Monday, February 27, 2012

H. K. Shackleford, Fred Fearnot's Father


by E. M. Sanchez-Saavedra

Harvey King Shackleford, the son of James B. and Susan M. Shackleford, was born near Griffin, Spalding County, Georgia, in 1840. Educated at the Greenville Academy, he was pronounced unfit for military service and spent the Civil War years in clerical positions. Like Bracebridge Heming, he practiced law but “was not greatly troubled with clients” and began writing fiction to make a living. He began his serious writing career working for Norman L. Munro’s story papers in the early 1870s, but soon switched to the Frank Tousey firm, where he became one of Tousey’s most reliable and prolific authors under a variety of house names: Allen Arnold, Allyn Draper, Howard Austin, Ex-Fire Chief Warden, John B. Dowd and Hal Standish, among others.

Credited with over 350 novels, his methodical work habits left him leisure time for outside activities. He lectured and was in demand as an orator for the Democratic Party and later became a Baptist preacher.

According to T. K. Jones, editor of the Shackleford Clan Magazine, published in Lubbock, Texas (Vol. 4, No. 1, May 1948):

“Mr. Shackleford dictated all of his stories to a young woman, who was employed by him as a stenographer for many years. He began work usually about 9 o'clock in the morning, dictated steadily until about 11 o'clock, then resumed his work at 2 in the afternoon, completing what he considered a day's work at about 4 or 5 o'clock. It was only when he was pressed for copy that he consented to work at night. It was his habit to start a serial story, send a half dozen of the first chapters to his publishers and then keep up the story from week to week. He never worked out his story from notes, but once having fixed upon the general character of the narrative, he planned the entire story in his head and the plot developed as he dictated.

“Mr. Shackleford was an omnivorous reader of newspapers, and unique news items from all quarters of the globe had a peculiar significance to him. They suggested plots to his receptive mind and frequently enabled him to inject thrilling and up-to-date situations in some of the serials he may have had under way.

“Mr. Shackleford was a rapid and conscientious worker. He was a large man, weighed more than 200 pounds and was about five feet and ten inches tall. He was noted for his joviality and sociability, was generous to a fault, hospitable and had a fondness for congenial company; devoted to his family, and to his friends who he entertained frequently in his home.”

In 1896 the firm of Street and Smith introduced two innovations which rocketed their sales of nickel weeklies ahead of Frank Tousey’s: the first was a complete physical makover, featuring brightly colored covers. The second was the introduction of “Frank Merriwell,” who would star in the new Tip Top Library for the next twenty years. The author, William G. Patten, adopted the pseudonym “Burt L. Standish.” Patten wrote in his autobiography:

At that time I did not know that the stock name of “Hal Standish” was appearing on some of Frank Tousey’s publications, any of which I never had read. In my case, I chose the name of Standish because I had liked the sight and sound of it ever since reading Longfellow’s Courtship of Miles Standish when a boy.

Two and a half years later, Frank Tousey had also revamped his nickel weeklies with colored covers and decided to challenge Frank Merriwell with his own schoolboy hero. H.K. Shackleford introduced “Fred Fearnot” in the new Work and Win: An Interesting Weekly for Young America on December 9, 1898. This weekly ran until 1925, and comprised 1,382 issues. Shackleford wrote the first 380 or so, and was succeeded by George W. Goode after his death in 1906.

“Fred Fearnot” had been used as a pseudonym for adventure stories published in Tousey’s Happy Days story paper, but in this avatar he is an 18-year-old schoolboy at Avon Academy and Yale University. He goes on to become a social activist, Wall Street speculator, temperance advocate, legislator, detective, rancher, athlete and general rescuer of widows and orphans. Although diehard Tip Top readers scoffed at Fred as a pale imitation, he had his own loyal fan base and starred in over 700 original adventures.

