Ernest Hemingway was here to hunt.
He walked along a small creek east of Carey, shotgun in hand. He scanned for ducks through the grass and the sagebrush in the chill of the fall and the running water helped to mask the sound of his approach. As he rounded a bend, three ducks took flight “and bang, bang, bang he got all three of them — a lot of guys might get a couple of them, but they might miss a couple, he was that kind of shot, he was really good,” said Picabo rancher and Hemingway friend Bud Purdy, 94.
Every Hemingway fan knows the story of how the author came to Sun Valley for the first time in September 1939, invited to represent the outdoors appeal of the resort in promotional material. Fans make the pilgrimage to Room 206 at the lodge where he wrote part of his novel, “For Whom the Bell Tolls.”
But the stories that don’t appear in biographies or the documentaries are the brief interactions that happened next to creeks and in fields near Shoshone and Hagerman and Twin Falls, where Hemingway met fellow bird hunters and lovers of the outdoors.
Last week, flocks of Canada geese honked as they flew through a cloudless morning sky. Clay Condit, 82, walked through knee-high grass, wet from dew. It’s been 65 years, at this spot northeast of Hagerman, since he met one of the most influential American writers of the 20th century.
As his mother, Izetta Mae Condit, looked out the farmhouse kitchen window on a fall day in the late 1940s, she spotted three men with shotguns, walking through her family’s fields.
They were not locals, but looked familiar. She told Clay to go see if Gary Cooper and Bing Crosby was in the group. She had seen them come through a number of times before during fall hunting trips.
“They were very kind and said hello, I shook hands with Gary Cooper, Bing Crosby and this fellow Ernest Hemingway,” Clay Condit said. Clay was in his mid-teens at the time and was more impressed with meeting Gary Cooper, whose films he had been running as a theater projectionist.
He gained an appreciation for Hemingway after discovering he wrote the book, “For Whom the Bell Tolls” that was made into a movie starring Gary Cooper and Ingrid Bergman. Hemingway spurred an interest in reading and writing for Condit.
“When I read Hemingway, I see this lovely exploratory mind that goes out, and tries to sort of do a (Vincent) van Gogh on all of the world, and he is, he’s quite beautiful, and the way he writes is beautiful, the trim simplicity is really special and you can get so much through that. I really enjoy reading Hemingway.”
Susan Beegel, editor of the Hemingway Review, said Hemingway was a great connoisseur of places. He sought out beautiful, culturally interesting locations.
He loved Spain, but with the war raging he was unable to get back to the country after 1938. The Sun Valley area looked a great deal like Spain, outside of Madrid. Beegel said Hemingway would go on horseback rides around the hills with Gary Cooper, looking for areas to write into his novel, “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” or landscapes that would make good locations for a movie. There were also a number of Basque immigrants in the region. “He loved being around Basque people. ... it sounded like Spain and looked like Spain,” she said.
Another appeal of southern Idaho was the people who lived here respected his privacy. Idahoans minded their own business, people didn’t bother him, Beegel said. This was especially important to him after receiving the Noble Prize in 1954. Beegel said Hemingway “felt like an elephant in a zoo, and told his publishers, ‘don’t send any god dam writer safari up here.’”
One of Us
Rancher and avid sportsman Purdy said Hemingway was respected by the locals.
“He was just one of the hunters, one of the boys. We never treated him any different and he never expected to be any different.”
While driving around with Purdy in a truck, Hemingway noticed him trapping magpie birds, considered a predator at the time. He suggested to Purdy that they have a magpie shoot. One of those shoots took place at R.J. Soran’s cabin along Silver Creek.
The translucent water of Silver Creek moves slowly through the land he has ranched for decades. It’s the location where a number of the iconic Marlboro cigarette cowboy advertisements were photographed in the 1970s and ’80s.
Linda Soran Hamilton, who was about 10 years old in the fall of the late ’50s, remembers one of those shoots that Hemingway attended at her family cabin. “We were a little put out, because our day was halted, we were kind of corralled inside,” Soran said. She briefly met Hemingway before the shoot started.
