Sugar Creek Gang

During the 1920s, when Paul Hutchens, “the happy friend of Young America” was a newly ordained Baptist minister, he traveled across the country preaching revival services. But after being diagnosed with tuberculosis he needed a less strenuous occupation, so he took up writing. His first Sugar Creek Gang novel was published in 1939, and the thirty-sixth one came out in 1972.

I decided to sample one of his Christian children’s novels and discovered The Sugar Creek Gang Goes North ended with a cliff-hanger. It took four books to finish the gang’s North Woods adventure, and since each volume is only about 90 pages long I was of the opinion that Young America’s happy friend could have done a bit of editing, and written fewer-but-longer novels. But though Hutchens’ books aren’t perfect I found them to be entertaining.

The stories are narrated by Bill Collins, a red-headed farm boy who is best friends with a group of neighbor boys – several with nicknames. Poetry makes up poems and wants to be a detective, Circus is a tree-climbing acrobat, and Dragonfly is a bugged-eyed boy who’s allergic to just about everything. Other members are Big Jim (the official gang leader), and Little Jim (no relation to the leader). There is also Little Tom Till, a newly converted Christian who has a fierce drunken infidel daddy, as well as a juvenile delinquent older brother. Readers of Sugar Creek Gang books learn how dreadful it is to use bad language and drink liquor – and how upsetting it is when nice little boys have infidel fathers and mean brothers.

The books have about a short story’s worth of plot, but share lots of tid-bits of information, such as how a heated stone placed inside of a metal bucket makes a good tent heater, and how a criminal who gets his automobile stuck in sand can make a getaway by letting air out of his tires, which makes the tires wider, thus giving them better traction. (That apparently worked in 1947, but perhaps not with modern tires.)

When Bill was solving a mystery he was usually in a hurry, and would be running zippety-zip-zip dash, or lickety-sizzle. He’d get nearly to the end of his tale and state “I’ve got to step on the gas with this story,” finish up one part of the plot line, and say he’ll tell more of the story in his next book. Only three of the four books that tell the full adventure were available to me, so I need to just skim over one section.

In The Sugar Creek Gang Goes North Bill and his friends are invited to spend a couple weeks of school vacation visiting a gentleman with the nickname of Santa, who’d hosted the boys during the previous summer. Before leaving home Bill hears a radio story about a little girl who’d been kidnapped.

On the first night of the visit Bill and Poetry are sent out for firewood stacked near Santa’s boathouse and hear what sounds like a little girl crying . They conclude the sound is a loon, and its only after the two boys are zipped into their sleeping bags that they decide they should have looked inside of the building. They sneak out with their flashlights, discover the boathouse door is open, and set off on the trail of the kidnappers.

The boys find a “tangled-up-golden-haired little pretty-faced girl” tied and gagged, and Bill rushes off to the fire warden’s house and tells him to call the police. (Throughout the adventure they have to keep rushing to the fire warden’s house, since he’s the only local person with a telephone.) The kidnapped girl is rescued, the police rush to the scene, but the villains escape.

Alas, Adventures In An Indian Cemetery isn’t available though Project Gutenberg, but in that volume the gang captured the kidnappers, but the ransom money was not recovered.

In The Sugar Creek Gang Digs For Treasure the boys wonder if there are additional kidnappers still at large. A thousand dollars is offered for the recovery of the ransom money, and Bill wishes he could earn that reward.

One day Bill, Poetry, Circus, Dragonfly and Little Jim go back to the spot where the kidnapped girl was found, and Poetry finds an envelope that hadn’t been there when the police searched for clues. The envelope contained what seemed to be a blank sheet of paper, but later on a treasure map appeared on it. Some sneaky person had used invisible ink.

The boys set off on a trail marked with broken twigs and found a remote cabin that first appeared to have been long abandoned, but they found evidence someone had stayed there recently. Had it been the kidnappers’ hideout?

John Till, the mean liquor-drinking father of Little Tom Till, almost caught the boys sneaking around. They managed to escape undetected, and came upon an old icehouse where they found a portion of the missing ransom money. As they start to gather up the money along came John Till, so the boys rushed off zippety-zip-zip dash, or perhaps lickety-sizzle, I forget which.

So ends the third book, with a reminder to get the next volume in order to find out what happens about five minutes later.

In North Woods Manhunt readers get a recap about the final events of the last book, and then Circus rushed back to the icehouse, where he shut and bared the door. The bad man was captured!

Now the Sugar Creek Gang needed to rush back to the campsite, and then have someone rush to the fire warden’s house to call the police. But along with all those fun and exciting tasks, someone needed to tell Little Tom Till that his father was probably part of the kidnapping gang.

When Tom was told about his father’s whereabouts he said he had to get to him before the police did, for he’d gotten a letter from his mother and needed to give it to his daddy. Off they went so that Little Tom could talk to his father.

When they arrived back at the icehouse the door was wide open, and the prisoner had escaped. Were there two bad men still at large?

Tom showed Bill the letter from his mother. She’d written that his father had left with the money she’d been saving to pay on the bank loan, and the bank just sent a notice that the money had to be paid immediately. She thought Mr. Till might be fishing in the North Woods, and if Tom should happen to see his daddy please let him know about the need for money. Mrs. Till also wrote that with her and Tom and the minister praying for John Till everything will work out in the end.

Since Little Tom Till was a newly-converted Christian he couldn’t help but think things might not work out well, and his father might end up in prison for a long time. The Sugar Creek Gang did what the could to help out – they prayed for John Till, and tried to find the fugitive before the police did.

I don’t want to tell exactly how the adventure ends, but will mention that someone can be a bad-tempered drunken infidel without being nasty enough to consort with kidnappers. I’ll also remind you that – hint, hint – a large reward had been offered for finding the ransom money.

I found the Sugar Creek Gang books to be entertaining, and while they were preachy and non-politically-correct at times, I found that added a written-70-years-ago flavor to the narrative. (Although, since I’ve never read any 21st-centry evangelical Christian children’s novels, I can’t be sure how the same themes are currently being addressed.)

If you’d like to read The Sugar Creek Gang Goes North, The Sugar Creek Gang Digs For Treasure, and North Woods Manhunt here’s a link to the six Paul Hutchens novels available free of charge through the Gutenberg Project:

http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/search/?query=Paul+Hutchens+

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Harry Walton’s Adventures

This month I’m writing about two of Horatio Alger’s novels: Bound to Rise (1873), and Risen From the Ranks (1874). Both tell us about Harry Walton, the oldest son of a farmer struggling to support his family on ten acres of poor land. Bound to Rise begins when the family cow dies, and the father makes an unfortunate deal with his wealthiest neighbor, Squire Green. He purchases a $40 cow on credit, and if he can’t pay the entire amount – plus interest – in six months, the squire will not only take back the cow, but charge a ten dollar penalty.

Though fourteen-year-old Harry often misses school due to farm work he knows the importance of a good education. His teacher promised to award a book to the best student, and after the final examinations Harry is given a book on the life of Benjamin Franklin. He begins reading, and learns that Franklin had been a poor boy, but “through industry, frugality, perseverance, and a fixed determination to rise in life, he became a distinguished man in the end”.

Harry is determined to earn the money to pay for the new cow, and gains permission to leave home and seek his fortune. Though he would have preferred to take after Benjamin Franklin and work in a print shop, he was hired by a shoemaker, who trains him to peg shoes. (I’m guessing that means he attached soles to the shoes by means of pounding in pegs.)

