Today: A mysterious mountain man with an unusual business.
Dear Reader: The following events are taken from the life of mountain man Richard Zimmerman, better known as “Dugout Dick,” who recently passed away at 94. None of us can say what causes another person to leave conventional society to seek a different way of life but that is what he did and I think you’ll enjoy his story.
When he was a teenager, it was during the Great Depression, and Dick like millions of other men rode the rails, jumping off the trains anyplace that might offer work. He chopped firewood, herded cattle, and bailed hay and did other jobs, hoping to get enough to eat and at times, a roof over his head.
During World War ll, Dick served in the military and afterward, went to Idaho trying to strike it rich as a prospector in the picturesque mountains near the Salmon River. He never hit pay dirt, but in 1948, he set-up a home in one of the caves he dug, and he began renting out others of his caves, as he was now in an unusual business.
His tenants were a colorful crew and included “river hermits” such as Buckskin Bill, Beaver Dick, Wheelbarrow Annie and Cougar Dave. To offer his tenants added comfort, caves might include old car tires or rocks on which to sit, and straw on which to sleep.
Dick also planted vegetable gardens and an orchard, and some of his tenants joined with him in caring for, harvesting and enjoying the fruits of their labor.
To irrigate his crops, Dick built a contraption to harness the river water, which also provided water to his tenants and his goats. Yes, goats. But as much as he liked goat’s milk and yogurt, after the goats began to eat his books, he disbanded the herd.
Dick also offered entertainment. Like rock star Bob Dylan, he plucked the strings of his guitar and played his harmonica, and sometimes sang. But Dugout Dick’s audiences were much smaller and included his dog and his cats, and his music was free.
What did Dick look like? He had a full gray Santa Claus style beard, long gray hair peaking out from the sides of a bright red miner’s helmet and a trim body, like that of a long distance runner.
In one picture, he wore a long sleeve blue flannel shirt and blue jeans. His shoes were made of older shoes, with the sturdy underside cut and shaped from the rubber of an old tire.
The nearest town was Salmon, 18 miles away, and Dick would hitchhike there and back when he felt the occasional need for creature comforts. But he never had a television, telephone, computer or other modern electronics, and he lived happily without them.
Not a man to seek publicity, Dick gained fame when National Geographic featured him in a piece and a curious world beat a path to his door, had he had a door. Dick charged 25 cents for a tour, $1.00 to take pictures of him and of course visitors were welcome to rent one of his caves. But he repeatedly declined invitations to be on TV, including one from The Tonight Show.
Dick’s caves were on federal property so you might wonder how the Bureau of Land Management allowed him to stay and to operate as a landlord. The answer is simple. Dugout Dick had become a legend and they made an exception for him.
As for lady friends, there is evidence that he had them, but little is known about the relationships. But Dick had friends and near the end of his life, as his body grew fragile, a friend placed him in a nursing home.
But structure was not Dick’s thing. He left the home and hitchhiked back to his cave, where he spent his final days, as always, living life on his own terms.
And his own terms were spectacular, as he lived near where people vacation. Among dark green, heavenly scented pine trees, with snow covered mountain peaks in the background and below him, the relaxing sound of clear cool water cascading over boulders and splashing on to sandy shores.
In that part of the world, the air is clean and fresh and for Dick the stresses were few. He never made his fortune but his life was filled with many of nature’s finest riches, making him a wealthy man indeed.
Success Tip of the Week:
If you feel overwhelmed by the demands of the rat race, back off. Read good books and get out in the fresh air and contemplate and relax. Or visit the Salmon River and experience the wonders of nature that Dick did, and that The Lewis and Clark Expedition did over 200 years ago.
In the next KazanToday:
A woman who succeeded by reinventing herself several times over a 106 year life.