Paradise and Purgatory: Hemingway of The L Bar T And St. V’s

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Paradise and Purgatory: Hemingway of The L Bar T and St. V's

Ernest Hemingway spent the summer and fall of 1930 hunting and fishing at the L Bar T, a dude ranch twelve miles south of Cooke City, MT. Although his vacation was initially a great success, it nearly ended in tragedy.

AIRED: March 31, 2016 | 0:26:48
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-[Narrator] The following program is brought to you by

the Greater Montana Foundation,

the Country Bookshelf,

and KUSM.

- [Voiceover] In July of 1930, Ernest Hemingway,

his second wife, Pauline, and his oldest son, Jack,

were happily secluded at the L-Bar-T,

12 miles south of Cooke City, Montana.

All too soon, however, Hemingway's idyllic vacation

at this isolated dude ranch would give way to uncertainty,

uncertainty about his future as a writer,

uncertainty, even, about his ability to pursue

the hunting and fishing he loved.

(Slow, bluesy Jazz)

- [Voiceover] Lawrence and Olive Nordquist's L-Bar-T,

a haphazard collection of corralled barn

and chink log structures that could only be reached

by a single dusty road with grass growing between the ruts,

seemed the perfect getaway for a young writer,

whose first books had already brought in

an uncomfortable measure of fame.

Just the week before, Hemingway and his family

had been forced to quit the Snyder Ranch,

on Wyoming's Sunlight Creek, when Mrs. Snyder

had looked up his name and who's who,

and begun to fuss over him.

The L-Bar-T, which doubled as a working cattle spread,

was something else, entirely.

After the Hemingways had come rumbling across

the plank bridge that led to the ranch,

the Nordquists suggested they had just the place for them,

a brand new cabin with a spectacular view

of Pilot and Index peaks.

Too, the Clarks Fork River was, practically,

out the cabin door.

The Absaroka-Beartooth Mountains, which rose in

green and granite shelves above this broad swath

of the Clarks Fork Valley,

were rich with deer, bear, and elk,

and, perhaps best of all, it was a writer's paradise,

where no one seemed to care that he was Ernest Hemingway,

31 year old author of, In Our Time,

The Sun Also Rises,

and, A Farewell to Arms.

(light jazz)

- We had our own horse.

You'd take your lunch and your saddlebags

and ride out, and there was nobody else around.

It was just a wonderful place, and then, of course,

it fronted on me, the river, the Clarks Fork,

and, also, all that business of having fish in it.

My dad and my mother were both fly fishermen.

In fact, they used to fish together.

They'd fish wet fly, one on one side of the stream,

and one on the other.

I think they both enjoyed it very much.

It was, very much, an ingredient in that marriage.

(light jazz)

- [Voiceover] While Pauline cared for Jack,

Hemingway quickly established something of a routine.

After breakfast, he would sit

out on the small porch and write.

Afternoons and early evenings,

he would fish the swift, dark river

or spur his horse across the hay fields

and up into the hills.

Then there were mornings when

the lure of the Clarks Fork was just too much,

and the biggest part of Hemingway's writing

was done in his fishing logs,

after a long day on the river.

- [Voiceover] "So far, in July,

"only small fish rising to dry flies.

"Big fish still in holes.

"Shrimp very deadly, but hooks seem brittle.

"July 21st, showery.

"July 22nd, clear. Saw a bear coming home."

- [Voiceover] Somehow, during his stay,

Hemingway managed to do it all.

He caught hundreds of shining trout,

shot cattle-eating bear, at the request of local ranchers,

and still found time to make steady progress

on his latest book, Death in the Afternoon.

In a letter to Henry Strater,

old friend from their years in Paris,

Hemingway wrote, "I wish, to hell, you and Charles

"would come out here to hunt.

"So far, I've killed two damn big-ole, cattle-eating bear.

"There are lots of grouse, ducks, and geese.

"Nobody else will be hunting here, this fall.

