It’s not everyday that the descendant of an American literary giant stops by for a visit, but the grandson of Ernest Hemingway recently visited the Dumas home of Joe and Nancy Wilkin to learn more about his grandfather’s hunting trip to Southeast Arkansas where he was a guest on Wilkin’s father’s houseboat.
In late 1932 and early 1933, Ernest Hemingway was the guest of Wilkin’s late father, J.A. Wilkin, a well-known professional duck guide, cattleman and commercial fisherman who owned the Walter Adams, a 22-room houseboat on the White River.
John Hemingway had learned of the hunting trip through letters Ernest Hemingway had written to family members and his editor, Max Perkins.
In a December 7, 1932 letter encouraging Perkins to join him on Mr. Wilkin’s houseboat, Hemingway wrote (in part):
Will you come here and meet me in Memphis on December 15 to shoot ducks for a week from the houseboat Walter Adams–anchored in the (White) River at (Watson) Ark. If you can’t stay a week stay as long as you can. You don’t need to bring anything but some warm clothes. I have everything else and have made the reservation and paid for you in advance. We could talk over everything and have the finest duck shooting in the world. I know how you enjoyed shooting the goldings and these ducks are so plentiful and come in to the decoys so often that you would have a swell time.
I know of course that business and your family affairs absolutely forbid it but I need to see you and you need to get away and we will have the sort of shooting that our grandfathers and great grandfathers had. Please wire you are coming because it will be too late to get anyone else and I lose $100 if you don’t come. Tried to get Mike (Strater) to come too but he wouldn’t. Please come Max and if you don’t have a better time than you ever had I will push you back to N.Y. in a wheelbarrow. We will meet in Memphis on the 15th get to Watson on the 16th–and start shooting that day. I will be waiting for a wire. From a business etc standpoint you really ought to…
Just a week after Hemingway wrote the letter to Perkins, Hemingway’s barn-studio in Piggott, Arkansas burned.
Hemingway was able to save his manuscripts, but his clothing, hunting gear and guns were destroyed in the fire. Hemingway arrived at Wilkin’s houseboat with little more than the clothes on his back, according to Wilkin.
“Mama took him to Pine Bluff to buy some clothes,” Wilkin said, adding that Hemingway gave her an autographed copy of one of his novels. At one time, her copy of the novel was in the Watson library were she worked.
Wilkin said Perkins, who joined the Hemingway party on the Walter Adams, left after three or four days, but Hemingway stayed about a month, considerably longer than expected, and wrote two short stories while there.
John Hemingway, his wife and son, along with Perkins’ granddaughter and her husband, recently spent about an hour and a half at the Wilkin home in Dumas asking questions about Hemingway’s hunting trip to Desha County and his lengthy stay on the Walter Adams.
Wilkin answered their questions, providing some surprising information they weren’t aware of, and arranged for a friend to take them hunting in the area where their grandfathers hunted more than 80 years ago.