TO MY BOY FRIENDS ALL OVER THE WORLD
The first fifteen years of my life were spent in the Dakota Territory. The great West mothered me during the shaping of my boyhood ambitions and ideals. Therefore, I know by personal experience much of the actual life of our frontier days.
Let me relate a few unusual stories of early environment which will show why a man brought up in the West never forgets its history, traditions and life.
While boys of my age in the East were playing baseball, football and the various school games, I was forced through environment to play the more primitive games of the Indian. I lived on the frontier. White settlers were scarce. Naturally, I had but a few boy companions of my own race. A boy is a boy no matter what race or country; therefore, we played with the Indian youths.
In this way, I learned to ride Indian-style as well as with the saddle; I learned to shoot accurately with rifle or six-gun; I learned to hunt and track with the wisdom of my red friends; and I learned to play the rugged, bodybuilding games of the native Americans, which called for the greatest endurance and best sportsmanship. In short, I was a Western boy.
For instance, we used to sail primitive Indian ice-boats on the upper Missouri river. This sport was the chief joy of my winter days. With our Indian boy friends we would construct the ice-boat in this fashion:
Taking a suitable number of barrel-staves, we lashed them together lengthwise with buckskin thongs. Thus the staves were raised from the surface both in the front and rear, making a canoe effect. Then a soap box was placed in the middle of the craft. Next we placed a stout pole upright in the front end of the box. To a crosspiece on the pole we lashed a blanket. We were then all ready to go.
When the winter winds hit those rude sails, we traveled so far and so fast in one direction that it would take us all day to walk back home.
During my Dakota boyhood I not only acquired the accomplishments of the West, but I met some of the most famous characters of frontier days white and red men. In fact, my early days of intimate relationship with the Sioux Indians enabled me to learn their tribal traits and history nearly as well as I know our own. I speak the "silent tongue" — the sign language of the Sioux which, by the way, is understood by all Indian tribes.
In those days the luxuries and even many of the necessities of civilization were denied us in 1 cur frontier settlements. My mother brought four children into this world, attended by Sioux squaws because a doctor could not be procured. And, when a vicious rattler nearly ended my career at the age of twelve years, a squaw officiated as the doctor, the nearest physician being engaged in punching cows at a ranch some sixty miles distant. That the Sioux squaw was a good doctor is proven by the fact that I am alive today.
I relate these incidents merely to acquaint the public with the West as I knew it.
When Western plays were first tried out on the American stage, I was an actor of considerable experience. Previous to this time in theatrical history I had played many diversified roles, including those of Shakespeare.
As Cash Hawkins in "The Squaw Man," produced at Wallack's Theatre, New York City, in 1905, it was my good fortune to be able to give the American public a typical Western character. My success in this character opened up a subsequent line of Western roles for me, the emphatic success of "The Squaw Man" causing the production of many Western plays. Considerable comment was caused by my repeated successes in these characters that I knew as a boy and loved so well. Many persons who were interested in my work marveled at the realism of the interpretations. Their enthusiasm persuaded me that the entire American public loved the West and its traditions when presented with truthfulness — and the boys most of all.
Unfortunately, other sections of the United States had long been deluged with sensational "thrillers" of the West on the melodramatic stage, in dime novels and later in the early motion pictures. Many intelligent people had formed the most weird and distorted ideas of the West from the history of frontier days to the present.
In 1914 Western pictures were, to use the language of the motion-picture producers, "a drug on the market."
Now I loved the themes of these plays. It hurt me to know that what I loved was not appreciated simply because the true West was sacrificed on the altar of sensationalism. Realizing that because of my early associations of the West and my training as an actor combined, I was qualified to rectify many mistakes which were then being made in the production of Western photoplays, I decided to try my luck. To give the American public the benefit of all I knew of the West from experience and training became my one ambition. In turn, I would enjoy the gratification of doing something that I had longed to do all my life. And, naturally, I hoped for increased fame and financial success. My continued success in Western roles on the stage revealed to me that what the public desired most of motion pictures of the West was consistent realism. Of this fact I was so thoroughly convinced that I was ready to sacrifice my standing on the legitimate stage, purchased by long years of toil and hard knocks, to take a chance with fate.
So I declined a flattering and remunerative offer from a big theatrical firm in New York City and paid my own railroad fare to California. In May, 1914, I started my work in Western pictures as a star at the salary of $75 a week, with no other financial interest of any nature. Such was the status of Western photoplays at that time. Nearly five years have passed since that eventful time in my career. That I have devoted this lengthy period exclusively to the production of Western pictures is the best proof that the American public possesses a love for the West that will endure for all time.
"The Golden West Boys" is my answer to the thousands of letters I have received from the boys most of them, of course, from America, but many from all points of the compass. My story in verse, "Pinto Ben," and my prose story "The Savage" have been translated and published in the Swedish language. With the war over translations in other languages are to follow.
All Hail the Boys! — I shall never "go broke" as long as I hold their esteem. My next story will continue the "Golden West" Series in which "Injun and Whitey Strike out For Themselves."
"So long, boys — take keer o' yerselves."