"Hunting in the mountains is more damn fun

"than anything you can imagine.

"I can guarantee you shots at elk, deer,

"bear, and big-horn sheep.

"Wonderful rainbow trout fishing.

"I caught 28, yesterday afternoon, between

"all big ones, all on fly.

"This is the most beautiful country you ever saw."

(light, happy jazz)

- [Voiceover] After dinner, down at the corral or bunkhouse,

Hemingway could often be found palavering with the hands.

The dudes were just dudes, middle-class business folk

from the cities and suburbs of the mid-west,

but, from the cowboys, there was always something to learn,

and it was down there, with those rough-edged,

professional outdoorsmen, that Hemingway formed

the enduring friendships that,

besides the warm hospitality of the Nordquists,

would bring him back to the L-Bar-T, time and again.

Men like, adventurous to a fault, Huck Mees,

and head packer, Ivan Wallace, who tutored Hemingway

in the art of setting out bait for marauding bear.

- Another one of Hemingway's friends and my dad's,

during that period of time,

was Ivan Wallace.

He was the head

packer for the L-Bar-T,

one of those packers that everybody wanted.

He was a true mountain man,

had little education but vast knowledge.

He could read weather.

He could make a camp out of nothing.

- [Voiceover] And then there was Floyd Allington,

a cowboy fisherman, so adept with rod and reel,

that Hemingway would invite him along

on his upcoming jaunt to Key West.

Finally, there was camp cook and hunting guide,

Leland Stanford Weaver, Hemingway's favorite,

known to everyone as Chub.

- Chub Weaver was my godfather,

and when I was, either seven or eight years old,

my dad and my mother

went on this pack trip

to hunt grizzlies.

Chub went along as the cook,

and, of course,

I and Chub were, sort of, left alone in camp,

when everybody went out to look at the baits

or hunt elk or whatever they were doing.

I had been backward in learning to read, and so,

my parents had brought along

the reader that I was learning from.

Chub said, "Oh, I'll teach him to read.

"That's a good thing, because I haven't got

"anything to do while you're out."

He was wonderful.

He just, really, got me interested, and,

by the end of that pack trip, I was reading.

- [Voiceover] So close did Hemingway feel to this land

and these people, that he would include Chub

and his favorite horse, Bess, in For Whom the Bell Tolls,

another book he worked on, while vacationing at the L-Bar-T.

On page 337 of the first edition,

he writes how Chub rode with the protagonist, Robert Jordan,

to a high mountain lake, where Jordan tossed the

32 caliber Smith and Wesson revolver

that his father had used to commit suicide.

Hemingway's own father had taken his life

with an identical weapon, and Chub Weaver's son, Tom,

claims that the incident described

in, For Whom the Bell Tolls, is, essentially, true.

- One of the few stories that

my dad and mother would talk about Hemingway,

was the story of throwing a gun in a lake.

According to my folks, there's a lake, up on top,

called Froze to Death, and one time, when Hemingway was

horse-backing up through there,

he did throw a gun into the lake.

Later on, it came out in, For Whom the Bell Tolls.

(light jazz)

- [Voiceover] On October 21st, author, John Dos Passos,

another friend from the Paris years,

showed up for a last hunting trip in the hills.

They had a grand time, taking two days to ride into the camp

at the head of Timber Creek, where they dined, royally,

on venison and elk, while stocking the timber and draws.

By the end of October, however, with Pauline and Jack

having already caught a train for St. Louis,

and the threat of being snowed-in

Hemingway was ready to leave.

(light jazz)

The morning of October 31st, they fitted themselves out

with a bottle of bourbon and their heaviest clothes,

and set out for Key West.

While Floyd Allington rode in the rumble seat,

Hemingway and Dos Passos sat up front,

and, by the first night, they were rolled up

in sleeping bags, outside Mammoth, in Yellowstone Park.

They made steady progress the next day, following

the Yellowstone River, as it wound North and West,

and, that evening, the roadster was closing on Billings,

where they would drop Dos Passos off

for his train to New York.

