The Peripatetic Reviewer

by Edward Weeks
My first experience in the West was one of almost total ignominy. At the time, June, 1919, I did not think of myself as a dude, I thought of myself as a war veteran, capable of doing anything. There was the sign on the bulletin board in Cambridge reading: “Wanted: Harvest Hands. Help Get in the Bumper Crop at $7.00 a Day!” I multiplied the 90 days I expected to be there by 7, and allowing for the travel expenses, came up with a cool $500 for my next year in college. The fact that I had never seen a steer, harnessed a horse, or handled a pitchfork did not seem to me a disqualification. Nor did it to the goodnatured Irishman at the Boston Chamber of Commerce to whom I applied for my credentials.
“So you want to work in the wheat fields,” he said. “They tell me it’s hot as hell. Put your name down on this, and show it to the clerk in Kansas City.” This was a small piece of paper addressed to the Chamber in Kansas City and stating, “To the best of our knowledge the bearer, —, is entitled to work as a harvest hand. Signed:_—” I filled in my name, he rubberstamped it, and I was certified.
The greeter in Kansas City was not overly impressed by my credentials. “They’re harvesting right now at Colby,” he remarked, “one hundred and sixty-four miles due west.” “Gosh,” I said. “I’ve only seven dollars left. How do I get out there?” “That’s your lookout,” he said.
Well, anyone who has done KP in the Army can wash dishes in a café, and by the third day I had earned my rail fare to Colby. When I boarded the train, my last dollars had been spent in an army surplus store where I purchased blue denims, cotton shirts and gloves, a red bandanna, and a straw hat with a wide brim, a regalia which I donned in the lavatory of a hotel.
The greeter had advised me to see the head of the bank in Colby, who would tell me what to do. The sun was barely up when I stepped off the day coach at Colby, and after the night’s jogging and no supper I was ravenous. I followed Main Street into the center of the dusty little town, passing throngs of rangy, sunburned men squatting on the curb or leaning against the shop fronts. The bank was not open yet, but I asked the way to the president’s home, found it, and knocked on the door. A genial-looking man in undershirt and pants admitted me, glanced at my credentials, and grinned. “Son,” he said, “you sure look hungry. Sit down there on the porch, and my wife will fry you some eggs.” Eggs and bacon, a slab of homemade toast, and country-fried potatoes. Boy! He was dressed by the time I had cleaned the plate, and I accompanied him downtown. “You just take your place with those other hands,” he said cheerily as we parted. “Somebody is sure to sign you on before dark.” I must say I didn’t feel quite so confident.
The signing up was already in progress. A Ford would appear out of a cloud of dust — we could see it coming from far away — the farmer would step out, and after a little sizing up, would announce, “I want four headers and a stacker,” and then take his pick. The big guys went first, then the middle-sized, and by midafternoon, when they were getting down to the bottom of the barrel, my turn came. I was signed on by a capable-looking man named Carpenter, evidently in his midthirties, and good-natured. “Ever done any harvesting?” he asked, noticing my lack of tan, and when I shook my head, he said, “Well, we’ll take a chance.”
Carpenter was harvesting three sections, about a thousand acres of wheat and barley, and on the ride out I learned that my job would be in one of the header boxes, stamping down the wheat that would be poured into us by the conveyor belt of the reaper, and then forking it onto the stack when our load was full. I also learned that the other hands had been following the harvest north for at least a month, finishing each job and then leapfrogging ahead to the next uncut square.
They called me Slim, and from the moment I arrived at the Carpenter farm, I was a curio. We slept in the barn and were up at five to catch the horses. The men watched me brush my teeth; they were amused by the slow way I ate; they listened to my accent; and they couldn’t believe that anyone could know so little about harvesting. On the third morning they left me to harness the horses for my header box, and I did as I had been told. But I must have left out something, for when I had finished, the wagon tongue, leather traces, and all had sunk to the level of the horses’ hocks, barely six inches above the ground. I was still puzzling over this when the barn was split by a roar of laughter from the crew, who had been watching me out of sight.
We worked in a temperature that climbed above 100 degrees at noon. My partner was no veteran but a high-school boy of sixteen who handled the pitchfork the way some people handle a violin — all rhythm and no sweat. I handled it as if it were a snow shovel — dig, grunt, heave, and blister — and by the second day my hands were mighty painful. The reaper, thank heaven, had a way of breaking down in the late afternoon, just a little before I did, and while the boss was tinkering with it, I would wonder how long, oh, Lord, how long?
The ride home at five o’clock came with incredible relief, and the great Kansas plain with the sun lowering and the wind blowing was quite a sight. After supper the other men would wrestle. It was a contest to see who could throw the cowpuncher from Wyoming — but as for me, lying flat out, I had barely enough zest to lift my head and watch.
I was obviously the weak sister, slowing down the whole process, and it was only Mr. Carpenter’s kindness that kept me on. When he paid me and dropped me off in Colby, I reverted to my previous occupation, washing dishes for $2.50 a day, board and keep, “keep” meaning that I shared a room with the cook, who got drunk on Ed Pinard’s hair tonic on Saturday nights. Kansas was dry.

