Venturesome Lee Point author knew how to capture places
A park near Suttons Bay is named for Michigan writer James Beardsley Hendryx, author of over 100 short stories and 60 novels written between 1915 and 1953. Most are set in the Canadian North and Yukon and appealed to adventurous dreams of adolescent boys (and fathers). Quoted in a 1927 Detroit News article, “Boy Readers Today Want More Action, Less Preaching.”
He came to the Grand Traverse area on a fishing trip with Harold Titus, Traverse City writer and conservationist whose novel and movie stirred public opinion to reforest Michigan’s timber lands. In 1921, Hendryx acquired 300 acres at Lee Point and lived with his wife Hermione and their three children in, as described in a 1936 Detroit Free Press, “a rambling house and log studio workshop with its oxbow over the door and a huge trap under the porch roof.”
He wrote, “I live 14 miles north of Traverse City on Grand Traverse Bay — fish and work in the summer, hunt and work in the fall, get snowed in, work in the winter and watch the ice go out and work in the spring.” In the 1950’s Hendryx subdivided his Lee Point property reserving several wooded lots.
Hendryx, a great-grandson of U.S. President William Henry Harrison, was born in 1880 at Sauk Centre, Minnesota and raised in a journalistic environment. His grandfather and father published several newspapers in Minneapolis and Cincinnati. Growing up Hendryx rambled around Sauk Centre with ‘Red’ Sinclair, the writer Sinclair Lewis.
His writings reflect his venturesome life described in a 1924 biographical request.
“At age 21, I was clerk in the Post Office at Sauk Centre, Minn. Also established and operated a Rural Free Delivery Route the same year. The following year I entered the U. of Minn. Law School where it took two years to prove that I would never become a great criminal lawyer. That was back in 1901. Since then I have sold heavy hardware on the road, run levels on the railway line, punched cattle for 4 years in Montana, was night foreman on an Ohio River Dam, sold insurance, written 14 novels and a lot of short stories, and run a fruit farm in Michigan.” He also was a reporter on the “Cincinnati Inquirer.”
In 1918 letters reveal an association with the Cincinnati American Protective League that cooperated with the Office of the Attorney General to investigate suspected enemy sympathizers and draft resisters.
He spent time in the Yukon seeking gold but mainly winning and losing at poker, that along with cribbage, he played all his life. The Canadian and Alaskan wilderness and rough lives during the Klondike Gold Rush became the settings and characters in novels and short stories about Black John Smith of Halfaday Creek, Corporal Downy of the Mounted Police and Connie Morgan, boy adventurer. Most novels were first published in serial form in magazines like “The American Boy.” “The Texan” and “Prairie Trails” became movies starring Tom Mix.
Meticulous in his research, letters requesting information, notes from books were recorded in journals capturing the sayings and habits of characters and sense of place, even accompanying Canadian Mounted Police on their travels.
He wrote to a friend, “Speaking of novels, I am mailing you the one just out in book form that I wrote about the country up there. Any seeming reference there to local characters is, I assure you, purely accidental. I am telling you this because it may be possible after reading it, you might get the impression. I was using real characters!”
Hendryx spent weeks on trips duck hunting and fishing. Letters concern organizing and recalling stays with friends and family at Bill Phillips’ Thessalon, Ontario camp, requests for regulations to Fish and Wildlife offi- cers, and descriptions of fly fishing and duck decoy favorites to friends or manufacturers. A 1945 Duck Log recorded 145 ducks and 13 species. His knowledge and experiences were reported in “Field and Stream” magazine.
Many letters were earthy and humorous with friends warning him ‘no limericks please’ when requesting official information. In the 1940’s money was a problem, “‘owing to the war, the magazines demand is for more timely stories — air, war, ships etc., so a northern novel is out for the duration. I am getting out pulpwood in my poplar woods, back from the lake which for the first time in years has a good price.” About a duck hunting trip, “no doubtless pick up cribbage money to finance the trip.”
The man and author is portrayed in a 1958 letter his Traverse City lawyer wrote to a lawyer about a land contract.
“Calendars are man-made nuisances to Jim. To him seasons of the year are designated by bass fishing time, mushrooming time, deer hunting time, duck hunting time, or trout fishing time etc. His anecdotes deal with everything from cattle wars in the Arizona Territory to the gold rush in the Yukon. He is part of the rugged pioneer Americans still scratching his independent way across the highly varnished veneer of our polished, regimented 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. society.”
Hendryx died in 1963 in Munson Hospital. His books were reviewed in newspapers all over the country and overseas.
In a 1940 New York Times review of “Hard Rock Men,” “James B. Hendryx has turned out a top-notch adventure romance, altogether an excellent piece of work.”
In the 1920’s, he earned the substantial yearly sum of $40-50,000. His books are in print and another generation my find themselves trekking through the Far North prospecting for gold and confronting outlaws.
Hendryx’s grandson, Fred Schwarz, has donated many of his grandfather’s books, journals and correspondence to the Leelanau Historical Museum that this article has referred to.