Marsha Boyd Mitchell
Hatfield Point, New Brunswick
At an early age,
Marsha Boyd Mitchell, of Hatfield Point, New Brunswick, Canada, began gathering
and recording the memories of her grandparents, their friends and neighbours.
She was determined to capture as many of the old stories and reminiscences as
she could before that generation passed on.
I met her in
early 1998, while she was preparing her last book for publication. She had
chosen to write two chapters about Bob Nolan and his grandparents because they,
too, were part of the Hatfield Point history. Bob was one of the “local boys who
made good”. He was also one of Marsha's distant relations.
Later, I came
to know her grandmother,
Elsie Boyd, through telephone conversations. As a very
small child, Elsie adored the quiet Clarence Nobles who was to become Bob Nolan.
Bob's younger brother Earle, closer to her in age, she remembered with a smile.
Elsie and Marsha steered me through the family memories until a picture of the
New Brunswick years of the two Nolan boys took shape.
Marsha's research provides background to the three years he spent on his
grandparents' homestead, years that were to make a lasting impression on Bob
pp. 48-52, The Old Belleisle, Beautiful Still, by Marsha Boyd, Over the Wall
Nolan, the Son We Never Knew" Ibid. pp. 53-58
Marsha's books about the Hatfield Point area of
Where is Hatfield Point?
following quotations from interviews with Marsha are excerpts from Bob Nolan 1908 - 1980 ©2004 by Elizabeth
Drake McDonald and Calin Coburn:)
Most of the
information I get is just oral history. My grandmother was younger than Robert
Nobles but grew up next door to where he grew up, so a lot of the information
I’ve gotten is from her and, basically, the information she’s got about his life
is ‘just what they’ve always said.’
grandfather bought the farm from Charlie Nobles [Bob’s youngest uncle]. The
house is gone now. My grandfather bought it from my great grandfather and my
grandparents actually lived in the house for two years. Then it was torn down a
few years later and my aunt and uncle have a house on the same lot. Where their
house was is one of the most beautiful spots on the [Belleisle] Bay out here. It
was really, really pretty.
View of Belleisle Bay from the hill behind the
house. The new house sits where the old Nobles’ farmhouse stood.
Now he [Bob],
I guess in the 30’s at some point, wrote an article in the local paper here -
sent it in or something - and then I guess there were a lot of people a little
upset about it because he’s always talked about back here as being very "rural
and backwoodsey", which everybody got kind of a little upset about. But I
chuckle because once you’ve lived in California, this is the backwoods!
Grandmother, Elsie Brown Boyd, grew up next door to Bob. She describes him as
gentle and "to himself". Of Earle she recalls stories of him unhooking their
rowboat and letting it drift out into the Bay. It would seem he was always up to
some sort of mischief. My grandmother went to the Kars school unlike Bob and
Earle who went to
Hatfield Point School. They walked about 2 ½
miles to school. They were right on the line to go to either Hatfield Point to
school or Kars. The Hatfield Point school was always considered “better”.
the distance through thick woodlands, children were often kept home from school
until they were 7 or 8. If the weather was inclement, they were also kept home.
Bob’s early education was sporadic at best. Bob recalls a lynx keeping pace with
him on the way to school. While Bob and Earl were attending school with them,
Marsha’s grandmother, 6, and her 7-year old brother made the one-and-a-half hour
round trip in a cart (and a covered sleigh in winter) pulled by a donkey they
called Peter. Their teacher was Rowena Urquhart and this was her first school.
Earle remembered his childhood in N. B. as ‘good years’ but, because Bob was
needed to plant, till, and harvest the crops, he would average only about three
months in school a year. In spite of hardships, Earle Nolan recalled his life
with his grandparents on the Belleisle near Hatfield’s Point with great
Transportation was by water, especially in the winter when the bay was iced
over. Life in the region then was very difficult when Bob lived there. My
great-grandfather said they’d have starved in the 1920s had it not been for
fishing – both shipping and exporting. The closer one lived to the water, the
easier one had it. In the winter of 1918, many people in the small community
died of the flu, including a young mother and child who lived next door to Bob’s
There was a
man who came to visit my grandparents in 1984 from Ontario who was quite a fan
of Bob Nolan’s. He came down here looking for people who knew about Bob and he
eventually arrived at my grandparents' place. My grandfather took him down to
the farm and he recognized the source of a lot of Bob's lyrics. S,o a lot of the
different things Bob talks about in his songs----like every once in awhile a
lyric will pop up and it’ll be from something from the old homestead. I have one
where he says there was an ivy-covered shack, a wishing well in back [Shadows
of the Wildwood]. My grandfather will say that there was this
ivy-covered shack and out back there was this well and that was, very plainly in
my grandfather’s mind, a landmark from the old homestead.
