Editor’s note: One of the lesser-known aspects of famed writer Ernest Hemingway’s life was the summers spent in Wyoming, from 1928-39, with journalist and second wife Pauline Pfeiffer. This excerpt from “Cockeyed Happy: Ernest Hemingway’s Wyoming Summers with Pauline” details Hemingway’s initial visit to Wyoming while Pauline recuperated from a difficult pregnancy at her parents’ home in Arkansas, and looks back at the unusual circumstances that led to their marriage.
Explorers Come West
He’d never been out West before, but he’d heard it had some of the best fly-fishing in the world. As Ernest steered the yellow Model A toward the Bighorn Mountains, they reminded him of the Sierra de Guadarrama in Spain—the same color and shape but bigger. He missed Spain already. Because of Patrick’s birth, he’d had to skip the San Fermin Festival in Pamplona this summer, and he swore he’d return next year. But for now, he and Bill Horne had driven three days from Kansas City to reach a dude ranch in Wyoming, where Ernest hoped to go fishing and finish his book.
Ernest recorded mileage each day—340, 380, 320. He liked to keep lists and record things, like how many fish he caught and game he shot. They had crossed a corner of Nebraska and come up the North Platte River into Wyoming—a changing landscape with hills like sand dunes, rocky outcroppings, buttes topped with scrubby ponderosa pine, and miles of sagebrush-speckled plains.
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The entire country was baking in a heat wave, and forget about finding a cool drink to quench your thirst because of Prohibition—something that Ernest was having a hard time adjusting to after the Roaring Twenties in Paris, where liquor flowed freely. Finding liquor in America was like tracking game: you had to be stealthy. In Kansas City, though, he had connections, and he had brought four quarts of bootleg scotch for the trip.
Ernest had been planning to go out to Idaho, where you had to pack in on horseback, but Bill invited him to Folly Ranch and Ernest had accepted in spite of his feelings about dude ranches. If he could catch an enormous amount of trout without working too hard for them, he’d be happy. He also needed a respite from the awful heat and a quiet place to work.
It was July 30 when they turned onto a steep shale road that snaked up the mountainside, the coupe leaving a trail of red dust as it climbed. Ernest maneuvered the roadster around potholes, bumping over rocks and ruts, trying to stay away from the edge as Bill peered over the sheer drop-off where boulders the size of cars had tumbled thousands of feet to the valley floor.
“Look out, Ernie!” Bill yelled when Ernest came too near. The view was seductive—they could see the little towns of Sheridan and Big Horn in the valley below.
“Ernie, look out!” Bill shouted again.
“Do me a favor, Horney,” Ernest said. “When you get out, just close the door.” Bill didn’t make a peep after that.
Ernest met Bill when they were in the autoambulanzia for the Red Cross in the Great War, on the Italian front, where they’d had to avoid more than potholes. He’d been nineteen, Bill, twenty-seven, and they’d traveled from New York to Paris, then to Milan and eventually Schio, Italy, where they were assigned to their posts. Bill had been there for him when Ernest was the first American boy injured—227 shrapnel wounds in his leg—and they had been friends ever since.
The air became cooler as they gained altitude, and the breeze felt good. Kansas City had been too bloody hot, over ninety degrees each day. He hadn’t been able to work in that heat, especially while worrying about Pauline, dangerously ill in the hospital. After the caesarean, she had to stay in the hospital for ten days due to gas distention, and at times Ernest had worried that it was the end for her. When she was finally out of the woods, he had taken her and their new son, Patrick Miller Hemingway, to stay with her family in Piggott, Arkansas, to recover while Ernest went fishing with Bill.
At a plateau, Ernest spotted a spring and pulled off the side of the road to fill up the car with water. The Ford was a wedding gift from Pauline’s rich uncle, Gus, who shipped it to them when they arrived in Key West, Florida, last April. The company had only made fifty thousand of the model, and Uncle Gus wanted Pauline and Ernest to be one of the first to own one. Ernest had already logged seventy-six hundred miles in the car, beginning in Key West with his new father-in-law, Paul Pfeiffer, and driving together to the Pfeiffer home in Piggott. Pauline, who was then eight months pregnant, took the train. Riding for five days with someone you have only just met, in dreadful heat, on gravel roads, stopping at night to sleep in “tourist cabins,” was a sure way to get to know a person.
And now driving with “Horney,” someone he had not seen in seven years, was an opportunity to catch up—so much had happened. After Ernest married Hadley Richardson in 1921, they had moved to Paris. He had lived there until this spring, when he and Pauline had returned to the United States so their baby could be born here. He’d seen Bill just a few times on brief visits from Paris to the Hemingway family home in Oak Park, outside Chicago, where Bill lived. Now that Ernest was back, maybe he would see Bill more often. This trip gave them a chance to reminisce about their time in the war together; perhaps some of those stories would make their way into his new novel.