Dandies go West

The European dandies MARSHALL SPRAGUE writes about in his beautifully illustrated A GALLERY OF DUDES (Little, Brown, $8.75) were most of them of noble birth. They all possessed wealth, they were adaptable, with the digestion of a goat, and the West which they visited in the nineteenth century was really wild. They went for a variety of reasons. Captain William Drummond Stewart, whose biography opens the book, ran away from domesticity; he was also a famous shot, and he had exhausted the hunting grounds of Europe. Grand Duke Alexis of Russia, who was the wealthiest and most powerful of the lot, was temporarily tired of St. Petersburg and went for the kicks; the Marquis de Mores and Count Pourtales went with the illusion that they could make some quick money; Maximilian, Prince of Wied-Neuwied, a first-class naturalist, was lured to the Dakotas and Montana by the hope of discovery, and his notes about the Indian tribes he lived with are the last word about some of them, written just before the smallpox epidemic wiped out 15,000 Red Men, including several of the smaller tribes.
The only woman among them, Isabella Lucy Bird, who was thought in Scotland to be an invalid suffering from backache, insomnia, and nervous tension, went West to get source material for a travel book. A small trim woman of forty riding astride in Turkish trousers with frills falling over her boots, she made her way to Estes Park, and there fell in love with one of her guides, the hard-drinking Mountain Jim Nugent, and he with her. Their romance alone is worth the price of admission.
These dudes, young Theodore Roosevelt being about the last of them, were gregarious people with strong wills. They were well educated, and whether they were wintering in a Hudson Bay fort or drifting down the Missouri or camping with the Assiniboines, who proved to be the most reliable guides, they were quite aware of the great potential in this raw, unbroken country and delighted in trying to read its future. As Mr. Sprague so aptly says, “They wrote well about what they saw and their writings helped Americans to evaluate themselves at a time when they were too busy building a new world to have time to think.” They covered incredible distances through virgin wilderness, and the resourcefulness of Prince Max at the Battle of Fort McKenzie or the hardihood of the insouciant Lord Milton, who survived a Saskatchewan winter in a log cabin 15 by 13 feet, makes one gasp.
It depended on the remittance from home how they traveled: some, like Captain Stewart, traveled light, in a party of three or four; others, like the Grand Duke, went in style, traveling on a private train and attended on the buffalo hunts by a small army led by General Phil Sheridan, General Custer, and Buffalo Bill, who did most of the shooting.
Mr. Sprague’s portraits of his nine adventurers are entertaining in what they tell us of the dudes and solidly grounded in what they show us of the country more than a century ago. The early comers were sometimes accompanied by artists whose drawings are as graphic as the photographs that came later. This is a happy combination of what was bizarre, romantic, and memorable in the newly opened West.

The great General

Hitler attacked Poland on September 1, 1939, just a few hours before General Marshall assumed office as our Chief of Staff. Our Army and Air Force then numbered less than 200,000 men. The conservatives, the liberals disillusioned over Versailles, the isolationists of the Midwest, and the businessmen haters of FDR were united in blocking our aid to the Allies and in avoiding any provocative buildup of American armament. The myth of Nazi invincibility was in the air, and in mid-September Colonel Charles A. Lindbergh warned that our involvement in the war would mean the loss of American democracy. Such alarm as there was subsided in the early months of 1940 as Hitler regrouped his forces, and on April 3 the House Committee cut the budget of the Armed Forces by almost 10 percent, struck from Marshall’s list the air base at Anchorage and all but 57 planes from the requested 166. It is no wonder that in later life the General would remark that the years 1940— 1941 were his most difficult period of the war, a conviction which is patiently and forcibly brought out in DR. FORREST C. POGUE’S crucial book GEORGE C. MARSHALL, ORDEAL AND HOPE, 1939-1942 (Viking, $8.95), being the second of a four-volume biography.
General Marshall refused many sizable offers for his memoirs, among them one estimated at a million dollars. But he wanted the record clear, and for this purpose he gave his papers to a research library in Lexington, Virginia, and in 1956 taped in confidence a long oral history for the biographer to use after his death. Dr. Pogue, of course, has had access to all the interlacing published material, including the diaries of Secretary Stimson and the private papers of many of the General’s associates. The portrait that emerges is that of a severe, unsparing, farsighted commander whose integrity and high temper as he strove to arouse this nation won the grudging assent of even the most stubborn.
“It is doubtful,” writes Dr. Pogue, “that Roosevelt ever enjoyed Marshall’s company,” and the reason becomes clear as one reads, for it was Marshall’s duty to override FDR’s impulsive gestures, especially toward Churchill. “I never haggled with the President,” said Marshall quietly. “It took me a long time to get to him.” When Britain stood alone after Dunkirk, Churchill became importunate at what he called “the hungry table” in Washington, and when Hitler turned against the Soviet Union, the Russians were even more demanding. But it was Marshall’s duty to build up an American Army in the eventuality that we might have to go it alone, and after Pearl Harbor, he had to divide our equipment between MacArthur in the Pacific and those who were to have the prior claims in Europe and Africa. He did all this in the face of a reluctant Congress. No one was ever satisfied, and the castigation always fell on him. Marshall had had two serious warnings of overwork when he was Pershing’s aide in World War I, and it is remarkable that he came through this ordeal unscathed.
The warmth in the book is engendered not by its style but by the genuine human detail. Marshall’s quickly won and indispensable friendships with Harry Hopkins and Sir John Dill; his Little Black Book, feared throughout the Army, in which he wrote down the names of officers deserving promotion and crossed out those whom he distrusted; his appraisal of the British commanders and his feeling that Air Chief Marshal Portal was “the best mind of the lot”; his forbearance with his former chief Mac Arthur; his anguish over the misjudgments in the hour before Pearl Harbor; his delight with the G.I. who mailed him a tough steak as evidence of the poor cooking inflicted on his company; his unshakable belief that final victory would depend on our closing with Hitler’s ground forces; and so often in the crisis his quick blaze of temper, which helped to clear the truth — these are a few of the many scenes which enliven this vital, comprehensive, judgmatic book.