He earned three dollars and week, plus his room and board, and made good progress on saving up for the cow payment, even after splurging on a few weeks of evening classes, in order to improve his education.

But, alas, one day he lost his wallet, and a cad by the name of Luke Harrison found it, and used part of the money to pay what he owed to a tailor. Fortunately Harry had already told the tailor about his loss, and how he had spilled some ink on one of the bills. When Luke brought in his payment the inky bill was amongst the money. Luke returned part of what Harry had lost, then he quit his job and skipped town.

Harry was sure he could still save up the needed cow payment, but then there was a glut on the shoe market, which meant no further work for a month or more. The next day Harry saw handbills advertising a show by Professor Henderson, the celebrated magician. Despite his economic woes Harry decided to pay 25 cents to see the entertainment and, boy, was that a good decision.

The professor’s assistant had left, and one glance at Harry Walton showed he was honest, so he was hired for five dollars a week, plus traveling expenses. Duties included selling tickets and setting up the equipment needed for the show. At one of the towns they stopped at Harry was asked to go to a newspaper / print shop and order a new supply of handbills. He entered the office of the Centreville Gazette, told the editor about his interest in Benjamin Franklin, and was offered a job as a printer’s apprentice starting in April, which was when the professor ended his touring for the year. Harry readily accepted.

Professor Henderson took sick and told Harry to travel to the next town to cancel his upcoming show. Harry did as he was told, but it was dark when he was returning, and he got lost. A man offered to show him the way, but instead led him down a side road, and robbed him. The thief also took Harry’s coat, and left his raggedy one as a replacement.

If you have to be robbed, make sure it’s by a stupid thief. The old coat had a wallet in the pocket which contained more than what had been stolen from Harry. The youth was able to get back home right before Squire Green came by to collect what was owed him. The cow was paid for, Harry gave his mother money to spend on his siblings and herself, and he informed his family that he planned to follow the example of his hero, Benjamin Franklin, and go to work in a print shop. And so ends Bound to Rise.

At the beginning of Risen From the Ranks Professor Henderson asks now-sixteen-year-old Harry Walton to reconsider resigning from his magician’s assistant career. (I have no idea how Harry aged two years during the six-month cow payment time span.) But the young man is determined to learn the printing trade, and had agreed to work the first month just for his room and board, and then earn two dollars a week plus room and board during the following six months.

When Harry arrived at the Centreville Gazette the editor, Mr. Anderson, provides him with a bedroom at his house. Though the room was small, and up in the attic, it was “scrupulously clean,” and you can’t get better than that.

Harry liked his new employer, plus the eldest journeyman printer, Mr. Ferguson, but didn’t like the younger journeyman, John Clapp. That sallow young man not only smoked, but he spent his evenings hanging out in a barroom with his friend, Luke Harrison – the cad who’d refused to return all of the money when he found Harry’s wallet. Those two were the book’s main bad examples and – spoiler alert – when they teamed up with a con-man who ended up conning them no one shed any tears over their misfortune.

Harry met a student by the name of Oscar Vincent, who attended the local Prescott Academy. Oscar offered to teach French to Harry, plus loan him books to read, so our hero was able to further his education. Getting an education even if a young person needs to work is the main “moral of the story” in these books.

Soon Harry had an established routine of working in the newspaper print shop by day, and then spending his nights either studying in his room, or visiting with Oscar. On occasion his coworker, Mr. Ferguson, invited him to have supper with his family. Mr. Ferguson believed in saving money, though he did subscribe to a weekly literary newspaper so that his family could have quality reading material. He offered to lend Harry some of the back issues.

Harry was so inspired by the paper that he began writing essays and sending them the editor, and after a few rejections his essay on Ambition was published under the pen name of Franklin, in honor of that famous printer he admired. Over time Harry had other small pieces published, and some were reprinted in other papers, including the Centreville Gazette.

Mr. Ferguson’s ambition was to save up enough money to purchase a small-town newspaper and become both a printer and publisher. Harry began to dream of someday becoming a newspaper editor, though he knew it would be many years before he could obtain that lofty goal. Normally it would take at least a decade to become an editor, but fortunately for Harry Walton, he was the hero of a Horatio Alger novel.

After Harry had worked in the print shop for three years, and had reached the age of nineteen, Mr. Anderson became ill and was invited to go out of state and visit his brother. Arrangements were made for Harry and Mr. Ferguson to temporarily run the Centreville Gazette on their own, for John Clapp had left without notice to pursue a get-rich-quick scheme.

Harry took on the duties of editor, and though this was in addition to his work as a printer, he put in long hours improving the quality of the newspaper’s content, and there was an increase in the number of subscribers.

Mr. Anderson received an offer to become a partner in a printing business near his brother’s home, and he planned to accept the offer if he could find someone to purchase his newspaper for two thousand dollars cash. (Alas, he couldn’t wait around to accept payments.)

The asking price was a great bargain, and Harry and Mr. Ferguson wanted to become partners in the deal, but their combined savings was not enough, and every local person who might loan them money had just invested their excess funds in other ventures.

Were the two friends doomed to turn down a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity? If only a traveling magician would stop by, hoping that his former assistant would give him some free publicity in the newspaper he worked at. Professor Henderson made a good income, and might be willing to help out …

The two novels about young Harry Walton were an entertaining read, and while many of the events were unlikely to have happened in the real world, nothing was completely impossible.

Plus, it was a fascinating reminder that running a weekly rural newspaper had once been a profitable endeavor. It’s hard to believe it these days, but for most of our country’s history reading was the major way that people learned about what was happening in the world.

Bound to Rise
can be downloaded free of charge at:
http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/5977

Risen From the Ranks can be downloaded free of charge at:
http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/12741

Edgar Rice Burroughs Finds His Way

Many authors made childhood decisions to become writers. That wasn’t the case with Edgar Rice Burroughs, who was born in Chicago on September 1, 1875. For nearly two decades he worked at numerous occupations and found no success until trying his luck at writing stories.

In 1895 he graduated from the Michigan Military Academy (which he referred to as “a polite reform school”) and then failed the entrance exam to West Point. Undaunted, he enlisted as a private in the U. S. Cavalry and was sent to Fort Grant in Arizona Territory. He summarized his military career by saying “I chased a good many Apaches, but fortunately for me, I never caught up with any of them.”

After two years he was discharged from the Army, either because he was diagnosed with a heart problem, or because he asked his father – a Civil War veteran who’d become a major – to use his connections to get him out of the service.

He went from job to job, even after marrying his childhood sweetheart in 1900. In 1903 he went out to Idaho where two of his brothers were cattle ranchers and partners in a mining company. He was put in charge of managing a new gold mine, but the venture was not profitable. Burroughs got a job with a railroad, but soon quit. He worked as a shopkeeper, then tried to start of couple of businesses, but each one failed.

He became a wholesaler for pencil sharpeners, and hired salesmen to go out and try to sell them. The salesmen did much more trying then selling.

When Burroughs was 35 years old he had two children, with a third one on the way, and had to pawn his watch and his wife’s jewelry to buy food. At this, the lowest point in his life, he had an opportunity to read some pulp magazines – cheap periodicals, printed on wood pulp paper. It was then that he made one of his greatest decisions. After some thought he concluded: “…if people were paid for writing rot such as I read in some of those magazines … I could write stories just as rotten.”

