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The Short Story of Harry Peyton Steger: chapter 39
By Allen Rich, with excerpts from The Roy Bedichek Family Letters
Feb 12, 2014
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From the very beginning when Harry Peyton Steger and Roy Bedichek became close friends at the University of Texas in the fall of 1898, Steger, the son of a lawyer in Bonham, Texas, and Bedichek, the son of an educator in Eddy, Texas, seemed cut from the same bolt of cloth. 

Bedichek and then Steger would take turns as editors at The Cactus, the University of Texas yearbook.

Both were uncommonly bright idealists that easily stood out among their peers, even in an era when UT was seen as a premier finishing school that offered degrees unavailable at many smaller institutes of higher learning, a powerful attraction for third- and fourth-year students from across the South and West.  The brightest and the best made their way to Austin.

After all, that was how Bedichek met his wife-to-be.  Lillian Greer spent two years at Baylor University and then transfered to the University of Texas in 1901, where she majored in Greek and minored in Latin before starting her teaching career in 1903 at Grayson College in Whitewright, Texas.

Steger and Bedichek immersed themselves in the classics during late-night debates at B Hall in sessions that sometimes included their esteemed boss, UT registrar John Lomax.  Even sparring missives between Steger and Bedichek reveal the indelible influence of their favorite writing, from the Bible to Byron.

A decade later, the two men still had everything in common except the circumstances under which they labored.  Both were newlyweds in 1910 and both spent long hours pouring their heart into a blossoming career in publishing.  The similarities ended there. 

Steger was now a fast-rising star in the East Coast publishing scene, employed as a literary advisor by Doubleday, Page & Company and he and Dorothy were moving into their new home in Garden City, a suburb of New York City.

Meanwhile, Bedichek was far from the bright lights, or even running water, for that matter.  Roy and Lillian were drawing water out of a well at their shack in the New Mexico Territory and trying to carve out a living on their homestead near the foot of the Florida Mountains.  Roy had borrowed enough to become part-owner of a newspaper in a dusty town with dirt streets and about 3,000 residents, counting the dancing girls in the saloons. 

Before you consider Bedichek's enterprise too lightly, however, take note that the Deming Headlight, as Lillian would write later, was "the official organ of Democrats in Lincoln County."

To fully appreciate life in the territory west of Texas during this timeframe, is also important to understand that it would be another five years before 500 faithful followers of Pancho Villa spurred their ponies into a slumbering Columbus, New Mexico to steal horses, mules and weapons and then torch the town.

Some say Villa came to pull the U.S. into the Mexican Revolution.  Others say the raid was to retaliate against an arms dealer, Columbus hotelier Sam Ravel, who pocketed Villa's money in a money-for-guns deal that went south.  Whatever the motivation had been, by daybreak Pancho Villa's men were on the run and Ravel's Commercial Hotel was in ashes.

As the crow flies, that historic attack would have happened less than 20 miles from the shack where Roy and Lillian often slept outside under a tarp while Bo, their bulldog-terrier cross, stood guard. 

But in 1916, Roy, Lillian and even Bo were long gone.

Bedichek could easily have become a prominent publisher in the New Mexico Territory if not for the Prohibition movement.  The controlling interest in Deming Headlight was owned by Methodists favoring The Noble Experiment.  As a minority owner, Roy found himself in the rather uncomfortable predicament of being forced to write rhetorical editorials in support of the upcoming Prohibition election in 1911.  But when Bedichek questioned if a town with 3,000 people really needed 16 saloons, the letters to the editor section heated up with residents explaining that evidently the town did require at least that many saloons since they all stayed full. 

Resentment boiled over at the fact anyone would try to control what most Deming residents considered a personal choice and at the Methodists, in particular, who had pushed for the election in the first place.  Roy, neither a prohibitionist nor a Methodist, suddenly found himself in the awkward position as the primary voice in Deming speaking out in favor of the movement. 

The election would have dire consequences.  Advertisers threatened to stop supporting the newspaper.  Even the close friends Roy counted on no longer wanted to visit or be seen with him. 

