Images of the West: Hemingway’s Wyoming: “A Cockeyed Wonderful Country”-Darla Worden

Big Horn, Wyoming, population 490, consists of a three-block Main Street with a firehouse, general store, post office, smokehouse restaurant and the Last Chance Saloon. In this ranching community outside Sheridan, it’s not unusual to see a working cowboy ride his horse up to the drive-thru window of the Chance to pick up a six-pack of beer, or tie up his horse outside while he sips a cool one at the bar. For years, a cigarette-stained photograph of Ernest Hemingway staring boldly at the camera — handsome, with dark hair and a mustache — hung over the jukebox, but it’s gone now, possibly filched by a fan or stored away during one of the bar’s changes in management. The photo was a memento of Hemingway’s first trip to Wyoming, when he arrived in Big Horn and fell in love with the land, the people and the trout fishing — which he described throughout his life in letters and stories.

It was 1928 and Hemingway was back from Paris following the enormous success of his blockbuster The Sun Also Rises. Pauline, his second wife, had given birth to their son Patrick. While baby and mother convalesced with her family in Piggot, Arkansas, Hemingway escaped the whiny, colicky, baby stage of infants that he called “squalation” by going trout fishing in Wyoming and finishing his new book, A Farewell to Arms. The plan was that as soon as Patrick was old enough to leave with family, Pauline would meet Ernest in Wyoming to hunt and fish with him.

Hemingway met his friend Bill Horne in Kansas City, and they drove for three days in Hemingway’s Model T Ford, or “Tin Lizzy” as they were called, to reach Upper Folly Dude Ranch in the Bighorn Mountains. The drive up the mountain is not for the faint-hearted, climbing a steep and often treacherous rutted gravel road called Red Grade, carved into the mountainside without a guardrail in sight. Upon reaching Upper Folly Dude Ranch, he was surprised by what he found: “Came to a ranch of a friend where there were 15 girls! Shit.”

During his stay, he described the Bighorn Mountains as lovely country that reminded him of the Guadarramas in Spain, with jackrabbits the size of mules. “This is a cockeyed wonderful country, looks like Spain, swell people,” he wrote to a friend.

Read Darla Worden’s complete article in the Big Sky Journal: