The Wild West of Yester-Year

Ralph Moody
By Rachel Kovaciny

Although Ralph Moody did not think of himself as a writer, when he was in his late forties, he took a beginner course on creative writing, just for fun. That led to him writing his book, Little Britches. This account of his early life was so successful, he wrote another book, and another, until he had published nearly twenty books that have delighted readers for seventy years. Eight of those books are semi-autobiographical accounts of life in the early 1900s. Moody’s homespun, realistic style made his tales enduringly popular. It didn’t hurt that he’d lived through plenty of fascinating things and had no shortage of interesting stuff to write about.

Ralph Moody was born in 1898 in New Hampshire, but his family moved to Colorado in 1906 because his father, Charles, had tuberculosis and went west to recover in the dry mountain climate. The Moody family bought a ranch near Fort Logan, a ranch they had never seen. When they arrived, they discovered the house was in such poor repair they had to live in a hotel for a while so Ralph and his father could fix up the house enough that it was livable. For four years, the Moodys tried their best to make their ranch a success, but could not obtain the rights to enough water to succeed. In early 1910, they sold their ranch and moved to Littleton. Not long after, Ralph’s father died in an accident involving a horse and an automobile. Ralph was the oldest boy in the family of six children, which meant that, at age 11, he was now the man of the house.

Ralph and his older sister helped support their family by working at any job they could find. Ralph pulled dandelions, herded cattle at the local stockyards, and went door-to-door selling his mother’s home cooking. The family moved into cheaper housing as soon as they could, which helped somewhat. But in 1912, the Moodys moved back to New England to be near their family. Although most of his family lived in Boston by then, Ralph Moody lived on his grandfather’s farm in Maine for several years too. When the United States entered World War I, Ralph volunteered to enlist, but got rejected because of a mistaken diagnosis of heart trouble. Actually, he had diabetes, but got sent home with the expectation of dying in a few months. With death ‘looming over him,’ Moody revisited his boyhood home in Colorado. He also worked his way west, doing whatever jobs he could and sending money home to continue supporting his mother and siblings. After four years of working as a farm hand, a stunt rider for motion pictures, and even a sculptor, he decided the doctors had been wrong about him being just about to die, and he ought to get on with living.

Ralph Moody married Edna Hudgins in 1922, and the couple settled in Kansas City, MO. Moody worked for the Proctor & Gamble company there for a while, then moved his family to California when he got a job for the B/G Foods corporation. Ralph and Edna had three children, two sons and a daughter. In 1950, Moody took the writing course that would change his path yet again. He had no intention of becoming a writer but was a lifelong learner who simply thought a writing course sounded like fun. After Little Britches, he wrote seven more books based on his own life, plus nine nonfiction books and a play. Most of his nonfiction centers on the American West, with titles like Kit Carson and the Wild Frontier, Riders of the Pony Express, and The Old Trails West. Moody’s fast-paced and conversational writing style makes his books enjoyable for readers young and old alike. His goals as a writer were to remind people of what rural life was like in the early twentieth century, and to point out the values and ethics of the people he grew up around. I would say he succeeded admirably at both.

When his wife Edna died in the 1970s, Ralph moved back to New England, where his mother and sister still lived. His mother died at age 102. Ralph passed away a few years later. He left behind a legacy that will forevermore help us understand our past and the people who lived it. Pretty good stuff for a man who learned to write books on a whim.