On a narrow gravel road,

somewhere between Park City and Laurel,

Hemingway was forced off the road by an oncoming car,

and the Ford overturned in the ditch.

While Dos Passos was uninjured,

and the cowboy, Allington, dislocated his shoulder,

Hemingway had broken his arm

three inches above the right elbow.

Shaken, they caught a ride with a passing motorist,

who sped them into St. Vincent's in Billings,

a hospital, founded and partially staffed

by the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth, Kansas.

- I was in nurse's training and was the night nurse

when Hemingway was admitted.

I came on duty at seven, that night,

and they said that there was a new patient in the CSR,

which would be like the emergency room, today.

I took a look to see who was in there,

and it looked, to me, like he was a cowboy.

That evening, I brought his tray to him,

because he hadn't had anything to eat,

and about the only thing I remember,

that it had cottage cheese on it.

He wore an engineer's cap,

all the time that he was in the hospital.

- When Hemingway came into the emergency room

for his original x-ray, following the trauma,

he, ordinarily, would be placed on an x-ray table,

in the horizontal position, lying on his back,

which we call, supine.

This would cause a great deal of discomfort,

in that a fracture, every time it moves, it causes pain,

and he would have to sit on the table, then lie on his back.

Then, of course, taking the x-ray and lying there

for a while, while it was developed, would take more time.

So, I'm sure he was in this uncomfortable position

for several minutes, in great.

- [Voiceover] Concerned about the treatment

that his client might receive at a place

so remote as Billings, Montana,

Maxwell Perkins, Hemingway's editor at Scribner's,

called the Mayo Clinic.

The Mayo Brothers, however, assured him

that Hemingway was in good hands.

Dr. Louis Allard, one of the best Orthopedic surgeons

in the Northwest, and a man already famous

for his work with crippled children,

was in residence at St. Vincent.

- Dr. Allard was the first orthopedic physician

in Montana.

He may have gone back to Minneapolis or Chicago

and observed other doctors working, or

but he had no formal training, or to be...

and I don't think he had much time

to take a training course.

When they had those polio epidemics,

they were very, very busy,

and these, the old timers,

they didn't have training programs,

except very few places when he started out.

He was well respected around the country.

I've heard other doctors, also, talk about Dr. Allard.

They all knew about him.

(slow jazz)

- [Voiceover] Five days later, when Dr. Allard

was forced to operate,

he would need every bit of his considerable skill

to repair the shattered arm.

Hemingway had sustained a break,

both complex and career-threatening,

- I have an x-ray of a similar fracture.

The shoulder's here.

The elbow's here.

The fracture is about three inches above the elbow,

with a fair amount of deformity in this direction,

which is the outside.

This particular injury came close

to breaking through the skin,

and that was similar to Hemingway's injury.

I think you can appreciate the fracture here.

It's an oblique fracture,

which means it's going in this direction,

three inches above the elbow joint.

In Hemingway's case, the fracture was,

somewhat, spiral, also.

Now, the problem

with this particular fracture is that,

once you reduce it or put it together,

it's hard to maintain it,

and that hasn't changed since 1930.

We still deal with the same type of fracture.

He also damaged some of the biceps muscle,

which is the muscle that goes across the front of the arm,

and you can imagine, with this much deformity,

how this could tear the biceps.

More significantly is, this is the radial nerve,

which courses across the humerus, at that level.

Well, he broke the humerus there, and you can easily see

how the nerve could be trapped between the bone ends.

What Dr. Allard did, is he exposed the fracture

through a fairly generous incision, about nine inches,

and he exposed the bone.

He exposed the nerve, got the nerve out of the way,

so he knew where it was,

and then he put drill holes through the bone,

on both sides of the fracture.

Then, through the drill holes, he took a material.

In this case, it was kangaroo tendon.

He, actually, passed the tendon through the drill holes,

and then, actually, wrapped it around the fracture

and brought it back through the lower drill hole,

and then, pulled it tight and tied it down,

which stabilized the fracture.