Site of the old Nobles' well, Bob Nolan's wishing well.
The apple tree was planted by the old well. The
well has been filled in.
It’s a major
mystery to me why he [Bob] didn’t come back to visit. My grandmother has kept in
contact with a lot of his family. He had a cousin from North Conway, New
Hampshire. As a kid I remember we took my Grandmother down to visit her and she
used to keep in contact with these ladies who lived down there. Those ladies
went to one of Bob's shows in the 30’s and tried to talk to him after a show but
he just sort of brushed them off. Didn’t want to talk to them. That was just one
story, and their opinion, but he didn’t really want to talk to them. Or, he did
talk to them but he didn’t really want to have a ‘good old homecoming’ with them
grandfather always says that he doesn’t know where Bob got his musical talent
from because it doesn’t seem to run in the family line. He often remarks, "It
was quite amazing that Robert ends up in music."
to me that he went on to Hollywood with Roy Rogers and the whole deal with the
movies and everything, when here we know him as ‘people we went to school with,
we know up and down the road’. As for small-town Canada not making heroes out of
their success stories, well, we are very different than our American
counterpart, aren’t we? Could be that we don’t feel we share the success the
same way as Americans would. I think in Bob Nolan’s case, it comes down to a
matter of attitude as well. Maybe he gave [the impression] that he became a
success despite his homeland not because of it. There’s a world of difference.
I think, too,
people were pretty busy in these parts feeding their families during the
Depression. I don’t get the sense here that Bob Nolan was much more than a point
of interest brought up casually. But then people weren’t reading about him every
month in things like People magazine or seeing him and Roy Rogers on
Oprah. Sure, he was on the silver screen but who ever got to the movies from
Hatfield Point? That was a major trip to Saint John [the nearest city] in those
days, only made for very important occasions. I believe my grandmother was
eleven before she ever got there the first time.
Here in Hatfield Point and the Belleisle Bay we aren’t even small town. We’re a
winding piece of road. I don’t know. I guess I’m trying to make sense out of it
myself. Maybe something happened in Bob Nolan’s childhood that he couldn’t get
past. You never know about such things. We are proud of Bob Nolan in our own
I thought about was that, since he left here so young, nobody really had a
chance to know him. If he’d left here when he was twenty, let’s say, he would
have worked around with a lot of the men here, probably - that kind of thing.
And between him and Earle, he was the quiet one. He was quiet and to himself.
grandmother mentioned the other day that the Nobles had a gramophone. She said
that they would play it for her and her sisters when they would go over there. I
think they were real nice people, from what she says. When all of Charlie
Nobles’ children had moved to the States, and after Charlie himself passed away,
Mrs. Nobles came and asked my grandmother to look after her. But she ended up
going to Boston to stay with one of her girls. Gram always speaks highly of
them. In fact, about eight years ago, my father took my grandmother to Vermont
to see Grace [Bob’s aunt] a couple of years before she died.
in Bob Nolan has sparked an interesting small family feud in this part of the
country. All in good fun, of course. When I was little, I used to have the
nicest little white spool bed. But when I was about 8, my mother traded this bed
with my aunt (my dad’s sister) for another one. Well, my older cousin Suzanne
fell heir to the white spool bed. I eventually found out that the white spool
bed came out of the Nobles’ house and was actually Bob Nolan’s bed. But, try as
I might, I cannot get my cousin to give up the bed. She really is getting quite
a joke out of me wanting it back now. She tells me she’ll give it to me for a
I think you
would find it so interesting to come here sometime and just talk to my
grandmother. She’ll be 81 this year, but still remembers things from her
childhood so clearly. Just the other day, she told me how Mrs. Nobles used to
hook rugs. Gram told me that she hooked some of the nicest rugs around. But
there are so many little details that she remembers about those days.