He came up with a novel-length story that he sent to Frank Munsey, who published pulp magazines. Munsey paid $400 for Under the Moons of Mars and serialized it in several 1912 issues of The All-Story. The Burroughs family could afford to buy groceries!

Burroughs started work on a novel about a young man raised by great apes after the death of his titled English parents – who’d been marooned on a remote portion of the African coast following a ship’s mutiny. Frank Munsey paid $700 for Tarzan of the Apes, and it became the most popular serial ever published in The All-Story. Burroughs started sending the manuscript to book publishers, but it was rejected by the country’s top publishers until finally being accepted by Chicago publisher A. C. McClurg and Company. It became one of the best selling novels of 1914.

Though Edgar Rice Burroughs had done almost no research on Africa, and some of his plot twists defied logic, he had a knack for writing adventure stories, and his work was not “rot”. He wrote about things that interested him, and was fortunate in sharing the same interests as a great many people.

After putting his family through years of poverty Burroughs wanted to wring every last bit of success out of his jungle hero so he wrote a sequel to his Tarzan novel. And then another, and another. In all he wrote about two dozen Tarzan novels, and all sold well. He also wrote other books, and his novels about life on Mars were popular – but not Tarzan popular.

The first few Tarzan books told about the main character’s courtship and marriage to Jane, and their son Jack. But then the family stopped being mentioned, and Tarzan became a man who never aged. Burroughs had written that Tarzan was born back in the 1880s, but stories written in the 1930s and 40s had the man raised by apes encountering motor vehicles and other equipment that was modern when the books were written, even though the hero continued to be portrayed as a young man.

In 1919 Burroughs moved his family to California and bought 550 acres near Los Angeles. He named his property Tarzana Ranch. Soon after, people began moving into suburbs surrounding the writer’s family home, and Edgar Rice Burroughs began selling off land for building lots. In 1930 a new post office was established, and a name was needed for the community. It became Tarzana, a city that now has a population of about 35,000.

The first of several dozen Tarzan movies produced during Burroughs’ lifetime was released in 1918. In 1923 the writer set up a company entitled Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc. The company still exists, and keeps track of licensing rights to everything that Burroughs wrote that is still protected under copyright laws, and has not fallen into public domain. The writer trademarked the names of the major characters from his Tarzan and science fiction novels, and so no new story, movie, or any other product can use the name of Tarzan without the permission of Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc.

In 1927 a community in Texas became populous enough to require a post office. Area residents submitted names for the new post office address, and the name chosen was Tarzan. That must have met the approval of Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc. (About 80 people currently live in Tarzan, Texas.)

During the 1930s Burroughs hired people to produce a daily Tarzan comic strip, plus a Tarzan radio show. Experts advised him that too many Tarzan ventures would cause people to grow tired of the character, but that never happened. The comic strip was syndicated to over 250 newspapers around the world, and the radio show went through three different versions from 1932 through 1936.

Burroughs was 66 years old when Pearl Harbor was attacked, and he became one of the oldest war correspondents to travel to battle areas during World War II. After the war he continued to work on writing projects until dying of a heart attack on March 19, 1950, at the age of 74. He is buried in Tarzana, California.

Throughout his lifetime Burroughs appeared to be dismissive of his literary talents, claiming he never learned any of the proper rules of writing, but that may have just been a persona he presented to the world. He often remarked that he enjoyed writing, and I believe he was proud of having found his proper way in the world, after early decades of false starts.

Nowadays Tarzan books are no longer widely read, which is a shame, for I enjoyed reading several of the adventure stories when I was growing up. If you’d like to read Edgar Rice Burroughs’ original version of his famous character many of the Tarzan novels can be downloaded, free of charge at:
http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/search/?query=tarzan

Kim

Kim’s skin was tanned as dark as a native’s and while he was fluent in speaking several Indian languages, his English was imperfect. But Kim was white – a Sahib (European). His mother had been a nursemaid in a Colonel’s family, and his father had been Kimball O’Hara, a colour-sergeant in an Irish regiment before leaving the military to take a low-ranking job with the Indian railway.

Kim’s mother died of cholera, and his father took to drinking and using opium, and “died as poor whites die in India.” Before Kimball O’Hara, Sr. died he told his son he was leaving him a legacy of three pieces of paper that had great magic. His father had died when Kim was quite young, and the half-caste woman who cared for the boy didn’t understand English well, so the boy was told that once the legacy became known the Colonel and 900 devils – who worshipped the Red Bull in a green field – would come and tend to him.

India’s people had many religions, with many gods, and so Kim accepted that a Red Bull would be an important part of his future. The three “magic” papers were sewn into a leather amulet-case that the boy always wore around his neck.

Kim hated wearing the restrictive shirts and trousers worn by Sahibs, preferring loose-fitting native clothing. Though he’d received a few reading lessons, sitting in a classroom didn’t interest him. He would prowl through alleys and run across rooftops to deliver messages, or learn secrets, and he’d then report to those who gave coins to boys who didn’t mind a bit of danger.

When Kim was 13 he met an elderly Tibetan Lama on a pilgrimage to find the Holy Places of Buddhism, especially the River of the Arrow. The Lama’s chela (disciple) had died, and Kim agreed to travel with the holy man, for the journey would be a chance to take his own pilgrimage and find the Red Bull in a green field.

He soon discovered the Lama was an innocent who didn’t understand people could be dishonest, and since Kim was familiar with the seedier realities of life he became the Lama’s protector.

When a horse trader by the name of Mahbub Ali learned that Kim would be traveling through the town of Umballa he asked the boy to give an army officer a written message about the pedigree of a white stallion. Kim knew he was not being told what the true message was, but he accepted the assignment.

When he arrived in Umballa Kim found the correct location to pass on a sealed packet of papers, and then he spied and overheard an officer say that he’d received information concerning the need for 8,000 soldiers, plus heavy artillery.

Kim and the Lama traveled on India’s Grand Trunk Road, and while the Lama was focused on enlightenment, and seeking clues to where the River of the Arrow might be, Kim wanted to explore locations near the road, to learn more about parts of India he’d never seen before.

One day Kim came upon a field and saw a group of soldiers scouting out a location for their regiment to make camp. One of the soldiers had a flag depicting a Red Bull on a green background. He had come upon his father’s Irish regiment.

Kim rushed back to tell the Lama he had found his Red Bull, and then found a comfortable place for his holy man to sit and wait for his return. He snuck into the army camp in hopes of learning about the promised legacy from his father.

The regiment’s Anglican chaplain caught the boy spying, dragged Kim into his tent, and then called upon the Catholic chaplain for assistance. Kim attempted an escape, the Anglican tried to grab hold of him, and tore off the leather amulet holding the three “magic” papers. Kim frantically insisted that he must have his magic returned to him, and the chaplains cut open the amulet to see the contents.

They found a paper certifying Kimball O’Hara’s membership in a Masonic Lodge, a military document, and the boy’s birth certificate. Kim told the men he needed his papers, and that he must return to care for his holy man. He was told he couldn’t leave – he was a military orphan and the regiment would make sure that he was educated, and trained to be a soldier.

Kim was allowed bring the Lama into the camp in order to say goodbye to him, and as soon as the man learned his beloved helper was a Sahib he agreed he must be sent to a Sahib school. Kim was told the regiment would take him to his new school, but the boy said that wasn’t going to happen because they would soon be in a war involving 8,000 soldiers. (He knew a thing or two about keeping secrets, and so said nothing about delivering the message concerning “the pedigree of a white stallion.”)

