Meet Frank Chester Robertson, the famous Utah author who made his living writing popular Westerns that belied his own life of desperation on the Mormon frontier.
Frank Robertson wasn’t exactly the kind of writer groomed in literary circles. Born in 1890, he was the son of a homesteader drawn West by the persistent dream of owning his own farm. But success was elusive – not only for his father – but for Frank and his two brothers, who soon learned about hardships on the frontier. Dry farming, sheepherding, and the flights of fantasy of a debt-ridden dad left them and their mother regularly broke and returning to the trail. The boys worked in quarries or collected firewood when they weren’t vagrant, or what they called “being on the bum.”
Frank recalled his mother’s answer to her boys’ complaints about their perpetual poverty. “We’ve been poor before,” she said, “and we’ve never starved to death yet.” There would always appear what she called “a ram in the thicket,” a reference to the biblical prophet Abraham who was spared sacrificing his son Isaac by the appearance of a ram. Somehow they would always be provided for, even at the eleventh hour. But Robertson’s obligatory ram was long in coming.
An avid reader, Robertson’s break came after the family’s move to Ogden in 1920. His short story about an old, three-legged coyote was published in a pulp magazine back East. Frank received $35 for this story, whereas the most he had ever earned as a laborer was $5 a day. Robertson had lived the nightmare of homesteading the West, but he knew how to sell the dream of the mythical West for the sake of his readers. They were hungry for vivid tales of cowboys and frontier justice, and Robertson met their demand by writing hundreds of books, short stories, and newspaper serials, which “sold like hotcakes” and were translated into several languages.
Through his fiction-writing, Robertson supported his extended family during the Depression on a cherry farm in Mapleton, Utah, where he lived until his death in 1969. Today, Robertson is most known for his lyrical, hard-bitten autobiography – still in print – and appropriately titled, “A Ram in the Thicket.”
See Frank C. Robertson, A Ram in the Thicket: The Story of a Roaming Homesteader Family on the Mormon Frontier, 1959, reprinted by the University of Idaho Press, Moscow, ID, 1994; "Famed Utah writer dies in L.V," Deseret News, July 30, 1969; "Pseudonyms Were the Cover for a Real Author," Deseret News, November 24, 1986.