Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Thomas deV. Harper (1889-1939)

Aka Thomas D. Brett
Mercantile Reporter, Author
Born June 12, 1889, San Diego, California
Died April 26, 1939, Oregon

Update (April 29, 2013): As you can see from the date of this posting, I wrote on the author Thomas de Verney Harper three months ago tonight. After I had posted my article on Harper, I received a copy of a remarkable letter written by Harper's nephew to Randal A. Everts. Dated November 15, 2011, the nephew's letter runs to six lined pages and closes with genealogical data on the Harper and Brett families. In his letter, the nephew, Mr. Brett, seems to have anticipated my questions of January 29, 2013, for he provides details on the lives of his family. I am most impressed by Mr. Brett's diction and his keen insight into his family members and his fellow human beings. It is a most illuminating letter and the kind of thing that may very well come to an end when generations of people who put pen to paper no longer walk the earth. In any case, the following is an updated article on the author Thomas deV. Harper with corrections based on a letter written by his nephew.

Thomas de Verney Harper was born on June 12, 1889, in San Diego, California. (1) Wikipedia gives his mother's name as "Clara Marie de Lille Harvey." Mr. Brett calls her "Clara Harvey Brett (ex-Harper)." She was born on December 10, 1866, in Carson City, Nevada. The story of her early life is otherwise incomplete. I don't know the name of Thomas deV. Harper's father, nor does Mr. Brett mention it in his letter.

If the 1900 census is accurate, Clara Harper married James Brett in 1889, seven years after he had arrived in the United States from Canada. In his letter from 2011, Mr. Brett writes:
The newlyweds James and Clara Brett, and Clara's infant son Tom from a recently prior marriage, arrived in Portland, OR, in 1890. They ran a horse ranch on the western outskirts of Portland. Each urban working day, my grandfather would use his horses in his drayage business in town, returning the horses to the ranch for the night.
Tom Harper and his younger half-brother, Sereno Elmer Brett, worked for their father in his business and were thus exposed to the workings of the city. As a result, Tom got a job as an office boy, his brother as a messenger boy. James and Clara Brett had four children in all: Thomas deV. Harper (1889-1939), Sereno Elmer Brett (b. Oct. 31, 1891), Lucy Myrtle Brett (b. Nov. 16, 1893 or 1895), and a straggler, James Edward Brett (b. Aug. or Sept. 27, 1903).

In the 1906 Portland city directory, the oldest son, Thomas, was listed as "Thomas Brett" and as a clerk for his father, a cigar seller. By the time of the 1910 census, he had become "Thomas deV. Harper" and at age twenty was boarding with another family and working as a laborer. Much happened between those two dates to affect a change in the life of Tom Harper. First, he "bailed out" of his job in Portland (in Mr. Brett's words) and joined the U.S. Marines. Assigned to the U.S.S. Pennsylvania, Brett sailed with the Great White Fleet on its world tour, December 16, 1907, to February 22, 1909. The fleet departed just six days after Clara Brett's birthday. It returned five short months before her death. By 1910, Tom had returned to civilian life and had reclaimed his mother's name.

Mr. Brett writes:
With an impeccable resumé, Tom, soon with a fine marriage, a suitable residence, and his one child, Dorothy, obtained a lifelong employment as a regional business assessor for the Dun Company, later merged to become the famous Dun and Bradstreet Company. (2)
The Harper and Brett families were haunted by premature death: According to the letter writer, Mr. Brett, the next to be struck down was Thomas Harper's wife (whom he does not name). Harper remained unmarried for many years. His daughter went to live with relatives while he was on the road and busy with his career. "Unfortunately," recounted Mr. Brett, "just as Tom was grabbing at the brass ring, only a few months after remarrying, Tom had a heart attack, dying at age 50." Unsaid in the letter is that Harper's wife, Cora M. Harper, had preceded him in death on August 1, 1937, at age forty-eight or forty-nine. Thomas deV. Harper's death occurred on April 26, 1939, in Oregon. (3)

So Thomas deV. Harper was a writer. A search of the Internet Speculative Fiction Database and The FictionMags Index yields just one short story: "The Hermit of Chemeketa Mountain" from Weird Tales, April 1929. (4) Harper also wrote two letters published in "The Unique Magazine," in February 1931 and September 1932. That may be as much as anyone knows about Thomas deV. Harper's writing career.

