entrant's submitting himself to the magic camera of Bob Davis. I did. I became number 3162 in his Hall of Fame. At three o'clock one afternoon for a brief ten minutes I was subjected to the searching eyes of Bob and his infallible camera. Two hours later came to my hotel four finished portraits showing my every wrinkle, every gray hair, every freckle, every blemish of any sort, and this note from Bob:
George, here you are ! All my pictures are unretouched. I leave the survival of the sitter's mug to the kindliness of his Maker. I don't consider myself responsible for a face that has slipped from the mold and remains forever scarred. After all, "man makes his own mask." They come direct from my hands to yours, old Buzzard, and I am no more ashamed of them than you are of your face, which means 100 per cent applause for both of us.
So here are Jack Weadock's portraits unretouched and unrefined—just plain honest-to-God pictures of real people of the desert and the border.
It was one day at the Tucson Fiesta de los Vaqueros (in plain English, rodeo) that I first met Jack Van Ryder. He had just come from participating in a bull-dogging contest—that most thrilling and hazardous of cowboy sports. Knowing his work by repute, I involuntarily prayed that as he fell from his horse to the neck of a steer he should not suffer injury to that magic right hand. Next time we met was in his studio. As he took me by the hand his vise-like grip was reminiscent of the twisting neck of that eleven-hundred-pound steer his wrists had forced to a completely surrendered quiet, and my concern for the integrity of his right arm was mitigated. Turning to his easels and his walls I was amazed by the delicacy of the pastel shades in his oils and the fineness of the lines in his black and white drawings—all done by that same powerful hand.
Jack Van Ryder is more than of the soil—he is of the very sand. Born in 1899 at Continental, Arizona, his whole life has been spent as a cowboy and rancher. . . . His first sketches were done in charcoal on the canvas of a covered wagon. After a time his work came to the discovery of Charles Russell whose pupil and art protege he became. His work as an artist was somewhat disturbed when he went to France with the A. E. F. Upon his return he took up life on his ranch in the Huachuca range where he also has a studio.
When he had finished his murals of the West for the Museum of Natural History in New York, an artist friend of his and mine quietly observed that the joint mantle of Frederic Remington and Charles Russell had descended upon Van Ryder. High praise! Yet there does not now appear to be another valid claimant. The judges of the International Exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum acclaimed the black-and-white sketches of Van Ryder the most typical and finished expression of Western art. In his Tucson studio there hangs but one oil painting. It is of medium size—about twenty-four inches square. In it has been captured and reflected the spirit of the desert at sunset. It is a marvel of understanding perception and realization of color quality—it is the desert. Small wonder that it was awarded the coveted Corcoran prize or that Jack Van Ryder modestly accounts it his chief possession.
It is presumptuous of me to assume to introduce these two stalwarts to the reading public, the more presuming because I have asked that I might have that privilege.
My name so seldom has appeared beyond the copyright page in any book that I must give reason for my present adventure into text.
I have concluded that it is because I have always wanted to take part in a rodeo. Not being able to ride a bronc, or bust a steer, or rope a calf or even to hold my seat on a spirited cowpony, I needs must take refuge in my limitations of amateur impresario and present these two Jacks to a public which I am sure will share my enthusiasm for their work. They are a splendidly matched pair. They make entry into the literary rodeo as a team—the one hazing the other toward the capture. Their work is bold, picturesque and accurate.
They never fail to get their steer.
GEORGE H. DORAN