His life was gentle.
SHAKESPEARE: Julius Caesar, Act V, scene 5
Oliver Coomes, better known to dime novel readers as Oll Coomes, was born in the country, ten miles east of Newark, the county seat of Licking County, Ohio, August 26, 1845, and died in an automobile accident five miles north of Storm Lake, Iowa, June 27, 1921. When eleven years of age, he came with his parents to Jasper County, Iowa, where his father bought a farm near Colfax. During the winters Oliver attended the district school, and in the summers helped in his father's pottery. In 1866, he entered Iowa College, but remained only a year. On October 10, 1867, he married Miss Adelia A. Kellogg, a sister of the Hon. William Pitt Kellogg, who was governor of Louisiana during the Reconstruction period. His wife died November 2, 1907, leaving three sons. He was married a second time to Miss Adelia A. Johnson, a niece of his first wife, June 5, 1913.
In the autumn of 1870, Coomes bought a 280 acre farm near Wiota, in Cass County, Iowa, and lived there, as farmer and stock raiser, for many years until he retired to Atlantic, Iowa, a few years before his death. He was a strong Republican and served in the State Legislature from 1877 to 1880.
Mr. Coomes began writing novels in 1870. In a little memorandum book, now in the possession of his son, is a record of the stories he wrote and the sums received for each. Seventy-seven titles are listed, most of them written for Beadle, but a few, also, for the New York Weekly. The first story sold by Coomes was "Wild Raven, the Scout; or, The Mississippi Guide," published as No. 41 of Starr's American Novels, June 14, 1870. For it Coomes received the munificent sum of twenty-five dollars! The letter from Frank Starr & Co.'s American Publishing House, accepting the story, is dated two days after the story appeared, and is written on ruled pink note paper! Apparently the check was signed by Beadle & Co., for there is an explanatory postscript stating that "Beadle & Co. and F. Starr & Co. are interested in each other to a certain extent—hence check." The second novel sold to Beadle was "Old Strategy." It brought fifty dollars and appeared as No. 47 in Starr's American Novels. The tenth story, "Hawkeye Harry," published in the Saturday Journal, brought one hundred dollars, and the thirteenth two hundred. These increasing sums, above the average paid Beadle writers, show how highly Coomes' stories were regarded. Ingraham himself said that the regular rate for his own stories was seventy-five dollars for Half-Dime Libraries, and one hundred fifty for Dimes. Five stories in succession were sold to the New York Weekly in 1870 for five hundred dollars each, and one brought one thousand good dollars in 1874; an amazing sum for a short serial in those days. The story was entitled, "Omaha, Pride of the Prairie," but apparently was never published. It was bought by the New York Weekly when that paper was attempting to corner the market on manuscripts.
For "Happy Harry," "The Boy Rifleman," "Vagabond Joe," "Silver Star," and "Little Texas," Beadle & Co. paid Coomes five hundred dollars each; several of these being the short Half-Dimes for which normally only seventy-five dollars would have been paid. From 1883 to 1890, he received one hundred dollars for Half-Dimes, while in 1892 the price had dropped for a few numbers to seventy-five dollars. Beadle was reducing expenses.
Coomes was one of the best of the dime novelists. He wrote very convincingly of the early Indian days in the middle west and of western and northwestern Iowa, the country he knew best. While he did write a few detective stories, the detective motive was subordinate to the western, and his tales never degenerated into the detective type which later became the standard of the nickel novels.
A few of Coomes' novels were written under the pen name "Will Dexter,"(1) but they were all reprinted later under his own name.
REFERENCES: New York Weekly, XXXVI, September 12, 1881, with portrait; Banner Weekly, No. 235, May 14, 1887, 5; Alice Marple, Iowa Authors and their Worlds, Des Moines, 1918, 61—62; "Oil Coomes Killed by Auto," Atlantic News-Telegraph, June 27, 1921; "Famous Political Battle Recalled by Coomes' Death," Ibid., June 28, 1921; Charles F. Chase, "Hon. Oil Coomes," editorial, Ibid.; Gilbert Patten, "Dime Novel Days," Saturday Evening Post, CCIII, February 28, 1931, 129; Lina L. Hammond, "Oil Coomes and Dime Novels," Des Moines Sunday Register, May 31, 1931, with portrait and other illustrations; Kent Pellett, "Bang! Bang! Iowan's Pen Slaughtered Indians," Des Moines Sunday Register, November 27, 1938. Also personal communications from Oil Coomes' son, Arthur K. Coomes, and his grandson, R. G. Coomes.
Starr's American Novels. Nos. 41, 47, 53, 58, 63, 67, 76, 85, 88
Dime Novels. Nos. 310, 325, 329, 337, 339, 354, 370, 378, 474, 541, 551, 560, 583, 584, 616
Saturday Journal. Nos. 116, 136, 147, 165, 175, 199, 224, 240, 266, 284, 301, 324, 349, 353, 375, 410, 494, 561
Beadle's Weekly. Nos. 34, 48, 53, 67, 99, 112, 122
Banner Weekly. Nos. 165, 223, 243, 266, 303, 329, 343, 377, 453, 464, 505, 651
Pocket Novels. Nos. 1, 11, 18, 35, 199, 236, 244, 248, 256, 258
Twenty Cent Novels. Nos. 11, 20, 21, 22, 30
Starr's New York Library. No. 7
Dime Library. Nos. 7, 43, 44, 46, 48, 51, 99, 137, 148, 619, 990, 1036, 1064, 1100
Half-Dime Library. Nos. 5, 13, 27, 31, 41, 58, 71, 74, 83, 134, 143, 146, 153, 163, 178, 182, 202, 208, 218, 224, 228, 238, 243, 260, 272, 290, 300, 384, 409, 417, 422, 444, 457, 463, 473, 482, 562, 652, 661, 670, 680, 778, 791, 795, 799, 804, 823, 927, 939, 955, 1010, 1035, 1051, 1061, 1065, 1072, 1111, 1113, 1115, 1118, 1125, 1145, 1146, 1147, 1150, 1155, 1160, 1161, 1162, 1163, 1168
Boy's Library (quarto). No. 14
Boy's Library (octavo). Nos. 1, 18, 152, 156, 164, 314
Pocket Library. Nos. 8, 16, 19, 24, 42, 55, 58, 67, 70, 113, 129, 142, 162, 171, 183, 194, 202, 208, 215, 222, 228, 240, 259, 271, 359, 381, 448, 457, 464
Under the name "Will Dexter" Coomes wrote:
Dime Novels. Nos. 256. 259, 269, 470
SPECIMEN OF OLL COOMES' STYLE
"Old Dan Rackback, the Great Extarminator; or, The Triangle's Last Trail." Dime Library No. 44, 18-1 p.
When assured that they were beyond immediate danger, Kit Bandy's tongue began to move more glibly, and he talked away on different subjects with the familiarity of an old acquaintance. . . .
"I would like to know, Kit," Tom finally said, "how you ever happened to be among the robbers."
"Well, sir, the straight of the story, if we run it back to the place o' beginnin'," he said, ejecting a volley of tobacco-juice forward over his horse's head, "dates Jinuary the tenth, Anny Dominy eighteen hundred an' fifteen. Old aunt Peggy Bandy, as the folks called her, was the originator of the hull affair, and a leetle, long-legged baby war heard to sound its bugle one mornin' of the aforesaid year, in the Bandy cabin; and from that day on little Kit had an existence. After a few years' dandlin' around on all the old weemin's laps in Oak Holler, and huggin', and squeezin', and kissin' among the little folks, I bloomed out into a real likely tow-headed boy. Then I started to school—that place of fun and frolic. After passin' through a few years' ear-pullin', jig-dancin', and fly-killin' at school, I made a bulge and come out a young man with a sprinklin' of luck among the female gender, and a light set of whiskers. Time passed on and I got my full set; then I began to cast about me for some trade or perfession. Fust I tried stage-drivin', but that didn't gee; so I next tried shoemaking, but I couldn't drive a peg to save my sole. So next I started a grocery down at the Cross Roads, but as whiskey war the only thing in demand in that 'ristocratic district, I couldn't stand it; so I give away what flour I had on hand, drunk up my stock of whisky at cost, and took to the ministry. This kem the nighest of any of them bein' the shoe that fit. But I couldn't stand the pressure of four revivals a year—too much kissin' and huggin'. I wouldn't'a' minded it so much if the work'd been done by them as you like; but, if thar war an ugly old tarmagrant of a woman in the congregation, she was surer than thunder to monopolize the best kissin' and huggin' position in the room, right whar it war onpossible to do justice by the handsome young sistern. So I got disgusted, shook off my ministerial robes and measured the distance atween Oak Holler and the Pacific Ocean. Here for some twenty or thirty years I've been practicing fust one thing and then another. I've trapped and hunted 'long every creek and river west of the Missouri. I Forty-nined some in California, and thar I passed through two years of an experiment I never want to repeat. I married—yes, act'ly married Sabina Ellen Frisby, and arter a spell of conjugal hair-pullin' and head-poundin', we quit. Sabe war a good woman at heart, when the devil war absent from it, but rile her up and she pushed a fist right out from her shoulder like a mule's heel. More'n once she flipped my trotters from under me, did Sabe. But the big joke of all war when we lived down in Hellaboloo Gulch. One night Sabina came home from Hoover's Station putty well on her ear. She would tipple a little, would Sabe. Weemin weren't so awful nice and perticler them days as now. A woman that wouldn't hobber-nobble glasses 'em days war considered a tender, wuthless thing, sure to be shunned by the men as a spell of small-pox or cholera. But the fust thing Sabina did war to fetch me one, fair atween the eyes, that laid me kerwhop on the floor. Then she haired me, and arter almost wringin' my head off, she accused me of bein' false to her—of paying respects to Angeline Crustover; but the Lord knows, I never drunk a dozen bumpers to Ange in my life, and told her so; but you might as well 'a' talked to a wild-cat. So we had it up and down like a perfect catamount fight. Meanwhile it war rainin'—yes, stormin' like all fury without. It'd been rainin' all day up the mountain, and I war awful oneasy for fear of a freshet, and when we war skirmishin' my wust fears war realized. All at once an awful torrent come a-boomin' and a-rollin' down the valley. Slam, it took our cabin, bu'st open the door, and in rushed the water and punched us up ag'inst the wall like forty-seven mule heels. The house shook like old Sabina's form, and I see'd we'd got to git out o' that at the winder. A huge log suddenly glided right through the house, and was follered by a panther, half-drowned. I stood it long as I could, then I bounced up the ladder into the loft, and up come the old woman after me, still a-jawin' and fussin'—puttin' in a lick whenever close enough. She had no fears of the storm or torrent, she was so dinged mad, and, rasp me eyes if I know which I war the most afeared of— Sabe or the torrent—better bear a leetle to the left boys, and we'll soon strike the Powder valley," the old man said, dropping his story to direct the movements of the party.
