Harold Bell Wright moved to Arizona and worked on a cattle ranch to learn
the details of the business. The story is set in the wide Williamson Valley to the
north of Prescott, Arizona. Wright dedicated this book to Mr. George Carter, of
the Pot-Hook-S Ranch; Mr. J. H. Stephens; Mr. and Mrs. Joe Contreras; Mr. and
Mrs. J. W. Steward, of the Cross-Triangle home-ranch; Mr. J. W. Cook; Mr. and
Mrs. Herbert N. Cook, and "many other cattlemen and cowboys...." In that same
Acknowledgement he mentions "the wild horse chase about Toohey," and "outlaw
cattle in Granite Basin."
Kathy & Lawrence Lopez, residents of Williamson Valley, sent me
this list of places or events mentioned in the book that can be identified and
visited today, starting in Prescott (rhymes with biscuit) and traveling North:
Prescott courthouse and Bucky O'Neill statue; Granite Mountain; Granite Basin; Mint Creek; Fair Oaks; Simmons (no longer there); Cedar Mesa; The rodeo
(it still operates); and Skull Valley - west.
Today this is one of Wright's most readable books, one of three
that clearly fit into the category of Westerns (along with A Son of His Father
and The Mine With the Iron Door). It provides an intimate look at the
life of a cowboy in the early 20th century, and includes plenty of horses,
cattle, rustlers, and guns. By the time this story takes place, Indians had
mostly disappeared and automobiles were common.
Wright continues his attack on eastern scholars and critics begun in
The Eyes of the World, introducing Professor Parkhill, a famous professor
of aesthetics from a university somewhere in the east. Until he learns the ways
of the west, Parkhill, who clearly represents all of Wright's literary critics,
is useless and comical on the western ranch:
"Professor Everard Charles Parkhill looked the part to which,
from his birth, he had been assigned by his over-cultured parents. His slender
body, with its narrow shoulders and sunken chest, frail as it was, seemed almost
too heavy for his feeble legs. His thin face, bloodless and sallow, with a
sparse, daintily trimmed beard and weak watery eyes, was characterized by a
solemn and portentous gravity, as though, realizing fully the profound
importance of his mission in life, he could permit no trivial thought to enter
his bald, domelike head. One knew instinctively that in all the forty-five or
fifty years of his little life no happiness or joy that had not been
scientifically sterilized and certified had ever been permitted to stain his
As he came forward, he gazed at the long-limbed man on the big bay horse with a
curious eagerness, as though he were considering a strange and interesting
creature that could scarcely be held to belong to the human race.
"Professor Parkhill," said Phil coolly, "you were saying that you had never seen
a genuine cowboy in his native haunt. Permit me to introduce a typical specimen,
Mr. Honorable Patches. Patches, this is Professor Parkhill."
"Phil," murmured Kitty, "how can you?"
The Professor was gazing at Patches as though fascinated. And Patches, his
weather-beaten face as grave as the face of a wooden Indian, stared back at the
Professor with a blank, open-mouthed and wild-eyed expression of rustic wonder
that convulsed Phil and made Kitty turn away to hide a smile.
"Howdy! Proud to meet up with you, mister," drawled the typical specimen of the
genus cowboy. And then, as though suddenly remembering his manners, he leaped to
the ground and strode awkwardly forward, one hand outstretched in greeting, the
other holding fast to Stranger's bridle rein, while the horse danced and plunged
about with reckless indifference to the polite intentions of his master.
The Professor backed fearfully away from the dangerous looking horse and the
equally formidable-appearing cowboy." (p. 204ff)
While the story is about the conflict between cattle men and
rustler, on a more important level the story is about the conflict between the
values and culture of eastern cities (or at least a caricature of those values) and the values and culture of
ranchers and farmers.
The book includes none of the usual color illustrations, but
many very nice drawing by Harold Bell Wright.
Wright inscribed the following note in a copy of this title now
owned by Robert Lewis:
|"Dear Aunt Alice - I love this
book and so will you.
Harold - Aug 1919
All American first editions are by
the Book Supply Company and look exactly like the illustrations at the
top of this page.
The first edition was also available in leather. Hodder and
Stoughton published a British first edition. The book was
reprinted many times by A.L. Burt, Grosset and Dunlop, Appleton, and
International News. Most of the early
reprints carry no indication that they are not first editions.
There are plenty of copies of this title available, though not as
many as his top sellers that preceded it. The dust jackets are
somewhat hard to find.
Variations: There are three varieties of this
book. We can make a few assumptions, but until we have more information
we don't know which variable or combination of variables indicates a
true first editions.
1. Brand printed inside front cover. Since BSC
printed almost a million copies of this title, and many of the
brand serial numbers are quite low (see below), it seems reasonable to
assume that the copies with the brand are the original, first printing.
But I do not know for sure. Some brand marks are
found with very high serial numbers.
2. Price printed on the dust jacket. Beginning
with book #5 (The Winning of Barbara Worth), BSC printed each book's
price on the spine of the dust jacket. When Appleton took over as
publisher with book #10, prices were no longer printed on the dust
jackets. As far as I know, all BSC copies of When a Man's a Man had the
price ($1.35) printed on the dust jacket spine, but some had one of
Wright's drawings of a shrub printed over the price. Obviously, the bush
came after the price, so I would not count a copy with a bush on the
spine as a true first edition. But, the issue is not simple since my
copy that displays the price on the dust jacket, does not have a brand.
Still, the earliest copies may have had both a brand and the price on
3. Philadelphia Dispatch quote. On page two of
all BSC copies of When a Man's a Man is a list of "Books by Harold Bell
Wright." Above the list are two quotations from literary critics. In my
copy that has a brand, the first quote fits on three lines. On all my
other copies -- which do not have brands -- the last word, Dickens, is
hyphenated, requiring a fourth line. Again, the earliest, true, first
editions may have had the brand, the price and a three line quote.
But Pat Wilson, a visitor to this site, informs me that
he has a copy of this title that is branded, has the serial number
472,725 (about half way through the total run) and has a four-line,
hyphenated-Dickens quote. So it is possible that the true firsts had all
three marks -- the brand, the three line quote and the price, the second
version had the brand, the four line quote and the price, and the third
version dropped the brand. But if you have read Tagg's biography of
Wright you know that in order to distribute nearly a million copies of
Wright's books on the publication date, The Book Supply Company often
employed multiple printers and book binders working simultaneously. It
is very likely that they didn't all use the same materials or follow the
same procedures. Perhaps some of them from day one didn't have the
equipment to print brands and serial numbers in the books.
Also pictured below is a 41-page promotional booklet for When A Man's a
Man. This copy, owned by Dave Hadsell, is the only one I have
encountered. The book measures 5" x 7 1/4". I have
not included this book with the Biographical Pamphlets because it is not
Total sales: 945,666
Click on Pictures to Enlarge.
Note for owners of Harold Bell
Wright's Books and Collectibles:
Hodder and Stoughton, London, 1919. United Kingdom
Review of Book
by Dr. Joyce Kinkead Copyright
1979 by Joyce Kinkead. Used by
next southwestern novel, When a Man's a Man (1916), focuses
explicitly on the theme of the Southwest's beneficial effects on a man
physically, intellectually, morally, and spiritually.
Written while Wright was recuperating from tuberculosis in the
seclusion of his Hole-in-the-Mountain Camp near Tucson, the novel
realistically details the management of a range and its cowboys, and
pictures the Arizona terrain where the story is set.