Hot on the Trail
I don’t know how many books J. Evetts Haley wrote but I have 25 on a shelf in my office. I just counted them, and he wrote some that I don’t have. He was a staunch conservative, a western writer, a cattleman, and a great American.
There was nothing around anyplace that could scare Evetts Haley. When his book, A Texan Looks at Lyndon (the expose’ of Lyndon Johnson) was published, in 1964, Lyndon Johnson was President of the United States. Evetts distributed the book at midnight because the president was trying to charge him with sedition.
Evetts was a severe book collector and the Haley Memorial Library in Midland, Texas, now houses his vast collection of books, paintings, and ranch memorabilia. When he saw John Marchand’s painting, The Trail Drivers of Texas, in my gallery, he liked it. When I said the painting was the frontispiece in a book by the same title, he liked it even better.
“Forrest,” he said, “If you can find me a first edition of the book, I’ll buy the painting from you.” The price was about $7,000 even then, so I started moving.
That was before the internet so I went to see my good friend and antiquarian book dealer, Fred Rosenstock.
He had a book store on Colfax Avenue in Denver. When I arrived, Fred was talking to a hag looking guy who had ridden up on a bicycle. His hair had never seen a brush or comb, and for lack of front teeth every time he smiled his tongue could see daylight. He handed Fred a book, and let me see if I can remember what Fred said.
“This is the ugliest thing I’ve ever seen, the cover is falling off, its full of foxing, and half the pages are crimped. I couldn’t possibly give you more than $4,000 for it.”
I just stood there with my face trying to look away. Had Fred lost his consciences? When the hag of a guy left, his face was wet, and I think his tongue was seeing daylight.
Later, Fred told me that it was a very rare and much sought after Colorado history book, and that after it was restored, he could sell it for twice what he gave. That was Fred Rosenstock, and everyone loved him because he was always doing things like that.
When I told Fred that I needed a copy of The Trail Drivers of Texas, he paused, but only for a few seconds. “Follow me,” he said, and we headed for his “elevator.” It was the old kind where the driver had to close two iron screens and then throw a lever forward. Under perfect conditions the rickety thing would move up to the 2nd floor at about 1 mile per hour.
Finally, the screens opened into Fred’s warehouse. It was the size a basketball court and was absolutely filled with dusty cardboard boxes. I was in another world as we waded through swirling dust, extinct spider webs, and Denver Post wadding papers that I’m sure dated to 50 years earlier.
After about 15 rows, Fred turned left into a narrow corridor of boxes that were stacked 3 or 4 high. He put his hand on one, and looked at me. “Forrest, I haven’t opened this box in 25 years, but I think I found your book.”
And of course, there it was, the first one on top. Walking back to the elevator, we talked about Evetts Haley’s great book collection and I mentioned that it should be given to the Smithsonian – the elevator I meant. f