All who heard the boy’s war prediction scoffed at the foolish tale – until they were ordered to change plans and take part in a military action involving thousands of soldiers. Then officials took a special interest in the white boy who looked and acted like a native.

Kim was told the very best Sahib school in India was St. Xavier’s, where he could not only learn how to read and write, but how to survey land and prepare accurate maps. There were military men who took part in what was called the Great Game by disguising themselves, learning secrets, and providing maps of remote locations. Kim had no interest in learning to be a soldier who marched all day, but the Great Game would be a life of adventure.

Kim was enrolled at St. Xavier’s, became a good student, and usually followed school rules. His only infractions were the few times when he was seen outside of the school, conversing with an old beggar. The Tibetan Lama had put his pilgrimage on hold in order to live near his young Sahib disciple.

When Kim was 16 several men who took part in the Great Game – including Mahbub Ali the horse trader – decided the young man had received enough schooling and should be sent on his first mission, but not before he was given six months to travel with the Lama. They understood that Kim would not give his full attention to his life’s work until the holy man was at peace in his search for enlightenment.

Kim was given an amulet to wear, and told that if he met someone he thought might be a part of the Great Game there were certain subjects to be mentioned, using certain speech patterns. Then he was sent off on his six month holiday.

Unfortunately, during a train ride with the Lama, Kim met up with an injured man. Kim caught sight of the man’s amulet, conversed with him on certain subjects, and learned the Great Game required that a message be delivered, and that the injured man was too weak to escape from enemies on his trail ….

Several years ago I watched an old movie entitled Kim, so I knew the novel would contain adventure, and that is the major portion of the story, but I didn’t realize how much of Kim involved the Lama’s pilgrimage, and discussions about India’s diverse religious beliefs and traditions. For the most part I found the pilgrimage conversations to be of interest, though there were a time or two when I wished the talkers had gotten to their point a little sooner. Be warned that those wanting non-stop thrills and adventures might find Kim a little slow-moving at times.

For those seeking an exotic tale set during the days of British colonial rule in India I recommend Rudyard Kipling’s classic novel.

Kim can be downloaded free of charge at:
http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/2226

Two Wyoming Girls

Two Wyoming Girls and Their Homestead Claim was written by Mrs. Carrie L. Marshall, and published in 1899. It is narrated by Leslie Gordon, the youngest of two sisters, and is the type of book that is enjoyable to read if you don’t think too much about whether most of the plot twists could logically occur.

The story begins when Leslie’s father, Mr. Gordon, is preparing to spend the day working in a mine, even though it has been raining for days and eldest daughter, Jessie, warns him that an old miner told her that the mines are prone to flood in wet weather. Mr. Gordon tells Jessie that old miners tend to be superstitious, and that he needs money to gain title to his homestead claim, and to fence in his field crops. Their rancher neighbor, Jacob Horton, is determined to get the Gordon family off their land, and each year the Horton cattle “accidently” trample their crops right before harvest time.

Alas, Mr. Gordon should have listened to the advice of the old miner, for the mine did flood, and he and many others were killed. Since Mrs. Gordon had died two years earlier, Leslie and Jessie needed to keep up the homestead,and care for three-year-old brother, Ralph, with only the help from elderly Joe.

Joe had been born a slave on the Gordon plantation, and his former master had assigned him the task of caring for the little boy who was to become the two Wyoming girls’ father. Even after Mr. Gordon had grown – and decades after slavery had ended – Joe refused to give up on his job of looking after the Gordon family.

Following the long tradition of storybook ex-slaves Joe spoke in nearly-impossible-to-understand dialect consisting of misspelled (and often misplaced) words. As a reader, I found that the only thing worse than trying to interpret Joe’s rambling conversations was when Joe was talking to young Ralph, who spoke in baby-talk – consisting of different misspelled words.

Unfortunately for Leslie and Jessie, they had greater concerns than figuring out confusing speech patterns. Right after their father’s death nasty Mr. Horton showed up to inform them that girls can’t hold down homesteads, but he’d be willing to pay them a little money if they packed up and left. He was told they planned to stay.

Mr. Horton came by a few days later, right when the girls’ were experiencing an emergency. Jessie had developed an awful toothache just after Joe had taken both of the horses to go and buy seed. Mr. Horton told the entire family to get into his wagon, for he’d drive them all to the far-off dentist. Leslie said she had to stay and milk the cows, but told everyone she’d go and spend the night with a widowed neighbor.

As soon as the wagon left Leslie remembered that the law stated a homestead couldn’t be left unoccupied for even a single night, so she decided to not leave home. It was a good thing she stayed.

Leslie worried about being alone, so she went to bed with her father’s rifle close by. She was awakened by a strange noise, and saw flames outside of the bedroom window. This startled her so much that, in her confusion, she grabbed up the rifle and fired through the window. A man screamed, and when she got out of bed and looked outside she saw someone running away.

The fire was quickly extinguished, and Leslie saw that a pile of pine cones and other flammable items had been piled up against the house.

The next day Mr. Horton’s kind and naive wife drove the Gordon family back home. The good news was that the dentist happened to be passing right by the Horton’s home, so they were able to get him to stop long enough to pull Jessie’s tooth, so there was no need to drive all day for a dental appointment. The bad news was that Mr. Horton had met with a odd accident.

Mrs. Horton explained that late at night her husband decided he needed to go out and salt the cattle. (I’m assuming he meant he had to set out salt blocks, and not that he had to go about with a shaker, sprinkling salt over his cattle, but when it comes to the Hortons one never knows.) While out on his salting mission he someone grabbed hold of a tree stump and cut his hand, but when he returned home he refused to let his wife look at his injury, and he bandaged his hand without any assistance.

No one except Leslie connected the significance of Mr. Horton being injured on the very night that Leslie had shot at a man outside of her window. As for poor Mrs. Horton, she was the only one in the community who hadn’t figured out that she was married to a cad.

Troubles continued for the Gordon sisters. Money was needed for fees connected to getting legal title to the homestead, but the day before Joe planned to harvest their wheat crop Mr. Horton’s cattle strayed onto their land and trampled the entire planted field.

Then just before their crop of melons ripened Joe left in the night, without a word of goodbye. The sisters picked the melons and, though she hated going about as a peddler, Leslie went around to their neighbors selling fruit. The melons were popular, but all she received in payment was a stack of I.O.U.s

The next day they picked a wagon-load of melons, and then the entire family made the long drive to a work camp. The camp cook bought all the melons, paid cash, and gave them a bonus of a half-dozen ducks and a couple of jack-rabbits he’d just shot.

It was such a long drive that it was starting to get dark before they could get home. Suddenly a pack of wolves surrounded the wagon, and the team of horses began racing in terror. Though Leslie was the better driver she handed the reins to Jessie so that she could crawl to the back of the wagon and begin shooting at the wolves. And then three-year-old Ralph decided to help. After yelling at the “bad dogs” to go away, he began tossing things at them.

Here is a helpful hint for when a pack of wolves is surrounding your wagon, which is being pulled by a team of run-away horses. Toss out all of the freshly killed game animals. Wolves would prefer to eat than to chase horse-drawn wagons.

The day was drawing near when the Gordons had to go to town and attempt to gain title to the homestead. Their father’s name was on the homestead papers, but Jessie would turn eighteen the day before they would go to apply for the land title, and that meant she’d be old enough to be the head of a household. They had proof of her age, for generations of the family had their births recorded in the back of the big family Bible. When Mr. Horton came by, taunting them with how he would be taking over their land, he was told that they could prove Jessie would soon be of legal age.

