Hunting Stories With Ernie Pyle

Before he became famous as a war correspondent, Ernie Pyle was kind of famous as a columnist. In 1934, when he was managing editor of the Washington News, he had a severe case of flu and took time off to recuperate. His doctor had suggested a warm climate so he and his wife went to Arizona and California and then took a three-week cruise back to the East Coast.

When he got back he showed some columns he had written to the Scripps-Howard people and they liked them and gave him an assignment as a roving columnist. He spent five years criss-crossing the United States and making trips to Alaska, Hawaii, Mexico and South America.

In 1938 he invited E.H. “Shafe” Shaffer, editor of the Albuquerque Tribune, to take a trip with him, and Shaffer described the way Pyle worked:

“He works methodically on those stories that read so easily and casually, sparing no effort to get what he’s after. He keeps a tip book in which he notes down names, addresses and ideas as he hears about them.

“He clips newspapers and pastes items in the book. Perhaps a year or two later he’ll be at the place where one of those items originated, and then he’ll go and get a story about it.

“At Monticello, Utah, Ernie said suddenly, ‘This is where a story is.’ So he got out his little book, and, sure enough, there was a clipping about a hermit named Roy who had trapped some incredible number of mountain lions.

“We asked around, and someone said the hermit was in his cabin, high up on Blue Mountain. So we went up Blue Mountain, which is twelve thousand feet. There’s a one-way road, twelve miles long, and you can’t turn around on it until you get to the end. Well, we got to the end, and there was the cabin, but it was abandoned — apparently hadn’t been occupied for months.

“I’d have squealed like a pig caught under a fence if it had been I that had driven up that mountain after a story and found no story. Ernie just rolled a cigarette and said, ‘Shucks, it probably got too crowded up here for Roy.'”