Much more is known of his brother, Sereno Elmer Brett. Born on October 31, 1891, in Portland, Oregon, Brett graduated from Oregon Agricultural College (now Oregon State University) in 1916. He enlisted in the Oregon National Guard and served  for two months with the Pancho Villa Expedition along the Mexican-American border in 1916. On November 28, 1916, he was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army and was stationed at Fort Leavenworth. When the United States went to war in Europe, Brett was ordered overseas. He was promoted to captain on July 25, 1917, and transferred to the Tank Corps in March 1918. Six months later Brett led the first American tank attack of World War I at the Battle of Saint-Mihiel in September 1918. For his actions in the war, Brett was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the Distinguished Service Medal, and the French Croix de Guerre with Palm. He remained in the army during the interwar period and was promoted to brigadier general in 1942, not long after his country returned to war. An associate of George Patton and Dwight Eisenhower, Brett retired in October 1943 and passed away nine years later on September 9, 1952, in Santa Barbara, California. He is buried in Arlington National Cemetery with his wife, Second Lieutenant Elizabeth March Brett, A.N.C. (1898-1981). (5)

Notes
(1) Randal Everts believes the correct spelling is likely to be de Vernet.
(2) Founded in 1841 as The Mercantile Agency by the abolitionist Lewis Tappan (1788-1873), R.G. Dun and Company was the first commercial reporting agency in the United States. In 1933 the company merged with J.M. Bradstreet and Company to form Dun and Bradstreet. That firm is still in existence and is traded on the New York Stock Exchange. Eighteen forty-one was also the year in which Tappan attended and reported on the Amistad trial.
(3) I wonder here if the account of Thomas Harper as having been married twice  before the mid-1930s is correct. Could both of his wives had died so young, and prior to his own death? Mr. Brett writes that late in life Harper married a woman half his age. Could there have been a third wife? Mr. Brett mentions Harper's widow, Gladys, "a pleasant, astute, sociable young woman," who joined the W.A.C. during the Second World War and was stationed in London. Was she actually the second wife? Unanswered questions remain, even with Mr. Brett's fine letter.
(4) I also searched for the name "Thomas Brett" without results. By the way, Chemeketa is a real place: Chemeketa Community College is located in Salem, Oregon. Chemeketa Park is located in Santa Clara County, California. We should remember that Harper's mother was named Clara.
(5) Like his brother, Brett was a writer and author of Lumbering in National Defense (1920). A.N.C. stands for Army Nurse Corps.

Thomas deV. Harper's Story and Letters in Weird Tales
"The Hermit of Chemeketa Mountain" (Apr. 1929)
Letters to "The Eyrie" (Feb. 1931 and Sept. 1932)

Further Reading
There's plenty of reading on Sereno E. Brett on the Internet and in print but almost nothing--really nothing--that I could find on his brother, Thomas deV. Harper.

From early in his army career, Sereno E. Brett was in the tank corps. He served with George Patton in World War I and as a chief of staff of the Armored Force at Fort Knox in World War II. Here's an illustration from a book about the second war. So what's the connection with Thomas deV. Harper? The two men were half-brothers. Here's another connection: the illustration--from Rough Riders Ho! by Rutherford G. Montgomery (1946)--is by E. Franklin Wittmack (1894-1956), a contributor to and cover artist for Weird Tales.
Weird Tales author Thomas de Vernet Harper (1889-1939), a photograph from 1918. From the collection of Randal A. Everts.

Thanks to Randal A. Everts for the letter from Mr. Brett and the photograph of Thomas Harper.
Text and captions copyright 2013 Terence E. Hanley

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