I must say it
is beautiful here this time of year. The pictures I hope explain themselves with
a little help from the captions on the back. I hope you can capture the
landscape of the Belleisle a little better from these pictures.
This is the view Bob would have seen from the porch of the old homestead,
looking toward the road and Belleisle Bay.
I finally got
the dates you wanted. I mow the local cemetery here in the village. Anyway, it
dates all the way back to the early settlers of this area. So, almost weekly in
the summer, I drive by Bob Nolan’s grandparents’ tombstone. Charlie Nobles died
in 1935 and his wife 1943. Yes, it was Charlie Nobles who was Bob Nolan’s
grandfather. And his wife was Ella.
The tent meetings are another matter. My grandmother said she couldn’t remember
any tent meeting down river as Bob had described and has been recorded several
times by writers. But there is only one thing that either my grandmother or I
can think of. There is a Wesleyan conference ground about twenty miles down
river from where Bob lived. Now they’ve held camp meetings there for ten days
each year since 1896. People often went down on the river boats to hear the
special speakers and singing. My grandmother well remembers attending. Even
those who were not associated with any church enjoyed the event. So that could
be what Bob is talking about.
The following excerpts are printed as is, with permission by the author: pp.
48-58, The Old Belleisle, Beautiful Still, by Marsha Boyd, Over the Wall
Publishing, 1998. No attempt has been made to edit.
Robert Clarence Nobles
His beginning in 1908 was not like that of other boys in the area. Nor was the
way in which he existed in the region. There were only a few years in between
that draw heavy similarities to the others he chummed with in school. Yet years
later, when children are required to do school reports about the area, he is
often mentioned. When it comes to documenting who from the Belleisle has
acquired fame—he’s it. It seems strange that we could care so deeply about a
figure that is “ours” when he never even mentioned our place by name. That has
added to the confusion as to where he’s really from. But where he’s from or who
raised him, or how old he was when he left here are not the only questions that
surround the life which was Bob Nolan’s.
remains unknown to the majority of us. He rose to importance outside the New
Brunswick circle. He began, not because of his eastern heritage, but almost
despite it. All of that wasn’t his fault. He had been taken from his home. Most
would say he adjusted very well. Certainly nobody could dispute his success.
Though one of Roy Roger’s “Sons”, we would still like to claim as our own.
His life set
out in the way of the cowboy. He would end it in much the same form. Among the
happenings, things would happen setting him apart from his adult contemporaries.
Of course before Roy Rogers and other such Hollywood cowboy legends, Bob Nolan’s
peer group had been boys such as Stu Hatfield, Charlie Burns, and Gilbert
Morrell. Bob was an ordinary boy trying to make the best of his life.
His birthplace had been in Western Canada, Winnipeg many have said. He was born
with Eastern blood on his father’s side, though. His father, Harry Nobles, had
gone West to seek his dream. With a trunk full of broken illusions and a
disintegrated marriage, he began to rebuild his world one step at a time.
Meanwhile, his wife took their two boys East to live with Harry’s parents.
Clarence (as Bob was called then) and his brother Earle were two very young and
vulnerable boys. They made a new home near the Belleisle Bay, on a beautiful
piece of acreage. From the house, you could see how the Bay stretched wide and
deep, but from the hill behind the house, you could see almost the entire body
of water. Its strong hills that jutted in and out of that water made for an
Maybe it was
somewhere on the hill back of the house that Clarence Nobles did some of his
Young Bob Nolan's "wildwood".
