Cowboys, Tobacco, Books, and History~Quote by Gene Rhodes

Gene Rhodes (Eugene Manlove Rhodes 1869-1934) was an old-time cowboy who became a writer of western fiction, in his fiction he had the delightful habit of pausing in the midst of the story to add a bit of non-fiction. A piece of real, first-hand-account knowledge of the lives or habits of the cowboys. The excerpt below is from his novel “Bransford of Rainbow Range”  in which he brings to light things that he observed during his years working as a cowboy on the range. As usual, he uses his unique sense of humor to help you remember the history. 🙂

“Here I leave for a slight digression, to commit a long-delayed act of justice–to correct a grievous wrong? Thank you.

We hear much of Mr. Andrew Carnegie and His Libraries, the Hall of Fame, the Little Red School House, the Five Foot Shelf, and the World’s Best Books. A singular thing is that the most effective bit of philanthropy along these lines has gone unrecorded to a thankless world. This shall no longer be.

Know, then, that once upon a time a certain soulless corporation, rather in the tobacco trade, placed in each package of tobacco a coupon, each coupon redeemable by one paper-bound book.  Whether they were moved by remorse to this action or by sordid hidden purposes of their own, or, again, by pure, disinterested and farseeing love of their kind, is not yet known; but the results remain. There were three hundred and three volumes on that list, mostly–but not altogether–fiction. And each one was a classic. Classics are cheap. They are not copyrighted. Could I but know the anonymous benefactor who enrolled that glorious company, how gladly I would drop a leaf on his bier or a cherry in his bitters!

Thus it was that, in one brief decade, the cowboys, with others, became comparatively literate. Cowboys all smoked. Doubtless that was a chief cause contributory to making them the wrecks they were. It destroyed their physique; it corroded and ate away at their will power–leaving they seldom able to work over nineteen hours a day, except in emergencies; prone to abandon duty in the face of difficulty or danger, when human effort, raised to the nth power, could do no more–all things considered, the most efficient men of their hands on record.

Cowboys all smoked: and the most deep-seated instinct of the human race is to get something for nothing. They got those books. In due course of time they read those books. Some were slow to take to it; but when you have to stay at lonely ranches, when you are left afoot until the water-holes dry up, so you can catch a horse in the water-pen–why you must do something. The books were read, Then, having acquired the habit, they bought more books, Since the three hundred and three were all real books, and since the cowboys had been previously uncorrupted of predigested or sterilized fiction, or by “gift,” “uplift,” and “helpful” books, their composite taste had become surprisingly good, and they bought with discriminating care. Nay, more. A bookcase follows books; a bookcase demands a house; a house needs a keeper; a house-keeper needs everything. Hence alfalfa–houseplants–slotless tables–bankbooks. The chain that began with yellow coupons ends with Christmas trees. In some proudest niche in the Hall of Fame a grateful nation will yet honor that hitherto unrecognized educator, Front de Boeuf (Bull Durham).”


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