- [Voiceover] Except for some lingering nerve damage,

which might or might not clear up on its own,

the operation was, tentatively, deemed a success,

but then a different kind of nerve damage set in.

Dr. Allard insisted that Hemingway remained

as still as possible, until he was certain

that the arm was healing.

With only the mail for excitement,

the days and nights of confinement,

Hemingway could neither hunt, nor fish,

and, worst of all, he could not work

on, Death in the Afternoon,

complaining, in the letters that Pauline was taking down,

of the impossibility of dictating his art.

- [Voiceover] "The principal technical reason, as I see it,

"against a writer trying to dictate anything,

"is that, to write at all, you must be alone,

"and, better still, lonely,

"and I cannot be alone with anyone in the room with me.

"What's meant to be read with the eye,

"should be written with the hand

"and checked by the eye and ear, as it's written."

- [Voiceover] And since the arm was still questionable,

swelling and bursting on, at least, one occasion,

over it all, loomed the possibility

that everything he loved was slipping away.

Hemingway could not know the specifics, of course,

but, without the use of that arm,

novels like, For Whom the Bell Tolls,

and, The Old Man and the Sea,

might never be written.

Stories like, The Snows of Kilimanjaro,

and, The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber,

would spark, momentarily, before falling back into the void.

And if all that weren't bad enough,

the news reaching Hemingway's bedside,

via newspaper and radio, was uncommonly bleak.

In Cuba and Spain, revolution was spilling

the blood of the people,

while the United States had slipped

into a huge budget defecit.

No one knew how many people were unemployed

or how many banks would close,

as the country slid into depression.

Perhaps worst of all, from Hemingway's

Sinclair Lewis, for whom he had little respect,

was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.

(slow, light jazz)

Although Hemingway managed to remain polite

to staff and patients,

in his letters, he began to speak darkly

of being an ex-writer.

"Of being sick of talking, thinking, writing,

"or dictating about, but a damned sight more sick

"of having the damned arm."

And yet, even as he grappled with depression,

a relentless beast that he would have to contend with

whenever he could not write,

something in the man remained watchful, observant.

At first, there was little more than

the view from the window and his post-operative pain.

Then, on the night of November 9th,

a pair of shooting victims, Martin Costello and Alec Youck,

were rushed onto the ward.

Youck was a russian farm worker,

and the police believe that Costello, a Mexican,

must have worked with sugar beets.

- [Voiceover] "They brought them in around midnight,

"and then, all night long,

"everyone along the corridor heard the Russian.

"They were sitting, drinking at an all-night restaurant,

"when someone came in the door and

"started shooting at the Mexican.

"The Mexican told the police he had no idea who shot him."

(light jazz)

- [Voiceover] And so, perhaps unconsiously,

out of habit formed by years of discipline,

Hemingway kept himself together by collecting

the pieces that would eventually become,

The Gambler, the Nun, and the Radio,

an autobiographical story of a Mr. Frazer's stay

in the Hailey, Montana hospital,

with a broken leg that resists healing.

Interestingly enough, Mr. Frazer is portrayed as a writer,

whose bone needs to be spliced

and whose nerves get tricky after weeks of confinement.

In a letter to Maxwell Perkins, written three years later,

Hemingway would explain how

he invented some stories completely,

while others, like, The Gambler, the Nun, and the Radio,

he took down absolutely as they happened.

Martin Costello, for example, the shooting victim

police offhandedly labeled a beet worker,

became Cayetano Ruiz, the gambler of the story,

while the nun, Sister Cecilia,

was based on Sister Florence Cloonan.

Sister Florence was the administrative

mail and is known to have spent

much time at Hemingway's bedside,

and, since she was a passionate Notre Dame football fan,

who believed that games were decided in the chapel,

no doubt, one of the things they talked about, was sports.

- [Voiceover] "A little later, they rang the bell

"for the nurse who was on floor duty.