His first novel, The Sun Also Rises, had been published two years earlier while he was in Paris. He’d written about men who returned to Paris after the Great War—Gertrude Stein had called them “The Lost Generation”—drifters without purpose after what they had seen in the war. His new book took place in Italy, where Ernest had spent months recuperating in a Milan hospital after his injuries and had fallen in love with his nurse, Agnes von Kurowsky. His leg eventually healed, but his heart had been broken on receiving a letter from Agnes after he returned home, saying she was dumping him to marry a count.
That was ten years ago, but he could still conjure those feelings—feelings he was putting into the story of a soldier falling in love with his nurse in Italy. He was on page 486, with a third still left to write, and he hoped to finish the “bloody book” in the solitude of Wyoming before Pauline joined him in a few weeks.
At the spring, the men stretched their legs. Ernest was six feet tall, and Bill was even taller. The alpine meadows around them exploded with Indian paintbrush, lupine, and black-eyed Susans, and in the distance, they spotted a mountain range with a tall, snowcapped peak despite the summer heat. Bill said he felt “just as much explorers as Columbus was in the Santa Maria.” Ernest welcomed the chance to discover this new place with the “Horned article” or “Article” for short—Ernest affectionately gave friends, family, even himself nicknames. Wyoming was the blank page just waiting for him to put his mark on it. To write, he needed something new: new lands, new experiences, and new people.
That’s how The Sun Also Rises had come to him. After attending the bullfights in Pamplona with his friends, he’d been on fire. He had sat down at his typewriter, and ten weeks later had written a bestselling novel that was based on his experience. Critics called it a new style that combined journalistic reporting and real people with fiction techniques. It was thrilling to have written a book like that at age twenty-seven, a book that rocked the literary world, even if many of those friends no longer spoke to him.
Back in the car, the road was so narrow in places that any cars headed downhill needed to yield to cars going uphill by allowing them to pass. Luckily, there weren’t many cars coming down—mostly just cattle grazing in the mountain meadows and crossing the road when they felt like it.
Ernest steered onto a road that looked like a cattle trail and stopped at the ranch gate, where Eleanor Donnelley, their hostess, stood waiting to greet them, along with a surprise: fifteen of her friends from Bryn Mawr.
Shit, Ernest thought, so much for working.
Strength in the Afternoon
Pauline was resting on the sofa of her parents’ home in Piggott, writing Ernest a letter. Her mother would not allow her to use the typewriter upstairs, so she was forced to write the letter by hand. “Mother is a dragon about the steps,” she wrote.” The doctor had been clear after Patrick’s birth: no stairs, no lifting, and no more children for three years unless she wanted to be an invalid or a corpse. Even though Ernest had hoped for a daughter that they would name Pilar, he had seemed content with another son: Patrick Miller Hemingway, born June 27, 1928.
John Hadley Nicanor Hemingway, or “Bumby,” was nearly five years old and lived with his mother, Hadley, in Paris. Now the father of two boys, Ernest might joke to his friends that fatherhood was overrated, and he couldn’t understand why anyone would want to be a father. He warned them that babies bellow, and they can drive you crazy. But truth was, Ernest was a proud papa, bragging about Patrick’s size and health and how he would teach Patrick to hunt quail one day.
Pauline had known Ernest would get restless while she recovered in Piggott with its unbearable heat, and he couldn’t concentrate when a baby was crying, so she supported the idea of his Wyoming fishing trip with Bill. She recognized Ernest’s need for male companionship—the “promotion of masculine society,” she called it. They had barely unpacked their bags in Key West last spring when John Dos Passos, Waldo Peirce, and Henry “Mike” Strater arrived and stayed for nearly a month. She didn’t object—despite being seven months pregnant—knowing how Ernest loved to discover new places and to share them with friends.
He hadn’t been the first in his group to discover Key West; “Dos” was. While they were in Paris, when Dos and Ernest had reconnected again after serving in the Italian ambulance service together, Dos—a well-known traveler and journalist—told Ernest about a trip he’d taken through Florida and about the magic of Key West. Ernest had wanted to see it for himself, so that’s where he and Pauline stayed upon arriving from Paris. As much as they both fell in love with Key West, there was no way Pauline wanted to deliver her first child there. Instead, she looked for good obstetrical hospitals and chose one in Kansas City.
