Bob knew about such things. And he knew well the rolling, California ranch country around Caliente — at the foot of the mountains, east of Bakersfield. Bob was a student of the Old West. And he had read every book Louis L’Amour ever wrote.
I later drove that road to Caliente to see if the cabin was still there. It’s there, by a stream. Still, that was almost 20 years ago. I mention this now as it helps confirm a truism of a wanderer’s lifestyle: The more we travel this country the more connected the journey becomes. New people and places become reminders of earlier-discovered people and places. The old and the new, all parts of a grand design, begin to fit together.
Names from the past pop up all the time in our travels, having a tie to this place or that. John Fremont, the explorer, is one. I keep running into him all over the West. For example, in Tombstone, the OK Corral is on Fremont Street.
Butch Cassidy is another one. Obviously, he and the Sundance Kid really got around. And the locals there today always brag about it.
I was in an RV park in Utah one time, chatting with a couple, when Cassidy’s name came up. The wife went in their motorhome and returned with a book, which she laid on the picnic table in front of me — “Butch Cassidy, My Brother.” She had written it. That’s as close as I have ever come to meeting the real McCoy.
In my travels, the name Louis L’Amour comes up often. L’Amour, who died in 1988, was among the world’s most popular writers. He wrote more than a hundred books that he called “frontier stories.” Among them is a series of 18 novels that he started in 1959 about the fictional Sackett family.
In the summer of 2000, I met a lady working at the Andrew Carnegie Library in Buffalo, Wyoming, whose maiden name was Sackett.
“He patterned those stories after the Sackett family — two sons who came here from England,” she said. “Always wanted to meet him. I trespassed on his land in Colorado one time, hoping to bump into him.”
In Quartzsite, Arizona — the site of the world’s largest RV campout during the winter — Paul Winer runs a used-book store on the Business Loop of Interstate 10. “RVers don’t keep books,” Paul told me. “They don’t have room. They bring them in here and we swap. From what I see every day, the books of Louis L’Amour are what RVers read the most.”
In 2007, I was in Jamestown, North Dakota, were L’Amour grew up. At the age of 15, halfway through the 10th grade, he left school. He later wrote, “that school was interfering with my education.” The day his high-school class graduated, he was in Singapore, a merchant seaman.
“When he left here, he began a life-long quest for learning stirred by a passion for books,” Barbara Pogue told me. She works as a volunteer at the Louis L’Amour Writer’s Shack in Jamestown’s Frontier Village.
Today, looking at the picture I took of that cabin in the woods, I was wondering about it. So I called Barbara. “You should call Reese Hawkins,” she said. “He and Louis were good friends.”
Reese, now 93, told me, “We visited Louis twice at his ranch near Caliente. When we hiked, I remember we always stopped at a cabin of his. It was on a little stream.”
Welcome to America’s Outback.
Bill’s e-mail address: r[email protected]. Next month Bill will be in Nevada’s Comstock.