If you should look in a directory, if there is one, of Imperial
County, California, you would find this entry:
Harold Bell Wright, rancher; Postoffice, Meloland.
If you look at an old map of California you will not find
Imperial County as it was once a part of San Diego County. Neither will you find her principal towns of El Centro,
Holtville, Imperial, Brawley, and Calexico as they have but recently
sprung up as if by magic.
Here in the very heart of great, desolate waste these thriving
centers of population are surrounded by more than a quarter million
acres of rich, fertile lands, touching the international boundary on the
south—lands that have been “reclaimed” by irrigation and turned
into prosperous farms and ranches.
It is truly a great oasis in the desert of which, less than a
dozen years ago, it was a part.
In years of one figure, homes have been built, trees have been
grown, crops have been planted and garnered, and government has been
established. In these few
years men with indomitable will and courage to meet every obstacle have
put under cultivation an empire unequalled for productiveness anywhere
in the whole world.
It does one good, coming from the busy throngs of what we call
eastern civilization, to meet and mingle with these busy pioneers—men
of mental strength and men of physical strength, that have known every
hardship, and could not resist the spirit call of the great silent
Here you will be disappointed if you expect to hear “small talk”
about small things; but you will find conversationalists a-plenty if you
care to discuss the march of civilization, the rotation of crops, the
chemistry of soils, the conservation of our natural resources, or
engineering works like the Los Angeles aqueduct and the Panama Canal, or
it may be, your favorite author or composer, for many of these men of
action come from our great colleges like Harvard, Yale and Princeton.
It is in an atmosphere like this—and a part of it—we find the
man, who with his pen has set in vibration the heart strings of millions
of people. He is not
heralded in song and story, he is not banqueted and lionized at authors'
and artists’ clubs, he has had no escapades for notoriety.
Then what manner of man is this, so much a part of western
progress, yet who writes books that are read by every English speaking
To reach Tecolote Rancho you leave your Pullman at the county
seat and enjoy a very comfortable drive eight miles due east, with green
fields and verdant pastures on either side.
There is no sign to mark the place or tell you when you have
reached your destination, but if you know Mr. Wright, his tastes and
habits, you will instantly recognize his home—a large, comfortable
house of concrete, built entirely on the ground, Spanish architecture,
with wide verandas and pergola. There
is nothing in front to shut out the wide expansive view, while in the
rear are ranch houses, barns and corrals, back of which and extending to
the east and west are his acres of reclaimed lands.
In Mr. Wright’s home you will receive cordiality and
hospitality. His devotion
as a husband and father—for Mr. Wright has three boys—will no less
impress you than the devotion he receives in turn.
If you arrive unannounced you will most likely find him dressed
in corduroys, flannel shirt and Stetson, or if the weather is very warm,
he will greet you in the prevailing khaki, for this rancher and man of
letters works incessantly. His
zeal for pioneer work is second only to his love for reaching the lives
of men and women through the medium of his pen.
Mr. Wright arises with the sun, goes over the intended work for
the day, gives instructions to his foreman, and then after having
breakfasted he spends some time in the pasture with his horses, where if
you should be an unobserved observer you will hear him talking to them
like the friends and companions that they are and calling each by name.
Later you will see him walking across fields or overlooking the
repairing or constructing of an irrigation ditch. The afternoon he usually spends in reading or writing, or he
will take his favorite saddle horse for a long ride, going once more
beyond the bounds of civilization out into the open—the great, silent
Mr. Wright loves the desert and is held by its magic spell and no
less will it hold you, should you be so fortunate as to stand beside him
on the mesa and read the unwritten history of past ages and ages.
After the evening meal this man of tireless energy spends an
hours or two with his family seemingly free from all thought and care
for the morrow. Frequently
some neighboring rancher calls for an evening chat and the sociability
of the family circle. If he
has some definite literary work on hand which he is looking forward to
completion, he will go to his study after the family have retired, and
there not infrequently till nearly dawn the stillness is unbroken, save
the scratching of his pen.
It is by no means an easy task for this man of versatility to
write a novel for the reason that he does nothing in the ordinary way.