His grandfather taught him many aspects of the farming trade. Clarence and Earle
settled into the life quite nicely. Their surroundings were quiet and
“homelike”. We can be assured that was the kind of life their father wanted for
them—a simple life in the country knowing the land that he too had known as a
boy. The western terrain was rugged then and surely a life back east would do
carried out in normal fashion for the times. The boys attended the Hatfield
Point school. We don’t suppose that the boys with whom Clarence Nobles
socialized knew who he would become. There was no way for him to be aware of
what his future held. In fact, if one was to recall Clarence and his brother
Earle, Earle would leave the stronger trail of reminders. He was known as a boy
who could smell out trouble. Probably among the boys at school, Earle was almost
a hero. He seemed to laugh in the face of danger and could be dared to do almost
anything. Clarence, on the other hand, was a quiet boy that kept more to
himself. Earle was the attention seeker. The child that seeks usually manages to
find. Often that’s the way it is with two siblings. The quiet one can get left
unnoticed in the pool of adolescent pranks that the active child brings about.
It’s too bad really, but that seems all too often the ebb and flow of life. The
child that requires more maintenance for behaviour or otherwise, takes the
living in the shadow of Earle’s shenanigans, Clarence was well adjusted. He
hadn’t lived long enough in the West to have attachment to it. Being raised by
his grandparents at least gave Clarence and Earle a home and at the most put
them in touch with their roots. I believe it was the latter that easily could
have led Clarence to stardom. The years he spent there, in the spectrum of his
whole life were few, but crucial to his formation. Yet there were other things
that factored into the equation of who he would become.
was in his [pre] teens, things took a drastic turn. Earle and Clarence had been
living peacefully with their grandparents when a letter came from their father.
It spoke of his visit to the area and his intentions of taking the boys west
with him. Clarence was quiet for the most part, but Earle despite his half grown
body, cried. This to him was the only home he had ever known. The day came and
their father did as he had promised. The boys packed a few of their collected
possessions and were gone. As they left Kars and Kings County, Clarence looked
at the Belleisle for the very last time. He was old enough to know, but too
young to possibly understand it all.
Many here say
that when they came to the border—that unwavering symbol that stood between two
countries—the father made a decision. Whether or not he made it at that moment
or it was a premeditated act, we’ll never know. He changed the family name from
“Nobles” to “Nolan”. One article on his life said that he did that because it
sounded more “western”. Hearsay along the Belleisle was that he did it so the
mother couldn’t find them. What a person chooses to believe is up to the
individual. Gossip certainly does not always find itself in the light of truth,
yet often in the median you find something that closely assimilates. So with the
family name disregarded and his first name, Robert, being shortened to Bob, a
name that would soon be known in every North American household was born….
Along With the Tumbling Tumbleweeds” were words Bob Nolan would come to write
and sing. Easily they could have been words he felt in the depth of his soul.
After Earle and his newly named brother Bob crossed the border, they went to
Boston. [They lived there for a few years with two of their aunts while their
father moved on. Bob resided with the sisters for two years.] From there he
joined his father crossing many states to get to the Arizona Desert. It didn’t
seem Arizona held that growing teenager for long. The States were booming with
an advancing society not yet heard about in New Brunswick. Bob Nolan wanted to
taste it all. We’ve only until now assumed that those who formed that original
“Pioneer Trio” were men he met on his journey. Bob Nolan must have felt very
much like a true pioneer, searching this strange new terrain. The United States
was vast and in parts of the West, very wide open. Bob Nolan drifted, as others
did, into a success that would be more than anyone could have hoped for.
starred in over a hundred movies and recorded hundreds of songs. If ever we on
the Belleisle held a true celebrity in our ranks or ever held a son that shone,
it is him. He was ours even though he never came back home to the Belleisle. One
would be forced to believe that home was many places for him. To a person who
experiences many different life-views, home could end up being any one of them.
Is everybody born at that place which for a lifetime is called home? No, I
believe Bob Nolan found his home elsewhere.
