About The Artist
Don Rodney (Monty) Rhine was born in Gravois Mills, Missouri to parents Samuel and Cora (Connors) Rhine. His dad was a farmer. His father died at the age of 78 in Sedalia, Missouri. His mother died in Lesterville, Missouri, where she had later moved, at the age of 75 in 1960.
Monty's daughter recalls that Monty and his mother built a dance hall and dances were held every Saturday night. She also noted that Monty's mom was 'very lively' and was musically oriented as well. She wrote songs and she and Monty had a vaudeville show when Monty was in his teens. His mom's tunes were usually stories and mostly poems. One of those poems was published, called "The Dam Thing" - a story about the Bagnell Dam at the Lake of the Ozarks. His mom's family had land there that ended up being covered in wter when the lands were flooded for the dam.
The Bagnell Dam project began in 1929 or so and was estimated to cost $30 million. It was to create a 60,000 acre lake and would submerge parts of Miller, Camden, Morgan and Benton Counties. The project was to take about 27 months. In June of 1930, news reports indicated that the project had employed over 3,500 workers. The lake that was formed was about 45 miles south of Jefferson City, MO. It was named "Lake of the Ozarks." Lee Mace would locate his "Ozark Opry" about four miles south of the dam.
The 1930's — The Musical Journey Begins
Curley Roberts in his song folio published by Leeds in 1946 indicated that as he neared the end of his education, he formed a group called the "Three Troubadours" that led to their own show over WIL and WEW in St. Louis.
A picture of three young performers, while not titled, seems to be this group. Their names were Monty, Ted and Al (Curley). Ted's last name was not indicated.
The young performers then found themselves working at radio station WTMV in East St. Louis, IL. The were part of the Uncle Jimmie and his Texas Cowboys program in 1935. This show appears to have been on the air for most of 1935. A small classified ad / notice in an Edwardsville, IL newspaper indicated the group also was heard over WIL in St. Louis in the mornings.
In the late 1930s, Monty was part of a group called the "Four Sons of the Prairie" that was being heard over KMOX. The group members were Monty Rhine, Curley Roberts, Frankie Townsend and Smoky. They worked various shows around the St. Louis area, sometimes with Roy Queen and ads also indicated they were part of Pappy Cheshire's gang as well.
For a time, Monty Rhine, Curley Roberts and Joe Ross backed Frankie Townsend, a well-known fiddle player. In January 1941, Frankie Townsend and His Hillbillies were being heard over WEW in St. Louis, perhaps replacing the spot that Roy Schaffer's Hillbillies filled in late 1940. Monty's daughter, Donna, provided a newspaper clipping from the Maui News - County Fair Press in Hawaii touting the Eddie Fernandez shows to be put on as part of the Maui Fair. The photo shows Freddie Townsend and his Hillbillies. The radio logs for St. Louis show Frankie's last show on WEW to be mid-September 1941. Mention of Frankie was not seen again until 1942 when a couple of articles show him working with Grandpappy Jones and His Carson Cowboys along with Monty Rhine. It is the time prior to the January 1941 broadcast over WEW that Frankie and His Hillbillies toured Hawaii as part of the Eddie Fernandez circus and carnival shows. Mr. Fernandez was known as "Hawaii's Barnum." Keep in mind, in those days, travel to Hawaii was via an ocean liner.
In the Curley Roberts song folio published by Leeds, a short biography mentions the trip to Hawaii taking three months in 1940. The Maui County Fair, which the news photo clipping seems to be promoting, was held on October 10, 11 and 12. Travel between islands seemed to be via ocean steamer based on ads seen promoting the fair. While in Hawaii, they were known as "Three Sons of the Prairie and Frankie Townsend."
Hawaii — E. K. Fernandez Introduces The Hill Billies
The SS Lurline departed Los Angeles on Thursday, September 26, 1940, bound for Honolulu and among the passengers were a group of 'hillbilly entertainers' from the St. Louis, Missouri area. The ship arrived on Wednesday, October 2, 1940. The group left Honolulu on Friday, December 6, 1940 and presumably arrived in Los Angeles on Thursday, December 12, 1940. That group was "Bud Yoder's Hillbilly Jamboree."
In the late 1930s, the boundaries between groups and which radio stations they were on get a bit blurred. We know of the Sons of the Prairie featuring Monty Rhine, Curly Roberts, Frankie Townsend and Smoky Smith. But in the summer of 1940, the group starts working with a fellow named Bud (Harry Herbert) Yoder (Jr). Bud's father owned the Yoder's Nite Club in East Alton, Illinois and it featured a variety of musical entertainment perhaps leaning towards the vaudeville era than towards a particular musical genre. The bar featured 'entertainment'. Bud's father (Harry Herbert Yoder, Sr.) had also owned a small chain of Yoder grocery stores as well. He had retired in 1950. Based on the age shown for Bud on the Hawaii passenger list, the deduction is that it was the Bud, the son of Yoder, Sr. who was the entertainer and on the Hawaii trip.
