Arizona
by Clarence Budington Kelland
 

Review by
Robert Wilfred Franson

The Saturday Evening Post, 25 February 1939 - 15 April 1939
  

Harper: New York, 1939
278 pages

March 2004

 
The novel Arizona by Clarence Budington Kelland is a desert romance, set in Tucson during the Civil War years when that town was a inhospitable-looking way-station in Arizona Territory. The story opens with the young woman Phoebe Titus carrying her Sharps rifle and a teamster's whip on her way to interrupt a poker game. Sitting in that game are two men who stole a substantial amount of money from her. Without fuss, straightforward Phoebe gets her money back — and makes the thieves punish each other.

Arizona - Clarence Budington KellandAs excerpted below, the dialect style seems thick, but it works fine in context. Soon after Phoebe's dispensing of justice, a young man passing West through Tucson stops at Phoebe's tiny canvas-roofed bakery to buy a pie from her:

"Gosh almighty," he said, "you hain't the gal that made them skunks give back the money they stole 'n' then made 'em larrup each another? Be you her?"

"I got my money back," said Phoebe.

"And I figgered that gal 'ud be rawboned 'n' humbly! Miss Phoebe, seems like you're overpowerin'. ..."

"Quit talkin' nonsense," said Phoebe.

Suddenly he leaned his large, long-fingered hands on the boards of her counter. ... "Miss Phoebe, if I was to write ye a letter from Californy, would ye answer it?"

"No," she said.

"I'll bet ye would," he said, and grinned broadly. "I kin play the banjo 'n' I'm awful comical company. Folks says so fur miles around. Yes'm, soon's I get settled in Californy I aim to write you that thar letter."

"Save your postage," she said, "to buy potato seed."

"When you get it," he said, "and see 'Peter Muncie" signed to the end of it, you'll know it come from me."

"And when I never git it 'n' no name's signed to the end of it," she said, "I'll know I been a-listenin' to one that jest goes around talkin' to hear the sound of his own voice."

"Would ye like to hear from me, Phoebe?"

"No."

"I like wimmin better that sticks to the truth. I'll fetch back this pie tin in less'n an hour. And we kin talk some more."

"I'll be busy," said Phoebe.

Phoebe certainly stays busy in and around Tucson while Peter Muncie travels on, but she doesn't forget.
  

Tucson, Arizona - Kelland film - Columbia Pictures, 1940 (small)

The great Civil War creates only eddies away out here at Tucson, but of course these affect its inhabitants. Bandits, rustlers, mine speculators, Indians friendly or hostile, Mexicans, soldiers — Tucson increasingly is an important crossroads. Phoebe has encounters or adventures with all these, herself growing with the Territory, but her essential character is as solid and straightforward as the Arizona desert she comes to love.

For there are two deserts:

One is a grim, desolate wasteland. It is the home of venomous reptiles and stinging insects, of vicious thorn-covered plants and trees and unbearable heat. ...

But the stranger and the uninitiated see only the mask. The other desert — the real desert ... reveals its true character only to those who come with courage, tolerance and understanding. ...

To those who come to the desert with tolerance it gives friendliness; to those who come with courage it gives new strength of character. Those seeking relaxation find in its far horizons and secluded canyons release from the world of man-made tensions. For those seeking beauty the desert offers nature's rarest artistry. This is the desert that has a deep and lasting fascination for men and women with a bit of poetry in their souls.

Randall Henderson
"There Are Two Deserts"
On Desert Trails:
Today and Yesterday

  

Clarence Budington Kelland is a smooth writer, and takes care here to create an interesting, determined, and intelligent heroine. Arizona is an enjoyable novel. Phoebe Titus is a fine representative of the pioneering character, and of the spirit of the Western desert.

  

© 2004 Robert Wilfred Franson


  
Postcard overleaf (1940):

Tucson, as it was in 1859, was reconstructed by Columbia Pictures, Inc., in producing the picture Arizona, a story of Old Tucson, by Clarence Budington Kelland. About 1000 Tucsonians were employed as extras in the picture, some of whom portrayed their ancestors. The set comprised some 140 buildings, and has been preserved as a point of interest near Tucson.
  

  
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