When Navajo Bill turned a cold shoulder, Bedichek knew he had worn his welcome out.

Lillian tells this part so eloquently in The Roy Bedichek Family Letters.

Navajo Bill, porter at the Palace Saloon and once Bedi's unconditional admirer, now looked the other way.  Navajo had been one of General Crook's scouts during the last Apache campaign.  Bedi used to visit the old man in his tent in the Chinese graveyard, burial place of the coolies who died while working on the railroad. 

Navajo lived there all alone except for his pet bull snake.  He enjoyed talking about his fights with the Apaches.  He had once received one of their arrows in his backside while escaping on horseback and still had the arrow to prove his story.  He would show you the scar, too, if you encouraged him.

When hungry or in trouble, the old scout could always count on Lola Denison for help.  An old-timer herself, Lola was still in the business, the oldest in the world.

Occasionally, on a bright Sunday afternoon, one might see Lola taking an airing in a handsome carriage driven by a woman of about her own age, a pink-tights associate of other years, now grown wealthy and respectable.  But so deep was the love of the older and more influential members of the community for the auld lang syne, and so profound the reverence for the friendship that endured through fair weather and foul, that there was never a slurring whisper, nor an eyebrow lifted as the carriage passed along the main residential streets of the town.

It should come as no surprise that residents of Deming breathed a collective sigh of relief when Prohibition was voted down in the 1911 election, but the die was cast when it came to Bedichek's future as editor at the newspaper. 

The bank called in its note. 

Roy had known more than his share of failure before this kick in the ribs.  He had tried his hand in the real estate business, taught school in Houston, tried to start a newspaper syndicate with Harry Peyton Steger, gave teaching another shot, this time in San Angelo, and then tried to start a small ranch.  When none of those attempts panned out, Roy came home to help out on his father's farm in Eddy.  It was there the notion struck him that they were giving away land out west. 

Roy had spent weeks riding a bicycle from Eddy to El Paso, often with no roads, in order to homestead land in the New Mexico Territory.  He had known trials and tribulations, but this was too much.

"Bedi hated to give up his paper," Lillian wrote in The Roy Bedichek Family Letters.  "When he talked to me about it, he even cried."

And so it was that Roy, Lillian and their children, Mary and Sarah, found themselves standing on the Deming railroad platform in 1913, with their suitcases beside them.  People that saw them waiting for the train noticed Bo was nowhere to be seen.  When packing started in earnest, Bo had taken off. 

In the preceding days, no one seemed to miss the man who had poured his heart and soul into their newspaper, or notice how quickly the Deming Headlight dimmed, for that matter.  But for weeks people had kept an eye out for the town's only bear dog, particularly after a pair of silver prospectors told about seeing a big black and white dog lying solemnly beside a hollow log along the Mimbres River. 

Timing is everything, however, and just as the train pulled into the station, Bo came running up.  All five members of the Bedichek family climbed onboard.  The Land of Enchantment hadn't been all that enchanting after all.  It was time to go home to Texas.

Roy Bedichek would become secretary of the Young Men's Business League in Austin that same year.  By 1916, Bedichek was city editor for the San Antonio Express.  Roy became the second director of University Interscholastic League in 1920, a post he would hold for 30 years, with one notable exception. 

In 1946, at the urging of J. Frank Dobie and Walter Prescott Webb, Bedichek took a year sabbatical from UIL to write Adventures With a Texas Naturalist.  In 1948, Bedichek retired from UIL and began writing Karankaway Country

Following an early morning stroll to study birds in 1960, Roy Bedichek died. 

If you are wondering about what happened to the blue-bound Reports of the British Navy on the Island of Tristan Da Acunha -- books that Roy kept in his tent in the New Mexico Territory that described the planet's most remote volcanic archipelago, rocky islands halfway between Africa and South America that captivated both Steger and Bedichek -- they can be found in the Roy Bedichek Collection at the Center for American History in Austin, Texas.  

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