HAYCOX, ERNEST. (1899-1950). Prolific American author of Western fiction including the Burnt Creek stories. Archive of 19 letters. (“Ernest Haycox & Haycox”). 20pp. Cannon Beach, Portland and Los Angeles. To notable Civil War scholar, author and autograph collector, ARNOLD F. GATES (1914-1993).
Fascinating Archive of 19 Letters with Exceptional Content from Burnt Creek Author
Signed by Ernest Haycox
“Coming west, however, has its difficulties for a man on limited time. The country’s too big to get around in any short trip unless a man uses a plane; and that way you lose site of the land itself… For an easterner there’s only one really satisfactory way to cover the west and that is to block it off into regions and cover only one region at a visit… Some years ago when I lived in the east for a little while I made it a point to cover certain battlefields and points of interest each weekend. I put in a year going over New York and New Jersey and Pennsylvania this way – and even then missed so much. It’s a large land, and all of it great. No one section has a monopoly on beauty. The west has one kind of beauty, the east another and truthfully I think the most gently beautiful spot I ever saw was a chance view of the lake lands lying north of Albany. Driving east from Buffalo one time I had a brief sight of it and never forgot it…” August 24 N.y.
“TROUBLE SHOOTER will be out in book form some time this month, and you can secure a copy of it from your local book dealer. DEEP WEST will not be in book form until some time this fall…” January 23, 1937
“You are right about the hammer resting on an empty chamber, which was to prevent accidents. If, however, a man saw himself barging into trouble he was quite apt to slip in the sixth load. I’m glad you liked WOMAN HUNGRY. That story is one of a series which I hope to develop around the homestead era – and perhaps later make into a novel…” March 15, 1937
“Writing a book is sad enough business and drudgery enough to be both its own reward and punishment”
“I have ridden a few horses now and then, and can barely stay on…” February 19, 1937
“The critics generally seem to like that yarn better than any other I have done.” March 29, 1937
“The biography on Cleopatra sounds interesting though, considering the reading stacked up before me, I doubt if I get around to Egypt’s queen. Priestly, I think, is following a trend. In literature we have lately returned to the soil. The next step is to naturalism, and thence to mysticism. The cycle makes its endless turns…” December 13, 1937
“Your reference to Orson Welles reminds me that every once in a while the stage spawns a child prodigy. The one before Welles seemed to be Jed Harris. These boys burn with a tremendous brilliance. It must be that the stage is a perfect medium for them and that the play is a particularly apt vehicle for the fire and color and imagery, and sometimes the incoherence, of young minds. I do not say this in any disparaging sense. As to what I read – now that is an embarrassing question. I read very little outside my own technical needs. I think there are less than 200 fiction items in my library. Everything else is American history, chiefly of the American Revolution, and of the west. For two or three months I have read nothing but Arizona and Indian campaigns, for the next novel. And that’s about the way it goes. I should be hard put to name the greatest or the most influential American book. In the first place, I’m too illiterate to judge – and even if I were sufficiently well-read, how should I judge? UNCLE TOM’S CABIN completely turned over our life and was as much responsible for destroying one social system as any other single factor. The SCARLET LETTER is a pure reflection of Puritanism. THE VIRGINIAN is a great romantic novel on the west as will ever be done. MOBY DICK is one of the great ones, and yet so little known. GONE WITH THE WIND is undoubtedly permanent. TEN NIGHTS IN A BARROOM, a very mediocre sort of thing, was nevertheless a word in almost every home at one time, and a definite influence. How are we to judge Dale Carnegie’s HOW TO WIN FRIENDS, etc.? It was a fad, yet plays upon one of our most deep-rooted desires. Or here’s the Declaration of Independence, and the Constitution – both solid and continuing and tremendous factors. Then we must remember some of those little known leaflets, – even names forgotten, – which influenced people to pack up and move across the Alleghanies [sic.] to a new land, or to stampede minders to California and settlers to Oregon. I could not judge. It is very nice of you to mention WHISPERING RANGE but I think it only a run-along and briefly entertaining story, nothing more.” February 2, 1938
“As to Sinclair Lewis – that inevitably happens. No writer ever gets to the end of the furrow or is ever very pleased with the dirt turned over behind him. He may work very hard to reach a given point but when he gets to that point it ceases to mean much. There’s always another point ahead. As you say, too much is expected of a writer after he arrives. Sinclair Lewis is supposed to be one of the landmarks; and for some reason people expect their literary landmarks to personally draw thunderbolts out of heaven at will and ad lib. It puts too much on a writer. I do not, of course, know this to be true but I’d lay a bet that there are times when Lewis would like to cut lose and write himself a straight, breezy runalong story, just for the hell of it – like the last popular novel he ever wrote – FREE AIR. But of course if he did, everybody would say he was not up to his usual form. That is Wells trouble now. He quit writing bangup novels and got the social-economic complex, and now seems to speak only to God. The result is not fiction but very dull lecturing. I do not go much for the ten best of this or that. It is like choosing the one book you’d take to a desert island. The epicure might take a cookbook, and be terribly unhappy because of this kind of reminiscence while he was eating mussels three times a day. Again, these memories might keep him satisfied. It depends on