Enchanting People of New Mexico - Eugene Rhodes

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Episode 13 - Eugene Rhodes

Michael Swickard here. Welcome to Enchanting People of New Mexico sponsored by the Fresh Chile Company in Las Cruces, New Mexico. Our award-winning Hatch Green and Red Chile is from locally owned farms in Hatch, NM, The Chile Capital of the World. Every Monday and Friday we have regular Historical and Cultural New Mexico Podcasts. Wednesdays, today, we celebrate people important to our area.

The most interesting person in New Mexico I want to talk about this week is Eugene Rhodes who was a writer using as his backdrop Territorial New Mexico around the year 1900. Oh, you know one thing he wrote even if you do not recognize the name.

New Mexico is the Land of Enchantment, eh? Where did that come from? Oh yes, it was from something Eugene Rhodes wrote in 1914 in a novel which has the Saturday Evening Post ending and the book’s ending which I really enjoy. It is called Bransford in Arcadia and is set in the Tularosa Basin, some in Alamogordo and the area near there. Great story. My favorite of all his novels. He wrote describing New Mexico in our little slice of paradise, he wrote in Bransford in Arcadia, …a land of enchantment and mystery. That is us in New Mexico.

You can even see that Rhodes touch as a great storyteller in a movie made fourteen years after Rhodes died in 1934. Rhodes had a masterpiece novel, Pasó por aquí published in 1927 which Hollywood renamed Four Faces West. It started Joel McCrea and his real-life wife Frances Dee along with Charles Bickford and William Conrad. I have the movie in my collection of movies and it is OK but the writing of Eugene Rhodes is ever so much better.

One funny trivia point about the movie is that reviewers noted that the Western Film is unusual in that not a single shot is fired in the movie. In the novels shots were fired when needed but the film’s director, Alfred Green saw this film as unique. In his long career he directed 106 movies. He also directed about sixty episodes of television dramas. There were three other Hollywood uses of Rhodes stories in a much smaller way.

Eugene Manlove Rhodes was born in January 1869. His father Hinman was a full colonel in the Union army, the 28th Infantry Regiment from Illinois. After the war Eugene’s father served in the Nebraska Legislature and later was hired as the superintendent of the Mescalero Indian Reservation in New Mexico. With younger brother Clarence, Mother Julia and Eugene, Hinman Rhodes became a rancher in the Engle area of what is now called Truth or Consequences.

Eugene Rhodes was drawn to the Cowboy life and was very good at it. He worked on three of the area ranches as a hand, his most time was spent working for the Bar Cross, a very famous ranch north of Engle New Mexico which was very large. When later he started writing stories about the West, specifically about Southern New Mexico, many of the Cowboys that he rode with on the Bar Cross Ranch made their way in one way or another into his novels.

He also became adept at road building and was used on the construction of a road between Engle and Tularosa no longer used because the military in WW2 took over that area for their bombing range and then missile range. In his lifetime, before the military and World War 2, he had a 6K ranch at what is now called Rhodes Canyon in the San Andreas Mountains where he tried to make a go of being a rancher, but it was a hard life. He met many outlaws such as Bill Doolin, on the run from the law. He was asked, why do you let them stay at your ranch house? He said. First it is not wise to say no to them and Outlaws are more interesting than in-laws.

At that time, he wasn’t married but the humor appealed to him. In 1888 he had tried to get a college education and so went to the University of the Pacific for two years but did not have the money to continue. In fact, he was on a shoestring budget and said his main meals were oatmeal which he pledged to never eat again after returning home. But the education was essential to him becoming a successful writer of Western stories, so it was oatmeal for a good cause.

Michael Swickard, Enchanting People of New Mexico. Each Wednesday we do a podcast on people who are special to New Mexico. Hit subscribe to automatically get these podcasts.

In 1899 he married May Davison, a widow from upstate New York with whom he had corresponded for some time. They were both writers and she was taken by his descriptions and characters of New Mexico. They met and married. She had two children which Eugene adopted. When her father became ill on a farm, Eugene left his beloved New Mexico and moved to upstate New York for twenty some years keeping that farm going. He also started writing which was accepted by McClure’s Magazine and then the break when his stories were taken by The Saturday Evening Post, and he was able to turn those stories into seven books. He returned to New Mexico in the 1920s and lived in Santa Fe briefly and then in Alamogordo. Albert Bacon Fall gave Rhodes free rent on his Three Rivers ranch where Rhodes stayed until the altitude got to him and he moved to the California coast at Pacific Beach for a lower altitude. He died in June 1934 and was buried by his request in the area where he ranched which is now called Rhodes Canyon but is off limits to the public since it is part of the White Sands Missile Range.