Bob Nolan was
a victim of circumstances really, where situations at best were out of his
control. It wasn’t his fault that things didn’t go well out West or that his
father didn’t see fit to leave him and his brother on the farm in Kars, New
Brunswick. We can be sure not long after he arrived in the Arizona Desert with
his father that he began to search out life for himself. Like most young people
he wasn’t certain where the search should begin, only that he would try. Once he
had tasted life, that high life where everything was faster, he stayed in it.
and “The Sons of the Pioneers” topped the charts in the 1930’s. There was an
honesty about the music they played that people could endear themselves to. They
sang haunting tunes with lyrics of old homesteads and new places. Certainly no
one could dispute that the clean cut cowboys were onto something. They were a
big hit. Those along the Belleisle listened to the radio and often heard their
songs. It wasn’t long until they recognized the Bob Nolan they heard on the
radio as the Robert Clarence Nobles who had grown up in the home of his
grandparents. He was a boy they had gone to school with, chummed with as young
boys do. A girl or two may have recalled the crush she’d had on him. Mostly he
was just a regular chum, but they didn’t know him now that he was a country and
western singer. He was known better now to places like Hollywood, California,
the silver screen and recording studios.
remarked about how he never came back to the Belleisle again, thinking himself
too important. We need not judge so harshly. We cannot sell him short. His life
of stardom was based on the cowboy mystique that appealed to the American
public. A lifestyle that was in jeopardy if he tied his roots too closely East.
Bob Nolan wanted to remain and not be the Robert Clarence Nobles that his
grandparents had raised in a small rural community in Kings County, New
Brunswick. No, he had to be Bob Nolan, son to the open frontier. To have no real
home and be completely free to ride on the range.
Then too once
you’ve been taken, snatched from one place and implanted into another, you can’t
expect the best course of adjustment. Especially given the time period. Travel
wasn’t always accessible, even for a movie star like Bob Nolan. But then excuses
shouldn’t be uttered. We imagine they aren’t the real reason he didn’t come
back. Maybe he didn’t know where he stood. All he knew was the life he lived
then and the one he had come to know in the States as an adult, were like mixing
oil and water. Even amidst all of that his mind did drift to the old Nobles farm
near Hatfield Point. His music tells us that. We hear in one of his songs,
Shadows of the Wildwood, that he sang of pieces of the old property. And he
told of the candle that always shines in the widow there for him.
apple tree now on the old Nobles property that grew up where that old well was.
The “ivy covered shack” that had the “wishing well in back”, was a piece of the
old farm here on the Belleisle. Where Bob Nolan maybe did not visit bodily, I
think he went back in his mind several times. Maybe he thought there would
always come a better time to come back here, when circumstances would even out.
The problem is that situations rarely work themselves out that way to provide a
moment of perfection on which to embark.
media said about Bob Nolan when he was at his sharpest musically was this: “His
songwriting may be the finest ever to appear in country music. A brilliant poet
with an inventive ear for melody and harmony, he virtually invented the sound
and style of western harmony singing single-handedly. He supplied the once
thriving field with the great majority of its many classic songs.”
Are we proud
of him? Of course we are, we couldn’t help it. Although we do wish he had at
some time made his presence known here. Not for us or for the glory of the
Belleisle area, but for himself. We all need to make peace with our past at some
point. We must grow in some fashion to love the land which raised us. It becomes
part of the excursion of self completion.
In his song,
They’re Gone, he wrote seemingly about his grandparents passing, he let
us in to a bit of his soul. He never did forget those days. This song was not
number one on the charts, but its depth of truth gives us insight about Bob. The
words speak of his old deserted homestead and of the days he spent working there
with his grandparents. Bob even talks of his homesick heart. You can feel the
distress in the words as he talks about them being gone. Bob Nolan never
completely forgot where he came from.
Bob Nolan, the Son We Never Knew
When Harry Nobles crossed the border and changed his family name from “Nobles”
to “Nolan”, it was a calculated move. At that moment, the people here, around
the Belleisle, ceased to know who this boy-becoming-man was. His eyes beheld
different landscapes than ours and in his heart different dreams.
stayed with two of his aunts in Boston when he first went to the States. Rumour
has it that it was a need for more education that brought them across. Schools
were of a much finer nature in Massachusetts than they were in New Brunswick.
The two women were sisters on Harry’s side. All of Harry Nobles brothers and
sisters did eventually move to the States. They did not all settle in the same
area, but they all had that pull to go beyond what they knew; deciding southern
shores held more for them.
Bob and his brother Earle received a more consistent form of education. It was
there they came in contact with forms of music they had not been familiar with
back home. Folk style and country music were beginning to be popular in the
United States. At this time, we assume Bob took no special interest in this new
field of study; it influenced him only on a subconscious level.
would not drop for him until a few years after a bend or two in his road. His
true discovery of musical ability probably happened after he moved from Boston.
Bob’s father, who had been a tailor in the United States Army retired for health
reasons to the Arizona Desert. Bob was joining his father once more.
about the desert as though it had mesmerized him at first glance. That hot, dry,
wide open land poured itself deep into the abyss of his soul. After all that was
seemingly misplaced in his life, he finally found something he wanted to know as
home—though he didn’t embrace that notion fully. Rambling was in his blood.
Facing the truth one knew he had spent his young life being shifted from one
place to another. With those thoughts in the back of his mind, he hopped a train
and decided to see those United States by “riding the rails.”
imagining what kind of life that must have been for him just hopping on and off
freight cars at will after seeing or living in each place. This could have been
where many of his thoughts of being a cowboy began to form. It would seem to me
he must have become quite introspective.
train he got on took him all the way east to Maryland. The destination did not
suit and he was on the next train heading west.
Ken Griffis in,
My Song, had this to say about Bob’s travels:
restlessness caused him to travel constantly, covering the length and country
several times, never going anywhere in particular, but always going. The
haunting sounds of the train whistles were to remain with him and were to be the
central theme of his first composition, “Way Out There.” Another train song,
“One More Ride,” was written as a sequel a few years later." (Hear My Song, Ken
modern age it seems we use all kinds of noise to drown out what is essentially
real. It must have been the same for Bob. Perhaps the hum of the train engine
dulled the ache in his own spirit. And later, as Mr. Griffs [sic] said, he would
write sentiments that expressed his feelings of those days spent on the rails.
He used words expressing his longing to hear the “clickety clack” of the train
hitting the tracks. Home could never hold him very long in those years because
the tracks became a sweeter place with its hollow whistle and fulfilling dreams.
appear that his traveling affected him the rest of his days. There were times
when he looked on life with great wistfulness. When he did tire of his running,
he decided to join his father. Harry had moved now from the Arizona Desert to
California. Bob was reunited with him in 1929 in time to see the repercussions
of the stock market crash. Well, not all the fallout, it was yet to come. Bob
would not know then that the stock market crash would inevitably touch every
place he had contacted on his journey. It would even, in time, touch the home
from which he came.
arrival of that dark day and the ones that followed, Bob decided his traveling
should cease and he must set to work. He got a job and stayed in California. He
first joined a Chautauqua tent show that was near Santa Monica. That did not
prove to be a profitable venture for long. It was then he began to flirt with
It was only a
beginning to what would become a very successful songwriting career. It was
amazing how many song lyrics he had locked inside him. There were rumours that
Bob studied music at the University of Arizona. While that may be true, the
University has absolutely no record of it. It would seem to me that a music
department of any school would like to claim Bob Nolan if they could. So if on
the other hand it is true that he did not attend there or a secondary
institution of any kind, the music lay solely within himself. He over the years
has impressed many as a true poet. Bob Nolan had an artist’s soul.
While he was
busy trying to earn his way on the West Coast, he responded to an ad in a local
newspaper for “The Rocky Mountaineers”. Pulling through the audition process, he
got the job. He sang first as a tenor; encouraged a friend to join, then he
dropped to baritone.
soon begin filling his ranks. But not until after he had shared in his own hard
circumstances. The Mountaineers were not as successful as maybe Bob would have
liked. It did give him advancement on his musical career, but financially the
manager probably took home the returns. Things though, as they sometimes do, had
a way of looking up.
At the high
point of the Depression, Bob made what many would consider an unwise decision.
In 1933, after being approached by two friends, Tim Spencer and Leonard Sly (who
would become Roy Rogers) Bob was facing a choice. They asked him to join a trio
that they wanted to start. Bob was reluctant in the beginning. The other men
knew if they wanted to be a success they had to practice long grueling hours.
There would be no time for paying jobs. With reserve, Bob agreed.
