Monday, February 13, 2012

Omar S. Barker (1894-1985)

Né Squire Omar Barker
Teacher and Principal, Forest Ranger, Author, Poet, State Legislator, Journalist, Trombone Player
Born June 16, 1894, Beulah, New Mexico Territory
Died April 2, 1985

I can't offer much more about the life and work of S. Omar Barker than what has already been written about him except for a couple of pieces of trivia. Born in a log cabin in the mountains of the New Mexico Territory, Squire Omar Barker, the youngest of eleven children, was named for his father. He attended high school and college in Las Vegas, New Mexico, and graduated from New Mexico Normal University, now New Mexico Highlands University. In his youth, Barker was a forest ranger, a school teacher and principal, a college English instructor, a newspaper correspondent, and a state legislator (1924-1925). I suspect that he would have crossed paths with the pioneering conservationist Aldo Leopold (1887-1948), who was stationed in New Mexico with the U.S. Forest Service between 1911 and 1924. Barker was also a trombone player in Doc Patterson's Cowboy Band, and he served with the U.S. Army in France during World War I.

S. Omar Barker, also known as Omar S. Barker, was a prolific writer of poems, short stories, articles, and novels. He even cowrote a cookbook. By his own estimate, Barker produced 1,500 short stories and novelettes, 1,200 articles, and 2,000 poems. He won several awards, honors, and recognitions. My favorite is the title of "Poet Lariat of New Mexico." Titles of magazines that printed his work would fill up more than one blog posting. Here's a sampling: Adventure, Argosy, Far West, Lariat Story Magazine, The Saturday Evening Post, Street and Smith's Western Story Magazine, Triple-X Western, Wild West Weekly, and Zane Grey's Western Magazine. If you want a different kind of genre fiction, you might try his story "Back Before the Moon" from Strange Tales of Mystery and Terror (Mar. 1932) or his poem "Moon-Marked" from Weird Tales (Jan. 1948). "Back Before the Moon" was reprinted in Great Ghost Stories of the Old West (1968) and Magazine of Horror (Summer 1970).

Barker began writing full time in 1925 and in 1927 married another writer, Elsa McCormick (1906-1987). Like her husband before her, Elsa attended New Mexico Highlands University and taught school from 1930 to 1971. In addition, she wrote stories for Ranch Romances and for syndication through King Features. (1) Her books include Riders of the Ramhorn (1956), Cowboys Can't Quit (1957), Clouds over the Chupaderos (1957), Showdown at Penasco Pass (1958), War on the Big Hat (1959), and Secret of the Badlands (1960). Incidentally, Omar Barker's older brother, Elliott S. Barker (1887-1988), was also a writer, though he spent most of his working life in the out-of-doors as a guide and outfitter, forest ranger, rancher, and game warden. In 1950, as state game warden, Barker was instrumental in drawing the attention of the U.S. Forest Service to a small black bear cub that had been burned in the Capitan fire in his home state. Although the forest service had been using Smokey Bear as its mascot for fire prevention since 1944, there wasn't a real Smokey until Barker and others sent the young cub to the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., as a gift to the school children of America.

A final note on Omar Barker: In 1957, ABC-TV launched a new Western series called Sugarfoot starring Will Hutchins in the title role. "Reluctant Hero," the show's second episode, was scripted by Dean Riesner from a story by S. Omar Barker. Five additional episodes from 1958-1959 were written by Catherine Kuttner, aka Catherine L. Moore, or, as readers of Weird Tales knew her, C.L. Moore. That would surely make Sugarfoot one of few TV series with recurring characters to receive treatments from at least two tellers of weird tales. (2)

(1) The Fiction Magazines Index website seems to have conflated her credits with those of another woman named Elsa Barker, giving her dates as 1869 to 1954.
(2) Star Trek is the only other series in this category that I can think of offhand. Theodore Sturgeon, Robert Bloch, and Frederic Brown were all contributors to that show.

Omar S. Barker's Poem in Weird Tales
"Moon-Marked" (Jan. 1948)

Further Reading
There are sources all over the Internet for information on S. Omar Barker, Elsa McCormick Barker, and Elliott S. Barker. You might start with a website called "Western and Cowboy Poetry, Music and More at the Bar-D Ranch," here

I have lots of images for S. Omar Barker, or "S.O.B.," as he was known. I'll start with the cover of Strange Tales of Mystery and Terror from March 1932, in which his story "Back Before the Moon" appeared.
Next, Adventure for July 1, 1935, with Barker's byline on the cover. The artist was Ray Dean.
Barker was best known for his Westerns. Here's a cover for All Western Magazine for May 1937, again with his byline. 
Barker didn't limit himself to stories strictly for men. He also tried his hand at Western romance, as in his story for Fifteen Range Romances in September 1954.
Barker's wife, Elsa McCormick Barker or just Elsa Barker, also wrote Westerns. Her name was a fixture on the cover of Ranch Romances for many years, as in this cliffhanger from September 17, 1948.
Ranch Romances, June 20, 1952, "Beginning a New Serial by Elsa Barker." When I look at covers like this one, I wonder why we ever gave up on classic illustration.
Rounding out the Barker family authors was Elliott S. Barker, Omar's older brother. Here's the cover of his memoir, Western Life and Adventures 1889 to 1970.
Elliott S. Barker played his part in the story of the real Smokey Bear, a small black bear cub burned in a New Mexico forest fire in 1950 when Barker was state game warden. The story was retold in this Little Golden Book by Jane Werner Watson and illustrated by Richard Scarry (1956).
Text and captions copyright 2012 Terence E. Hanley

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