Front Page
The Short Story of Harry Peyton Steger: chapter 6
By Allen Rich, with excerpts from The Letters of Harry Peyton Steger, 1899-1912
Dec 26, 2013
Print this page
Email this article

Harry Peyton Steger, after receiving endorsements directed to the Bonham school board from David Franklin Houston and John Lomax on his behalf, had secured employment as a Latin and Greek teacher and was wrapping up the 1902-03 school year.  As much as Steger missed the camaraderie of his close-knit circle of intellectually gifted friends at UT, the stay at Bonham had been fiscally rewarding.  After all, he was hauling in almost $70 a month.

In a letter from Bonham in late April of 1903 and addressed to Harvard University students E.R.P. Duval and E.T. Miller, Steger announces a major accomplishment.  Apparently Harry's success in literature and languages didn't translate to the realm of personal finances.

"Strange and impossible as it may seem to you -- who have had so much opportunity to know of my abnormal ability along this line -- I am at last the proud and prudent possessor of a bank account," Steger writes to his old friends he had first met at UT.  "With this I hope to regain the original hue of my eyes, which have faded way to a bloated pink.  Should I be successful in obtaining the Greek and Latin fellowship at the University of Texas for the ensuing year, I shall continue my work without hesitation.  If this does not fall to my lot, I will be bound to drudgery and juvenile criminality for another session."

Even 105 years ago, football was an integral part of high school.  In a letter to Roy Bedichek, Steger notes, "Big McDaniel, erstwhile football hero, is now president of the Young Men's Commercial Club and Captain of the Fannin Guards, a military company organized for protection against the enemy.  I understand from him that all their new guns have breeches which can be removed, and hastily put on when visitors appear. (A grim sort of humor pervades the above remarks.)"

Harry's tone changes dramatically the following fall semester when he returns to UT to try and fill Bedichek's role as editor of the college annual, Cactus.  In late October, Harry finally gets a chance to converse with "Bedi," Steger's first roommate at the University of Texas.  Maybe for the first time in his life, Harry was in over his head and his questions covered the gamut of content, cover to cover.  Would a leather back on the Cactus just be a rip-off of the annual Bedi turned out the year before?  How much leverage should the editorial board have in determining what submissions were accepted and what was rejected?  And, maybe most importantly, would his dear friends bail him out of this predicament?

"Of course you know that I am to edit this year's Cactus, thanks to Joe B. (Hatchitt), Adrian (Pool), and their menial minions," Steger informs Bedi.  "Of course you know, too, that you are really going to do the work.  I am determined to complete my faculty farce this year; and you must help me."

Later Steger adds, "I wish I didn't have to succeed you.  It looks to me as if you did it all."

Every new editor has uttered that last sentence after replacing an industrious predecessor.  Yet, down deep, Steger knew his strengths would be a welcome compliment to the staff.

"I realize my inferiority in matters literary to Mr. Clyde Hill, Miss Bess Brown (the future Mrs. John A. Lomax), et al. -- this in all sincerity -- but I do think I can detect froth and bubble and foam sooner than they," Steger tells Bedi.  "Do you see how that lagerish simile was fathered?  Pardon me.  It is a metaphor.  When you say that a man is like a lion, that is a simile; but, when, on the other hand, you say that he is a lion in a fight, that is a metaphor."  

But some of the students around the campus were teasing the anxious new editor.

"The boys have great fun with me," Steger writes Bedi.  "When I run, they say 'Bedi.'  When I go over to the University, they say 'Bedi.'  When I go off by myself for a walk, they shout 'Bedi.'  Imagine how my dander is kept erect by such a treatment.  In reality, however, I have just about squelched it by a system of cold indifference."

Harry ends this letter in the typical, playful Steger style.

"This seems an excellent place to stop," Steger writes in closing.  "The page is about filled up.  There seems just enough room to put in an affectionate farewell.  But, as usual, I am thoughtless in such matters.  The end approaches and still I have not told you good-bye.  Will I, I wonder, or will I procrastinate until space forbids?  I hardly know.  I hope not.  Good-bye."

Thanksgiving of 1903 saw John Lomax and Curly Duncan visiting Harry in Austin.  In early December, Steger wrote to ask Bedi to come to Bonham for Christmas.

"Are you coming home for Christmas?" Harry inquires.  "I mean to Bonham town.  You can, if you will; and then we can discuss a thousand and one things that I want to talk to you about.  Furthermore, we could go over to Whitewright, and, by calling on Miss Lillian Greer, have a meeting of the firm."

No other letter follows up on the holiday plans; however, Miss Lillian Greer was destined to become Mrs. Roy Bedichek.

In May of 1904, Harry returns to Bonham to find his father, Thomas, in bad health. 

"Of course, under these circumstances, I could hardly gain my own consent to leave him," Harry writes to Edgar Witt.  "As it is, we ride every evening.  The Steger Horse and Mule Syndicate has given me for my own steed a fine four-year old, nine-hundred-dollar black stallion that paces like the wind.  Dad has a somewhat more subdued plug of less pretentious gaits.  We spend two or three hours a day in the saddle.  The rest of my time is taken up with stenographic work of the several offices."

But something, or rather someone else was encroaching on Harry's time and thoughts as well: a certain Miss Charlotte Lenora Thurmond, better known as Charlie Thurmond, the daughter of P.C. Thurmond, the law partner of Thomas Steger.  In 1904, Miss Charlie would have been 19 and Harry was 24 years old.

"I have found it impossible to talk to Charlie but once since I reached home, last Monday," Harry confided to a friend. "I have been racking my poor brain for excuses and pretexts and occasions whereby I might see her; but Fate is unkind.  Tomorrow night, however, we two will go to see a cantankerous cantata presented by home talent.  How thrilling and how romantic.  I only wish that I had stayed in Austin.  There, I knew it was impossible to see her, as long as she was in Bonham; but here I know that she is within eight blocks of me."