Dear Mrs. Aly:

This is likely to be a longish letter, so I'll dictate it to Enid.

Before answering yours of the 20th received yesterday, I have a little story to tell and a suggestion to make. In 1927, I was honor guest of the Poetry Society of America in New York for a week. They paid all expenses and salary for time away from the Post-Dispatch, while my regular salary went on. That was the time when old Edwin Markham, one of the guests of the annual dinner, spied me across the huge Biltmore Hotel parlor and cried out "There is John Neihardt! He is the one man in the United States I want to see!" He rushed over to me and hugged me. But this is not the point of my story. At the dinner there were famous guests from both England and America. Of course I had to do something at the dinner, so I read and talked. After the dinner, a lady came up to me and said, "While you were speaking, you reminded me of my brother." I said, "Who is your brother?" And she said, "Theodore Roosevelt". It was T. R.'s "little sister", as he called her, Corinn e Roosevelt Robinson. The point that I want to make now might be an interesting detail in your dissertation. I was of course flabbergasted at the remark, for T. R. was one of my great heroes. I asked her what I did to remind her of him. She said it was the way I spoke my words. At the time I was still practicing the biting of consonants and singing of vowels, and I think perhaps I was biting the consonants more than I do now. You will remember that T. R. very noticeably bit his consonants and clashed his teeth in the process.

No doubt she noted the positive manner also.

In connection with this, I have a suggestion for possible use in the biography. Corinne Roosevelt told me that it was her brother, T. R., who introduced her to my work. He was moved by HUGH GLASS and quoted a single line from it in one of his last speeches -- "Men fit to live are not afraid to die". Corinne is dead and there's no one left to know about T. R.'s interest but Alice Roosevelt Longworth. She was one of the National Committee that chose the famous White House Library of 500 book s out of all world literature, and my SONG OF THE INDIAN WARS was one of the 500 chosen. I understand she is a kindly person and she might have something to say that would interest you.

Now for your letter. You ask me about the Duncan YMCA in Chicago. You will remember that when I went to Chicago, I was very much at loose ends. I had finished the CYCLE a year or two before, had been sick, and we were a thousand dollars in debt. (This was paid up in a little over a year after I got straightened out in Chicago.) Mona came up after I got a little foothold, and we had quite an adventure together. I went out on the street looking for a job, concealing all that I had done, and I managed to land a job with the Iron Fireman Furnance Stoker Company. This was during the war and any old man could get a job. What I knew about stokers wouldn't make an encyclopedia. Everyone at the Iron Fireman was kind to me, but all wondered what I was doing there, and I wasn't a very good employee. I tried, but my boss, who was kind enough to me in other ways, evidently decided that I didn't belong there; so he piled an absurd amount of work on me until I was absolutely confused. I told him in a kindly way, that I thought he was riding me a little; but he just laughed and we were quite friendly. Finally, after I had been there a month or so, I took my leave with the blessings of the whole outfit. They liked me, but I wasn't any good. They knew that I was somebody, but they didn't know who! Well, I was on the street again, and really quite amused, although slightly troubled. I considered various jobs. One in particular seemed like heaven to me. I was to be night ticket seller on the elevated and I thought how wonderful it would be in the long watches of the night to sit up there in that little coup! But that didn't pan out. Just at that time, I saw an ad in the paper, asking for someone who would like to be a counsellor for the YMCA. This seemed a bit more like it, so I went to Duncan YMCA over on the west side, told them about my slight Boy Scout experience, and my Indian connections. That sold them, and so they took me on for a counsellor that summer at Fish Lake outside of Chicago. I had charge of a cabin full of kids from 8 to 12, and they were dear, ornery little cusses. It struck me that I might be able to do something really good for the camp; so one Sunday, shortly after I had gone out there, I took over the services in a camp circle they had prepared for such meetings. The camp circle immediately suggested my Hoop of the Universe, so I put on Black Elk's ritualistic prayer, proceeding from the South to the Quarter of the West and praying; then to the Quarter of the North and praying, then to the Quarter of the East and praying; then to the Quarter of the South, then to the Center of the Ring where I offered a beautiful Black Elk prayer to Wakantanka and to Mother Earth. There was a considerable crowd of relatives of the boys present, many of them Catholics; and at the end of my ceremony, I had them all stand and pray a Black Elk prayer after me, line by line. They did it, although the prayer was clearly "pagan". It was great to hear them roaring out that prayer in that silent valley. At the end I remarked, laughingly, that if Old Black Elk were present, he would say that there would be a heavy rain. Sure enough, in the middle of the afternoon it came on! It swamped all our cabins, and had our mattresses out all the next day in the sun trying to dry them out. The head of the camp, (I seem to remember his name as Sorenson) came to me and said, "What do you think about that heavy rain?" And laughingly, I replied, "It always rains after a ceremony like that. And what do you think?" He said "It sure looks funny!"