“Colonel” Shackleford, as he came to be called, was an enthusiastic crusader against “Demon Rum” and published dozens of stories with strong temperance (i.e.: abstinence) messages, both under his own name and as “John B. Dowd” and “Hal Standish.” He was too astute to allow his stories to become “preachy,” letting an exciting plot catch the reader’s attention and delivering the moral through the downfall of the imbibing protagonist.

A fair number of his general adventure stories concerned young heroes in the Horatio Alger mold, who start penniless and wind up as the “Young Wonder of Wall Street” after a series of exciting predicaments.

The Atlanta Constitution, March 26, 1906, published an extensive obituary:

Was Best Known as an Author in the North - Will Be Buried in Atlanta Today, Where He Has Many Relatives

Colonel Harvey King Shackleford, for many years a writer of stories for boys and contributor to nearly every publication in America which catered to the youthful taste in literature, died Sunday morning at 1 o’clock at his home in Bainbridge, Ga.

Death resulted from paralysis, which attacked him last Friday morning. From Friday until the hour of his death Colonel Shackleford was unconscious, and was sinking all the time.

He is survived by his wife, who was Miss Jennie Murphy, daughter of the late Judge John B. Murphy, of Atlanta; by his son, J. M. Shackleford, of Bainbridge; by three daughters, Mrs. R. E. Roberts, of Detroit; Mrs. A.W. Stuart of Pensacola; Mrs. E. H. Hammond, of Bainbridge; by two sisters, Mrs. Lucia Fanstock and Miss Amelia Shackleford, both of Atlanta; and by one brother, William Shackleford, of Greenville, S.C.

Funeral services will be conducted today at the Barclay & Brandon Chapel on Marietta Street, Rev. Richard Orme Flinn, of the North Avenue Presbyterian Church, officiating, and the interment will be in Westview Cemetery.

His Thrilling Narratives
For the past thirty-five years hundreds of thrilling narratives have appeared from his pen under different nom de plumes, so that by reputation he was known to thousands of readers as the author of temperance stories and exciting tales of adventure that appeared as serials and in dime novel form.  He turned out on an average one complete story of 20,000 words a week, and there were times when he thought nothing of completing three novelettes within seven days.  And that too without apparent mental or physical weariness.  About 1900 Colonel Shackleford moved to Atlanta, having purchased a cottage at 436 Washington Street, where, surrounded by his children and grandchildren, he worked away with astonishing results to appease the clamor of the public.

Although born and reared in Georgia, it was not in this state nor in the south that Colonel Shackleford was best known as a writer.  In the north and east, however, his name was a household word among that army of boys who are readers of what are generally termed dime novels, for Colonel Shackleford was the author of that character of literature, but one would be greatly surprised upon reading one of the tales to find it far from being of the blood and thunder variety.

Always Had a Moral
In writing stories for young people Colonel Shackleford always sought to point a moral.  As in the melodrama of the stage, virtue always triumphed in his stories; the villain got his just deserts and the hero and the heroine came into their own before "the end" had been written.   Colonel Shackleford wrote nearly all of his temperance stories under his own name but he favored his publisher with no less than 360 novels, about sixty of which appeared in the "Fred Fearnot" series, stories which revolved about the adventures of a young man of that name.  These were signed "Hal Standish".

For the last thirty-two years of his life he was under contract to supply stories to Frank Tousey, publisher, of New York, and was paid on the average of $60 for his novels.

He dictated all his stories to a young woman, who had for years been employed by him as stenographer.  Frequently he would dictate 10,000 words to her in a day, never correcting his own speech, never hesitating and doing practically no revising after the story had been typed.

Colonel Shackleford was born sixty-five years ago near Griffin, and was reared in Greenville, Meriwether County, which is the home of Governor Terrell.  He was a student at the Greenville academy, where he obtained the advantage of a splendid classical and literary education.  Among his schoolmates were State Treasurer R. E. Park, Hon. William T. Reville, secretary of the executive department during the late Governor Atkinson’s administration, and later editor of The Meriwether Vindicator, and Rev. J. H. Hall, D.D., of Newnan, who was one of the best known Baptist ministers in the state.

