Ghost of Cooke City

cooke city, yellowstone,

Following Hemingway through Yellowstone.

The steep, snow-covered mountains near Cooke City, at the northeast entrance to Yellowstone National Park, have long drawn visitors from around the world to ski, snowmobile, fish, hunt, and watch wildlife. One of those visitors happened to be Ernest Hemingway.

After years of living in and around Cooke, just a few miles from the Montana-Wyoming border, bartender and author Chris Warren felt a deep emotional bond to the wildness and isolation of the tiny hamlet, with a population of less than 200 hardy souls.

“One day a fellow named Walkin’ Tom Weaver of Red Lodge came into my coffee shop and told me that his dad was friends with Hemingway,” remembers Warren. “Tom gave me a copy of True at First Light, about the author’s last trip to Africa in the winter of 1953-54. In the book, Hemingway walks into a general store in Laitokitok, Kenya and says ‘I liked it because it was like the general store and post office in Cooke City, Montana.’”

Not surprisingly, that piqued Warren’s interest, who was also drawn to Cooke City’s unique, remote character. “I thought, the very same things that attracted me to this area, are what attracted Hemingway. So from that point forward, I decided to pull the thread and follow the trail of Hemingway’s connections,” he explains.

Hemingway first came to the Yellowstone high country in his 1928 Model A Sportster in July of 1930, when he reportedly drove across the Clark’s Fork of the Yellowstone, the first automobile to do so. He settled into a cabin at the L Bar T Ranch, 10 miles southeast of Cooke, with his second wife, Pauline, and his first son, Jack. The main attraction was the remote Clark’s Fork and its fantastic trout fishing—not to mention an inspirational setting in which to write. Several of his later stories and letters would include references to Cooke City’s rugged beauty and the toughness of its residents.

If you’re up for a wild adventure this summer, pick up a copy of Warren’s book, Ernest Hemingway in the Yellowstone High Country (Riverbend Publishing, $20), and then drive to Cooke City. It’s an informative read that will give you all of the clues necessary to chase Hemingway’s ghost.

Ernest Hemingway in the Yellowstone High Country

Hemingway was known for writing in the bar. He’d arrive in the morning or early afternoon, bend over his writing pad, and subtly push his glass forward when he wanted another drink. Today you can stop in the Miners Saloon, get author Chris Warren to autograph your book and sell you a bottle of Old Forester—Hemingway’s favorite—and then continue on to fish for trout on the Clark’s Fork, where the ghost of Hemingway may very well be watching.