Western tales: Americana in bib overalls

The main display in Walter Swan's one-book bookstore is Walter himself, talking with a Western twang while dressed in bib overalls, a black felt hat, and work boots.

In him, tourists - and radio and televison reporters - find a slice of Americana rich in Western heritage. They also find a monument of determination.Sitting in the display window, the 73-year-old author promotes to tourists copies of the only book sold in the store. The book by Swan, me 'n Henry, not only sold more than 6,000 copies but also launched a second career for the writer.

He enjoys showing copies of the rejection slips he received before he eventually published the book - himself. On prominent display is his eighth grade report card with Fs in English and Ds in reading and spelling.

"That was the last year in school," he explains.

The school drop-out who was rejected as a writer by 14 publishing companies has been on national television twice and has been the subject of columns by syndicated writers.

"Johnny Carson wants me on his show in October," said Swan. "Disney's negotiating with me on movie rights, and so is Paramount."

He's also ward mission leader of the Bisbee Ward, and looks for fertile ground to plant gospel seeds. The colorful author spent most of his career as a plaster contractor, but always wanted to write a book. His children begged for stories of their father's boyhood days in Cochise County, Ariz., during the early part of this century.

After the children grew up, he and his wife, Deloris, spent 10 years collecting the accounts and writing them into a book.

"We sent an outline and sample chapters off to a publisher, but the manuscript came back in less than two weeks," he recalled.

For the next 10 years, the Swans sent the manuscript from one publisher to another. "Only one out of 14 kept it longer than three or four days," he said.

Finally he paid $250 to a literary agency to help him with the manuscript. "They sent me a four-page letter telling me why the book wouldn't sell."

That did it. The couple decided to print the book themselves. After the book was published, the Swans ran into another barrier at the bookstores. "They wanted 40 percent of the price of the book to sell it," he said.

So he found a cheap, vacant building in the historic district in this community and opened his own bookstore. Other tourist stores soon clustered around, and a success story was born. The Swans sell about 20 books a day.

Being on national television may seem a rather unusual accomplishment for a Cochise County boy, but his will to achieve difficult goals showed up early in life. He left Arizona as a young man and moved to Stockton, Calif., where he met his future wife. She was engaged to another man, but he was undaunted. After hearing his views on what a husband should be, and what a wife should be, she broke off her engagement and married him.

A desire to improve their family led the couple to join the Church in 1956.

"A friend asked if I could help plaster a stake center," he said. "I told him that I didn't donate time to people who get paid for telling me how to live." When he learned that LDS leaders also donate their time, he agreed to help. He studied the gospel for six months and decided to attend services with two of his sons.

"I told Walter that we weren't going to have two different churches in our family, so we all got dressed up and went," said Sister Swan.

"We took up a whole pew with our eight children," said Brother Swan. "My, everybody was so friendly."

The entire family was baptized a short time later. Within six months, Swan received his first calling: elders quorum president. He called two less-active members as counselors. Another six months later they were released to be counselors to the bishop.

Over the years the Swan family has continued their Church activity. All eight children have been married in the temple. The parents served in the Florida Tallahassee Mission. That experience proved so uplifting that Brother Swan wrote an article that was published in the February Ensign.

"Although the mission was one of the hardest things we've done in our lives, the rewards have been beyond measure," he wrote. "I wish couples all over the Church knew how much they are needed to share with others the knowledge and experience they have acquired over the years in the Church."

His experience comes in handy as he meets with tourists at the One-Book Bookstore. There, in between tales of the old West, he continues to plant gospel seeds.

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