Story by Carolgene Wolf
“Did anyone famous ever go to Franklin School?”
“Maybe somebody famous once sat in my desk!”
“Or had class in this very room?”
“Let’s try to find out!”
“The library! The Librarian knows everything! Well, maybe just about everything.”
Thus, a conversation was begun in the third-grade classroom on the 2nd floor in the SE corner of Franklin School. The project took a few weeks and included a field trip to the Alfred Dickey Free Public Library. Amazing! That librarian did know Louis L’Amour went to school at Franklin School.
“Let’s write him a letter!”
One student volunteered to help compose the letter to Louis L’Amour. Of course, it had to be taped to the wall, so everyone could contribute and be written on a giant piece of Palmer Penmanship Paper. It needed to be proofread again and again because it was going to “Somebody Famous.” Third graders are not patient! When the letter got to the “good enough stage”, it was folded and stuffed into a large envelope. Another Field trip! This time to the Post Office which was NOT just across the street where it is now, but…a few blocks away. Surely the Post Master would know how many stamps we needed on the huge envelope the Franklin School Principal had offered with a twinkle of the eye.
The third step was taking turns going down the steps to see if the Third Grade had any mail.
“Only once a day, please!”
It maybe was okay to kind of look over the railing and get a glimpse of the mailman coming or going. Nearly all the students lived in the area, so that mailman had 20+ third graders, their parents, and even some of their grandparents for best friends that month.
Louis L’Amour must have chuckled at our letter and realized how impatient kids can become. In a loooooong three weeks we had an answer. Wow! EXCITING! The student who delivered the letter got to read it to the class. It was even typed! Several of our grandparents had read his books and a few of our parents even owned one or two of his books. One can only imagine the after school and dinner table conversations that night.
More questions the next school day,
“How do we know it came from Louis L’Amour?” That was a great question.
The postmark looked authentic. After much scrutiny, it was decided the letter was written by Louis L’Amour himself. His typewriter must have been worn and well used because several keys had nicks in the letters produced. It needed a new ribbon!!
The letter itself told us that:
Louis thought he had gone to Franklin School until about the fifth grade.
He did remember that his classroom had been in the SE corner room because he always liked looking out the window to see what was going on in Jamestown.
Whenever he was about to describe a scene in one of his books, he would spend time just sitting quietly in a similar spot. He would listen carefully and observe every single detail from the sound of the whistling wind, to how the cattails smelled, to the way the water rippled in a light breeze.
I kept the letter until it started getting frayed around the edges. When I retired, I had it framed and took it to Chris and Roy Sheppard who had renovated Franklin School. It may very well still be there.
22 March 1908: Louis L’Amour born.
1910: Franklin School Opens.
1916-1919: Louis L’Amour attends Franklin School.
Dec. 1982: Franklin 3rd Grade sends letter to Louis L’Amour.
Jan. 1983: Louis L’Amour writes back.
Sep. 1990: Louis L’Amour Elementary School opens in Jamestown, ND
Apr. 2003: CSi moves into Franklin School
Jul. 2010: Carolgene Wolf donates Louis L’Amour letter to CSi
Mar. 2018: Louis L’Amour Stories published by Friends of the James River Valley Public Library System