The young miners followed his directions, inasmuch as it was their previous intention to take the course, and then he resumed his story.
"Well, the water soon got up into the loft, and then I peeled off some shingles and clim'ed outside onto the roof. Out come Sabe after me, a-jawin' away. It was nip and tuck atwixt her tongue and the bang of the thunder, and rush and roar of the water, to which the continual blaze of the lightnin' added somethin' of awful consideration. The water kept a-creepin' higher and higher until the roof of the cabin began to sway and totter. I see'd it couldn't stand much longer, and so I made a leap for a tree near and landed among its branches. Then I beseeched my darlin' to toiler, but she just up and snorts out with a tragic air: 'Never! never! base wretch!—never will I seek safety on the same tree with you—no, never, NEVER!'
"She knowed durned well she couldn't jump to the tree, and so did I; and that's why I asked her. But the next minute the roof floated off with Sabina upon it, and as she went a-scuddin' down the valley, I groaned out and bid her farewell.
"'Bless God for the torrent,' was the awful critter's reply; 'it will be a divorce to me. You'll soon be drowned out of that tree, while I'll float down to the flats and call out some one to my rescue,' and away she went, hollerin' back fur as I could hear, settin' bolt upright on the roof with her hair a-flyin' and a-whippin' in the wind. The thunder tossed and tumbled overhead; the wind whistled and screamed like a hundred Sabinas; the lightnin' licked the sky with a thousand forked quiverin' tongues of fire, and the torrent roared awfully. But fur as I could see, Sabina was herself, and shakin' her fist back at me—now and then takin' turns with the storm-winds in tryin' to laugh like a maniac. But, finally, she disappeared, a speck in the distance. Wal, to make the story shorter; I were'n't drowned, as the sweet-scented Sabina had hoped, for the water went down, and so did I. But thar wer'n't a corner-stun of the Bandys' palacial residence left; and so in order to leave the impression that we were both drowned,' for I knew Sabe would be, I made myself seldom in Hellabaloo Gulch, and after five years knockin' about, drew up in Austin, Nevada. Thar I figgered lively fer a spell; chawed up a few Ingins; knocked the stuffin' out of a few Chinamen, and otherwise regulated things in that immoral, corrupt place. The next criminal act I did war to fall in love again."
"Again?" exclaimed Idaho Tom, "after your former experience in love matters?"
"Yes, again, durned ole fool that I war. But I could not help it. Hagar Ann Forgot just froze right to me, and what else could I do? Then to acknowledge the fact, she resembled my lost Sabina, more or less. She war better-lookin', though, than Sabe ever war; and much handsomer. She had coal-black hair—Sabe had red—fair komplexion and some accomplishments. She war far more refined than old Sabe, and never got drunk, nor swore even if she did lose a hand at poker. But to shorten up again, we war married one day, and just as I war about to plant the weddin' kiss on her lips, what should she do but draw back with clenched fists and glarin' eyes, that revived thoughts of my lost darlin' and exclaim: 'Nary kiss, you dasted, ornary old hypocrite! nary kiss, Kit Bandy! I've worked, and planned, and dyed my hair, and powdered my complexion these years to bring about this, you old blind fool. Ha! Ha! if ye did 'scape the torrent, you won't 'scape the vengeance of a wronged, deserted wife—no, you won't, you old—' but, boys, I didn't stay to hear any more, but I did escape the vengeance of that woman —that very old Sabina, the deceivin' critter. Great horn of Joshua! how fine she played Hagar Ann Forgot. But I pulled up and left Austin and went over to Virginny city, whar I became another man—settled down, war elected justice of the peace, and called Squire Bandy. Finally I left there, and the tide of old time tossed me up here 'mong Prairie Paul's band, whar I've been doin' some huntin, some minin', and—." "Some stealing," added Darcy Cooper. "As there's a heaven, I never stole a thing from an honest man in my life; nor has Prarie Paul been doin' much thievin' since I've been with him—more minin' than anything else."
|1||For confirmatory evidence, see under the name Dexter.|