Well, that ceremony suggested to me that I could put on Black Elk's great horse dance, using boys for the horses. This was just the sort of thing the YMCA wanted. So I got 16 of the big West Side Italian boys to agree to perform the Ceremony. We practiced about two weeks. First, we made a big Hoop of the Universe, outlined with stones, in a flat place beneath steep banks where the people sat; and at the center of the ring we planted the Tree of Life. Across the Hoop were the two Roads, Black and Red. I stood under the tree with the sacred drum, all dressed up and properly painted, of course, while my 16 boys waited behind a bank for the signals from my drum. At the right signal, they emerged, marching four and four, all dressed up by their mothers, according to my specification, and with eagle feathers in their hair. Before the ceremony, I made the people (fathers, mothers, uncles, aunts, sisters, etc.) from Chicago understand what they were going to witness. It went off wonderfully well. Now here is another "funny" thing. Each time we practiced, it rained the following night. The head of the camp thought this was significant, although he was an orthodox Christian. During our practice period, after the first two or three rains, he came to me and said in a sort of shame-faced way, "Don't you think we should practice this inside? It might rain." And I said, "Fellow, it won't rain on our ceremony -- it won't rain until afterward." He remarked, "Well, Nature has something to say about that". And I said, laughing, "There's something back of Nature." On the morning of the Great Day (Sunday) when we were to have our public exhibition, there was a heavy, drizzly fog. Sorenson came to me and said, "I told you we'd better have it inside." And having gone so far, I stuck my neck out a little farther, and I said, "It won't rain on our ceremony." By this time the boys were all dressed up and painted, waiting for the drizzle and fog to go away. At noon it looked hopeless, as the ceremony was to begin at 1:30. Sure enough the fog and drizzle went away at about 1:00 o'clock. There was clear blue sky with a bright sun. The ceremony went through without a cloud in the sky; but that night we got a heavy soaking! When Sorenson spoke to me about this, I just laughed and he never did know whether I was serious or not.

I went through the whole summer at Fish Lake with the boys, and the YMCA men urged me to come to town with them and run an Outpost over on the West Side among the gang boys. The year before, the man who ran the outpost was kicked out by the boys, who smashed up all the furniture and broke the windows. I went over there alone; and organized the kids (from 9 to 18 years of age). There's quite a story about the organization, but I won't burden you here with that. The upshot of the matter was that I ran the outpost until Spring and got along finely. I had one group of girls who met one night a week and I had 180 boys of all ages, meeting in relays through the week. Some of the toughest rascals I ever knew were in that outfit. When I was getting them organized, and placing all the burden of good behavior on them, I had them elect officers and set forth rules to be obeyed. The President was the biggest bruiser and he could fight; the Vice President was the next biggest bruiser, and he could fight too. The Secretary and Treasurer were also bruisers, but of less capacity. When I said "Who is going to enforce these rules? I'm not going to do it, because this is your club." They said "We've already got our officers." I said "You mean they're going to do everything?" and they said "Yes, they are the biggest and we look up to them." I had them set forth the rules, which ran about as follows: 1. No spittin' on the floor. 2. No cussin'. 3. No bad language. 4. No smokin' in the house. 5. No girls. 6. Hats off in the house. We played ping-pong, cards, many sorts of games, and with the help of some of the bigger boys, I established a workshop with second-hand motors and tools that we bought in junk shops. Always, along about nine o'clock at night, they would get weary of what they were doing, and begin milling around like wild animals. At that point, anything could start a ruckus and end in the destruction of all the furniture. So, at that point, I always got the boxing gloves out and told them we were going to have some prize-fights. I'd be the time-keeper, saying "bong" for the bell, and we'd fight 2-minute rounds, starting with the big boys and ending with the little fellows. Now and then there'd be a bloody nose, but nobody squawked. Also the fights were very orderly, for we had a referee who was respected. In this manner, I got through the winter. In the Spring, thanks to Mona's urging me to do so, I got in touch with John Collier, Commissioner of Indian Affairs under Franklin Roosevelt. He knew about me and asked me to lunch. After we had had our fish and a glass of beer in a cozy joint that he frequented, he leaned back and said, "How would you like to be my Director of Information?" I replied that it sounded good. So, after we'd talked about it a little while, he said, "Everything will be arranged." And shortly afterward, it was so. So I became Director of the Division of Information of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, then located, for the duration of the war, in the Merchandise Mart Building. There were 330 of us in the office, and we occupied the 10th floor, with some of our offices on the top floor.

By this time, Mona and I had moved into the Metropole Hotel down town. It had been one of the swank hotels of the country, but the city had grown away from it. It was still a nice place to be, although in a rather poor neighborhood. Mona and I kept house in one room and she cooked on a one-burner electric heater. We had swell meals and we were happy there. Previous to this, Mona had landed a proof-reading job with TIME and LIFE, and we had moved to the Metropole that we might both be closer to our work. During this time, we were piling up money fast, and we paid up every little debt we had contracted during my bad slump, including the one thousand dollars we had borrowed.

When Amama came to live with us at the Metropole, Mona was compelled to give up her Time job.

When, after the war, the office was about to move to Washington, I resigned, but they said they wanted to keep me connected with the office; and so they made me Field Representative. I was still Field Representative when I came to Columbia in 1948. When I left the Indian Office, they took up a subscription and bought me a big chunk of jade, because they knew of my interest in gem carving. I think you saw Mona's necklace, earrings, and ring, which I made out of this chunk, in addition to a number of smaller things.

