Riley of the Rogue
Professor Richard Campbell was an Indiana native who, by 1890, was principal of the Aberdeen, Washington, grade school.
Ever since he began to read, he had admired the poetry of James Whitcomb Riley, the “Hoosier Poet.” Now, as an adult, he was frequently reading Riley’s poems to his classes, church groups, school assemblies, and to anyone else who would listen, changing his voice to match the Indiana dialect Riley featured in most of his verse.
“The homey scenes of rural Hoosier life,” said one reviewer, “were depicted by the professor in such a striking manner as to alternately convulse the audience with laughter and melt them to tears. The poems were widely appreciated and loudly applauded by all.”
Campbell was many things in Aberdeen — teacher, wallpaper merchant, real estate agent, town clerk, postmaster, and in 1899, at age 35, a married man. She was 15 years younger, but Myrtle Barrett had won awards for her essays in high school and was a perfect match for a man who held literary dreams of his own.
Campbell might have spent the rest of his life in Washington had it not been for the weather. In late 1906, after bouts of on-again, off-again flu for nearly a year, Campbell decided his health demanded he move the family to Ashland. Myrtle’s father and mother had moved there a few years before.
In Ashland, Campbell sold insurance and worked as a real estate agent. By the 1914 Chautauqua season, he was occasionally performing Riley’s poetry; however, now he was beginning to write his own verse, often styling it and performing it as his Hoosier idol would.
He adopted the pen name “Dick Posey,” often claiming Posey as his middle name; chosen, he said, because he had lived his early years in Posey County, Indiana. If he did, census records show that it had to have been before he was 6 years old. More likely, his “P” middle initial stood for Pearson, his father’s middle name and the maiden name of Richard’s grandmother.
By 1921, he was a widower, and now known as the “Riley of the Rogue.” He had published three books and, at age 57, had signed a contract to perform on the West Coast Chautauqua circuit.
“This is my first year as a professional,” he said. “I’ve been speaking pieces for mostly free for 20 years or more, but never made it a business until this summer.”
It was a business that would support him and his family for the last nine years of his life.
Dick Posey was an oratory magician who could make his audience roar with laughter one moment, and then drown them in a silent sorrow a moment later.
“Anybody can make people laugh,” he said. “It’s when people’s hearts are touched and they are so still you can hear a pin drop that I feel I am doing my best work.”
Richard “Dick Posey” Campbell, 66, died in his Ashland home, in the afternoon of May 7, 1930. A cold of just two days had become a deadly flu. He was buried in the Mountain View Cemetery, next to Myrtle, who had died in 1917.
“O, our lives grow sweet with laughter,
And our hearts are purified.
For the radiance of our smiling
Leaves no spot where sin can hide.”
— “Smiles,” Dick Posey
Writer Bill Miller is the author of “History Snoopin’,” a collection of his previous history columns and stories. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or WilliamMMiller.com.