Noted Debater and Student
As a student and debater Colonel Shackleford was noted.  When quite young he had the misfortune to break one of his legs, and as a result during the civil war was unable to assume any but a clerical position.  After the war he moved to Atlanta, and for two years was engaged in the practice of law.  During that time, however, he was not greatly troubled with clients, and having considerable spare time at his disposal he dropped quite naturally into literary work.

He wrote two stories which were published in The Constitution, and which were warmly commended by Colonel E.Y. Clarke and the late Henry W. Grady, both of whom were connected with the paper at that time.  He was so much encouraged at the reception accorded his first literary efforts that he decided to turn his attention to serious work of that character, and very soon was writing for Norman L. Munro, the millionaire New York publisher.

After something over a year’s engagement with Mr. Munro’s publishing house he received a better offer from the firm of Frank L. Tousey & Co., for whom he wrote until his death.  During the last nineteen years of his life he was almost entirely deaf, having been compelled to use an ear trumpet when conversing.  He had the misfortune to receive several falls, which resulted in the fracture of both arms and legs, and he was for years compelled to use crutches.

He was a splendid natural orator, and during several presidential campaigns engaged as a spellbinder by the Democratic Party to deliver addresses in Connecticut, New York, Pennsylvania, Maine, Massachusetts and New Jersey.

Before he became deaf he was for a time a Baptist preacher, having had charges in Fairburn and Newnan.  Another indication of his versatility is the fact that he was the author of the first complete history of the Order of Knights of Pythias, copies of which are now exceedingly rare and valuable.  Also at one time he was well known throughout the northern states as a lecturer.

Continue to Part II HERE


  1. (Herrick continued)

    The covers of Work and Win filling the interstices in the text reflected their moment in history. The cover from the first issue in 1898 with the building in the federal architectural style, a girl in a high collar and a man with sideburns a bit shorter than mutton-chop sideburns are as telltale indications of their era as cars with tailfins would be of the 1950s. Fearnot’s form of addressing the African-American porter makes the modern reader want to slap the youth behind the head and rebuke him to mind his manners, but the then-contemporary might not have given it a secondary thought.

    The 1899 cover of Fearnot at Yale reflects the height of the bicycling craze. Bicycles had increased in popularity and decreased in price throughout the 1890’s. A bicycle that would have cost many months wages at the beginning of the decade had become much more affordable by the end of the decade.

    The variety of hats on the men in the hotel lobby of a later Win and Work cover might have allowed someone who had lived through that era to pinpoint the publication year as 1902. This hypothetical turn-of-the-previous-century observer probably would have been able to make a reasonable guess if the hotel had running water and a bathroom down the hall from the rooms. Likewise, to him, the counter with the registration book might have looked naggingly strange if the spittoon on the floor was not there.

  2. E.M. Sanchez-Saavedra pulled back the curtain of time and offered a glimpse of the life of Harvey Shackleford and his lifetime of stories. Along with Gilbert Patten with his Frank Merriwell stories and Frederick Van Renssenlaer Dey with his Nick Carter stories, Shackleford captured his era with his extemporaneous, stream-of-thoughts writing. Unlike better known and better respected literature where the universal truths transcend the times in which it was written, works by these prolific authors grasp the immediacy of the era. Their stories offer a nearly palpable instance of how it might have been to been to have existed within the thick of the moment.

    The progression of Fred Fearnot from preparatory school student and along through the progressive string of pursuits seems natural enough for stories grounded in “today”. Shackleford was creating for the “present” of his time. Besides the likelihood that his ideas would probably have grown stale, if Shackleford had kept Fearnot a teenager for ten years or more, he might have also eventually found the character awkward and cumbersome, for a teen of 1895 would not have been exactly like a teen of 1905 and there would have been a discordant element within stories.

    (Continued in preceeding post)