Their troubles should soon be over, but did they have enough money to pay all of the legal fees? Would they find out why Joe had gone off when they needed his help? Could any bad neighbor be cruel enough to try and steal a Bible in order to deprive a family of their home? And if Mr. Horton decided to come thieving in the middle of the night, would he be able to tell the difference between a family’s Bible and their big unabridged dictionary?

This is not a perfect book, for the author used a bit too much imagination when it came to plotting what happened next. I’ve done research on the Homestead Act, and many of the “rules” set forth in this novel are not found in the actual Act. And at times ex-slave Joe’s devotion to the descendants of the family that once owned him was cringe-worthy.

But I found the Gordon sisters to be likable, and their personalities were fully developed. At times tomboy Leslie and homemaker Jessie bickered as siblings do, though they worked together despite their differing skills and opinions. Leslie had a sense of humor, plus she was willing to admit when she made a mistake, and I consider those good traits in people I choose to admire.

If you’d like to know more about the Gordons’ adventures Two Wyoming Girls can be downloaded free of charge at:
http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/32383

The Corner House Girls

I decided to search for examples of lesser-known early series books and discovered The Corner House Girls, subtitled How They Moved to Milton What They Found and What They Did, which was written by Grace Brooks Hill, and published in 1915. The book tells the adventures of four Kenway sisters – Ruth, Aggie, Tess and Dot. The girls are between the ages of sixteen and eight years, and though I never figured out each of the girls’ ages, I did learn that Ruth is the oldest and Dot the youngest.

The book begins with four impoverished orphan girls living in an ugly tenement building, on an ugly street, in the ugliest district in Bloomingsburg. It was a good thing the long subtitle told me they’d be moving to Milton, because things were sure dire at the beginning.

Their father had been killed in the Philippines, but no information was given about why he had been there. (His girls were too young for him to have been killed during the Spanish-American War.) Mrs. Kenway had died two years before the story began, and the majority of the sisters’ income was from their father’s pension.

The only adult living with the girls was Aunt Sarah Stower, who wasn’t really their aunt, but only their mother’s uncle’s half-sister, and Aggie said “that’s a relationship that would puzzle a Philadelphia lawyer to figure out.” (Apparently the author couldn’t figure it out, for Sarah seems to have been a step-sister, and not a half-sister.) Aunt Sarah hated housework so she never did any, but she sat around all day sewing, crocheting and knitting, which was better than nothing.

One day Tess and Dot were out buying vegetables, plus the five cents worth of peppermints the family bought each week for grouchy Aunt Sarah. A trouble-making boy named Tommy Rooney tried to steal the peppermints from them, but was prevented from doing so by a well-dressed gentleman named Mr. Howbridge. The gentleman, who was a lawyer, asked the girls where the Kenway family lived, for he had come to tell them of Uncle Peter Stower’s death.

Uncle Peter had been the family’s only rich relative, and was Aunt Sarah’s step-brother (the author calls him a half-brother), but he hadn’t liked her. The Kenway sisters were the only living relatives, and were to inherit their uncle’s large Corner House in Milton, plus many rental properties he’d owned.

Mr. Howbridge had drawn up Peter Stower’s Will, but alas, Uncle Peter had been a secretive man and no one could find where the Will had been hidden. However the Probate Court agreed that the only known heirs were to receive everything, and since the Kenway sisters were all underage, Mr. Howbridge would be their guardian.

Arrangements were made for the girls to move to the big Corner House, which had three stories, plus an attic. Ruth gave away most of their furniture to poor neighbors, but Aunt Sarah kept her favorite rocking chair. The family packed up their personal possessions, and as they were preparing to leave town they met up with that trouble-making Tommy Rooney, who informed them he was planning on running away from home.

When they arrived at Uncle Peter’s mansion the sisters were awed by what they saw, but Aunt Sarah had lived there before she’d gone to stay with the Kenways, and she knew what she wanted. After her step-father had died her step-brother had made her move into a dinky room in the servants’ quarters, but now she took possession of the nicest second-floor bedroom, where she sat in her rocking chair and began crocheting. It would take a lot of work to get the old house in proper order, but Aunt Sarah had no intention of helping out.

Mr. Howbridge hired a widowed lady named Mrs. McCall to be the family’s housekeeper, and soon afterward an elderly black man, Uncle Rufus, came by asking for work. For twenty-four years he had been Uncle Peter’s servant, and though he was now supposed to be retired, he wanted to return to his former duties. Ruth wasn’t sure if Mr. Howbridge would approve, but she hired Uncle Rufus out of pity for the man.

Even though Uncle Rufus was advanced in age he was of great help to the family. Unfortunately he talked in what I’ll call Old Time Loyal Southern Servant dialog, and whenever he spoke I had to wade through misspelled words and guess at what he was saying.

The Kenway girls met lots of friendly people, but no one wanted to come and visit them because the Corner House was haunted. There was a ghost who lived in the attic, and it could be seen on stormy days. Another disturbing thing was that food kept disappearing, which couldn’t be attributed to the ghost, for ghosts don’t eat, do they? And at times the youngest girls claimed to see glimpses of a boy that looked just like Tommy Rooney, the former neighbor boy who had wanted to run away.

The Kenways had many adventures in their new hometown. They discovered Uncle Peter had been miserly in keeping his rental buildings in proper repair, so Ruth asked Mr. Howbridge for help in making improvements. The lawyer approved of her interest in the poor but hard-working tenants, and he agreed to most of what she wanted to spend.

Unfortunately the lawyer-guardian was out of town when a problem more distressing than an attic ghost showed up at the Corner House. Mrs. John Augustus Treble (who soon acquired the nickname of “Mrs. Trouble”) marched into the house with her spoiled-brat daughter, and announced that her deceased husband had been the nephew of Peter Stower, she was the true heir to the Stower fortune, and she intended to kick out the Kenway girls and Aunt Sarah.

Oh dear, the girls had not yet found Uncle Peter’s missing Will, and what if they never did? What if Mrs. Treble found the Will and destroyed it so she would inherit everything?

I won’t tell the ending of the story, but will let you know that there were at least a dozen Corner House Girls books published, so rest assured that Ruth, Tess, Aggie and Dot were able to stay at the Corner House. And even though Aunt Sarah wasn’t the most useful person when it came to housework, she did know a thing or two about where that pesky Uncle Peter liked to hide important papers.

As for the ghost in the attic, it wasn’t a real ghost, and the girls were able to persuade some of their new friends to come to the Corner House for a ghost-reveal party. The mystery of the missing food was solved, and it turns out that there was a good reason why the youngest girls thought they saw someone who looked just like that boy who’d said he was going to run away from home.

I enjoyed The Corner House Girls enough to read the second book, The Corner House Girls at School, though I don’t have any immediate plans to read more of series.

If you would like to learn more about the girls adventures The Corner House Girls can be downloaded free of charge at:
http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/38743

The Corner House Girls at School can be downloaded at:
http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/21034

The Scent of the Roses

Aleen Leslie’s 1963 novel wasn’t marketed as a children’s book, but the story is about a grade-school-age girl and, since I first read it as a junior high student, it was a part of my young adult years. Though The Scent of the Roses is a mystery I’ve reread it for its wonderful depiction of life a little over a hundred years ago.

