Grey contacted well-know outfitter Elmer Keith and arranged to have him guide the writer into the backcountry. As Keith told it, in a 1957 article in the Idaho Statesman, Grey was not planning to rough it.
Said Keith, “I felt quite honored and looked forward to meeting this buckaroo.”
When Grey arrived, Keith began figuring out what it would take to get his gear into the mountains. It would require 42 pack horses and 12 riding horses. The portable bathtub proved a bit of a hurdle until Keith “finally bought an old mule blind in one eye, that did not object too much.”
Grey’s party included a private secretary and his own cook. In the beginning, the cook became an issue. He was variously reported to be French or Japanese (probably the latter). At any rate, it was foreign cooking and the packers did not like it one bit. They threatened to mutiny until the cook stated serving hotcakes, spuds, gravy, and meat. One of the packers later said “my esteem for Tagahashi grew every day. He was the best cook, the best packer, the best fisherman, and the best sport in the whole bunch.” That he always had plenty of coffee on hand for the cowboys was also of some consequence.
The party was delayed for a time when the Salmon Forest supervisor refused to let them pack in to Thunder Mountain because the drought had made the forest a tinderbox. “Zane Grey or no Zane Grey! Book or no book! The answer is still NO, Mr. Keith!” he is reported to have said.
Rains eventually came making the forest safe to travel. The group finally got to Thunder Mountain in a trip that took a total of six weeks, giving the author enough of a sense of the country to go home and write that book.
Thunder Mountain, by Zane Grey, was published in 1935 to good reviews and is still in print. The story features protagonists who were brothers discovering the first gold on the mountain, then defending their claim when word got out. Roosevelt, Idaho was called Thunder City in the book. Both the real town and its fictional doppelganger were destroyed when part of the mountain slid into the creek, backing up water to form a lake where the town once was.
The book was made into a movie, twice. The first was in 1935, starring George O’Brien who was a name actor at the time. “Gabby” Hayes was also in the film. The next version came out in 1947, starring Tim Holt. That version is still readily available.
Much of the information for this post came from the article “Zane Grey and Thunder Mountain,” by Robert G. Waite, published in the winter 1996 edition of Idaho Yesterdays.