Salmon River CavemanRichard Zimmerman

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Very few people knew Zimmerman’s real name: he was either “Dugout Dick” or the “Salmon River Caveman” to most. Zimmerman moved to a canyon of the Salmon River in Idaho in 1947, after serving in World War II, and dug himself a home in the canyon wall. And stayed there, preferring to live a pre-modern life. He lived mostly off the land, with a few chickens and goats, and a garden. “I make wine to cook with,” he once said. “There’s nothing I really need.” He took in a little cash once his home got big enough: he rented rooms in his cave for $2 a night, or $25 a month — and several tenants stayed for years (“I never meant to build an apartment house,” he said, but some of his caves were 60 feet deep). He used doors, old windows, tires and other “junk” in his construction. After being featured in National Geographic magazine, he turned down “repeated” invitations to appear on the Tonight Show. “The show isn’t in California,” he explained. “The show is here.” Last year, as he was getting older, a friend concerned by his failing health took him to a nursing home, but he walked and hitchhiked back home, to his cave. “He was in his home at the caves at the end, and it was his wish to die there,” said a friend from across the river. “He was the epitome of the free spirit.” Dugout Dick died April 21, at 94, at home and on his own terms.

From This is True for 25 April 2010