Red Ryder gone, but not forgotten

By Don McAlavy: CNJ Columnist

Editor’s note: This was the first column Don McAlavy wrote for the Clovis News Journal.

In 1965, Vora Hartley had purchased the old Westward Ho Motel on First Street in Clovis.

She had hired friends of mine, Tom and Celine Yelverton, to manage the place. I was single back then and got talked into being the “night clerk” and living just off the office and the gallery.

That was my night job, no pay, just free boarding, but I was busy during the day earning a living as a printer. I was sort of a painter of pictures too and I got to be in on the planning as to who and what paintings we’d hang in Vora’s new gallery. We wanted Clovis to be able to see works of nationally famous artists.

Somehow, Tom Yelverton had contacted Fred Harman, the creator of the comic strip “Red Ryder and Little Beaver” as Harman had just moved to Albuquerque from Pagosa Springs, Colo. Harman had just commenced a new career a couple of years earlier as a free-lance oil painter of western scenes.

Harman agreed to bring a truck load of paintings to Clovis and be our first “guest” artist on Feb. 28, 1965. He was there with 20 beautiful paintings.

Other Clovis artists, such as Kathryn Williams, Wilma Clifton, Irene Burke, Barbara Deeds, Albert and Vivian Burran, Betty Fox and Tom Yelverton and myself got to hang our paintings too. Maybe more did too.

We sold some of his paintings priced for $100 and $2,000 for the bigger ones. I somehow dug up $100 and bought one of Harman’s smaller paintings and still have it on my wall. He gave me several pen and ink drawings as I would drop in on him at his home and studio in Albuquerque ever once in a while. He and his wife Lola were just like home folks.

He’d show me how he did the Red Ryder comic strip and how he started his paintings. He asked me if I would print his letterheads, envelopes and business cards at City Printing in Clovis where I worked and I said, “I surely would!”

I had some of his drawings and his photo in the High Plains history book published in 1980. I had his permission of course and all he wanted was one book. He did receive the book. Lola told me later that Fred Harman was real sick with the “shingles,” which is very painful. I hadn’t received a Christmas card from them as always. Now I know why I didn’t receive that Christmas card.

I heard it on the national news. Fred Harman had just died, at age 79, the date 1982.

I doubt that one soul in ten thousand can now recall that gallery that Vora Hartley had built onto the old Westward Ho, but tens of thousands of kids, like myself who grew up reading the comic strips, will never forget Red Ryder.


Don McAlavy is Curry County’s historian. He can be contacted at:

dmcalavy@telescopelab.com