The story is recollections of adult Jane Carlyle, who tells readers that when she was ten-years-old she could not recall anything that took place before she entered the Weber’s Pittsburgh home on the evening of Saint Valentine’s Day in 1908. She didn’t remember her parents, or even the murder. Her life seemed to begin when 30-year-old store owner Sophie Weber brought the girl home from a buying trip and introduced Jane to her astonished mother and adult siblings.

That evening Jane was put to bed, but then got up to use the bathroom, became lost, and found her way to a location where she could overhear the grownups talking about her. She learned Sophie had gone to New York City to purchase Easter merchandise for the department store where most of the Weber’s worked. Sophie and Jane had stayed at the same hotel, became friends, and Sophie had rushed to the room when she heard the girl screaming after witnessing the murder. The shock caused Jane to loose her memory. No relative was able to care for Jane, so Sophie wanted to adopt her in order to have a child, even if she never married.

Later on Sophie told her that her mother had died, no one knew where her father was, and she’d lost her memory after becoming ill. Because she had no recollections of her parents Jane didn’t miss them, but devoted herself to learning about her wonderful new family. The most colorful family member was Mrs. Weber, a widow with two goals in life: getting her oldest daughter, Sophie, married, and catching a ride downtown each day to visit the Nickelodeons – theaters that showed short silent movies. Pictures that moved and told a story were a modern marvel in 1908.

Soon after Jane’s arrival two of Sophie’s married siblings temporarily moved back to the family home. Sister Ermanie had informed her husband that she refused to have her baby any place other than her mother’s home, so the couple arrived as uninvited guests. A little later brother Hugo’s wife got into a snit and returned to her wealthy parent’s home. In response Hugo closed up his house and took his four children to stay with his relatives.

Whenever visitors arrived Mrs. Weber called for her youngest daughter, Elise, to make some coffee and put the homemade soup on the table.

On occasion a policeman would come by to inquire if Jane had regained her memory, and one time a man claiming to be a newspaper reporter asked one of Hugo’s daughters if the little girl staying with the family remembered anything from her past. But most of the book is about amusing stories regarding the Webers. In an effort to find a husband for Sophie Mrs. Weber places a newspaper advertisement for a male boarder, and the man chosen to rent the one remaining spare bedroom was a most amiable gentleman. His one fault was that he made his living as a house burglar.

For a time Jane adored Sophie, but one day a classmate taunted her by saying her father killed her mother. In a well-meaning effort to protect her Sophie had failed to tell Jane that she had witnessed her own mother’s murder, and that her missing father was a suspect. Later on Jane discovered that Sophie was hiding information from the police, and she suspected her guardian of being connected to the horrible crime.

Despite Jane’s mistrust of Sophie the girl continued to love staying with the Webers. Each book chapter is named after a holiday, and the girl delighted in taking part in festive occasions. Since she had no memory of past holidays each one was a new experience for her.

But then one evening, during a major celebration, Jane became overtired and over excited and kept insisting that a guest knew about something the person claimed to have no knowledge of. She was recalling an event from her past, and that meant danger, for she might soon remember who had killed her mother.

The mystery was finally resolved, but even after knowing who-done-it I enjoy rereading The Scent of the Roses to experience another visit with the Weber family. (The book title comes from a Thomas Moore verse: You may break, you may shatter the vase if you will, But the scent of the roses will hang round it still.)

While telling the story the author slips in interesting tidbits about life in 1908. I can “see” Sophie’s stylish clothes and the beautiful home furnishings. I can “hear” the low sound of the flames in the fireplaces fueled by natural gas. I join Jane as she listens to the adults around the dining room table discussing either family matters, or the all-important business of running Weber’s Dry Goods store. And I still become excited by the life-or-death struggles during the final chapters.

If you enjoy historical fiction, with a touch of “cozy” murder mystery, I highly recommend The Scent of the Roses. The novel is no longer in print, but it was popular enough for used copies to be readily available from online booksellers at a reasonable price.

Miracle on 34th Street

This story started out as a screenplay, but soon after the movie was completed author Valentine Davis turned it into a short novel, first published in 1947 and still available today.

Kris Kringle was a plump, rosy-cheeked, white-bearded gentleman who lived at the Maplewood Home for the Aged. He was beloved by all of the staff and residents, but had one eccentricity – he believed he was Santa Claus. One day in late November Maplewood’s physician, Dr. Pierce, had the sad duty of informing Kris that the Board had decided that, since the Home was only for those in good physical and mental health, a man who thought he was a mythical person would need to leave.

Dr. Pierce told Kris he could go and live at Mount Hope Sanatorium, but Kris declared the sanatorium was a “nut house.” He assured the doctor that a zookeeper was a friend of his, and would give him a home.

Kris walked to the Central Park zoo, where the shy reindeer ate carrots out of his hand. Jim, the zookeeper, always marveled at how the reindeer trusted Kris. He said his friend was welcome to stay with him.

Kris heard music playing, started on another walk and came to where the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade was about to start. The man hired to play Santa was drunk and Mrs. Walker, the lady in charge of the parade, asked Kris to be a last-minute replacement.

Doris Walker was a divorced lady teaching her six-year-old daughter, Susan, to not use her imagination. Susan had never read a fairy tale, and she didn’t believe in Santa Claus. The Walkers lived in an apartment building, and one of their neighbors was a young lawyer named Fred Gayley. He was romantically attracted to Doris, but she had been hurt by her divorce and had no intention of ever dating again.

Doris was the Personnel Director of Macy’s, and Mr. Shellhammer, who was Head of the Toy Department, wanted Kris as the store’s Santa. The new hire filled out an employment form giving his name as Kris Kringle, his address as Maplewood Home, and his age as “old as my tongue and a little bit older than my teeth.” Kris was taken to the locker room to change into his Santa Claus outfit, then given a list of toys Macy’s carried, and which toys he was to push parents to buy. After Mr. Shellhammer left Kris tore up the list.

When a child asked for a toy Macy’s didn’t sell Kris told the parent which store had what was wanted. One day Mr. Shellhammer overheard Kris tell someone to go to Gimbel’s for a toy. He was horrified, but as he tried to make it back to his office he kept being stopped by grateful parents who said they would become regular Macy’s customers because of their wonderful service of directing them to other stores for the right toys. What would Mr. Macy say when he found out?

One day Fred Gayley took Susan to visit Santa at Macy’s but she refused to ask Kris for anything, because he was just someone her mother had hired to pretend to be someone who didn’t exist. When Doris Walker saw Susan on Santa’s lap she took Fred into her office and scolded him, saying he could not be friends with Susan if he ever again went against her ideas about raising her daughter.

Susan had stayed near Kris, and when he was able to speak Dutch to a child newly arrived from a Holland orphanage she began to wonder if Santa Claus might be real. Her mother asked Kris to tell Susan the truth, but when he insisted he really was Santa she looked at his employment card and became frightened that the store had hired a potentially dangerous person.

She fired Kris, but then got a call from Mr. Macy congratulating her on hiring such a wonderful Santa. The good will gimmick of sending people to other stores was helping his store. Doris rushed off to rehire Kris but he refused to return until he learned she would lose her job if he didn’t continue on as Santa.

Doris worried about delusional Kris so she called Albert Sawyer, Macy’s expert on psychology. Mr. Sawyer believed Kris might turn violent, and thought he should stay with Doris so she could watch over him, but she refused that suggestion. When neighbor Fred heard of the problem he asked Kris to stay with him. Now Doris was worried that Fred was double-crossing her, and trying to interfere with how she raised Susan.

