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#3155: Willa Cather to Willard Crowell, October 13, 1938

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My dear Mr. Crowell1:

When my brother Douglass3 was here last December we, of course, talked over the methods Mr. Auld4 had followed in converting the New York2 drafts I had sent him over a considerable period of years, into very poor real estate mortgages. Douglass said that wherever Mr. Auld had made very injudicious loans, such as $5,700 on the Guy Henderson5 place, he simply paid off to himself one of his bad loans, destroyed the mortgage which secured the loan and made out a new mortgage to me. The mortgagor got very little, if any, actual money out of the transaction.

Douglass said he thought several of these farms would be deeded to me by the mortgagors, and if this occured he very much hoped that I would be able to get you to look after these farms for me and do all the necessary business with the tenants.

I believe three of these farms have now been deeded to me; the Henderson place some years ago, and quite recently the farms formerly owned by John Merrill6 and William Osborne7. The farms owned by Freeman Erickson8 and Harry Johnson9 are still in doubt, I believe.

I know very well, Mr. Crowell, that you have taken a great deal of pains and trouble to look out after for my sister Jessica10's interests in Nebraska11, and I can assure you that Douglass appreciated that fact very deeply. I would not like to ask you to do any further favors for the Cather family, because you have already done so many and because you do not know me personally, as you did the others; I have been away for so long. I left home at nineteen12 to make my own living. What I would like to do, is to establish a business relation with you which would be profitable to us both. Howard Foe13 says he can attend to the legal end of my -2-business; foreclose mortgages, get me a clear title, etc. But there his experience ends. These farms will all have to be rented, the tenants will have to consult someone in authority, upkeep and taxes will have to be considered and reported to me. Douglass represented to me, for instance, that the land on the Guy Henderson place was of such poor quality that it would never pay anyone to repair the worthless buildings, and that the land had better be rented out to some tenant who would not desire to live on it. I know nothing about farming, and these problems, which are put up to me from time to time, are distracting and interfere greatly with my own line of work, in which I am able to get along profitably when I can give it all my attention.

Nothing would give me more satisfaction than if you would find it possible to take over the entire management of these five farms, selecting the tenants, advising them, allowing them to make such improvements as you think would be to my interest as well as theirs, keeping up the taxes where you think the land is worth the taxes and back taxes. In short, overseeing these properties as if they were your own and using your own judgment in managing them. Your judgment would certainly be much better than that of anyone else I know. My father14 often said that he had never come in contact with a man who had such sound judgment about farming and stock raising as Willard Crowell.

On my part I would bind myself to pay you 15 per cent of any cash returns you might get from these farms, and 15 per cent of all my share of any crops raised on them. In addition to this, I would want you to send me a bill for all expenses incurred by you in travelling about among these farms; one of them lies over in Kansas15, and to straighten things up you might may have to make a good many automobile trips which would be an extra expense to you. All these extra expenses I wish to pay.

I have just sent a check for 1937 taxes on a quarter section in Kit Carson County16, Colorado (Section 13, Township 9, Range 47). This land was turned -3-over to me several years ago in satisfaction of a loan of 2,000, made by J. W. Auld to John Abushon17. Only a few days ago the enclosed letter was forwarded to me by Mr. Sherwood18. When the County Treasurer of Kit Carson County notified me that the 1936 taxes were due on that place, he did not inform me that any back taxes were due. The cancelled check for 1936 taxes came back, but with it no notice of any taxes still unpaid. No one that I know has ever seen this land, so I am writing this Mr. Shamburg19 that at present this land is not for sale. Mr. Abushon, I think, is still in Red Cloud20. I wish you would see him and find out from him just what the land is like, how much he thinks it is worth and up to what date he paid taxes on the land. If he cannot give you definite information, perhaps you could find time to go out there by train or motor, look the land over and write me briefly what you think of it. Kit Carson County is a bad county, but I think there is water in some parts of it. The land may have some value, or it may be not worth paying taxes on. I would, of course, expect to pay in full for your time and expenses on such a trip.

You see, Mr. Crowell, I am not trying to drive a bargain. I am trying to get you to take over responsibilities which have come upon me unexpectedly and with which I have neither the knowledge or experience to deal with. I do not want to crowd any of these tenants, and I know you are not the kind of man who would crowd anybody who did his best and tried to live up to his obligations. and I want to pay you enough for this service so it will be worth your while - I want to feel that you are getting more out of it than the conventional 10 per cent, and I hope that this kind of overseership would not be disagreeable or distasteful to you. I would like to be able to get enough out of these farms to pay the taxes, but I hope for little more than that. Wherever you think it would be wise to let these farms go for unpaid taxes, I would trust absolutely to your judgment. If you wil. consult with Howard Foe, he can tell you what he has done about the foreclosures -4-and whether he has got any information from Mr. Erickson or Mr. Johnson, who had made no report to him when he wrote me September 26th.

I would like to ask you where the deeds on the foreclosed property should be kept; whether in Mr. Sherwood's bank, or in my safe deposit box here in New York? It occurs to me that you may dread the labor of writing letters to me about these various matters. I readily think of this because my own correspondence has become such a heavy burden to me. If it will make it any easier for you to dictate your business letters to me to a professional stenographer and include her charges in your bill of expenses, that would be perfectly satisfactory to me.

I apologize for this long letter. I am sure either Douglass or my father could write a much better business letter than I, and could have said all that I have said in fewer words, and made themselves more clear. But even if I do not write a very clear business letter, I am sure you will not find me a difficult person to do business with. I hope that you will feel that you can accept the terms I offer and take over these reponsibilities for me. "Consult Willard Crowell" was on the memorandum sheet which Douglass put on my desk just before he left for the airport to catch the plane for his return to California21.

Very sincerely yours, Willa Cather 570 Park Avenue22 New York, N. Y.