The Back Rhodes of Our Genealogy

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(1869-1934) Writer Gene Rhodes was born in Tecumseh, Nebraska, but his family soon moved to Cherokee, Kansas. Rhodes s father served briefly in 1890 as agent to New Mexico's Mescalero Apaches, and the Rhodes family moved to Fort Stanton, New Mexico. The time he spent in New Mcxico would mark Gene Rhodes for life.

From age 13 to 28, Rhodes worked as a cowboy, eventually hiring on as a wrangler at the famous Bar Cross ranch. During this time he encountered the many unforgettable men who entered his writings, including such notorious outlaws as Bill Doolin and Sam Kctchum.

Chronically short of money, Rhodes had to cducatc himself. He attended the University of the Pacific at Stockton. California, in 1889-1890, but lacked the funds to complete his degree. After leaving college he garnered a reputation as a voracious reader of the classics. He acquired some books by exchanging Bull Durham coupons for literary classics. His companions at the Bar Cross claimed that Rhodes could read while riding 50 miles through a snowstorm.

In 1896 Rhodes published his first work, a poem. Six years later he published his first short story, "Once in the Saddle." He met his future-wife, May Davison Purple, thanks to his poetry. After reading one of his works, the widow with two children wrote him a com pi i men tar)' note. Rhodes hopped a freight train east to meet his pen pal. The)' married in 1899. May and Gene lived in New Mexico for three years. May, however, felt lonely for her parents and life in the East, and the couple moved to Apalachin, New York. Rhodess nostalgia for life in New Mexico strongly shaped his later writings.

Like many western writers, Rhodes often depicted actual events, with little or no changes in the characters involved. At that point, however, he parts company with genre writers. Rhodes disdained simple plots. His stories have a complexity that breathed greater life into his characters. Rich authentic language, dialogue, and character development distinguish his works.

Rhodes also differed in his choice ol villains. Unlike many contemporaries, he avoided stereotyping Mexicans as stupid or villainous. He engendered some outlaws with the heroic status of social bandits. His experiences with ranch life and the people he encountered led Rhodes to conclude that eastern bankers, speculators, and monopolists, rather than outlaws, were the true villains of the West.

Rhodes made no apologies for the sometimes harsh nature of frontier life. He celebrated the virtues of the frontier as superior to all others. His ability to blend complex plots, realistic characterization, and frontier realities make Rhodes one of the best western writers. Many of his stories originally appeared in The Saturday Evening Post. His works of fiction include Good Men and True( 1910), Stepsons mid Light (1921), Beyond the Desert (1934), and The Proud Sheriff (1935).

In 1926, after Mays parents had died. Genes poor health prompted the couple to move to Santa Fa and then Alamogordo, New Mexico. Mis degenerating health forced a final move to Pacific Beach, California, in 1931.

The richness of Rhodes's writing never translated into riches. He dial, nearly destitute, in 1934, after a series of heart attacks. He is buried in the San Andres mountains of New Mexico. His epitaph reads Paso Por Aqui (He passed this way), taken from his greatest short story, published in 1926.

Rhodes has gotten the literary attention he deserves, thanks in part to another writer and literature scholar, William Henry Hutchinson. Both Hutchinson and his father greatly admired Rhodess work After Rhodess death, Hutchinson gathered a book's worth of his favorite writers stories and published them as Tlx Little World Wad/lies{V)A6). During the next decade he published a biography of Rhodes, A Bar Cross Man (1956), and compiled The Rhodes Reader (1957) and A Bar Cross Lkr{ 1957), a bibliography of Rhodes's writings. (Hutchinson 1956; Rhodes 1975; Tuska and Piekarski 1983)

óNils R Mikkelsen

From the book entitled: The cowboy encyclopedia
Author: Richard W. Slatta
Edition: illustrated, reprint, reissue
Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company, 1996
ISBN: 0393314731, 9780393314731

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