Saturday, 26 August 2017

Charles Richard Beeler aka Caddo Cameron - Cowboy, Railroader, Author

Charles Richard Beeler wrote under the pen name Caddo Cameron. He had many novels starring a pair of Texas Rangers – Blizzard Wilson and Badger Coe - in Short Stories, all of which were later issued in hardcovers. This was in addition to a series of stories about a pair of troublesome Texas twins – Paint and Pinto Hawkins. All worth reading, for he was one of those men who had witnessed the settlement of the American West, and could write with earthy humor about it.

Charles Richard Beeler aka Caddo Cameron (1881-19??)
Charles Richard Beeler aka Caddo Cameron (1881-19??)


His parents, Abraham and Amanda (Brashear), moved to the American west from Kentucky before the railroads expanded there.

“In the buffalo days, long before I came on the scene—my dad and granddad were freighters out of the Kansas cow towns; but my earliest recollections have to do with the big pasture days in the high plains country where my folks ran cattle in a small way—for that region. ”

“Dad drifted away from Kentucky in his teens to become a laborer on railroad construction gangs that were pushing steel into the West. It wasn’t long before he graduated into a wandering cow-hand. Later he became a freighter, driving his oxen over the wild trails of the Southwest—trails that have long since been erased and now wind and twist only through the faltering memories of those old-timers.”

“My mother and grandmother came as far as Ellsworth, Kansas, on the 'cars,' but dad and my grandfather whacked an ox-wagon through so as to save the expense of shipping household goods. Pushing on west and south, they farmed and ran cattle in a small way; also freighted from cowtowns into The Nations and Texas.“

He was born on September 23, 1888 in La-Fayette, Stevens County, Kansas. It’s a place which you can’t find on a map anymore, but evidence suggests it was in the southwest of Kansas, near the Oklahoma border. In 1898 the area of the place was around 81 square miles and the population numbered almost 80.

“The folks moved around a lot and I was born in a sod house in No-Man’s-Land, which is now the Panhandle of Oklahoma, in 1888.”

The Oklahoma Panhandle was an area outside the boundaries of the USA from 1845 to 1890, created by a difference in the boundaries laid out for Texas and Kansas. For more than 40 years, it was a landlocked ungoverned territory, bordered by what would become five states – Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico and Colorado.

It was a refuge for outlaws and a place where you could go to break strict puritan laws in the governed states. When prohibition activism increased in Kansas, it became a refuge for moonshiners and brothels. One town there, named Beer City, was called "the Sodom and Gomorrah of the Plains."

"My early recollections have to do with big winds that blew most of the time; hail storms that drove every living thing to cover, lumps of ice thumping the sod roof and beating doors and wooden window shutters; blizzards— quilts, blankets, buffalo robes hanging over doors and windows, Mother and Grandma hovering around the stove, talking a little, crying some, hoping and praying that their men would make it through from Dodge City, or maybe some ranch away down in the Panhandle; prairie fires—-folks reading smoke sign in the sky and doing what they could to get ready, and that time an old tumbleweed jumped a fireguard and set our stable and corrals ablaze; a drunken cowhand making his horse pitch in the front yard and Mother chasing him away with a rifle because he was using bad language before her boy; and the centipedes that we used to find under cow chips, which were the only type of fuel we had."

“We had frequent changes of residence, and witnessed history-making events; the labors of a country giving birth to an unwelcome child—Big Pastures—and the passing of the open range in the Southwest. Of course, the significance of those events escaped me at the time, but into the retentive mind of a child were impressed scenes that now return with striking familiarity: grim men giving censored accounts of wire cuttings, stampedes, wanton destruction of stock and other property, and casually describing all manner of dangers and hardships.”

“It was war between 'free-grass’ and 'fenced-range’ men, and my dad was one of the latter—his holdings being small.”

“I grew up there, living the normal life of a boy who has to go to work early because his people are poor; and likewise, because they believe that hard work is good for a young’un. Until I was sixteen, the only means of transportation I’d ever known were wagons, buggies, and saddles; then I had a ride on “the cars” and I reckon the plush set my feet to itching.”

“WITH the best of intentions and at the expense of the Lord only knows what sacrifice, the folks sent me away to school when I was sixteen. But I reckon the prairie wouldn’t noways unloose its hold, for school didn’t take worth a dam and I was plumb upset by life in a city.”

“At nineteen I left the plains and went to sea. After knocking around in the American tropics for a while, I lit on the Canal Zone. First as timekeeper, then strawboss and later foreman of a construction gang of West Indian negroes, I helped to build the re-location of the Panama Railroad (sometime between 1904-1912). Afterwards, I drifted back to the States and went to railroading again.”

On 6 October 1913, he married Jeanne P. Callewaert in Mineral, Kansas, a mining town.

“Of course, I went back to the prairies off and on for a short spell. A fellow can’t help doing that. My private pony had long since gone, but my dad always kept my old saddle. It felt mighty good—for a while; but age was the only cure for the itch my feet caught from the plush that time.”