Linda said she was more excited to meet Andy Devine, an actor who was the host of a children’s nationally televised program called “Andy’s Gang.” When Hemingway arrived, “He didn’t really acknowledge us; he was more interested about being outside (for the shoot).”
Linda stayed inside and talked with Hemingway’s wife, Mary Hemingway. They watched, through the cabin’s wide windows, as clouds of smoke from shotgun blasts evaporated in the blue sky. She was more interested in seeing the man wrestling the birds from a gunny sack, and releasing them for their short flight.
After the shoot, she picked dead magpies off of the ground and placed them into the creek.
Pat Saviers Trott, 86, who was married to Ketchum doctor George Saviers at the time, also attended one of those shoots.
“He was never ever rude in any shape or form,” Saviers said. He would wait until she took a couple of shots, missed, and then shoot the bird before it flew away. She laughed with amazement recalling a particular dove shoot with Hemingway, “I would never think of killing anything today.”
‘He Would Really Listen’
Patrick Duecy, 66, worked at Ernest and Mary Hemingway’s rented home in Ketchum, during the late 1950s. He was in middle school. He carried firewood into the house and remembers walking by ducks hanging from the overhang. He also spent time cleaning and waxing Hemingway’s knee-high leather hunting boots.
Duecy met Gary Cooper and Jane Fonda one evening at the home while bringing in firewood.
Duecy said of Hemingway, “He was just a guy. There were a lot of famous people in Ketchum. ... He was very gracious. We looked at his scrapbooks from Africa and saw photos from his plane crashes. ... He was very low key. He didn’t talk a lot about himself and he would really listen when I spoke,” Duecy said.
Pat Duecy played the trumpet in his high school’s band and he sounded “Taps” at Hemingway’s funeral. It was a sad day for Duecy, who enjoyed his time with the writer. During the funeral, as Duecy stood alone next to a group of Aspen trees overlooking the Ketchum Cemetery, he felt Hemingway’s presence.
Manhattan Cafe: Shoshone
Jim Johnson, who was a bellhop with the Sun Valley Lodge in the late 1950s, would drive to the Shoshone train station and while waiting for the train to arrive, he would have a cup of coffee at the Manhattan Cafe. He remembers seeing Hemingway, who would stop there after hunting trips around Shoshone.
The Manhattan Cafe has operated by the same name since 1903. Large windows face the railroad tracks that run east and west, as trains have rumbled through the heart of this Western town for decades. Hemingway used to stop at the cafe with friends after his hunting trips. He and his hunting party had their choice from a number of menu items that included a pork tenderloin for 90 cents or breaded calf brains for 65 cents and they could have washed the meal down with a 5 cent cup of coffee.
Perrine Gets a Nickname
Burt “Sonny” Perrine III was in middle school in the late 1940s when he met Hemingway.
The Perrines owned the land in the Snake River Canyon, where the Blue Lakes Country Club is located today. The area was an outdoorsman’s dream, with excellent duck hunting and trout fishing.
As he recalls the story, the noise from Alpheus Creek was so loud that Burt “Sonny” Perrine III, yelled for a third time, and only 10 feet away from the man who he thought was his father. The man had a white fiberglass fishing rod, creel and wore the reddish colored waders his father owned. But it was not his father. The man finally turned and said, “Sonny, I’m not your dad.” It was Ernest Hemingway.
Burt Perrine sheepishly headed back to the house to tell his mother the news and that Hemingway would be at the house for dinner shortly. Perrine said his nickname was Sonny for years after that encounter.
Self Exile in Idaho
Professors who continue to study Hemingway have said that the author is representative of the Idaho ideal. “He follows the progression of the remote idea of wilderness and isolation and self exile,” said Kim Barnes, English professor at University of Idaho. “He found that ability in Idaho. … that idea of self-isolation, looking for the place to control the chaos.”
Boise State History professor Todd Shallat agrees.
“Hemingway became a symbol in American literature for machismo and grim self-reliance,” Shallat said. “His life in Idaho belied that. I think Hemingway is an interesting figure, a good figure, a representative figure of Idaho.”