Chapter 1-a ~ A Rocky Start
A brief family history of two generations that started it all...
In 1916, Ennis del Mar's grandfather Ennis Abraham del Mar was orphaned at the age of sixteen. He lost his father in World War I and only a month later his mother and two brothers died in a flu epidemic.
He sold their homestead for what he could get, packed up his dead family's meager belongings on his horse and two mules, and then bravely journeyed westward to Sage Wyoming hoping for a job as a laborer on a dam project that had been advertised for in the newspaper.
His aim was to raise up a mess of kids and get a taste of the prosperity that the western territories promised in those days.
When he got there, Sage turned out to be a small oasis of a community of only about five-hundred people in the midst of endless mile after mile of barren hills and dry wasteland.
With Bear Lake in Utah only 25 miles west of them, the small town's founders were wise to try to dam up Twin Creek for water in order to create a “tiny dot on the map” of fertile ranch and farmland of their own.
Note: Images can be clicked on to E-N-L-A-R-G-E them
As with anything worth keeping though, paradise is earned only with constant, hard and backbreaking work and Ennis was no stranger to it.
The young man was one of the lucky early few who looked towards the future and invested in Sage. He was laughed at after he collectively took all of his late father's savings, plus what he'd gotten after selling the family farm in the Midwest, and what he'd earned as a journeyman dirt hauler, and invested it into buying what was thought to be a completely useless parched hilltop high above the southeast shore of Twin Creek.
He had its rocky peaks dynamited and sold the resulting waste to his employers as material for the internal core of the earthen dam. The result was a flat platform of bedrock high up where those not thinking ahead didn't realize had the potential to become prime real estate. Unlike them, he'd spend months riding the stream valley, estimating where the water would rise to, and imagining where the shore line would be.
He'd cleverly let his detractors unknowingly pay for leveling out his future home ranch. He would later laugh at them when they learned the valuable business lesson that it's better when you're investing in something to use other people's money.
Through more hard work, he impressed his bosses and became a foreman on the project. Little by little, he redirected a lot of the displaced waste dirt that wasn't rocky enough to be hauled to the dam site onto his own already prepared and waiting property.
Within a year of completion of the dam and the lake that slowly rose up behind it, Ennis had a thousand acres of prime ranching and fertile farmland surrounded on three sides by life-giving water. He was ahead of everyone else in town by at least a year and was selling crops while his neighbors were still preparing their fields for their first plantings.
The much smaller Lake Sage may not have had the tourist appeal of Bear Lake, but the farms thrived from it and relished in its “in the middle of nowhere” reputation. Del Mar, still looking towards the future, began paying local fisherman in Utah to start a “catch and release” program… "Catch ‘em at Bear Lake - release ‘em at Lake Sage!"
Determined not to let the del Mar name die with him, he married early and sired four sons by 1921, eventually doubling that twice with the success of his ranch.
With his early profits, he bought hundreds of tree seedlings from all over the country and had them planted on the northwest shore near the dam, then named the resulting public recreation area Heath Ledger Park after his wife's late father.
With the growing popularity of the automobile, Utah would through the course of years eventually extend its scenic Valley View Highway (Rt. 30) to the Wyoming line just outside of town to accommodate the increase in commerce and traffic.
Del Mar’s fifth son, christened Kyle del Mar, and his neighbor Mark's daughter Francine Bowers were practically twins, both farm-born on June 1st 1922. They were both blond, grew up on ranches across Dead Horse Road from each other, went to school together, and were practically raised as brother and sister… in fact they did everything together.
The only discernible difference in their life trajectories was that while Francine was an only child, Kyle eventually became the middle child of fourteen brothers and sisters.
In the coming years, young Kyle grew up quickly, toiling hard in the fields alongside his daddy. The boy developed into a thin, muscular and gangly teenager with wavy blond hair. When he hit puberty he suddenly realized that Frannie might potentially be more than just his “bestest friend in the whole world.”
He learned to brawl by fighting off his elder brothers’ attentions towards her.
He was born with a defect in his cleft pallet that left him with a life-long lisp that got him picked on a lot by his many brothers and sisters, and especially by the other kids in his classroom. Heartless school tormentors toughened him up by labeling him “Sissy boy” early on and by the time he’d reached the 6th grade he’d been expelled four times for bullying and belligerent behavior.
