Death of a caveman
April 23, 2010 1:33 PM   Subscribe

"Richard Zimmerman had been in declining health when he died Wednesday."
posted by w0mbat at 1:40 PM on April 23, 2010

All that love all those mistakes
What else can a poor man make?
So I gave up a life of crime
I gave it to a friend of mine
Something else was on my mind
The only ghost I'm haunted by
I hear her howling down below
Idaho oh Idaho

Wolves oh wolves oh can't you see?
Ain't no wolf can sing like me
And if it could then I suppose
He belongs in Idaho
Packs of dogs and cigarettes
For those who ain't done packing yet
My clothes are packed and I want to go
Idaho oh Idaho

Out at sea for seven years I got your letter in Tangier
Thought that I'd been on a boat
'Til that single word you wrote
That single word it landlocked me
Turned the masts to cedar trees
And the winds to gravel roads
Idaho oh Idaho

posted by jimmythefish at 1:42 PM on April 23, 2010

posted by Iridic at 1:45 PM on April 23, 2010

What an awesome and inspiring human being. I'm sorry I'm only finding out about him because he died.

posted by fleetmouse at 1:48 PM on April 23, 2010

Drawn by Idaho's remoteness and wild places removed from social pressures, they came and spent their lives here, leaving only in death.


Services are pending. A brother, Raymond Zimmerman, has requested that his remains be sent to Illinois.

Leaving only in death indeed. You'd think his brother would let his remains stay in the soil where he lived his life.

Not only is Idaho enriched by such "eccentric" people - the whole world is.
posted by three blind mice at 1:50 PM on April 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


"A brother, Raymond Zimmerman, has requested that his remains be sent to Illinois."

posted by dirtdirt at 1:51 PM on April 23, 2010

He punched cows and worked as a farmhand

Wait, what?
posted by munchingzombie at 1:52 PM on April 23, 2010


Sounded like an amazing person. To be truly self-sufficient is hard to achieve. RIP.
posted by garnetgirl at 2:02 PM on April 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

I think this is the kind of guy Chris McCandless wanted to be.
posted by jimmythefish at 2:11 PM on April 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

To be truly self-sufficient is hard to achieve.

This is so true and what is so deserving of respect.

Conservatives mocked Hillary Clinton when she said "it takes a village to raise a child" - but this is a simple statement of fact for all but the "eccentrics" like Zimmerman.
posted by three blind mice at 2:12 PM on April 23, 2010

Word Wizard elaborates on Cow Punchers. Urban Dictionary: not so helpful.

Conservatives mocked Hillary Clinton when she said "it takes a village to raise a child" - but this is a simple statement of fact for all but the "eccentrics" like Zimmerman.

Different concepts. To raise a child is to care for a little one's upbringing. To live off the land is usually not intended for kids, with the notion that you can be self-sufficient when you're older.
posted by filthy light thief at 2:17 PM on April 23, 2010

"They are a unique group that until the 1980s included canyon contemporaries with names like Beaver Dick"

I am so sorry, but I just CANNOT get past that point in the article without cracking up. Is that because I have the maturity and mentality of a twelve-year-old?
posted by ElDiabloConQueso at 2:22 PM on April 23, 2010

posted by brundlefly at 2:34 PM on April 23, 2010

Ed Stiles and old Tom Birnam went up to their cattle on the bare hills
Above Mai Paso; they'd ridden under the stars' white death, when they reached the ridge the huge tiger-lily
Of a certain cloud-lapped astonishing autumn sunrise opened all its petals. Ed Stiles pulled in his horse,
That flashy palamino he rode cream-color, heavy white mane, white tail, his pride and said
'Look, Tom. My God. Ain't that a beautiful sunrise?' Birnam drew down his mouth, set the hard old chin,
And whined: 'Now, Ed: listen here: I haven't an ounce of poetry in all my body. It's cows we're after.'
Ed laughed and followed; they began to sort the heifers out of the herd. One red little deer-legged creature
Rolled her wild eyes and ran away down the hill, the old man hard after her. She ran through a deep-cut gully,
And Birnam's piebald would have made a clean jump but the clay lip
Crumbled under his take-off, he slipped and
Spilled in the pit, flailed with four hooves and came out scrambling.
Stiles saw them vanish,
Then the pawing horse and the flapping stirrups. He rode and looked down and saw the old man in the gulley-bottom
Flat on his back, most grimly gazing up at the sky. He saw the earth banks, the sparse white grass,
The strong dark sea a thousand feet down below, red with reflections of clouds. He said 'My God,
Tom, are you hurt?' Who answered slowly, 'No, Ed.
I'm only lying here thinking o' my four sons' biting the words
Carefully between his lips 'big handsome men, at present lolling in bed in their . . . silk . . . pyjamas . . .
And why the devil I keep on working?' He stood up slowly and wiped the dirt from his cheek, groaned, spat,
And climbed up the clay bank. Stiles laughed: 'Tom, I can't tell you: I guess you like to. By God I guess
You like the sunrises.' The old man growled in his throat and said
'Catch me my horse.'

