Kathrene and Robert Pinkerton – husband and wife writing team

[Many people have, at some time or other, thought of escaping civilization and heading out to the wide open spaces. With most people, it remains a thought.
Kathrene and Robert Pinkerton, a husband and wife author team who wrote stories of the Frozen North for Adventure, did just that. Robert was ordered by his doctor to get away from the city. He quit his job as a newspaperman, and went off with Kathrene to the bush in Ontario, where they spent five years writing and bringing up a family.]
Robert Eugene Pinkerton was born on March 12, 1882 in Arena, Wisconsin. He attended the University of Wisconsin for two years. He worked as a cub reporter on the Milwaukee Free Press and was later telegraph news editor for The Journal in Milwaukee.

Robert and Kathrene Pinkerton camping before building their cabin
Robert and Kathrene Pinkerton camping before building their cabin

Kathrene Pinkerton was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, June 9, 1887. She obtained her BA. from the University of Wisconsin in 1909, and did advanced graduate work at the Chicago School of Civics and Philanthropy in 1910. Her early career was in public health in Wisconsin (field secretary of the Wisconsin Anti-tuberculosis association) and social work in Chicago.
Kathrene Pinkerton
Kathrene Pinkerton

The Pinkertons married in 1911. Robert’s doctor advised him to get away from the city for the sake of his health. With the $150 they earned from selling an article to Munsey’s Magazine, they departed for the wilds of Ontario, Canada, where they built a cabin in the bush, eight miles from the village of Atikokan. The only means of transport to and from Atikokan were by boat in the summer and dog sled during the long Canadian winter. She didn’t have any prior experience of camping, trekking, boating or cooking.

They built a one-room cabin in the bush that first year, using lumber they salvaged from an abandoned cabin and materials from a nearby ghost town. She trapped, cooked, washed and cleaned the cabin while he tried to write and sell fiction. No fiction sold that year. Money ran low, and they became desperate. Friends sent them article clippings giving advice on what to do when camping. They decided to write non-fiction articles on camping, based on their experiences, and sell them.
Robert and Kathrene Pinkerton's cabin, eight miles from Akitokan, in its first year
Robert and Kathrene Pinkerton’s cabin, eight miles from Akitokan, in its first year

Their second year in the wilderness was more successful. The expanded the one-room cabin, built a fireplace and a bed-room. They built up a team of dogs that enabled them to roam further by dogsled.

Robert and Kathrene Pinkerton's cabin, eight miles from Akitokan, in its second year, when the fireplace was built
Robert and Kathrene Pinkerton’s cabin, eight miles from Akitokan, in its second year, when the fireplace was built
Kathrene Pinkerton driving the dog sled, their only transport to Akitokan in the winter.
They started writing of the characters of the bush they had come to know, and their fiction started selling. For the next four years, they sold everything they wrote.
The next year brought bigger changes. A daughter, Bobs, arrived that year, causing them to take a brief break from the wilderness. They continued to write and sell fiction. They continued to bring up the child in the wilderness for the next two years.
Their success at selling fiction made life difficult, since they could not find the time to do the domestic chores, look after the baby and write fiction. “We sell stories to live better,” argued Robert, “and the better living won’t give us time to write stories.” Had they conquered the North, or had the North conquered them, wondered Kathrene.  Five years after they had entered the bush, they left it, selling the cabin they had built.
Coming back to civilization did not put an end to their wandering, however. They travelled extensively by car, living in the wilds of the Rockies, the heights of the Sierra Nevada and on the mesas of the Southwest. After that, for seven years, they spent most of the year on a boat. They cruised off the Pacific coast, near British Columbia and Alaska. Their daughter, Bobs, spent the academic year in boarding school and the vacations on the boat.
At first they were using a 36 foot cruiser, but as the trips got longer, they got a larger craft, a 19 ton petrol-engined yacht. They found two floating townships.
The store, restaurant, bunkhouse, blacksmith shop, warehouse and owner’s dwelling house, even a chicken house, rested on rafts of cedar logs. Chains and cables moored these rafts to shore, and long boomsticks running from shore to the rafts held them off, and kept them from battering on the beach as the community rose and fell with the big tides or was buffeted by fierce winter gales. Outer boomsticks herded the buildings in line, and also served as sidewalks.
Simoon Sound could change its town site with no more formality than calling a tugboat. The village had shifted several times. Once when the small daughter of its owner had been ill and required sun, the community had been moved across the bay, and the weekly steamship bringing malt and supplies had to go in search of the missing town.
Once a week when the ship from Vancouver arrived with stores and supplies, including fresh meat and vegetables, all the hand-loggers working In the district arrived in their motor boats with their wives to do their shopping. As soon as the supplies were discharged from the ship these customers helped themselves to what they wanted, and then told the storekeeper what they had taken, so that It could be charged to their accounts.
When Katherine was over forty-five, she took up a new career doing promotional work for a department store. She also became an author in her own right, documenting her adventures in three books, giving advice to woman campers in another, and writing more novels.
Kathrene Pinkerton passed away from cancer on September 6, 1967, in New York. Robert Pinkerton passed away three years later, on 16 February, 1970, in New York.
Kathrene Pinkerton c. 1941
Kathrene Pinkerton c. 1941

Links to books describing their life together below:

Bonus: Their signatures

1 comment

  1. November 7, 2015. I'm just finishing the last book in Kathrene Pinkerton's 5-book series about the Jackman family, who lived in the very, very far north. The books were written for teenagers, and are full of adventure, mystery, wonderful friendships, and an unbelievable picture of life in the coldest of climates, before snowmobiles changed the way of life forever. I absolutely love these books! Trixie@midcoast.com.

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