#2232: Carbon copy of letter from Willa Cather to Sidney Florance, May 16, 1945

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Dear Sidney Florance1:

When I asked my niece, Helen Louise3, whether she thought I had one real friend left among the business men of Red Cloud4, she thought for a moment and then said very decidedly, "I do believe Mr. Florance is a real friend." Now to a real friend, I would like to explain briefly why my investments in Nebraska5 real estate turned out so unfortunately.

As soon as my books began to make money, I sent nearly all of it to my father6 to invest for me in Nebraska farm loans. I thought he knew the land and the farms pretty well, and it gave him so much pleasure to invest for me. At that time, I think, none of his other children7 were sending any money home. While he liked to read my early books, it was a matter of great pride to him to feel that they were worth real money to a considerable number of people. That went further with him than pleasant press notices, and it was a great pleasure to me to have him feel that satisfaction. I remember that the first check I sent him (I think it was for the first year's royalties on "One of Ours"8) was twenty-five thousand dollars. Father made a number of loans for me and always saw that the interest was kept up. I did not realize that it might be a burden to him, to attend to these farm loans. I did not realize, indeed, that he was every year growing older. Whenever I went home he was just the same.

One summer he remarked to me quite casually that he had handed all my mortgages over to Will Auld9, as his own memory had failed very much and Mr. Auld could take care of them much better than he.

I have always been proud of myself that I took this information with perfect calmness until I got to my own room, then I sat down and wondered what I could do. I had always distrusted Mr. Auld – not that I would then have accused him of outright dishonesty, but I knew that he was small and mean and I hate to do business with people of that kind. I could see no course of action open for me. If I had taken the papers out of the State Bank, it would have made Father very unhappy and it would have created further friction between Mr. Auld and my sister10 – where the situation was already bad enough. There just was nothing that I could do without making unhappiness in my family. I was well and strong and was doing the sort of work I loved, so I decided to take no action at all and let the matter ride.

Now I am telling you all this, Mr. Florance, because I would hate to have you think that I am such a natural-born idiot, or that my father was so stupid as to have loaned fifty-seven hundred dollars to Guy Henderson11 on land where there never was a well – nor enough real soil to raise beans. Neither Father –2– nor I ever loaned Guy Henderson a penny. Other loans which Father made were paid off to the State Bank, and reinvested for the exclusive convenience of the Bank. I am burdening you with these details because I really don't want my friends to think me more stupid than I am.

Publishing, too, has its business side, and I have never had any trouble with it.

Now I can come to the point. I want to get rid as quickly as possible of any land I own or hold under mortgage in Nebraska. One reason is that the Internal Revenue people make so much trouble about accepting my statements on the income and output on these few farms that the tax ordeal, even with the help of an attorney, cuts into my own professional work. My working hours have been cut down considerably by illness, but I would have had a new book out this fall12 if the income tax people had not bothered me so.

Clearly, the thing to do is to get rid of the farms in Nebraska on which I now hold mortgages. My brother Roscoe13 has for some time urged me to do this. If you and Mr. Crowell14 will be kind enough to look into my box, you can soon find on which farms I hold mortgage. And I will be deeply grateful if you will advise me how to proceed with the disposition of these farms. Mr. Crowell has been the kindest of friends in looking after the places for me, and I trust his judgment absolutely. But I feel sure that looking after these places has become quite a burden to him, since the serious accident15 which kept him in the hospital so long.

Although it may have been tedious for you to read this long letter, it will not be tedious for you to answer it. What I really want is the name of some institution or person who would be willing to undertake the disposal of these farms for me. You have a progressive real estate agent in Red Cloud, I gather from the paper16, Mr. Frame17, but I do not like his style of advertising very well.

I am sure Howard Foe18 would be able to give us all sound advice in this closing-up. Perhaps he would be willing to take charge of any legal matters in connection with the foreclosures or sale of these farms.

I will be very glad to not only pay the usual charges for services of this kind, but to pay a liberal bonus in order to get the farms off my hands as quickly as possible.

Faithfully yours,