Ennis began investing in the stock market trying to make sure his moderately rich family stayed that way, but America's luck ran out in 1929 when the stock market crashed, leaving Papa del Mar nearly penniless. Not one to give up easily, he still had his farm and everybody needed food, but for nearly a decade afterward, no one could afford it.
...then came the dust storms and the Great Depression.
In 1937 he took out his first ever loan on his valuable land to try to make ends meet... then saw the prices that farm products could be sold for fall through the floor again. Instantly half the ranches in town went bankrupt with unharvested crops rotting in fields, lots of livestock, and no one to sell either to.
In November of that year, when Kyle was fifteen and a half, his daddy couldn’t find a job to support his big family, but was determined not to sell the ranch he'd worked so hard for. In desperation, Ennis Abraham del Mar, whom everyone in town knew simply as "Papa," took what was left of his life savings and paid the mortgage up for six months.
With talk of Hitler starting a war in Europe, Ennis, who was 37 by then left town without a word to anyone but his wife. He joined the army back when there were no age limits to joining, willing to try anything to support his struggling family. Tragically, he was accidentally killed during training when a defective rifle barrel exploded on a boot camp firing range two months later.
He was buried in a military cemetery back east when sadly his kin couldn't afford to have the body shipped home.
Unlike today, women in those days were unwise in the ways of business and commerce, and his wife became convinced their land was worthless with everyone around her too broke to buy it. Besides that, Mama del Mar was too devastated by the death of her beloved husband to think clearly and took to her bed sobbing and wailing for nearly a week.
With what little financial help she could get from her four grown eldest boys who'd already fled west to find work and start families, She left without a word to anyone, especially the bank, and quietly abandoned the then-famous del Mar ranch. Taking only the clothes on their backs, they left late one night, leaving livestock and equipment in the fields. Her oldest boy Clint rode her and her remaining ten children as far as Lakton Utah before his truck broke down. From there they took a bus to northern Utah to live with her married brother.
Gossip flew and rumors spread that Ennis Abraham del Mar had abandoned Sage with his money to start up a new town of his own in Utah. Sour townsfolk conveniently forgot all Ennis had done for them and wiped his name off of everything. In sheer stupidity and spite, the town council changed Del Mar Pike's name to Dead Horse Road. The only reason Ledger Park was spared was because they didn't know it was named after his father-in-law.
It was only after the long bus journey west that she realized that one of her children was missing.
Following days of frantic searching, finally her eldest daughter broke down and confessed that one of her middle sons said that he was going do his patriotic chore by running away to take his father’s place in the army.
She never saw Kyle again.
He lied about joining the army.
Chapter 1-b ~ Kyle & Frannie Bravely Take The Reins
Lovesick Kyle couldn’t bear the thought of leaving his girlfriend Francine behind. He hid out in her parent’s barn across the road for two weeks while she snuck meals to him. Eventually he moved back to his folk’s abandoned ranch, afraid of the responsibility, trying desperately to remember everything his father taught him about running a spread of that size... by himself.
Del Mar was a careful and smart kid for his age and convinced the neighbors that he was left behind to try to save the ranch on his own. He was allowed to continue going to school every day, signing his mama’s name to report cards and worked part time here and there.
Long ago his daddy discovered that their fat peninsula bordered on three sides by Lake Sage seemed to be a secret gathering spot for cutthroat trout, mackinaw, cisco, and whitefish, and with no limits like on Bear Lake, he’d let out-of-towners fish off his land for a minimal - yet profitable price… Kyle continued that tradition adding ice fishing in the winter months.
His father was permitted to post signs forbidding angling boaters off his shore in return for allowing an annual fishing contest that drew crowds from miles around.
Kyle also did odd jobs on the neighboring ranches for only food and supplies he needed when he had to. Slowly but surely he learned to work the crops on his own and sold off the cattle and horses for pennies on the dollar a few at a time for money to buy equipment to pay the electric and make home repairs.
If it weren't for the Great Depression and plummeting farm commodity prices, the del Mar Ranch would be worth a fortune to someone investing for when the economy got better… if it got better.
Had the bank known who truly held title to that land, they would've snapped it up quickly and had no regrets about evicting the young man who now resided there all alone and scared.
