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North Dakotan became a friend of Hemingway


The 1931 murder of 24-year -old Hedvig “Sammy” Samuelson of White Earth, deeply affected her kid brother.

Arnold Samuelson, who was five years younger than his sister, was an aspiring writer. In 1934, he was taken in by Ernest Hemingway, who wrote that Samuelson was very serious and dedicated to the profession of writing, but that “he’s too inclined to get discouraged.”

Although Samuelson’s work was published in some of the nation’s top periodicals and newspapers, he never sent any of his manuscripts to book publishers. The only book published under his name was submitted three years after his death when it was completed by his daughter.

Samuelson was born Feb. 6, 1912, and grew up on his father’s wheat farm near White Earth. He was exceptionally intelligent and had difficulty relating with other children who were not as gifted.

Samuelson spent much of his time with the family’s horses and his dog, and he also played the violin.

He graduated from Tioga in 1928 as valedictorian and enrolled at the University of Minnesota, majoring in journalism.

Samuelson was extremely frugal and stayed at a fire hall where he also did odd jobs. He got by spending only $1.89 per month at the university.

Shortly after the start of his senior year, Samuelson learned that his sister had been murdered. The loss had a tremendous impact on him. He rarely spoke about her.

In the spring of 1932, Samuelson completed all the necessary courses to graduate but rejected paying the $5 for his diploma and never received his degree.

With the Great Depression at its height, Samuelson knew that finding meaningful employment in journalism was unlikely. Samuelson boarded a ship bound for the Orient, but the trip never materialized. He then bummed around the U.S. chronicling a series of articles titled “The Forgotten Boys” for the Minneapolis Tribune.

To pass his time, Samuelson read a wide variety of books, including stories and novels by Hemingway.

In early spring of 1934, Samuelson hitched a ride from northern Minnesota to Key West, Fla., having learned where Hemingway lived. The novelist had recently released “A Farewell to Arms” and used part of the proceeds to purchase a sleek 38-foot fishing cruiser which he named the “Pilar.”

Hemingway soon recognized that he and the young man shared a lot in common and that Samuelson was determined and serious about becoming a writer. Hemingway needed a “boat boy” to assist him on running the Pilar and offered to teach Samuelson what he knew about writing. To sweeten the deal, Hemingway offered to pay Samuelson $1 a day to be his apprentice. Samuelson accepted and remained with Hemingway for 10 months.

On May 12, 1934, the Pilar made its first voyage with Hemingway and Samuelson aboard. The two quickly became friends, and whenever he had free time, Samuelson would play his violin. Because of those frequent music interludes, Hemingway gave him the nickname “Maestro,” which he later shortened to “Mice.”

While aboard the Pilar, Samuelson worked on a manuscript, with Hemingway serving as editor and giving guidance. In early 1935, Samuelson submitted a story to the magazine Motor Boating, and it was printed in February.

A proud Hemingway told him, “Well Maestro, now you are a writer.” Believing that he should concentrate on putting into practice what his mentor had taught him, Samuelson decided he should go off on his own. Hemingway wanted him to stay. However, Samuelson had made up his mind and left.

In October 1935, Hemingway published an article in Esquire magazine about his experience with Samuelson titled “Monologue to the Maestro: A High Seas Letter.” The two men frequently corresponded until Hemingway’s death in 1961.

During the later 1930s, Samuelson had a number of articles published in Esquire, Outdoor Life, and other popular magazines. However, he did not submit any of his novel manuscripts because he didn’t believe they lived up to his mentor’s standards.

After marrying Vivian Stettler, Samuelson realized the money he received for his articles would not support a growing family and looked for other work opportunities.

During World War II, Samuelson worked on government construction projects in Alaska. When the war was over, he moved his family to the small town of Robert Lee in west-central Texas.

After purchasing six acres of land on the outskirts of Robert Lee, Samuelson built a ranch house and started a company called the Mesquite Lumber Company, which made ready-built houses.

Frustrated that his writing career had stalled, Samuelson became anti-social and embarrassed his family with his dress and behavior. He dressed shabbily, wore his belt over the top of the loops on his pants, made his sandals from carved rubber tires, and often wore three or four hats — one on top of the other.

He would walk through town playing his violin, paying attention to no one, and at church, he would sit in the back singing loudly, off-key, and out of synch with the rest of the congregation.

In 1978, his wife left him to live with their married daughter Dian Darby. Arnold Samuelson died on Sept. 1, 1981. Although his daughter Darby was never close to her father, she felt compelled to finish the manuscript Samuelson had started about his 10 months aboard the Pilar. It was published in 1984 and titled “With Hemingway: A Year in Key West and Cuba ,” winning the Ambassador of Honor Award.

After reading that book, Paul Hendrickson wrote the biography “Hemingway’s Boat” later that year, devoting much of the book to Samuelson. In January 1985, author James Kaplan wrote the story “Where’s Papa?” for Esquire, centering much of it on the relationship between Hemingway and Samuelson.

(Written by Curt Eriksmoen. Reach Eriksmoen at


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