Death of 'Caveman' ends an era in Idaho

Having known homeless people myself, I'm always wary of politicians claims to wipeout homelessness and poverty. They clearly don't understand that for many it is a life choice. They definitely don't understand that poverty is an attitude, not a lifestyle. I've known "middle class" people who work 2 jobs, sacrifice a decent relationship with their children, and are ashamed or worried about the looks of their car or home. These people would never be classified as impoverished by the politicians. No one would ever threaten to take away their children based on their lifestyle. Read the story about the man below and immagine what it would be like to have him as a father. When I think about the politicians who want to eliminate homelessness and poverty, I fear what kind of "services" they would want to impose on this man, or threaten removal of his children if he had chosen to have them. I grew up in an upper middle class area of Long Island. My parents were poor by comparison but having grown up I know that by the worlds standards we were wealthy. And yet my Mother was ashamed of our home. I now live in a similar, lower middle class style home but I'm proud of it and greatful everyday for the bounty of the universe. I wish we all could have the attitide that this man obviously had about his physical surroundings. This would truely mean the elimination of poverty.


Death of 'Caveman' ends an era in Idaho

Richard Zimmerman, known to all as Dugout Dick, succumbs at 94

BY TIM WOODWARD - [email protected]

Copyright: © 2010 Idaho Statesman

Published: 04/23/10


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Idaho Statesman file

A lifetime of living alone in solitary places shows in Dugout Dick's face in this photo shot in 2002. Born Richard Zimmerman, he was the last of Idaho's legendary loners. Zimmerman died Wednesday.


Idaho Statesman file

Dugout Dick's caves, dug with a pick, shovel and prybar, became an informal tourist attraction on this hillside near Salmon.


Idaho Statesman file

Dugout Dick's caves, dug with a pick, shovel and prybar, became a virtual tourist attraction on this this hillside near Salmon.

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Known as the "Salmon River Caveman," Richard Zimmerman lived an essentially 19th century lifestyle, a digital-age anachronism who never owned a telephone or a television and lived almost entirely off the land.

"He was in his home at the caves at the end, and it was his wish to die there," said Connie Fitte, who lived across the river. "He was the epitome of the free spirit."

Richard Zimmerman had been in declining health when he died Wednesday.

Few knew him by his given name. To friends and visitors to his jumble of cave-like homes scrabbled from a rocky shoulder of the Salmon River, he was Dugout Dick.

He was the last of Idaho's river-canyon loners that date back to Territorial days. They are a unique group that until the 1980s included canyon contemporaries with names like Beaver Dick, Cougar Dave and Wheelbarrow Annie, "Buckskin Bill" (real name Sylvan Hart) and "Free Press Frances" Wisner. Fiercely independent loners, they lived eccentric lives on their own terms and made the state more interesting just by being here.

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

Some became reluctant celebrities, interviewed about their unusual lifestyles and courted by media heavyweights. Zimmerman was featured in National Geographic magazine and spurned repeated invitations to appear on the "Tonight Show."

"I ride Greyhounds, not airplanes," he said in a 1993 Statesman interview. "Besides, the show isn't in California. The show is here."

Cort Conley, who included Zimmerman in his 1994 book "Idaho Loners", said that "like Thoreau, he often must have smiled at how much he didn't need. É What gave him uncommon grace and dignity for me were his spiritual life, his musical artistry, his unperturbed acceptance of life as it is, and being a WWII veteran who had served his country and harbored no expectations in return."

His metamorphisis to Dugout Dick began when he crossed a wooden bridge over the Salmon River in 1947 and built a makeshift home on the side of a hill. He spent the rest of his life there, fashioning one cavelike dwelling after another, furnishing them with castoff doors, car windows, old tires and other leavings.

"I have everything here," he said. "I got lots of rocks and rubber tires. I have plenty of straw and fruit and vegetables, my dog and my cats and my guitars. I make wine to cook with. There's nothing I really need."

Some of his caves were 60 feet deep. Though he "never meant to build an apartment house," he earned spending money by renting them for $2 a night. Some renters spent one night; others chose the $25 monthly rate and stayed for months or years.

He lived in a cave by choice. Moved by a friend to a care center in Salmon at age 93 because he was in failing health, he walked out and hitchhiked home.

Bruce Long, who rented one of his caves and looked after him, said the care center "had bingo and TV, but things like that held no interest for him. He just wanted to live in his cave.

"People said he was the only person they'd ever known who was absolutely self-sufficient. He didn't work for anybody. He worked for himself."

Born in Indiana in 1916, Zimmerman grew up on farms in Indiana and Michigan, the son of a moonshiner with a mean streak. He rebelled against his domineering father and ran away at a young age, riding the rails west and learning the hobo songs he later would play on a battered guitar for guests at his caves.

He punched cows and worked as a farmhand, settling in Idaho's Lemhi Valley in 1937 and making ends meet by cutting firewood and herding sheep. In 1942, he joined the Army and served as a truck driver in the Pacific during World War II. When his service ended, he returned to Idaho and never left.

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.

He was married once, briefly, to a pen-pal bride from Mexico. The other woman in his life, Bonnie Trositt, tired of life in a cave, left him for a job as a potato sorter and was murdered by her roommate. He claimed to see her spirit in the flickering light of a kerosene lamp on the cave walls.

He rarely went to church, but read and quoted continually from the Bible.

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

Tim Woodward: 377-6409

Brian's picture

I used to dream of living alone like this. Growing up was often social torture for me and I wanted to avoid f'ing people and find some peace.


Call me Mary's picture

I just can’t help but think that this really would be an easier way of life to live… than the hustle and bustle that most of us call life now.  


How much of our day do we work in order to;

feed ourselves?

To cloth ourselves?

To buy the newest gadgets…

To pay the utilities….

To fill up the vehicle with gas so we can work harder and longer…..

To feed ourselves…..

To cloth ourselves…..

To buy bigger houses….

To hold and store all the extras that we buy…..

and then rent storage garages….

Because we have run out of room……

for all the stuff we own?  


The consumption cycle is such insanity!   What do we really need all this “stuff” for?   Although this guy did have to work for his food, clothing, shelter, etc…. I would be willing to bet…. He averaged less work hours in his life….. and way more satisfaction.


Wendy, I have to agree with you that poverty is an attitude… not a lifestyle.   I would like to see the day, when we – together – choose to lift up the lowest of ourselves… those without their basic needs being met – such as food, water and shelter – and to make that a necessity first… before we allow ourselves to give so much to the movie stars and sports athletes.  (just to name a few of the grossly obvious excesses.)     


Thank goodness there are these kind of things happening right alongside the insanity.   What used to look like poverty and lack of intelligence to me in younger years….. now humbles me with the show of integrity, personal power, tenacity  and sovereignty!


Thanks for the story.  I really enjoyed it.    


With Gratitude,


Bob07's picture


That was one of the most uplifting posts I've seen in a while.  Thanks.  I searched a little and found this link: 

It's an article that has two videos at the end.  Don't miss either of them.  Made me want to go dig a cave myself.  I'll propose it to my wife.  I'm trying to think how to present it...

By the way, if anyone knows how to embed videos, like in a post, please tell me how.  I tried but failed.




Wendy's picture

Thanks for the comments all, and thanks for the link Bob.

Once you go to the video, after it's done playing there's usually a tab you can pick in the lower right that says enbed. You copy that link, then come here and pick the film icon above.

When the box comes up you paste the link in the box and that's it, the film should be enbedded. This one isn't a Youtube so I'm not sure if I can get it to work.

Yea, I couldn't get this one to enbed either. Bob, did you notice there weren't any women living there? Good luck with the misses - I like simple living and all but a cave??

Bob07's picture

...And so my wife and I are out to dinner last night.  I had already told her about Dugout Dave.  I look at her across the table and say, "Sarah, I think we should sell our house and live in a cave."

She smiles sweetly at me and says, "I'll come visit."

Bob07's picture

(Duplicated post removed)

Wendy's picture

That's a great laugh, my thoughts exactly!

Call me Mary's picture

I would sure like to try out living in a cave for - oh about a year or two (maybe more..).  I just don't know if I could be all that comfortable giving up running - and instantly warm - water though.  

Perhaps if I could dig one near a hot springs....... and pipe some hot water over to my cave for the shower.... hmmmm...  that just might be make it do-able....   Smile.

Of course.... then there would be the issue of missing all of you out here at the G-spot!

The Gathering Spot is a PEERS empowerment website
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