For the first few months the teenager went wild with no parents to say “no” to him, but eventually he settled down with the weight of responsibility on his back for the mortgage. Kyle del Mar would have been alright and gone unnoticed too if it hadn’t been for the present he and Francine gave to each other on their mutual 16th birthday in 1938.
On the last day of school an angry father named Marcus Bowers showed up in class with a loaded shotgun hunting for the boy that got his little Francine pregnant. A week later they were married shotgun style by a justice of the peace.
What with the rumors of war coming and all, and everyone out of work from the depression, the banks had their hands full and decided that since the del Mars had only one payment left on the books for their ranch loan, they’d let them have it; not knowing that the current holders of the deed were a sixteen-year-old couple.
After a difficult pregnancy their first child Cornelia was born March 26, 1939 and Kyle was furious because not only wasn’t it a boy, but the baby was a brunette and they were both blonds. In ignorance he believed he'd been tricked into marrying her with some other guy’s child. In revenge he savagely sexually attacked and beat his young bride over the next week.
Nine months later the day after Christmas his namesake Kyle Ennis del Mar Jr. was born, also dark haired. Kyle and Francine went through a rocky time in their marriage and separated for nearly two years because the new baby reminded her of that marital rape.
During that period, she took the toddlers to live across the road with her parents never letting on to them what had happened to her, or why Kyle left town.
Rather than fight with Francine all the time, Kyle gave use of his land and livestock to his father-in-law, leaving his failing ranch to join the rodeo circuit as a chute dogger and roper, doing well enough to send money back to Francine to support his two children, but not enough to make much of a living at it.
Men were begging and pleading for jobs during the Great Depression, so it wasn’t uncommon for a father to leave his family behind out of desperation and work for pennies to support them in another town miles away.
Though he was 18 and drove his father’s truck, he never got a driver’s license, nor voted, so he was on no one’s books but the bank’s.
Chapter 2 ~ Destiny’s Fathers - Part One
In the long year that followed, Kyle faithfully kept sending nearly all the money he made to Fran and the kids. He also did a bit of growing up and a lot of learning… and had a lot of sense beaten into him too by cowboys he’d told his story to.
A little after a year into his attempt at becoming a rodeo star, he made a rare visit to his hometown late one night. He was on his way to seeing his wife and kids living across the road at his in-laws. Driving deep in thought in an old pickup he’d recently bought third hand after his daddy's had died, he nearly ran over a big man in the dark just after turning left onto Dead Horse Rd from the main drag through town (Sage St.)
The cowboy was walking aimlessly down the middle of the road.
Thinking he was a drunken neighbor, del Mar stopped and found a dazed, confused and lost stranger a little older than he was, in silent anguish over something horrible. He wasn’t drunk; just crazed with grief, and didn’t know where he was.
The man managed to choke out that he’d hitchhiked as far as the railroad tracks on Lincoln County Road to get to Sage’s Rodeo stadium but couldn’t find it in the dark.
Kyle explained the rodeo was wedged between the shops and the earthen dam holding back Lake Sage Reservoir. Seeing that this guy was in no shape to be by himself tonight and knowing his farmhouse was empty because Frannie and the kids were living with her parents across the road, Kyle drove the stricken stranger home with him.
With the electricity off, del Mar guided him into the dark kitchen, lit a kerosene lamp, and they sat at the dust-covered dinner table.
The handsome man had immense bulging arm and torso muscles that were bigger than any he’d ever seen in his life and he looked awful familiar, but he couldn’t place the face.
The brown-haired cowboy was beside himself with something all pent up inside, so Kyle found a bottle of whiskey and fed it to him until the big man calmed down enough to tell of his sorrow.
His childless wife up in Lightning Flat had just a few days ago miscarried for the second time, and the people he worked for and loved like family had been gunned down in town the night before. The stranger’s best friend in the world died only an hour ago at a local hospital across the Utah line in Lakton, and it’d become just too much for him to handle. He was trying to walk back to the arena in town and in his overwhelming sorrow got lost.
The man wouldn't let it out, and Kyle could see it was eating him up inside.