The Pfeiffer home in Piggott, Arkansas, had ample room for Pauline and Patrick to stay while mother and baby recovered. After all, her father had purchased it from the town’s master builder, who had created it for his own family that included twenty-three children. The Pfeiffers had moved there from St. Louis, Missouri, after Pauline’s high school graduation; her parents had wanted her to be able to graduate with her friends before relocating to their new home.
The two-story white Colonial Revival farmhouse in Piggott had five bedrooms, a music room, pressed tin ceilings, and glass-paneled doors. Situated on the edge of town, it was still just eight blocks from the town square across the street from the school. Paul Pfeiffer had deemed the home perfect for his family, which included Pauline, then seventeen and heading to college, and her younger siblings—Karl, entering seventh grade; sister Virginia, “Jinny,” beginning fifth grade; and Max, starting kindergarten. Paul had made a generous offer to the builder, and the Pfeiffers moved in.
Because the closest Catholic church was thirty miles away and Mary Pfeiffer was a devout Catholic, Paul converted the music room into a chapel for her. Two years before Pauline returned to the house with infant Patrick, she had spent many hours in that chapel praying to Saint Joseph during the one-hundred-day ultimatum Hadley had given Ernest and Pauline when she discovered their affair.
Pauline had been living with Jinny in Paris in the spring of 1925 when they’d met Ernest and Hadley at Kitty Cannell’s apartment near the Eiffel Tower. Kitty, the fashion editor for the New York Times, had invited the Pfeiffer sisters to an afternoon tea for Hadley. Kitty thought Pauline and Hadley would be fast friends because they had so much in common—they’d grown up in St. Louis and shared a friend, Katy Smith.
Hadley had met Katy at parochial school in St. Louis, and Pauline knew Katy from the University of Missouri Journalism School. She and Katy were in the first graduating class of journalists at a school that was the first of its kind in the country.
In another coincidence, Ernest knew Katy and her two brothers, Bill and Y. K., from childhood summers in Michigan—the Hemingway and Smith families both had retreats there. The Smith siblings were some of Ernest’s closest friends, and he’d once had a crush on Katy.
At the tea, the ladies had been getting acquainted as Pauline told stories about her job in Paris at Vogue, where she was an editor. She described her boss, Main Bocher, as “ambrosial”—a popular superlative of the era. She and Jinny enjoyed the fast-paced, witty repartee of the times, using slang with ease.
When Ernest came in sweaty and disheveled from boxing with Kitty’s lover Harold Loeb at a local gym, Pauline thought he seemed like a boring oaf. Jinny was the one who found Ernest fascinating. The two of them ended up sitting alone in the kitchen, chatting away about bicycle racing or some other sport. Seven years older than Jinny, Pauline had the role of looking out for her little sister, and she later lectured Jinny on the impropriety of it all. They were there to support Hadley, who didn’t have many friends in Paris, not to talk with her husband alone in the kitchen. Pauline could not have imagined at that afternoon tea what the future would have in store for her.
Ernest and Jinny had become close friends after that day at Kitty’s, sometimes meeting each other for dinner or drinks at a Left Bank café, and they still were. Not that Pauline minded. She was happy her sister and husband got along so well—Jinny had helped smooth a path with the Pfeiffer family when Pauline had worried about introducing Ernest to her parents, afraid what they would think when they learned he was a married man. Jinny emphasized to her parents how much Pauline loved Ernest, and they had accepted him into the family despite the circumstances, partly due to her support and approval.
In the fall of 1925, Jinny was undecided about her future plans and returned to Piggott. Alone in Paris, Pauline had begun stopping by the Hemingways’ apartment above a sawmill on her way home from the Vogue office to visit Hadley, who had become her friend. Hadley was often exhausted after taking care of Bumby all day, so she went to bed early, leaving Pauline and Ernest alone to discuss something he’d written. At age thirty, Pauline was between Ernest, twenty-six, and Hadley, thirty-four, in age, and she found herself in the middle of this friendship, feeling equally comfortable with Ernest and Hadley.
By then, her feelings for Ernest had changed. She no longer thought of him as that boring oaf she’d met at Kitty’s apartment. He was so handsome, with dark hair and dark eyes that studied you as you spoke, really listening. Other than her brief engagement to her cousin Matthew Herold, which had ended after she moved to Paris, she was inexperienced around men and unprepared to resist Ernest’s charms even if he was married to her friend.
Darla Worden is editor in chief of Mountain Living magazine and founder/director of the Left Bank Writers Retreat in Paris. Her book, “Cockeyed Happy: Hemingway’s Wyoming Summers with Pauline,” shows Wyoming as an influential place in Hemingway’s life. Learn more at www.darlaworden.com.