While the picture promoting the Wentzville Homecoming celebration over Labor Day weekend in 1940 shows a group of eight as part of the group, it appears that two of them did not make the trip. Harry H. (Bud) Yoder, Jr. began to show up as an entertainer in the summer of 1940 as research was being done. Each one of the group in the "Hillbilly Jamboree" photo appeared at one time or another at Yoder's Nite Club.
We examined the souvenir passentger list provided by Monty Rhine's daughter, Donna Sinclair, as well as the Honoluly passenger lists as found on Ancestry.com. Research showed the following made the trips to / from Honoulu in 1940:
Nadine Gardner and Frankie Townsend were not listed on the souvenir passenger list nor in th Ancestry.com records.
The promoter behind Bud and his group going to Honolulu was Eddie (E. K.) Fernandez who was well-known in Hawaii for putting on extravagant shows and circuses. He was known to recruit entertainers each time he went to visit the states. He was known as Hawaii's "Barnum".
The SS Lurline contained a 'large contingent of mainland performers', including the Palkenberg bears. The initial stop would be the 23rd annual Maui County Fair. Another group on the trip were twelve collies that were trained by Jack Joyce. However, Hawaii had strict quarantine rules for bringing in outside dogs and they did not perform and remained in quarantine. Mr. Joyce was not idle however, as he was also the trainer for a performing elephant. Another animal trainer, Bert Nelson would direct his group of lions and tigers. There would also be high wire acts such as the Great Gretonas, from Europe - they rode bikes on the high wire while blindfolded. Another group was the flying Behrs, who did acrobatics on the trapezes, the Three Valentines who were slack wire artists and barrel jumpers, Donahue and La Salle.
Then there was to be "Mountain Music." An article highlighting the events told readers that the "joy zone" features promised by Mr. Fernandez are the "Follies of 1940" that would feature a dozen or more vaudeville acts, featuring "Bud Yoder's Ozark champion Hill Billys playing mountain music rural fashion." That 'joy zone' would also include Ripley's Believe it Or Not, composed of well 'people' of all sorts.
Mr. Fernandez also indicated that Japan's sacred long tailed chickens with tales 24 feet long would be there after trying for four years. And direct from the New York World's Fair would be Miss Lucille Anderson, a high diving champion, who would dive from a 100 foot platform into a six foot tank of water.
One article at the end of the Maui Fair gave an indication as to the attendance - 13,000 paid customers on the last day of the fair on October 13.
After the Maui County Fair, the Fernandez troupe of performers, entertainers and animals would then move to Honolulu, where under sponsorship of the Latter Day Saints Church (net pcrocees would go toward the building of a new LDS tabernacle), a similar circus type of enterainment would take place at Beretania and Makiki Streets.
The newspapers promoted the musical aspects that Fernandez's show was bringing to Honolulu. "For the first time hill billies with their homemade mountain music from the Ozark ranges will appear in the islands with their mirth provoking antics and catch tunes." The group also took part in a large parade through downtown Honolulu to promote the circus shows which were to run from October 17 through October 26. The full page ad highlighted the "Hill Billies" as one of the new and big acts for the 1940 event. "Fresh from the Ozark rangers with their 'rootin-tootin' home-made 'Mountain Music.' First Hill Billie band of entertainers ever brought to Hawaiian Islands." The picture above from the Wentzville Homecoming in August 1940 ran also in the Honolulu Advertiser on October 19, 1940. The caption included a comment, "They sing Hawaiian music Ozark style." It also stated that the eight-piece band has played on the radio eight years and that there was "one woman in the band." We mention the one woman as this tends to confirm the fact that Nadine Gardner did not make the trip.
The reader might wonder about the emphasis on the "hill billy" music for the circus. At the same time, Bob Burns had a movie showing in Honolulu, "Comin' Around The Mountain" and teasing readers with "hit the road with those hillbilly howlers." The local radio station, KGU, featured a program called "Home Folks Frolic" that was on each Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings that featured the music of the "Mountains and Rangelands" played and sung by "famous Hill-Billy entertainers" such as Carson Robison, The Ranch Boys, Beverly Hill-Billies. Thus, Mr. Fernandez perhaps tried to ride the wave of the popularity of the music.
Biographical Details of Bud Yoder's Hillbilly Jamboree:
In the early 1940s, Monty worked with Ambrose Haley and his Ozark Ramblers in the St. Louis, Missouri area. The band included his friend, Curley Roberts, as well as Joe Ross and the Miccolis Sisters.
Roy Rogers Appearance in St. Louis in 1943 with Ozark Ramblers
In November of 1943, Monty and the rest of the Ozark Ramblers were part of a big event. The King of the Cowboys, Roy Rogers, was going to make his first appearance in St. Louis. He was going to appear at the Fox Theater along with Ambrose Haley and his Ozark Ramblers group of KXOK. During his visit in St. Louis, he also appeared on the radio show Ambrose had on KXOK at the time. On the screen, Roy's movie, "Man From Music Mountain" was being shown during his appearances.
