Ten year old James Rudolph Bates, better known as Rudy, traveled over 15 miles on horseback each week delivering The Kansas City Call in rural northwest Kansas. He grew up at the ‘Bates Homestead’ 2 1/2 miles west of historic Nicodemus. His mother, Versella Bates wrote for The Kansas City Call providing information and stories about the ‘happenings’ at Nicodemus. Rudy’s Uncle, Frank Bates was head printer at The Kansas City Call during the late 1930s.
The Bates’ were a family of newspaper readers keeping up with news from other parts of Kansas and the nation. Today like clockwork, Rudy can be seen every evening driving his red pickup to Nicodemus from his farm a mile north. He stops at a green mail box on land just north of the Baptist Church, where he, his wife and children lived before moving to California in 1956. Inside the green box is The Hays Daily News. He also receives The Hill City Times in the mail on Wednesdays. Both papers he loves to read. “If you read newspapers, you’ll know what is going on. Plus it keeps my mind active,” says Mr. Bates. He purchased a computer several years ago at the encouragement of his daughts to get online and read other papers, but “Me and computers don’t get along,” he complains, so he enjoys reading just the ones he can with his fingers flipping and turning the pages.
“I not only delivered The Kansas City Call, but another black newspaper, The Chicago Sentinel.” He proudly states. He was known in the community as the paper boy. He would ride a white stud Shetland pony he named ‘Dick’ who had beautiful ‘glass eyes’. Dick was given to him by a Mr. Ray Law of Hill City, husband to one of the local doctors. Several boys, Maurice Griffie, Wilfred Moore, Clarence Sayers, and William Henry Napue, all from the Nicodemus community were given ponies. Rudy, however, was the only one who rode his to deliver papers.
Rudy’s mother, Versella left for California in the 1950s and left the writing of the Nicodemus news column to her sister-in-law, Bernice Bates. Bernie was the last to write the column for The Kansas City Call. She passed in the early 1980s. There have been many newspaper writers since Nicodemus was established in 1877. During the boom years of the mid 1880s when Nicodemus was sure they would secure a railroad two newspapers were established, The Western Cyclone and the Nicodemus Enterprise. After failure of securing a railroad, the two newspapers closed and news of Nicodemus was sent to other newspapers by various individuals. Ola Wilson provided Nicodemus news to The Hill City Times for years then turned it over to Pearlena Moore who still writes the news today.
Although Nicodemus is a National Park and is the only remaining all black town west of the Mississippi, and once touted a population of nearly 700, it has dwindled to less than 25. The few senior community members remember fondly Rudy riding the dust roads delivering The Kansas City Call. Newspapers are still read by many who want to feel the paper in their hands. All over the nation many till receive newspapers delivered by ‘paper boy and girls.’ Some are walking, riding bikes, or driving cars. One wonders if there is any who deliver from horseback. From one who has, “Happy trails!” says Rudy Bates of Nicodemus. ¦