Eugene Rhodes was a master storyteller, and we only really know this because of his wife May since he dictated the stories to her, and she typed them up. Nope, he couldn’t type though he wrote a very interesting story that had typing in it called, Good Men and True which was set in El Paso, Texas and Juárez, Mexico. It was a very tightly scripted suspense drama. In that story a typewriter and the practices of using one with a set phrase was used.

When I was learning to type, long before I read the Rhodes novel, I remember using the same practice. The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog. It is a pangram since it attempts to use each letter in the alphabet one time only but use all 26. That one is 35 letters. But in the novel, in my typewriting practice it was fun. Go ahead, you can sit at any keyboard and see how fast you can type: The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog. Poor dog, eh?

What the Rhodes novels really show is a slice of life in New Mexico between 1900 and 1930 or so. There are many names that you will recognize, sometimes a bit obscure but they can be recognized. In Desire of the Moth and The Come On starts in Mesilla and is strictly Dona Ana County and very well done including the use of the Fountain Theatre which used to show movies which is where the story begins.

Michael Swickard, Enchanting People of New Mexico. Each Wednesday we do a podcast on people who are special to New Mexico. Hit subscribe to automatically get these podcasts.

Eugene Rhodes makes a claim about cowboys that as a young reader I wasn’t all that sure was right, so I asked my Uncle Ralph, and he confirmed that many years earlier there was a plan to get more cowboys to smoke Bull Durham tobacco which had to be rolled with papers.

As Rhodes described, the Bull Durham Company put a coupon in each package of tobacco and these coupons could be redeemed by mail for a paperback book of the classics which did not have any extra cost since their copyright was gone so it was just printing and shipping that cost.

Many cowboys got many of the 300 offered because they got it for nothing, which is certainly human nature and when they were out on lonely ranches or away from civilization for days or months they read. So many got into the habit of reading. Some even bought books on their own and became much more literate. You see it in some of Eugene Rhodes books which several historians have confirmed was an educational fact started by the tobacco company Bull Durham. Have any of these from a hundred years ago survived? I haven’t seen any, but I do have some first editions from the 1920s books written by Rhodes. But I just love his writing style.

Eugene Rhodes when he was younger was noted as riding and reading such that he would get lost in a story and the horse, who knew the path would stop at the gate of where Rhodes was going. One woman wrote that he was bringing wood to her, so he roped some wooden stakes and the horse was dragging them to the woman’s house. She looked out the window and Eugene Rhodes was sitting still on his horse who had stopped at the front gate, and he was reading one of his books and took no notice of where he was. She finally called out to him and said, come on in which he replied oh yes, that is what I intended to do.

He was an excellent cowboy who could do any task, but was a better writer, with the help of his wife May who typed his words and after his passing published one of his best novels, The Proud Sheriff. She published a book about him, The Hired Man on Horseback: My Story of Eugene Manlove Rhodes. It is a lovely book and does much to tell of the Eugene Rhodes story.

One last thing, Eugene Rhodes had a younger brother Clarence Edgar Rhodes who went to college in Las Cruces in the 1890s and married the only graduate of the Class of 1896, Jesse Edna Casad. They spent 30 years in Mexico in the mining industry. Their adventures should be made into a movie someday. It is a great story about them, that I will tell on a Wednesday.

Now I want to tell you about something just now on the shelves of the Fresh Chile Company. It is Hatch Sweet Onion Dressing. This Hatch Sweet Onion Dressing combines those Hatch Sweet Onions with avocado oil and our very own Green Chile Dijon Mustard to create a dressing that’s so good you can marinate and baste with it as well as douse your salads and fruit with it. It is ever so much of a taste sensation. I really love this Sweet Onion Dressing.

Now I need to tell you about some new products at the Fresh Chile Company that I find wonderful. There is a Local Honey with Hatch Red Chile that is great on biscuits. French fries are so much more with the Fresh Chile Company’s Hatchup which is ketchup and Hatch Red Chile. Come browse and there are many more surprises and also, there are some frozen surprises that I assure you are wonderful. Again from Monday to Saturday, the Fresh Chile Company Gift Shop at 1160 El Paseo Rd, Suite D7A in Las Cruces, NM. 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Michael Swickard here. This is the Enchanting People of New Mexico. Thank you for your time today. We will always have lots of News and stories about New Mexico for you on these Podcasts. If you have something you want me to talk about in a future podcast, write to: michael@freshchileco.com The same is true if there is someone you would like me to talk about who was or is important to our little slice of paradise. Have a great rest of your day. Oh yes and eat plenty of that good Hatch Valley Chile. Like I always say, “Some Chile is good, more is better.” Bye for now.

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