This old man died last winter, having
lived eighty-one years under open sky,
Concerned with cattle, horses and hunting, no thought nor emotion that all his ancestors since the ice-age
Could not have comprehended. I call that a good life; narrow, but vastly better than most
Men's lives, and beyond comparison more beautiful; the wind-struck music man's bones were moulded to be the harp for.
posted by kenko at 2:40 PM on April 23, 2010 [3 favorites]

For one brief moment I thought this was about Dick Cheney.

You know, undisclosed location and all that? No?

This one sounds cooler. RIP.
posted by norm at 2:48 PM on April 23, 2010

i agree with fleemouse. and i wish i cold have met this man in life.

posted by lapolla at 3:32 PM on April 23, 2010

argh - apologies, *fleetmouse*
posted by lapolla at 3:33 PM on April 23, 2010

Finally, all those baseball players can stop scratching their—

*reads article*

Oh. Never mind.
posted by Sys Rq at 6:27 PM on April 23, 2010


A lot of times I wish I could live like that, but I doubt if I could do it.
posted by mike3k at 6:30 PM on April 23, 2010

So he lived there fine without having to farm or have a job? How exactly do you do that? Doesn't it take a lot of food to feed an adult human? I thought it took more than what you could squeeze out of a garden. This makes it sound like all those overworked, ill-nourished subsistence farmers r doin it wrong.
posted by Xezlec at 9:12 PM on April 23, 2010

He raised goats and chickens, tended a bountiful vegetable garden and orchard and stored what he couldn't eat or sell in a root cellar. A lifelong victim of a quarrelsome stomach, he survived largely on what he could grow or make. Homemade yogurt ranked among his proudest achievements.
posted by fixedgear at 4:57 AM on April 24, 2010

OK, I didn't mention everything. So, garden, goats, chickens, orchard. My grandfather had a small plot, somewhere in between a garden and a farm, and a chicken coop. That still didn't seem to be enough. He had retirement money (he worked for Citgo all his life) and I know they bought all kinds of things from the store, especially starchy things like potatoes and flour. I guess this guy must have sold a fair amount of his produce or something.

OTOH, various web sources seem to say 5 or 10 acres should be enough, so maybe my grandfather just kind of sucked at life. Yeah, yeah, runs in the fam, etc.

So if living that way is really that easy, and given that people dislike the hectic pace of civilization so much, why don't more people move out to the mountain states and do this?
posted by Xezlec at 9:03 AM on April 24, 2010

So if living that way is really that easy

Who said it was easy?

and given that people dislike the hectic pace of civilization so much, why don't more people move out to the mountain states and do this?

In my case it is because I am a pussy.
posted by fixedgear at 9:06 AM on April 24, 2010

The reason that more people don't live as hermits in caves is because human-beings are comfort-seeking, social animals, Xezlec.

"I ride Greyhounds, not airplanes," he said in a 1993 Statesman interview. "Besides, the show isn't in California. The show is here."
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 11:39 AM on April 24, 2010

The "hermit" part was not the part I was suggesting.
posted by Xezlec at 7:20 AM on April 25, 2010

Who said it was easy?

Gardening? People do that for fun, don't they? Raising goats and chickens? I've known a couple people who did that and it didn't seem hard. Where does the difficulty lie?
posted by Xezlec at 7:38 AM on April 25, 2010

This is some of the saddest news I've read in months.. I met Dugout Dick briefly almost exactly five years ago, when I persuaded my then-fling to take two weeks off work and hitchhike with me to the Idaho Beard & Mustache Festival in Sun Valley. We spent two nights at the cave motels, in a small cave high up the hillside overlooking the Salmon river. Each morning Dugout Dick's "adopted" son Jack, a sweet and savvy rainbow tribe kid and conscious drop-out, woke us at 7 to build a small fire a few feet in front of our cave where we made cowboy coffee in an old aluminum percolator that sat in the flames. Our cave wasn't one of the nicest, but it wasn't bad: the front wall was made of car tires, and there was an old locking Frigidaire to keep our clothes in, out of reach of spiders. The trickiest part to the cave was that it was heated with an old wood-burning cookstove, built to burn hot rather than long, so we had to wake up several times a night to gather wood scraps (bought by the truckload from a nearby Mennonite sawmill) from a pile outside the door and stoke the fire before the flames gave out. I think it was late March, or early April, and the weather was still bitterly cold by southern standards. We walked a few miles down the road to a tiny bar, where the owner was letting Jack keep a few fish in the freezer, then built a fire outside his--Jack's--small cabin by the river and cooked them, and rice my sweetheart and I had brought, with almonds and cashews, over a fire outside. (Incidentally, the cabin had been built by Dugout Dick for his wife when he was briefly married, but despite a nice life in the flatlands, the marriage apparently didn't take. Jack and I joked of my marrying Dugout Dick to keep the caves going after he died, since they were a BLM mining claim that had to yield some amount of gold every year so they wouldn't be revoked.) Other folks from the caves came by to join, and I was really amazed by how well the community seemed to get along. Of course an outsider's romanticism doesn't mean much, and I'm reluctant to paint with too broad a brush as passers-by and tourists often do. But it seemed like the caves were as much a home for conscientious drop-outs as for folks who couldn't have made it in the cities. There was Jack. Dick, who drove his little red pickup putt-putting into town to sell asparagus outside the post office in Salmon, and who lived in two adjoining caves now that he'd gotten rid of the goats he'd kept in one of 'em before they pushed him down the hillside and broken his hip at 82 (he played warbling old western music for us on a beat-up tape deck, but otherwise we only got to spend a few minutes with him). There was a man from back east who worked at a saw mill in Salmon; his daughter had been murdered the year before, and he'd quit his white-collar job that had kept him from spending time with her before she was killed, and driven west. (He was writing a book about the experiences, and his burgeoning appreciation for primativism, running his laptop off a cigarette lighter adapter in his pickup truck.) There was a Cherokee transvestite and several sex workers who spent the winters in cities, but the caves, like many makeshift communities on the fringes, didn't seem like an ideal place for women/people who lived as women to feel safe. The second day we were there, we walked a few more miles down the road, then hiked for half an hour up steep trails to a series of steaming hot springs that poured each to each in pools terraced down the hillside (hot springs aficionados, I think they're known as "goldbug," and they're absolutely worth the trip if you're anywhere nearby), then hitched a ride back in a passing pickup. Life out there seemed idyllic, but for the bitter winters and the tourist's penchant for over-romanticising a hard life lived in a way that's difficult for many outsiders to understand (see: post-colonial critiques of anthropology as largely a mirror of the anthropologist's own value system). This is to say that I spent quite a while after that cooking up schemes for a hand-crank laptop I could use to write my master's thesis on, at the caves. Sadly, neither of us have been back since, though as I was writing this disorganized note, I remembered the caves were the first time I'd told my sweetheart that I loved him. He'd been telling me for a couple weeks by then, not seeming to expect an answer, though I felt like our relationship was a quick fling that, for the first time, was just as comfortable and easy as I'd always imagined quick flings were supposed to be. Traveling with someone is tough, especially when your travels involve sleeping outside in freezing weather and hitching from empty highways with long waits, or sleeping overnight in truckers' lounges during freak snowstorms (we were careful not to get stuck sleeping outside that far north), and I've seldom found people who are comfortable taking those kinds of risks, but also trustworthy and intellectually engaging and fun to spend days at a time with. So I was sure by the end of the two-week trip the fling would be over. But five years later, we're still together, for the most part still as comfortably happy with one another as when we met. I don't relish living in a cave as my full-time life (nor missing my chance to propose to Dugout Dick), but I wonder what's going to happen to the caves, which are a BLM mining claim, now that he's died without heirs. I wonder what the BLM does to expired claims, and whether the caves will be destroyed, and if there's anything I could do.
posted by soviet sleepover at 7:43 PM on April 25, 2010 [6 favorites]

he played warbling old western music for us on a beat-up tape deck...

he played HIS warbling old western music, that is!
posted by soviet sleepover at 11:39 PM on April 25, 2010

Thanks, soviet sleepover.
posted by fixedgear at 2:55 PM on April 26, 2010

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