temperament. LEAVES OF GRASS stirs me more than HUCKLEBERRY FINN. But the latter book is one of the greatest of all pictures of boyhood. So how could a man chose? There is just no such thing as the one best of anything – unless you restrict your choosing to very narrow categories. Eliot’s FIVE FOOT BOOKSHELF had only one novel, which was the professor’s conception of the greatest of all novels – THE BETROTHED. I doubt if many people people [sic] would agree – and that just goes to illustrate the impossibility of choosing. So for modern things: The Times gave Lewis’ latest book a tremendous send-off, the Herald-Tribune panned the pants off it. Or maybe it was the other way around. I incline a little bit to the con side, believing that the weight of his reputation oppressed him a little; it is a preachy book, something I do not think a novel should ever be. I do not mean the least criticism in this, of course. Writing a book is sad enough business and drudgery enough to be both its own reward and punishment.” April 13, 1938
“Some years ago I wrote several stories of the Revolution and found the period extremely interesting to me. In fact I had half a novel done on Benedict Arnold but gave it up for some years. When I came back to it there was no need of finishing the job since Roberts had already written the story in his Rabble in Arms. Most writers, I think, nourish the idea of someday returning to the soil, either as amateur farmers or as escapists from an irritating world, or to tackle nature as Thoreau did. The simplicity of it has allure. Yet I doubt if very many writers ever make the switch wholeheartedly. The realities of farm life, or life in the woods, is a hell of a contrast to the academic imaginings of the kind of people most writers are. Weeds won’t wait for a man to finish his chapter; and though rising to milk the cow at five of a frosty morning is an interesting diversion for a day or two, it loses its charm on a seven-day-a-week basis. If a writer has people to do all this work for him it is of course pleasant; but if he’s going to hire it done he’ll find himself finding most of his time at the typewriter, keeping up with the payroll.” October 5, 1938
“I am glad you liked STAGE COACH. I have not seen the booklet you mentioned, but it sounds as though it might be very interesting.” May 3, 1939.
“Mr. Lincoln’s life seems inexhaustible; each time a man looks at it there’s a new facet. Perhaps it may partly be that there are few truly good and humble and honest men in the world – and when we find one we never tire of the story…” November 28, 1941
“The Saipan fight was pretty well covered by the combat correspondents, so that we got a rather close view of the fighting – it’s toughness and its [sic] cost. In any event, you’re having a specially conducted Cook’s tour of the South Sea islands and when this is over you should be able to balance rather accurately the lush beauty against the bugs and come to some sort of a net worth of that country. It is pretty hard to balance one kind of war against another, since all war is bad enough; yet as between the European and Asiatic theatres, you’ve got the worst side of it. In the matter of both enemy mentality and climate, you can’t expect much in the way of breaks. The Jap is more thoroughly indoctrinated than the German. Occasionally the German will respond to civilized reasoning and once in a while he’ll figure things out for himself. The Jap seldom does. I used to curse at French mud, but that’s not much when put against the humid heat and rain in your part of the world. My old division, 41st, has been in the South Pacific nearly three years. That’s just about as long as men ought to have to take that kind of country. As a writer all this is grist for your mill. It is a hell of a way to grind out experience, but nevertheless you’ll never have anything else like it no matter how long you live. There is no other way of so accurately seeing what men will do under abnormal circumstances, what the basic qualities of men are – and, for that matter, your own basic qualities and your own reactions. When you boil them down, men are pretty damned good in the clutch. I greatly appreciated the Jap postcard. Let me wish you well wherever you go – and keep your head down. Barring unforeseen things, I suspect you’ve got another year of it at least. All the work leads to one last piece of work in one final spot. You’ll need all the training and battle wisdom you’ve got when you get to that final spot. Air power is wonderful and the navy is swell – but the payoff in this war, as in all others, is still one man with a gun crawling toward a bunch of trees or closing in on a house.” October 17, 1944
A Portland, Oregon native and veteran of World War I, Haycox published approximately 300 stories and 16 novels beginning in the 1920s, including The Wild Bunch, Bugles in the Afternoon, and The Last Rodeo. Mostly Westerns and fiction set during the American Revolution, his popular stories and serialized novels appeared in such publications as Sea Stories, Western Story, Adventure, Colliers, and The Saturday Evening Post. A number of his works were made into films including the groundbreaking Stagecoach, Union Pacific, Apache Trail, Bugles in the Afternoon, Montana, and The Far Country. He was admired by both Ernest Hemingway and Gertrude Stein. His papers are at the University of Oregon.
Gates, a well-respected amateur historian of the Civil War and Abraham Lincoln, devoted 50 years to researching those subjects, reviewing books for the Lincoln Herald and contributing to such works as the anthology Lincoln for the Ages. He was an avid letter writer and “friend and unofficial agent of many a noted author,” (“Autographica Curiosa: How Not to Impress Emily Post,” Autograph Magazine, Butts). His own books include Amberglow of Abraham Lincoln and Ann Rutledge, Amberglow of Abraham Lincoln and Joshua Speed, Song of the Leaves: Quest of Johnny Appleseed and The Weaver. Accompanied by a letter from Haycox’s widow regarding his papers and personal library. All letters are folded and very fine.