The weeks and
months that followed were difficult. We are sure Bob must have wondered many
times if he had made the right decision. Those kinds of thoughts tend to creep
up on a person when they are alone in the quiet of the night. While they worked
long days writing and practicing their performance, there was no money and the
trio had to determine deep inside that they could make it.
their break did come when a local radio station began to play their music in
conjunction with another show. When the “Pioneer Trio”, as they called
themselves, began to play over those radio waves, it was becoming increasingly
apparent that this new group was onto something.
flourished as a songwriter during this time. He would later relate that writing
songs came easily for him. There was a time in his life when he would either
write or finish a song almost every day. He admitted there was no real
“philosophy” or “formula”; he just wrote down what he felt.
rolled past them, they added to the group. In , Hugh Farr, a fiddle
player, joined them. They made a somewhat rocky evolution from “The Pioneer
Trio” to “The Sons of the Pioneers". During one of their radio programs the
announcer heralded them as “The Sons of the Pioneers”. The group found it
appalling in the beginning. They couldn’t wait for their set to get over so they
could question this bold announcer. He smoothed things over when he told them
they looked so young they were more the age of pioneering sons than actual
pioneers. The explanation seemed to suit—forever after they were known by that
title. Quickly they became a household name in the United States.
In 1935 they
were offered their first movie deal. They appeared in many motion pictures with
big name movie labels. The group often appeared giving musical numbers
throughout the movie. Bob Nolan, however, along with Roy Rogers, often landed
acting parts. Bob made an excellent candidate for the movies with his broad
shoulders and good looks. The estimation is that he appeared in close to one
hundred movies. The movie attention helped them push their cowboy image even
further. Ironically enough though, it was Eastern bred Bob Nolan who was given
credit with helping the group establish their image. Ken Bindas, when doing his
doctorate at the University of Toledo in Ohio had this to say:
contributed more to forming this popular imagery of the West than Bob Nolan. By
examining Nolan’s life and the symbolism of his songs, one discovers the
emergence of a modern conception of the West. Unlike the more traditional folk
songs that “came to the West…from far distant sources, “The Sons of the
Pioneers” created and popularized their work in the West."
In fact, Bob
Nolan, during a good duration of the early years, was the best known “pioneer”
in the group. They were commonly known to the average persons as “Bob Nolan and
“The Sons of the Pioneers”.
Bob was not
the kind of man to want this up front role. Those who knew him best said that he
was a loner and a very private man; most who knew him considered him of a very
caring nature. From what I read, I think he found more reward in the writing of
his own work than the performance end of things.
He was a
songwriter like no other. Fans were amazed at his ability to write music
designed specifically for three and four part harmonies. The group often sounded
as though they had once voice. The poetry in his songs was inspiring. The
cliché, “the strong silent type” seemed to fit Bob Nolan. There was a mystery
that surrounded him that would only play out in his deep lyrics. It is there in
his songs, reading them line by line, where you can get to know him…
evident that he fell in love with the desert. As his musical career grew, the
group did many cross country tours. Surely he had seen much of the country in
which he had taken up residency so many years before. There is no mistaking his
true love for the West. That’s where he found his heart to be. He said there
were sights and sounds in the desert that a person had to acquire a liking for .
He explained this western landscape in his song, “My Mistress the Desert”.
He sings of
the pilot who would some day spread his ashes along the sandy trails of the
place he learned to love so well. And he equates his love of the desert with the
love of a woman. Bob knew that the imagery was deep as were his true feelings.
It seemed as though the desert understood a part of him that no person could. In
many of his songs he expressed how the wide open space affected his senses.
Those feelings made him fall in love with it time and time again. He hadn’t
always known it—therefore it couldn’t be taken for granted.
Bob Nolan or
Robert Clarence Nobles died of a heart attack June, 1980. It was a shock to
those who were close to him. Many of his friends who saw him a few days before
said he looked the picture of health.
His career is
still celebrated through the years since his death. He once said it was a
grievance to him that the work he did in his late years would not act
recognition until his death. It seemed that self-prophecy became reality. But
everything he wrote now has wide exposure. At his own request, there was no
funeral service. He was cremated and his ashes were spread over the Nevada
Desert. It must have been the place dearest to his heart. Bob Nolan finally had
found a home.
Where is Hatfield Point?
Books about the
Hatfield Point area by Marsha Boyd Mitchell
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