Collecting Delaware Books
This article first appeared in 1992. It was updated in 2005, 2007, and 2008 to include a more complete list of books by Rodney and lists of stories published in pulp and slick magazines.
George Brydges Rodney was born in New Castle in 1872 into one of Delaware's oldest families. His ancestors came to this country in 1682 with William Penn and settled in Kent and Sussex Counties. In 1830 they moved to New Castle. George was the son of John H. and Annie D. Rodney and the eldest brother of Judge Richard S. Rodney.
(George was apparently named after his grandfather, 1803-1883, though no "Jr." or "II" is used. The grandfather's diary has been reprinted as the Diary of George Brydges Rodney, a 32-page pamphlet. The original of this diary belonged to Richard S. Rodney of New Castle. It was the diary kept by Rodney in 1822 - 1823 while accompanying his father, Senator from Delaware, to Washington. It is curious that there was another George Brydges Rodney in history, an English naval hero, admiral, and baronet, who lived from 1718 to 1792. No connection to the Delaware family is known.)
Rodney was educated in New Castle schools, Wilmington Friends School, and Lehigh University. He worked for a Philadelphia newspaper for a time.
His first book, a novel about a Delawarean during the Revolutionary War, was published in 1897. An autobiography came out in 1944. In between those two books, he spent 34 years as a cavalry officer and wrote at least 30 Westerns. He died in San Antonio, Texas, in 1950.
Rodney wanted a military career at a time when the U. S. Army was not much more than an underpaid constabulary. His father got George an appointment to West Point, but he failed the eye examination. A year later, regulations were changed to permit the wearing of glasses, but it was too late. He finally got his commission in 1898 by helping raise the 1st Delaware Volunteer Infantry for the Spanish American War. That unit is the ancestor of today's 198th Signal Battalion of the Delaware National Guard.
Rodney served in the Philippines, Hawaii, and the American West as a cavalry officer. He later commanded Fort Huachuca, Arizona, and eventually reached the permanent rank of colonel.
In Buff and Blue was Rodney's first book, published in 1897 by Little Brown and Company, Boston. It is an attractive 5" x 7¼" volume, bound in green cloth with gold-stamped military designs and top edge gilt. Unfortunately, it was printed on acidic paper. The front free flyleaf, half title, or title page often separates at the crease.
The book is a historical novel about a young man from New Castle who enlists in Haslet's First Delaware Regiment in June 1776. It traces the history of the unit through many battles and the winter at Valley Forge. The descriptions of military code of honor, tactics, procedures, and courtesies are said to be accurate and insightful. It shows a great deal of scholarship, especially remembering the author was only 25 when it was published.
This book shows up fairly often, at least in Delaware. It commonly sells for just under or over $100, depending on condition.
As a Cavalryman Remembers, published in 1944 by The Caxton Printers Ltd., Caldwell, Idaho, marks the other end of Rodney's writing career. It relates anecdotes from his military career. In the foreword the author says, "As a Cavalryman Remembers is not a novel. Neither is it biography. In the very nature of things it must, however, be somewhat autobiographical. In it I have attempted to set forth a few experiences, serious and light, that I have had and seen in more than thirty-four years with the Guidons."
This is his most entertaining book. Copies are rare. However, since it was distributed nationally, it is worth looking for at used book sales and bookshops. A diligent searcher may stumble on an inexpensive copy.
Between these two books, Rodney wrote Westems. An accurate list of titles, dates, and publishers is difficult to compile. The following is a tentative list of titles.
Note: See "Update" below for a substantial revision of this list.
The dates are taken from title pages. There may have been more than one printing. And there may have been more books than listed here. Publishers included Clode, Burt, and Duffield and Green, three firms which handled this kind of material. Readers who have additional information are urged to send it to Collecting Delaware Books. Rodney is also said to have written many short stories, possibly for pulp magazines. See update below for list.
Rodney's books are literate and readable, though the genre necessitates a lot of gunsmoke, horse sweat, and honor, Quoting from The Apache Trail:
"His great bay rocketed down the slope, his ears laid back, his nose up, his long body lifting higher and higher in the furious fervor of the charge.… Then they hit!
"Few men who have ridden in a cavalry charge can ever give any coherent account of it. There is no time for cutting or thrusting that comes later after the line has been broken up into individual combats. For a few seconds Ralph was aware of his loosely riding flankers closing in on their own centre and of the massed line behind him… .
"His great bay leaped a gun-trail and a gunner swung a rammer at him. A swift wholly unconscious parry with his sabre threw the rammer above his head a still quicker thrust in carte and his point was through the man's shoulder and his horse's frenzied leap under a vicious jab of the spur cleared his point… ."
All but two books are pretty standard Westerns. However, Jim Lofton — American deals with the labor wars in the Colorado hardrock mines and has historical basis. Edge of the World has all the Western cliches but tells of a Saint Paul of Tarsus and a Roman military unit on a voyage to the Yucatan Peninsula in 225 A.D. and the subsequent conflict with the Mayans.
Putting together a collection of these books would be quite a challenge. Just as with mystery stories, there are collectors of Westerns who value these books at least as much as we value them as Delawareana. I am aware of a collector and dealer in Waco, Texas, who has been trying for years to complete a set of Rodney books with dust jackets. — JPR
The article above was written in 1992. In 2005, I spent a day searching the World Wide Web for references to G. B. Rodney books. The list below includes more than twice as many titles and better publication information. The new list includes 30 titles, but it is still probably incomplete, especially as to publishers and dates.Using the Internet in 2007, I located 34 magazine appearances. They are listed below the books.
The list brings up new questions and information. The article above states that two titles, Edge of the World and Jim Lofton — American (about an IWW labor hero), are not in the standard Western genre. It becomes obvious that Jim Lofton — American was written at least ten years before the flood of Western titles. It should be viewed as a work apart from the others. Edge of the World, in which Paul of Tarsus and a Roman legion fight the Mayans of Central America, was published a year before the first true Western. Could it be that Rodney had not found his genre yet? To these two books should be added two more. The Sea Scorpion appears to be a sea story. The Courtesan takes place in the Philippines.
It is interesting that Rodney produced three to five books a year from 1932 to 1935. How did an active-duty senior cavalry officer find the time? Could these have been accumulated manuscripts that finally found a market? Often books were published by two publishers in the same year. This may represent different bindings or publication for a book club. Many of the books were published in the United Kingdom as well. Many of the later books list the author as Col. George B. Rodney reflecting his military rank.
The original article mentioned that some of Rodney's stories appeared in pulp magazines. A list of some of these, gathered by Internet search, appears below the book list. A few of these magazine stories appeared well before any of the Westerns, leading to further speculation about finding his genre. One is even a poem published in the Saturday Evening post in 1918. However his first, titled No. 87,617 Colt which appeared in 1898, certainly sounds like a Western.
Finally, online book search on the Web has dramatically reduced prices. These books were once the province of specialty Western fiction dealers. Now everyone sells them. A few titles remain pricey, but the majority are available for $10 to $30 each.
Entries marked * contributed bt Morgan Wallace of Altamonte Springs, FL.
Entries marked ** and a number of others contributed by Jan Van Heiningen of the Netherlands.