One day Kris asked Susan if she had a Christmas wish. She said she wanted to live in house with a backyard that had trees and a swing, and she gave him a magazine picture of the house she wanted. Kris said he’d do his best, but admitted that not all dreams could come true.

Doris invited Fred and Kris to dinner, but she had to leave right after the meal, for she’d agreed to attend a lecture that night. After she left Kris happened to see a postcard announcing Mr. Albert Sawyer giving a lecture entitled Exploding the Myth of Santa Claus. He picked up his hat and cane and set out for the lecture.

Since he had no invitation Kris wasn’t allowed into the auditorium, but he began exploring the building and ended up behind the stage where Mr. Sawyer was talking. The stage was decorated with a set for a children’s Christmas play, and while Mr. Sawyer was talking about Santa being a myth Kris came out of an artificial fireplace, and then refused to leave the stage. Mr. Sawyer angrily confronted Kris, who raised his cane to defend himself.

The next day Mr. Sawyer told Mr. Shellhammer an exaggerated story about Kris Kringle attacking him with a cane. Doris attempted to defend Kris, but reluctantly agreed the man should be given a thorough mental health test. Mr. Shellhammer told Kris he was taking him to see the Mayor at City Hall, but when they got into a car Shellhammer told the driver to go to Bellevue. Kris asked if Doris knew about this, and was told she had arranged everything. When Kris heard that he considered himself a beaten man. If the lady he’d considered a friend would send him to a mental hospital he didn’t want to live amongst “sane” people.

Over the years Kris had become an expert at passing sanity tests, but when the doctors at Bellevue questioned him he gave foolish answers. He kept asking himself “how could she have done it?” It wasn’t until Fred, his lawyer friend, came and told him that many people needed him in their lives that Kris decided to return to the outside world.

Unfortunately Fred couldn’t get Kris released, for bad answers to the mental health questions indicated the man was unbalanced, and perhaps dangerous. Commitment papers had been sent to a judge, but Fred was able to get a sanity hearing scheduled.

Kris Kringle’s hearing had made all of the New York City newspapers, and the courtroom was packed when the judge asked Kris if he believed he was Santa Claus. He declared that he did. That wasn’t the answer Fred wanted his client to give, but he informed the court he intended to prove that Kris Kringle really was Santa Claus.

But how could such a seemingly impossible claim be proven in a court of law? And even if Kris could be released on Christmas Eve – in time for him to fulfill important duties – how could he give young Susan Walker a house for her Christmas present? It was the type of house a happily married Mr. and Mrs. Fred Gayley could afford to buy, but was it possible for sensible, practical Doris Walker to fall in love with a lawyer who was foolish enough to risk his career by trying to prove a nice old man was Santa Claus?

The story has a happy ending, and if you were fortunate enough to grow up in a home where having an imagination was not discouraged, you might find yourself wondering – could Kris really be Santa Claus?

If you’ve seen the movie the novelization has a few extra details that are fun to read about. For example – after Kris Kringle disappears on Christmas Eve the Central Park zookeeper discovers that the zoo’s reindeer are also missing. What a strange coincidence …

At only 120 pages Miracle on 34th Street doesn’t take much longer to read than the time needed to watch the movie version. I highly recommend you find a new or used copy of the novel and spend a few hours deciding if you can believe in Christmas miracles.

Marguerite Henry and the Chincoteague Ponies

When Marguerite was a young girl she had two great loves – reading and learning about animals, especially horses. Born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin on April 13, 1902, she was stricken with rheumatic fever at the age of six, which confined her to her bedroom until she was twelve. One Christmas her parents gave her a writing desk, and that gift opened up the world of writing stories. Marguerite sold her first story when she was eleven, and continued to write throughout her life. Her last book was published when she was 94!

In 1923 she married married Sidney Henry and went to live near Wayne, Illinois. The Henrys never had children, but they had many pets, and some served as the inspiration for Marguerite’s novels.

In 1946 Marguerite Henry attended Pony Penning on Chincoteague Island, Virginia in search of an idea for a book. Each year the Volunteer Fire Department would round up wild ponies on nearby Assateague Island, have them swim across the channel to Chincoteague, parade them through town and into corrals, and then sell some of the colts at auction. Pony Penning not only raised money for the Fire Department to purchase equipment, but helped control the size of the wild pony population.

While on Chincoteague Island Marguerite met the Beebe family. Clarence (Grandpa) Beebe and his wife, Ida (Grandma), ran a pony ranch with the help of grandchildren Paul and Maureen. Ever since she’d been a sickly girl Marguerite had longed to own a horse, so she purchased a colt named Misty, and had her shipped to her Illinois home.

Stories she’d heard at Pony Penning became the basis for the children’s novel Misty of Chincoteague, first published in 1947. The novel became a perennial bestseller, and was nominated for a Newbery medal. In the book Misty is born on Assateague Island, and she and her mother are purchased by Paul and Maureen at the annual auction. In real life Misty was born on the Beebe’s pony ranch.

In 1949 Sea Star, Orphan of Chincoteague was published. This novel tells of two men who want to buy Misty so they can make a movie about her, and then take her to schools and libraries around the country so that children who’ve never seen a real pony could get to meet one. At first Paul and Maureen refuse to sell Misty, but do so after they learn money is needed to send an uncle to college. Soon after the sale the Beebe grandchildren find an orphaned new-born colt who will die if not cared for.

In real life no one made a movie about Misty until 1961, but during the famous pony’s time in Illinois she was taken to different locations so children could meet her. Marguerite would write in the mornings, and then take a “carrot break” with Misty and her stable mates – a Morgan horse named Friday (who’d helped inspire the book Justin Morgan Had a Horse) and a burro named Brighty (Brighty of the Grand Canyon). But Misty was the one children wrote fan letters about, and wanted to see.

Marguerite would answer every letter send to her, and allowed groups of children to come to her home and meet Misty. Many who couldn’t come to the Henry home got to see her when the pony was taken to schools, libraries and horse shows.

In 1957 Marguerite Henry returned Misty to the Beebe pony ranch to be bred, but she didn’t stay there long. That same year 21-year-old Paul Beebe was killed in an automobile accident, and two months later Clarence (Grandpa) Beebe died. Ida (Grandma) Beebe would die in 1960, but a few years before that she gave the pony to her son Ralph. For 16 years he and his family took care of Misty and her descendants at Beebe Ranch, and they allowed visitors to come and see the ponies.

In 1962 what became known as the Ash Wednesday storm hit the Virginia coastline, flooding Chincoteague and Assateague Islands. Many wild ponies drowned, and none were sold at that year’s Pony Penning. Fundraising began to buy back some of the ponies sold in previous years, in order to replenish the Volunteer Fire Department’s Assateague herd.

Marguerite Henry decided to write another novel set at Grandpa Beebe’s pony ranch, though there were no longer any ponies living there. In 1963 Stormy, Misty’s Foal was published. The novel was written as though the events took place shortly after the adventures told in 1949’s Sea Star, Orphan of Chincoteague, though Sea Star is not mentioned. Paul and Maureen are depicted as being about the same age as they were in the earlier books. Misty has been returned to them, and is now famous after appearing in a movie made about her life. She is overdue in foaling her first colt when the Ash Wednesday storm hits. The Beebes are ordered to evacuate their home, and Misty is moved into the kitchen after her stable is flooded.