During his visit to St. Louis, Roy held a party at the Coronado Hotel just for kids. While the kids were disappointed that Trigger was not there (his trailer had a mishap in Ohio and was delayed), they did enjoy Roy's entertainment. Roy, accompanied by the Ozark Ramblers, sang, "Home On The Range" and "Rhythm On The Range." Ambrose Haley was the master of ceremonies for the party. The Miccolis Sisters (the article spells their name as "Nicholas Sisters") also sang a tune. Joe Ross serenaded the kids with a tune on his accordion. The kids who attended the party were selected by the Board of Education. The students had led their groups in sales of war bonds and stamps. Trigger did arrive that night and Roy began a week long engagement at the Fox Theater that was to run through November 10, 1943.
Ozark Ramblers Entertain 24,631 at StL Browns Baseball Game
In July of 1944, Ambrose Haley and his Ozark Ramblers, then with a radio show over KXOK, played before one of their largest crowds. The Ramblers were part of the pre-game entertainment between the St. Louis Browns and the Philadelphia Athletics at Sportsman's Park. The newspaper caption with the photo seen here reported that 24,631 folks saw the group's performance. It was part of an effort to raise funds for the National War Relief and Service Fund. Donald H. Drels wrote in his recap of the game that it was the largest crowd for the Browns since 1940. A similar game the year previous only drew 5,600 fans.
The game was unique in that everyone in attendance had to pay for their ticket. Not only did the spectators pay, but also players, officials, radio and news reporters also paid - no passes were given out. Service men who attended had their tickets paid for by others.
Mr. Drels summed up what he saw:
"The crowd assembled early and apparently enjoyed the most unusual and varied entertainment program ever presented on a baseball program here—but they went away talking mostly about the main event, another Browns victory, and how it was achieved."
The entertainment was scheduled to begin at 7:00pm on July 26, 1944 and was to run over 90 minutes. The game was scheduled to start at 8:45pm. Acts such as the Walter Seims' band (who were in the bleachers), the Coast Guard Band with Chief Ratchofd directing, Post Office Drum and Bugle corps parading around the field were on the lineup. The manager for the Athletics, Connie Mack, was also saluted before the game to honor his 50th year as a manager.
The "Hillbilly Festival" as it was termed was to be at 8:00pm and go until 8:10pm. Pappy Cheshire and his Gang, The Shady Valley Folks and the Ozark Ramblers of KXOK were on this portion of the program. A half-hour program called "Bandwagon Revue" was to conclude the entertainment for 30 minutes.
It included Sid Tomack as emcee, Police Quartet, Betty Nord, soloist accompanied by Eileen Brown; Johnny Kaahlue on the Hawaiian guitar; Peter Higgins, Irish tenor; and, Smoothies, a vocal trio.
The event was a friendly rivalry with the cross-town Cardinals who had drawn a crowd of 24,781 for a recent similar game for the fund.
In writing of the game's entertainment the day before, Ray A. Nelson wrote:
"The Citizen's Commitee for the game left no stone unturned in digging up all manner of musical organizations to make the evening interesting. ... But before the game gets underway, three 'hill-billy' bands will have uncorked their "corn," the police quartette will have chimed in with some old fashioned 'barger shop' ditties and the Coast Guard band will have cut loose with some of that 'I want to be a soldier' martial music."
With his friend Curly Roberts now in Fresno, California, Monty remained in Missouri. Phone conversations and email exchanges have revealed that Curley did try to get his friend to move out to the west coast. Monty continued to find work with the entertainers in the St. Louis area.
In 1945, Ambrose Haley's Ozark Ramblers had undergone a personnel change. It was now Ambrose, The Miccolis Sisters (Ruth and Mary), Monty Rhine, Don Crenshaw and Steve Allen. They were being heard over radio station KXOK.
By late 1944, Curley Roberts had decided to move west due to a Hollywood screen test; he ended up settling in Fresno, CA and got a program on KMJ. Monty stayed behind, preferring to stay in Missouri. In November, a news articled indicated that Amrobose Haley and his Ozark Ramblers would again be on the Blue Network over radio station KXOK. The group had undergone personnel changes. The group now included Ambrose Haley, The Miccolis Sisters (Ruth and Mary), John E. Buffington, Steve Allen and Don (Monty) Rhine.
Later, Ambrose moved on and formed a new band at KFAL in Fulton, Missouri which included Monty Rhine. That was a short lived stint and the Ozark Ramblers including Monty moved to radio station KHMO in Hannibal, Missouri in 1949. An ad for an appearance at a movie theater in Macon, MO implies that Tommy Hargrove, Gene Fields and Bobby Ward were also part of the group then.
Later, Monty's mom enticed him to move back home to the Lesterville area. They had a built a dance hall. During those remaining years of his life, he did work as a piano tuner. His daughter Donna indicated it was affectionately called "Rhine Acres."
Credits & Sources
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