Between 1914 and 1920, he and his wife moved around from Oklahoma to Kansas, back to Oklahoma and then to Racine, Wisconsin. Their only child, Elizabeth Marie Beeler, was born on July 21, 1918 at Burlington, Wisconsin.

He did many jobs - rode fence, greased windmills, baled hay and went to sea. As a businessman, he bought and sold everything from farm and ranch land to stocks and bonds, and was convinced that he was a poor business man.

“Prosperous and broke more times than I care to mention— that sums up the balance of my life. I am thankful for these painful experiences," he adds, "because they started me to writing fiction and I like my job.”

He sold his first story, the novel Rangers Is Powerful Hard to Kill, to Short Stories magazine in 1936.

“When I sit down to write about the Old West, first of all I’m fired with a desire to do justice to its people. I don’t aim to give you history or detailed descriptions of their often monotonous lives, hardships, and drudgery. I want to entertain you and such things aren’t at all entertaining to most folks. I want you to see the high points in the lives of those people, whether they be at play, at work, or at war; and it’s my ambition to draw their characters so clearly as to enable you to know them as they were upon such occasions.

“I may describe a cowhand’s antics when he is a-celebratin’ proper, and neglect to explain how he worked like hell for three months to earn the money he’s doing his damndest to spend in three hours. I may gamble with my success as an author by violating certain writing formulae when I temporarily stop the action in a yarn to insert some of the old timers’ coarse humor and tall stories; but I’m trying to make those folks live on my pages, and that humor played an important part in their scheme of existence.”

“I’m powerful anxious to see you laugh with ’em, cuss with ’em, and fight back-to-back with ’em; and if in the end you admire and love them as I do, I’ll be mighty happy.”
"Next to the pioneer preacher, the characters that perhaps interest me most are those who made up the frontier underworld —gamblers, cappers, thugs, bums, pimps and women of the line, about whom so little has been written. Herbert Asbury has covered the big cities. The great outlaws and lawmen have been biographed to death, but the small fry who played such an important role in frontier life are merely mentioned in passing; primarily, I believe, because old-time writers would not touch upon such subjects and surviving old-timers have changed their ways and are slow to talk about the wild women, etc., whom they knew away back yonder.”

This was the start of more than 70 appearances in Short Stories. His stories must have gone over well with readers, because very few stories of his appeared outside Short Stories – 3 in Adventure, 2 in Texas Rangers and single appearances in 4 other magazines.

A selection of covers from magazines featuring stories by Caddo Cameron (Charles Richard Beeler)
A selection of covers from magazines featuring stories by Caddo Cameron (Charles Richard Beeler)

The writing didn’t stop his wandering. He took new jobs to find new stories and write about them.

In 1938, he was in Banderas, Texas.

From 1939 to 1941, he was in residing in San Antonio and Brownsville (situated practically on the US-Mexico border).

In 1942, 54 years old, he was a forest ranger in California, where he fought forest fires and wrote a story about them. In 1942, he registered for the draft. To the best of my knowledge he was not in the armed services during WW2. He did take a three year break from writing stories, possibly the result of an increased work load as younger men would have enlisted.

Sometime in 1945, he moved to Utah to become a farmer, and worked there till 1947 – the same year he had 17 stories in Short Stories.

By 1948, he had moved to Mena, Arkansas, where he was visited by Frank C. Robertson, a Utah writer who wrote this about his visit:

"THE Beelers left Utah because of Mr. Beeler's health. They landed in the heart of the hillbilly district of western Arkansas. It was there my wife and I found them, living on top of a rolling hill, almost entirely surrounded by tall pine trees. No other house was visible, except a sawmill in the distance— yet they live in an incorporated town of 12,000 people, perhaps a mile from its business center. Chickens were running loose about the place; Dotty being the mistress of some hundred hens, and Dick the proud owner of one half-breed game rooster named Gabby, with whom the eminent novelist holds lengthy conversations, and which he tenderly puts to bed each evening 'in a barrel just outside the kitchen door."

The February 1951 issue of Short Stories saw his last appearance in that magazine. From 1951 to 1953, he had a couple of stories in Texas Rangers magazine, and three others in various magazines.

In 1954 he was still in Arkansas. I haven’t been able to find an accurate record of his death.If anyone has evidence establishing the date, drop a comment and let me know. The Fictionmags index has a date of 1961; I'm not sure where they got that.


2 comments:

  1. Do we know why he picked the unusual name of Caddo Cameron? He registered for the draft and took a three year break from writing starting in 1942. I guess he had some type of war job suitable for a 54 year old man.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. One theory is that Caddo Cameron is derived from the names of two towns in Texas. But why he felt the need to use a penname in the first place, and why this one - no idea.

      To the best of my knowledge, he remained at his job as a forest ranger during WW2. I updated the article to reflect that.

      Any particular stories by him you like?

      Delete