In real life Misty did shelter in a kitchen during the storm, but that happened at Ralph Beebe’s home. She was about ready to give birth, but Stormy would be her third colt, and not her first.

In the novel Misty’s movie is re-released to raise funds to replenish the Fire Department’s wild pony herd. Ironically the actual movie entitled Misty had been released two years before Stormy, Misty’s Foal was published, and so that made mention of the fictional movie more believable.

Shortly after Ralph Beebe’s death in 1973 his family stopped raising ponies. For the next few decades Misty’s descendants lived on a secession of other Chincoteague Island pony ranches. Misty died in 1972 and her most famous offspring, Stormy, died in 1993. Both were preserved by a taxidermist, and can be viewed at the Museum of Chincoteague.

Marguerite Henry remained interested in Misty’s equine family, and in 1992 Misty’s Twilight was published. This novel told of one of Misty’s descendants who became a successful show horse.

In the late 1980s a young lady named Rebecca Guisti wrote to the author about Beebe Ranch being sold off in portions by Ralph Beebe’s widow. In 1990 Marguerite and Rebecca started The Misty of Chincoteague Foundation, which was able to obtain a small portion of the Beebe Ranch for the purpose of keeping it as open space on the island that was rapidly being transformed by housing developments. On July 29, 1997 a statue of Misty was unveiled on the property.

Marguerite Henry died on November 26, 1997. After her death the foundation she helped to start was mismanaged. The Misty statue was moved to Main Street in the town of Chincoteague, and the property it once stood on was sold for development.

Interest in Misty and her descendants remains high. Other writers have published books about Misty’s family, plastic models have been produced, there are websites about the Chincoteague and Assateague ponies, and the annual Pony Penning is now an event that attracts tourists from around the world.

My interest is confined to enjoying Marguerte Henry’s first three books about the ponies: Misty of Chincoteague; Sea Star, Orphan of Chincoteague; and Stormy, Misty’s Foal. If you’d like to read these novels they are readily available.

Ruth Fielding & the Great War

During 1917 and 1918 the U.S. took part in what was then known as the Great War, but is now known as World War I. To honor the centennial of that terrible conflict I read three juvenile series novels set during the time period: Ruth Fielding In the Red Cross; Ruth Fielding At the War Front; and Ruth Fielding – Homeward Bound.

Back in 1913 the adventures of our heroine began when she was a 12-year-old orphan sent to live with her grumpy uncle, and they ended in 1934 when she was a wife, mother, motion picture writer / actress / company owner, as well as a mystery solver. The only books in the series I’ve read are the ones that take place during the Great War, and I’ll give a combined synopsis of the three plots.

When the United States goes to war friends Ruth Fielding, Jennie Stone, plus twins Helen and Tom Cameron drop out of college to help defeat the Hun a/k/a the German army. Tom enlists in the Army, the young ladies take on volunteer work, and all eventually end up in France.

At first Ruth helps at the local Red Cross chapter, where she meets Mrs. Mantle, a disagreeable lady who causes problems by saying the organization has dishonest people working for them. Ruth goes off to work at Red Cross headquarters, and so does Mrs Mantle, who is hired as the bookkeeper. Ruth suspects Mrs. Mantel and two others are stealing money, but a mysterious fire destroys all financial records, so good luck accusing anyone of wrongdoing.

Ruth goes to France to work in the Red Cross supply department, and guess who her new supervisor is? None other than trouble-making Mrs. Mantel. Ruth begins work at a French evacuation hospital, where she meets an ambulance driver named Charlie Bragg, and keeps seeing glimpses of what is thought to be a werwolf – who seems to live in the home of Countess Marchand.

For a time a badly wounded soldier is thought to be Ruth’s friend Tom Cameron, but soon after Mrs. Mantel, her two cohorts, and one of the Countess’s servants are arrested Ruth receives a visit from an-only-slightly-wounded Tom. And so ends the first book.

The adventures continue when Charlie Bragg brings dire news. A field hospital had been bombed and the Red Cross lady in charge of supplies was killed. Someone needs to train a new worker, so Ruth volunteers to go and work within a few miles of the front line.

If that isn’t enough trouble for a young lady to deal with, Ruth learns that Tom Cameron is missing from the army, and many believe him to be a traitor. Plus that werwolf is still at large, and the animal may be carrying information to the German army.

Fortunately Ruth learns the so-called werwolf is actually Countess Marchand’s dog, who is carrying information to French spies, including the Countess’s son, Major Henri Marchand.

Ruth returns to her work at the evacuation hospital, and just as her friends Helen Cameron and Jennie Stone show up for a visit, Ruth must leave with Henri Marchand on a secret mission through No Man’s Land to save Tom Cameron. But not before Ruth has time to quickly train Helen and Jennie as temporary medical supply workers. Secret missions can’t interfere with vital Red Cross work.

If you happen to meet the right spies its not difficult to obtain numerous disguises and journey through trench tunnels to save an old friend, who has been working as an American spy. Everyone returns safely to the hospital, and they all have a nice visit with Helen and Jennie. Quite a chummy way to end the second book.

The final book begins with Jennie Stone announcing she is engaged to Henri Marchand. The evacuation hospital is bombed and Ruth Fielding receives injuries that end her Red Cross career, so she is being sent home. She’s visited by Tom Cameron, who tells her he will be taken up in an airplane by his ace-pilot friend Stillenger.

Just as Ruth is boarding a British ship she is given a letter informing her that Stillenger and an unknown army officer may have been shot down. Yikes, what a way to begin a dangerous war-time sea voyage home.

While onboard ship Ruth meets a nasty lady by the name of Irma Lentz, who does not seem to be very patriotic. What’s more Ruth overhears the lady speaking German so she tells the first officer about her, and he believes the nasty lady may be dangerous. Alas, the first officer tells the captain, who tells Irma Lentz about Ruth’s accusations. Not a good way to begin an investigation.

An explosion takes place, crewmen tell the captain the ship is about to sink, and everyone is ordered to head for the lifeboats. Ruth is tripped and knocked unconscious. She awakens to discover the lifeboats have all left and the only ones remaining on the ship are herself, the first officer, who’d been drugged, and the radio man, who’d been locked in a room. A boat load of German-loving crew members return, capture Ruth and her friends, and take over the British ship.

What can three people do against so many enemies? It would be helpful if feared-dead Tom Cameron could somehow appear on the scene and save the day, but that would be a ridiculous plot twist, so you won’t learn about that from me. I’ll just say the heroes triumph, Ruth Fielding arrives back home, and Tom Cameron – who has earned an army furlough – gets to spend some time taking his pretty neighbor for rides in his automobile.

I was hoping the books would portray a more-or-less accurate account of what a Red Cross worker might have done to help the war effort, but I got only glimpses of that as Ruth is in charge of medical supplies and volunteers in the wards writing letters for wounded soldiers. Most of the plot twists are spy-veruses-spy, with plenty of plugs for earlier books, which tell more of everyone’s back-story.

On the positive side, the adventure parts are fast-paced and rather fun to read, so it was easy to not concern myself too much over how unlikely the events were. Plus, I learned the French don’t add a second “e” to the word werwolf, and villians can be easily spotted because they tend to be so disagreeable. Though I didn’t learn as much as I wanted to about Red Cross workers I did get some some insight into early 1900s juvenile series novels.

If you’d like to read the three Ruth Fielding novels set during World War I they can be downloaded free of charge at:
http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/36395
http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/20834
http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/36748