“I wonder if Grandpa Les ever knew Louis L’ Amour?”
The question popped into my brain a few weeks ago as I stood in front of a plexiglass-covered display case holding an impressive collection of vintage paperback westerns, all written by Louis L’ Amour. The compilation resides inside a quaint writing shack at the Frontier Fort, a tourist attraction located in Jamestown, ND. The town has a population of less than twenty thousand, but it proudly boasts of being hometown to a number of famous individuals including singer Peggy Lee and writer Louis L’ Amour.
I remember Grandpa Les, my maternal grandfather, as a quiet man who played lots of golf after retiring from the post office. Grandpa almost always left a Louis L’ Amour paperback sitting on the table next to his recliner.
Isn’t it funny what our minds recall about our loved ones from our early years?
Jamestown also happens to be my hometown. If you’ve ever driven through central North Dakota on I94 and passed by, chances are you did a double take if you spied the “World’s Largest Buffalo” just off the highway. This 26’ tall concrete structure has stood over the Frontier Fort since before I was born, and I know I’ve visited ‘the Buffalo’ at least once, every single summer.
Favorite activities during these annual visits used to include playing in the railroad cars, followed by sticky fingers from dripping cones piled high with scoops of hard ice cream. I even have vague memories of skipping down to a cave in the hillside below the giant statue when I was a kid, but there are no caves now, so either my mind is playing tricks on me or the cave was filled in, perhaps deemed unsafe. This year, a rope blocks the entrance to the remaining railroad car and the shop with the ice cream was empty.
While some old favorites at ‘the Buffalo’ (we never call it the Frontier Fort) are gone, new exhibits are being added. Change is a constant, even back home.
This brings me back to where I started with this post, and why I insisted on visiting the Louis L’ Amour writing shack before it closed for the season. I’d picked up a well-loved (aka worn) copy of one of his books from a used bookstore earlier this summer, and I wanted to get some pictures of it alongside other mementos from the famous author’s career.
This writing shack exhibit has grown in significance for me as I continue to immerse myself in the world of writing. Chances are that if you love old westerns, you’ve heard of Louis L’ Amour. As I stood reading the information on display about him, it occurred to me that he might have been around the same age as my grandfather.
Was there any chance Grandpa Les knew Louis personally? I know Grandpa liked his books.
Anytime I’m curious about something related to our family’s history, the first call I make is to my sister-in-law, Joey. I posed my question to her, immediately piquing her interest, too. She remembered Mom telling her that Grandpa Les was born in Wisconsin, but somewhere along the line he moved to Jamestown, well before my mother was born.
If his move wasn’t until after 1923, the year the sign in the writer’s shack said Louis and his family moved away from Jamestown, then I probably had a disappointing answer to my musings.
But Joey loves a mystery, so she got digging. The girl is a wizard when it comes to genealogy. It didn’t take her long to locate census records from that time period.
Now we were getting somewhere. Grandpa was born on September 23, 1907, in Merrill, WI. Louis was born on March 22, 1908 in Jamestown, ND. Census records show Grandpa still living in Wisconsin with his family in 1910, but by 1920, the records indicate they’d moved to Jamestown.
Suddenly, it was at least possible that these two boys, only six months apart in age, may have played basketball together at Franklin School. Or maybe they shared a table at the Alfred Dickey Free Library, crafting poems or short stories together. We know Louis blossomed into a very successful and prolific author, but I also have a booklet from Grandpa’s high school days that include pieces he (Les) wrote.
The school and the library are both included as part of a walking tour which highlights locations important to Louis in his early years.
Both men left this earth years ago, but their legacies live on. Louis’s legacy includes his many books, short stories, and poems, as well as numerous movies and TV shows based on his work. Grandpa’s legacy lives on and continues to expand through our family.
Call me sentimental, but I’m always struck when I consider the many ways we continue to follow in the steps of those who have gone before us.
I’ll never know if my Grandpa Les and Mr. Louis L’Amour played basketball together at Franklin School, but I know I played some ball there. Did the two of them both write in the library? Yes, I suspect they might have, but maybe not at the same time. I know I spent many hours there, researching papers throughout my high school years. Even now, copies of the novels I’ve written sit on the shelves in the Alfred Dickey Library. There is a whole section in the library dedicated to Louis.
During my visit to the writing shack, it felt surreal to place my fingers on an old typewriter Louis might have used to craft his best-selling stories. As I sat at that desk, my daughter-in-law juggled her phone in one hand, snapping pictures of me as I “played” at what it might have felt like to be an author back in Louis’s day, while she also held my five-month-old grandson in her arms.
I can still picture Grandpa’s face the first time he held my first born. Now it’s my son’s baby visiting an exhibit that honors the work and life of the man I suspect was the baby’s great great grandfather’s favorite author.
Were Les and Louis ever friends? I’ll never know. But Jamestown is a small town, and I suspect their paths crossed. Maybe they even helped each other celebrate a birthday or two. It’s a fun thought, regardless.
Happy heavenly birthday, Grandpa. I miss you. Thank you for passing on your love of books to me. And thank you, Louis, for sharing your talent with the world. You both left your marks on this earth.
Keep watching for those connections, Kim
Kimberly Diede Author
Hello everyone and welcome to my blog! My name is Kimberly Diede and I'm a fiction author and family girl. When time permits, I am happiest with a great cup of coffee in one hand and a book in the other. I love to alternate between reading and writing. Winters here can be long, dark and cold. Summers are unpredictable, lovely and always too short. Every season of the year, as in every season of life, is a gift. Let's celebrate it together!