Wait... those posters plastered up all over town! Del Mar imagined a big beaming smile on his face and a white cowboy hat, and it suddenly hit him. He jumped up knocking his chair backwards and shrieked like a schoolgirl who’d just spotted Bing Crosby or Frank Sinatra on the street, “Jack… no-uh um… JUM… uh… JUMPIN’ JOHNNY TWIST!!!” he yelled at the top of his lungs, standing there pointing at him in astonished disbelief.
The man sitting right here at his very own table was a famous rodeo star! In fact he was his hero and the man Kyle hoped to be some day!
Twist just sat there with his head down on his forearms in quiet bitter exhaustion.
In his amazed state of mind, Kyle wasn’t really paying attention to his guest and gushed grinning from ear to ear, “Sakes alive, ya got big! You know I tell all my rodeo friends how I met ya ‘bout a year ago up yonder in Lightnin’ Flat! I pert near broke my arm tryin’ out fer Bossman ‘n was introduced to ya in the locker room there. I declare it’s such a mighty honor ta…”
Suddenly it hit him. A newspaper said the owners of the Boss Man’s Traveling Rodeo Show and several other people were shot dead in town during a robbery at the stadium two nights ago.
The champion looked up at him, and his chin and forehead seemed to be trying to crush his face between them. This time he couldn’t hold back and the cries burst out of him in huge gasps so loud that Frannie could probably hear them across the road.
Kyle quickly circled the table, held him in his arms, and comforted him until he cried it all out. The man was so exhausted that he was ready to pass out, so Kyle led him into the back bedroom, slipped off his boots and stayed with him in bed through the night occasionally holding him or softly talking him back to sleep.
The next morning he drove John Twist to the stadium and discovered that some kind of makeshift memorial meeting was taking place for his slain coworkers.
Kyle wanted to go in with him to make sure he was all right, but he now had lost nearly a day of only two he had left to spend with his family. They thanked each other and parted ways not possibly knowing what destiny held for both of their yet to be born sons…
Chapter 3 ~ Frannie Goes It Alone… Again
In 1941 Pearl Harbor was attacked and then World War II broke out. Del Mar was never registered with the draft after his mother assumed he was either dead or already in the army, so he avoided being called up by laying low and not drawing attention to himself.
June of 1942 saw Kyle turn twenty. The rodeo he'd finally found a home in was suspended as Uncle Sam called more and more young men into the war effort. With nowhere else to go, he returned home to try his hand at breeding and selling roping horses, while raising livestock on the ranch... and trying to make up with Francine.
He was surprised at how much his two kids had grown and it didn't help the situation that while he was gone, Kyle Jr.'s hair had gradually lightened to almost the same shade as his father's.
With men dying in wars across both oceans by then, Francine realized that she was lucky to have a man at all and after a few months of sweet-talkin' from Kyle, moved back across the road with her volatile husband. The new reconciliation stuck and in late spring of 1943 she presented Kyle with a second son that was fair-haired this time. They named him Ennis Jordan del Mar.
To her relief he was the proverbial "spittin’ image" of his Daddy.
As the baby grew and became a toddler rather than crying, he developed an infectious giggle that his parents adored. Later as a cute kid starting up in school, that contagious laugh could earn Ennis anything he wanted and his doting parents began spoiling him rotten.
Resentful little Kyle Junior began to feel like a “factory reject” instead of the first-born son, and so began a habit of endlessly picking on his little brother out of spite and to “keep him in his place.”
For the next five years through war and then victory in Europe and Japan, Kyle got the hang of ranching, depending on raising livestock more than farming, though he eventually did both well. He gutted and then remodeled both floors of the ranch house with help from his neighbors and in-laws. What once was a big four-room house, barely holding fourteen kids and two adults was gutted to the outer walls and then converted to a two-story three-bedroom home.
He also tore down and then put up several outbuildings after taking out his first mortgage on the spread. With all of the improvements, the bank thought it was a safe bet.
With Russia and the U.S. entering the Cold War, President Truman felt the need to have a good standing army just in case and instituted a peace time draft. All hell broke loose when that same month he signed an order desegregating the armed forces.
In 1948 on Kyle’s 26th birthday, the government finally caught up with him and he was inducted into the army for a four-year hitch, serving with a bunch of now outraged and bigoted racists. Unfortunately their attitudes infected him too out of peer pressure.
Francine was left to raise two grade school children and a toddler on her own... again.