This is the Duncan story. Previous to this, I had been a month or two with ESQUIRE as an editorial reader, and I could have stayed there indefinitely, but my eyes gave out.


I am in a quandary as to when I was in Sioux City. It is much more likely to have been after I was on the Daily News in Omaha which was 1901. I can hardly believe that it was after my BLADE experience. At this point I want to tell you of an incid ent that happened in Sioux City. I was there only a month or two, and I was pretty lonely. One day I was knocking about town and went into a pool hall and bar where prize-fighters hung out. I think I told you that, during those years I was training like a horse, and was pretty good for my weight of 120 lbs. As a matter of fact, I had pretty much of a reputation in the county. (They called me "the Cast Iron Duke"). For instance, I lifted my own weight (120 lbs.) from the floor over my head with one hand, and there was no one else anywhere around who could do it. Also, a big athlete weighing about 240 lbs., whom I met by chance, had taken a liking to me, and taught me to tear a pack of cards in two, which I certainly can't do now. I had ten inches chest expansion at the time, and I had the high score on the striking machine in our county, 1705 lbs. The big men of the community would hit around six and eight hundred on the machine. I had been punching a bag and practicing short-arm jabs; and I did with speed and accuracy what they could not do with weight. Well, I went into this pool hall in Sioux City where the boxers and wrestlers held out--a sporty joint. There was a striking machine there, and I saw a fellow who was about a middle-weight, with cauliflower ears and a smashed nose, go up and take a wallop at the machine. It went up to 1000. I thought perhaps they had screwed this machine down tighter than the ones I was used to. So when I though no one was looking, I took off my coat and took a crack at the machine. It went up to my usual 1705. When I turned around, a big man with a striped suit and a diamond in his necktie as big as a grain of corn, was looking at me, and he said, "how long have you been training?" I said "I don't train." He said, "Don't give me that. Come and have a drink." And I said I didn't drink, but I'd take a seltzer. And he said, "That's just what I thought." While we were talking at the bar, I began to feel cocky, although I was drinking only seltzer. And I remarked that I could do something that nobody else in the place could do. He asked what that was, and I told him I could expand 10 inches. He said "You'll have to show me that -- come in the back room." So I went with him into the back room and stripped. In those days I was like a miniature Mike Fink, really over-developed. When he saw me, he said "Jesus Christ" and ran out and yelled for them all to come in there. A lot of them piled in. I swelled out my chest and the muscles in my chest tying the tape around me when I was fully inflated. Then I deflated and passed a plug hat under the tape! The man in stripes took me out into the pool hall where we could be alone and began urging me to go into training under him. He had a stable of boxers. He said "If you'll come along with me and train, I'll make you cham pion featherweight of the world in no time." This seemed funny to me and I laugh ed about it, but he said, "It's a cinch. If you land on them with a blow like that, it'll be all over. They can't hurt you." Well I told him I'd think it over, and walked out. I never went back. I've wondered what sort of adventure I might have had if I had gone into this. But you know what I had in the back of my head. It just didn't seem to be for me. Just yesterday I read an article in the current READERS' DIGEST about Barney Ross who was champion feather-weight (120 lbs.) and very sensational. He explained how it was that he could do what he did, and it was all concerned with the speed, the short-arm jab and the coordination that I had worked out for my striking machine.

and back

I note what you say about TH E HARPIST from the Wayne paper. It may well be that I did such a thing, and does seem to ring a faint bell somehwere in my head; but when I see the thing I can tell you.

THE TENTIAD did not appear in the Wayne Herald. It was in the Wayne Democrat, published by Goldie. He folded up and disappeared. What happened to the files of the Democrat, I don't know; but surely they should be somewhere. It would be along about 1895 orand 1896. I hope you can find THE TENTIAD. I imagine it is rather funny in a crude sort of way. Anyway, it made a stir in town among the orthodox!

You ask me about the AGAMEMNON translation. Only a portion of it was done -- I think half or less. All I did is in the MS room here. It's a pity I did not finish it, for recently I have compared the best translations with it, and I can tell you, as an objective critic, that my translation is the only good one from many angles, - so far as it goes.

With the kindest thoughts from Mona and me to you'ns there, and a number of sharp appreciative arfs from Yo-Yo,

John Neihardt
John G. Neihardt
P. S. --

Somewhere in the "archives" there is a picture of me stripped to the waist, in the Sioux City Tribune days. It will witness if I prevaricate! In athletic matters, the peak is reached around the age of 23.


I must tell you the complete story of the writing of The Divine Enchantment. The story involves my experience as a hobo!!

J. N.
John Neihardt
Rt. 7
Columbia, Mo
COLUMBIA. MO. JAN 30 4-PM 1958



Mrs. Bower-Aly, 2094 Hilyard, Eugene, Oregon.
------- over

It has just occurred to me that Justice Britain's son, Jim (a close friend), told me once he thought there were files of the Wayne Democrat in the vaults of the Wayne County courthouse in Wayne. He may have known. Of course, he is in the next world now.

J. N.