"Would you mind going down to the chapel

"or sending word down to Sister Cecilia

"that Notre Dame has them 14 to nothing

"at the end of the first quarter,

"and that it's all right.

"She can stop praying."

- When radios were permitted in the convent,

we could listen, at certain times.

So, Sister would come in, every once in a while,

and she'd say, "What's going on?"

And we'd say, "Well, there's no score," or,

"So and so got a hit," or whatever,

and then she'd run back to the chapel

to pray that they would win the game.

- [Voiceover] "Yes, Sister Cecilia went on,

"That's what I want to be, a saint.

"Ever since I was a little girl, I've wanted to be a saint."

- She would say,

"Well, I'm gonna be a saint,"

and she was one, walking around.

- [Voiceover] Sister Florence died in 1943, and, so far,

there has been no movement to canonize her,

but, if during Hemingway's stay in Purgatory,

Dr. Allard was the angel that attended to his body,

one might easily make the case that,

judging from the loving way she is treated in the story,

Sister Florence was the angel who ministered

to something deeper than that.

And, finally, there was the radio,

both, Hemingway's and the fictional Mr.

through the long nights of uncertainty and pain.

(radio music)

- [Voiceover] "They went out, and there was supper,

"and then the radio, turned to be as quiet as possible,

"and still be heard.

"All night, it worked beautifully, and,

"stopped, you could go farther west and pick up another.

"But, 9:00 in the morning, they would start

"using the x-ray machine, and then the radio,

"which, by then, was only getting Hailey, became useless."

- [Voiceover] Despite it being prohibition,

both Hemingway and Mr. Frazer kept up their spirits

with liberal doses of illegal whiskey,

made in Red Lodge, Montana.

- He had his own liquor supply,

but I don't know how he got it.

They said he had a closet-full.

- [Voiceover] Billings resident, Earl Snook,

owner of the Snook Art Company,

and a good friend of cowboy artist, Will James,

often showed up for cocktails in Hemingway's room.

Although Hemingway was skeptical of James,

calling him a shifty-eyed imitation of C.M. Russell,

who had been a genuine cowboy artist,

he warmed to Snook during his afternoon visits.

Hemingway autographed several books for Snook,

all with a shaky left hand,

and inside the cover of, In Our Time,

he went so far as to draw a clock

with hands pointing to three and 12,

and to scribble a reminder of their afternoon potations.

- [Voiceover] "To Earl Snook, with many thanks,

"for pheasants, ducks, and Red Lodge's finest product."

- [Voiceover] In early December, Dr. Allard confirmed

that the bone was healing properly,

and allowed Hemingway to move about.

The nerve was still bad, and Allard didn't know

when or if it would regenerate,

but Hemingway, nevertheless,

took advantage of his hard-won mobility

and visited Earl Snook at the Snook Art Company.

Later on, he had dinner with Dr. Allard and his family.

- My mother took me aside,

the night that Hemingway came, and she said,

"Now, we're having a very special guest here, tonight.

"I want you to be quiet.

"I want you to listen

"and be on your best behavior."

But, he came, and he had

his arm in a sling,

a big, black beard.

He was a pretty big fella, in my mind.

My dad wasn't very big.

I was quite impressed with him,

and a little bit hesitant

to say it too much to him.

My dad was telling him, "With your talents,

"You should write better books.

"Books about family and about things that we all love."

Hemingway, finally, said, "Look, Doctor,

"I have to write about life, as it is."

And that kinda closed it off, but,

at that time, it's hard to believe,

but some of his novels were considered pretty racy.

- [Voiceover] And then, one day, it was over.

On December 21st, a little over seven weeks

after the accident, Hemingway and Pauline

boarded a train for Piggott, Arkansas.

After the holidays, however, they headed out for Key West,

where a frustrated Hemingway is rumored to have

torn off the cast, long before he was supposed to.

The doggone thing, it seems, got in the way of his fishing.

(Slow, light jazz)

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