After Kyle left for San Diego, Francine took a job as a clerk at the library full time and barely made the mortgage payments. Meanwhile her parents took over running both the Bowers and the del Mar spreads, hiring on extra help to farm a combined 2000 acres.
To save money on expenses Frannie moved her family to her parent’s house between Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Francine was put to the test in January and February of 1949 after just moving her family back home across the road. The great 30-day blizzard brought record low temperatures and winds sometimes over 70 miles per hour. Snow drifted so high that long stretches of Dead Horse Road were impossible to find, meaning she couldn’t get to work, so she lost her job at the library.
She resorted to heating the house with a wood-burning stove and all of them lived in the living room downstairs to conserve warmth.
At one point it snowed for a week and a half straight, downing power lines and severing mail service. She and her parents lost nearly three quarters of their livestock to subzero conditions. The family was snowbound, loan payments weren’t made and Frannie had to home school her children until the roads were cleared finally in early March.
Unable to get word from them, Kyle was frantic trying to get home to see his family and assure their safety, but there was no way to travel there because of the storms.
One night Francine and the kids were roused by pounding on the door. One of her father’s ranch hands nearly froze after being sent to check on her mother "Grandma Francine," who hadn’t arrived after announcing the previous afternoon that she was going over to check on her daughter and the kids.
They found Mrs. Bowers partway down their driveway two days later frozen to death.
Kyle never made it to the funeral to comfort his grieving wife and family. He tried for a hardship release from the military, but was denied.
Frannie was heartbroken for a while because she and Kyle would have to spend their tenth wedding anniversary apart… that was until Kyle surprised her at their doorstep on a 4-day pass. Unfortunately because of travel time back then, he could spend only one day at home; but it was enough.
In September at the age of six, Ennis entered first grade. Kyle Junior by then considered himself the “man of the house,” and a few days after entering the fourth grade he’d tired of being called “little” Kyle and/or “Junior” and stomped up defiantly to the breakfast table one morning and demanded that Francine give him a more “growed up” nickname.
His mother instantly got revenge for his brash attitude and turned to her youngest to decide on a suitable substitute. Out of the blue, the first grader dubbed him “K.E.” and laughed every time he said it. Mom loved it and from then on that was his name - like it or not… which didn’t set too well with Kyle Junior.
A week letter Kyle Senior sent his oldest a letter from California addressed to Mr. “K.E.” del Mar, which made it official. In pure resentment K.E. began slapping his little brother across the face hard every time he’d laugh or giggle out loud. Ennis would go crying to Francine and she’d reprimand his big brother with a good spanking.
Within a few more months her youngest was cured of his famous smiles and laughter from constant beatings and bullying at the hands of his stronger elder brother, along with threats of more if he tattled to their overworked mom.
In May of 1950 Kyle came home on leave to tell his wife that it was very likely he would soon be sent to Korea where the war was heating up. Almost immediately after his boots hit the ground there, he was seriously wounded in the Battle of Inchon and a buddy carried him half a mile to a medical unit where he almost died from loss of blood. His injuries were serious enough for him to be released home soon.
While he was convalescing overseas, Francine’s father Marc died at 62 of a sudden heart attack in his wheat field just across the road from their driveway. She was the one who found him while checking their rural mailbox and was so inconsolable that Kyle was shipped to a stateside V. A. hospital in Casper early under medical care.
It was only after she talked to the doctors long-distance on her parent’s phone that she was told that her husband had been shot in the abdomen and had lost a kidney. He’d be alright as long as he was careful with his diet, but he’d be sore walking around, in the saddle and farming for quite some time.
Francine inherited her parent’s spread and the huge mortgage that went with it. If she didn’t do something fast the bank was prepared to foreclose on both ranches. Before Kyle could get released from the sickbay, a savvy assistant manager fast-talked Fran into signing ownership of her parents’ ranch over to their bank for the total remaining payments owed on her father’s loan and the del Mar mortgage.
When Kyle arrived home a week later, he was furious at what she’d done because he thought they should’ve gotten much more, despite the fact that her actions meant that the del Mar ranch’s deed was now free and clear.
written by Vernon "Jet" Gardner © 2005-2014 and contains enhanced versions of all of the original's events
written by Annie Proulx, Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana.