The Ox-Bow Man
A Biography Of Walter Van Tilburg Clark
Publication Year: 2004
Published by: University of Nevada Press
Series: Western Literature Series
Title Page, Copyright Page
Whatever happened to Walter Van Tilburg Clark? The author of The Ox-Bow Incident and The Track of the Cat? For several decades he was one of our most famous authors—in demand as writer, speaker, and teacher of creative writing. More than this, he was probably the most celebrated of our writers about the West, if...
I am in debt to the many people who gave of their time to talk or write to me about Walter Clark—his relatives, colleagues, students, and friends. I have listed and thanked them individually as sources in my documentation at the end of the book. The person above all to whom I am grateful is Walter Clark’s son, Robert...
Chapter One: From Maine to Nevada
Yes, the writer who dearly loved the West, its landscape and history, and who wrote one of its signature novels, was born in the East. He is the writer who is remembered by many as the one who made the western novel real. Walter Van Tilburg Clark did not talk much about his childhood in the East to either...
Chapter Two: Two Major Influences—Robert Cole Caples and Robinson Jeffers
Like Clark, Robert Caples was born in the East and spent his childhood in New York City. His parents divorced early in his life—his father, a doctor, had gone to Reno for a divorce and decided to stay. Living with his mother alone, Robert became a withdrawn, troubled child. He would not do his lessons in school and...
Chapter Three: Marriage, Children, and Cazenovia Central School
While he was in graduate school at Nevada, Walter Clark met Barbara Frances Morse, the attractive and very bright daughter of a retired Presbyterian minister. Barbara, who suƒered from serious sinus problems, had come to Reno for her health after three years at Oberlin. A key to her somewhat eccentric personality...
Chapter Four: The Ox-Bow Incident and the Western Novel
One day Walter Clark told Betty Shaw something that he asked her to remember: “Live every day, no matter what happens. Live every day. Feel everything. Let every thought that comes to your brain follow itself to the end, even if it is a dead end.” She wrote it down. Clark was a thoughtful man with a rich inner life,...
Chapter Five: Writer of Stories, Poems, and Letters
In the story "The Indian Well," an old prospector, in revenge, sets out to kill a mountain lion for doing what mountain lions do. Another old prospector appears in one of Clark’s best stories, “The Wind and the Snow of Winter,” which won the O. Henry short story award for 1945. Once again the man is set...
Chapter Six: The Ox-Bow Movie and The City of Trembling Leaves
The immediate success of The Ox-Bow Incident brought a demand for stories that Clark had already written. Right after the novel’s publication in October of 1940, he sold “The Pretender” to the Atlantic Monthly and “Trial at Arms” to the Saturday Evening Post. The $450 he received from the Post equaled the advance he...
Chapter Seven: Back to Nevada and The Track of the Cat
The City of Trembling Leaves may have been Walter Clark’s sentimental favorite, but it was little appreciated by either the general reading public or the critics. The sales were so poor that even though he had one story included in each volume of the O. Henry prize stories from 1941 to 1945, Random House declined to publish...
Chapter Eight: Virginia City and The Watchful Gods and Other Stories
But Virginia City during the boom years was not just a city of bars, bordellos, fights, murders, and public hangings. While it may have been a wild place, even at times and in certain places dangerous, it was also, strangely enough, a city that developed quite a social and cultural life. It had live theatre productions...
Chapter Nine: Away from Home—Frustration and Longing
Clark's teaching at the high school in Virginia City lasted only a year, 1950–51. He got an offer to teach the following year at the renowned Writers’ Workshop at the University of Iowa. Reluctant to move from Virginia City or take the children out of school for a year, he and Barbara decided that he would go...
Chapter Ten: From Iowa City, to Omaha, and to Columbia, Missouri
In the meantime, though Clark continued to be blocked in his writing, he found some solace in his teaching, his situation having evolved into a much better one this second semester. His improved relations with his colleagues were important, not only for his peace of mind but for some sense of accomplishment during a...
Chapter Eleven: Two Resignations, Son and Father
By the end of June 1952, Walter Clark was back with his wife, in Virginia City, in his beloved desert mountains. He had been offered a job at Iowa, first, as temporary head of the workshop, and then second, as a professor in the department for the following year once the permanent head returned from leave. But...
Chapter Twelve: Alone in Missoula and in Palo Alto
But he wasn't really free to choose between a writing life or a teaching life—he had to teach in order to live and support a wife and two children. The alternative was no longer an option. He had been unable to complete a significant part of a manuscript to his own satisfaction and therefore could not even try to get an...
Chapter Thirteen: The Move to Montana and Uncompleted Writing Projects
That summer of 1954 the Clarks moved to Missoula with the hope that they would now be together permanently. The fact that they didn’t rent but purchased their house at 212 Hastings Street suggests some degree of emotional commitment on Clark’s part. It was a relatively small house, with a covered little front portico...
Chapter Fourteen: On to Mill Valley and to Teaching at San Francisco State
Jim Elder was close to Clark during the period when Hollywood was trying to get the rights to The Track of the Cat. He recalls that Clark initially refused, saying, “No, because it is an introspective novel. It is not visual—it won’t work.” But every two or three months he would get a call or letter telling him that the studio...
Chapter Fifteen: Back to Nevada and Becoming Alf Doten
Starting in the summer of 1957, the city of San Francisco prosecuted Lawrence Ferlinghetti on the charge of disseminating obscenity by publishing Allen Ginsberg’s Howl and Other Poems in the City Lights Pocket Poets Series. It was a landmark case in civil rights law. J. (Jake) W. Ehrlich, with two other attorneys,...
Chapter Sixteen: Teaching and Telling Stories in Reno
It wasn't until February of 1963 that Clark finished the Ishi book and reported to Caples: "I have now met Ishi full length—though passage by passage between longer passages of Alf Doten. A disturbed kind of reading—yet, a most telling juxtaposition. Alf ’s five years on the Mother (who did that occur to, I wonder?) Lode includes...
Chapter Seventeen: The Doten Journals and Declining Health
Walter Clark had a relatively productive year in 1964, writing and publishing several pieces of nonfiction, including the article “Alf Doten in Como,” a foreword to a new collection of Bret Harte’s stories, an introduction to a new edition of A. B. Guthrie Jr.’s The Big Sky, and a foreword to a catalog for a retrospective...
Chapter Eighteen: The Sweet Promised Land of Nevada
In June of 1969 Barbara had an almost constant stomachache, and although suspecting an ulcer, she decided to self-medicate with antacid tablets. After two weeks she went to see a doctor, who prescribed more pills. In August, at another visit to the doctor, she was told that he suspected a gall-bladder problem...
Notes and Documentation