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Earl Wayland Bowman, "the Ramblin' Kid," promoter of Idaho and author of popular stories and novels of the American West, was born in Missouri on March 13, 1875, to Francis Marion Bowman, a Baptist preacher, and Sidney Anne Priestly Bowman. Orphaned at the age of ten or eleven, he spent most of his youth wandering through Texas, Utah, New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona, Old Mexico, and Indian Territory, working at a variety of jobs -- cattle punching, cooking, butchering, dishwashing, coal digging, and most significantly, in a print shop in New Mexico. There he learned enough of the trade to enable him to work as a traveling tramp printer. His early Western experiences, and the colorful characters he met along the way, provided fodder for the many stories he would write later in life.

At the age of 21, back in Missouri, Bowman married Elva Eldora Moss. For a while he ran a newspaper in Panama, Missouri, and later worked for other small-town Missouri newspapers. Always restless, though, he moved with his wife and first-born daughter to Idaho in 1901, first to Weiser and then to Council, where he established a ranch. He wrote for several newspapers in the Council valley, including the Advance and the Council Leader. In 1909 went into the real estate business. By his own account, he made approximately twenty thousand dollars in one summer, but lost it all in a slump.

In 1912, Bowman did feature writing for the Boise Capital News and in 1914 began publishing and editing a magazine called Homeseeker's Illustrated Monthly, later called The Golden Trail. While the Homeseeker's Illustrated Monthly focused on real estate and economic development, The Golden Trail expanded its scope to include fiction, poetry, and articles about Southern Idaho and its distinguished citizens written by Bowman and other contributors. He published The Golden Trail until 1920. It was in the pages of The Golden Trail that readers were introduced to Bowman's folksy alter ego, "The Ramblin' Kid."

Politically, Bowman was a Socialist with a populist tilt. Editorials he wrote for the Council Advance express support of striking miners and child labor laws; in the inaugural issue of the Council Leader (1908) he contributed an essay entitled "The Class Struggle." He also spoke out against the liquor traffic. Bowman has the distinction of being the first and only Socialist Party candidate elected to office in Idaho. He was elected to the State Senate from Adams County in 1914 and during his single term in the legislature authored several bills dealing with irrigation, conservation, and emergency employment. His employment bill passed the legislature handily, provoking one newspaper to declare "Socialist Bill Becomes A Law" (Treasure Scrapbook, p. 4). Presumably through politics Bowman became friends with Rose Pastor Stokes and her husband James Graham Phelps Stokes. He stayed with them during visits to New York and represented James Graham Phelps Stokes in some business dealings in Tacoma, Washington, in 1926.

During the Mexican border disturbances in 1916 Bowman went with the Second Idaho Infantry to Nogales, Arizona, as a correspondent for the Boise Capital News, sending numerous dispatches back to Idaho on the regiment's activities. As World War I raged in Europe, Bowman voiced his philosophical objections to war in the pages of The Golden Trail, and after America's entry into the conflict, criticized President Wilson roundly for what he considered the government's suppression of the free speech. One of his editorials prompted the Boise postmaster to temporarily suspend mail delivery of the magazine. He railed against war and false patriotism, but by 1918 concluded that Germany must be defeated. He became publicity director for the statewide war bond campaign, traveling all over the state and writing extensively for the fundraising drives. After the war he divided his time between Boise, where he had established a small ranch, and New York City, near the popular magazine publishers, where he wrote Western stories and finished his novel, The Ramblin' Kid. First published in serial form in All-Story Weekly, it was issued in book form by Bobbs-Merrill in 1920 and made into a motion picture starring Hoot Gibson in 1923. Despite his socialistic political leanings, Bowman was well acquainted and apparently well-liked by Idaho's business establishment. He was made an honorary member of the Boise Ad Club at its founding in 1919, and in 1920 the Boise Chamber of Commerce feted him with a gala luncheon to celebrate the success of The Ramblin' Kid.

Ill health forced Bowman to move to Arizona in 1921 and, soon thereafter, to Southern California, where he continued writing, finding frequent outlets for his Western stories in the national pulp magazines. According to one clipping in his scrapbook, he also wrote movie scenarios. He is credited with a small acting part in one film, When Seconds Count, starring Billy Sullivan. Bowman's second novel, Solemn Johnson Plus, was published by Grosset and Dunlap in 1928, and a third book, Arrowrock, was published by Caxton Printers in Caldwell, Idaho, in 1931. Arrowrock includes many poems and stories that appeared previous in newspapers and magazines.

Earl Wayland Bowman died in California on September 5, 1952, survived by his wife, a son, and two of his three daughters. Although many of his stories were written in California, he always considered himself an Idaho author. In a 1923 letter to his friend Agnes Just Reid, he advised that the California state librarian had sent him a card requesting biographical data as a "California author." He told the librarian that he was "an Idaho Author, if any kind," adding a remark to his friend: "I'm all Idaho and want to stay that way."

 

Photo Credits

Thumbnail image on homepage:  Earl Wayland Bowman  MSS 004_001_019 

Landing page image: "Ramblin' Kid" Advertising Neckerchief  MSS 004_008

 

Ordering and Permission Information

The contents of this collection, including all images and text, are for personal, educational, and non-commercial use only. The contents of this collection may not be reproduced in any form without the express permission of Boise State University Special Collections and Archives. For permissions or to place an order, please contact the Head of Special Collections at (208) 426-3958 or archives@boisestate.edu.

 
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