He takes first the message that is uppermost in his heart longing
for the pathway of expression to the souls and consciences of men and
women. The plot is then
conceived to carry the message. This
sometimes requires much time, labor and study, as Mr. Wright will not
use life conditions and surroundings with which he is unfamiliar.
He then writes the outline of his story placing characters,
climaxes and principal incident. Next
comes the separate writing of a biography or life history of each
He now drafts the first writing of the dialog, or complete story,
before the author allows his character to act or speak he analyzes his
or her temperament, heredity and environment and determines conclusively
just what he or she would do or say under the existing condition. Three and sometimes four complete writings of a novel are
made before the final one is sent for publication.
Sometimes Mr. Wright will find a single chapter comparatively
easy to write and to require but a short time.
However, I have known him to sit in his study with pencil in hand
and paper before him, scarcely shifting his position for five or six
hours, and writing less than a dozen words after which he seemed
Mr. Wright’s books are the stamp of sincerity of his own life.
His characters are so personal to him that he seems himself but
one of them, and in a sense lives with them in another world.
Several times when a manuscript had reached the stage of
completion I have asked him to read for me certain chapters and
invariably he would feel so much a part of the action and so nearly akin
to the characters that before finishing the chapter he would be so
overcome with emotion that I would have to finish the chapter for
myself. He simply can not
read aloud certain chapters of his own writings.
Mr. Wright finds the great strain in writing comes in the last
few weeks before the book is finished.
After completing “The Calling of Dan Matthews” he was all but
confined to his bed for more than a month.
Bell Wright is a man of exemplary and temperate habits and the soul of
geniality. I have never
known him to use a profane word, or become offensive in his talk or
manner. He is retiring in disposition, modest to a marked degree, a
lover of truth and a hater of pretense.
He speaks to whomever he meets in passing and never fails to add
a few remarks or pleasantries. His
neighbors admire him and love him akin to hero-worship; not because of
what he has done, but because of the life and character back of it all,
dominated as it is by the highest of ideals, the purest of motives, and
the sincerest of purposes.
But a short distance back of Mr. Wright’s house, lies just one
single acre of desert in all its primitiveness with its hummocks,
mesquite and greasewood. To
this spot Mr. Wright will soon remove his primitive study to stand as a
memory to the writing of The Calling of Dan Matthews and The Winning of
Barbara Worth until carried away by relic hunting tourists; and if these
keep on the increase it will not last long unless Mr. Wright sees fit to
give it protection.
If Harold Bell Wright realizes how his fame has spread abroad, he
shows it by no sign whatsoever. A
few weeks ago an automobile load of tourists drove up and after taking a
snap-shot of the house and everything else in sight, they advanced on
the study with just a little timidity.
A gentleman of the party after learning Mr. Wright’s identity
stated that one of the women in his party wished to take a “Kodak”
of Mr. Wright. “I have no
special objection,” said the author, “barring these clothes, but
here is my publisher and I am sure you would rather have his picture.”
I passed the compliment on to Mr. F. Graham Cootes, the
illustrator, sitting on my right, but Mr. Cootes declared he would not
be recognized so far from home.
The young woman said, “But I want your picture, Mr. Wright.
I don’t care for one of these gentlemen.”
“If you will let me sit
between the gentlemen,” declared the author, “and take all three,
its a go.” After some hesitation it was so decided, and to get
the desirable, she accepted the undesirable.
I have just finished reading the final writing of The Winning of
Barbara Worth, as clean a story as man ever wrote.
From the first compelling line of the first chapter the interest
quickly becomes intense, and increases with every page to the final
climax comparable to Hugo’s Waterloo.
This master hand of fiction has exceeded his own past efforts.
His characters are life-like, descriptions fine, motives and
incidents big, action rapid and thrilling, local color strong.
I wonder if this gifted author will ever write a bigger story
than The Winning of Barbara Worth?
Many thousands of readers will ask themselves the same question,
but time only holds the answer.
Los Angeles, Cal., May 1, 1911
To Harold Bell Wright Pamphlets