Who Was Deep River Jim?

Open Road Pioneer Club Ranks

Twenty-five years ago I was looking through the bookshelf at my family’s off grid cabin and came across “Deep River Jim’s Wilderness Trail Book”.  It was a soft cover book and in poor condition.  I began flipping through the pages and was delighted to read some fun and interesting stories about camping, hunting, woods-lore, and mother-nature.

It was an entertaining read, with the book laid out into sections pertaining to the months of the year, and various woodsy activities in each month.  The book also had camping recipes and ‘how to’ instructions on building basic shelters and building fires.

Deep River Jim's Trail Book / Open Road Pioneers Club
Deep River Jim’s Trail Book / Open Road Pioneers Club

Deep River Jim’s Second Trail Book

Much to my delight, after reading “Deep River Jim’s Wilderness Trail Book” I found there was a second book on the shelf titled “Deep River Jim’s Second Wilderness Trail Book”.  It too was in poor shape, but I gingerly read it thoroughly, devouring every last bit of it.

I am not sure who in my family left those books on the shelf, but I took them home with me.  To this day I have them stashed away in a safe place where they are protected.  They are both dear to me. When I read them all those years ago they captured my heart and built upon my longing and love for the outdoors.

Deep River Jim's Second Trail Book
Deep River Jim’s Second Trail Book

Who Is Deep River Jim?

A few months ago I found a copy of the second trail book at a second hand store and purchased it for several dollars.  After bringing it home it got me thinking…  Who is Deep River Jim?  Many of the stories in those books were written first person.  Was Deep River Jim a real person or just a fancy pen name?  I wanted to learn more.

It was actually harder than I thought I would be to find detailed information about Deep River Jim.

After some focused online research I managed to discover that Deep River Jim was actually an author named Clayton Holst Ernst (1886-1945).

Clayton Holst Ernst was the president and editor-in-chief of the Open Road Publishing Company.  He was also an editor of The Open Road for Boys, a boys’ magazine encouraging the outdoor life, which was published from November 1919 into the 1950s.

He was the author of many books, most of which dealt with the outdoors. He was also behind the Open Road Pioneers Club.

The Open Road Pioneers Club was launched in October 1927 from the pages of The Open Road For Boys magazine. It was also detailed heavily in the back of the “Deep River Jim’s Wilderness Trail Books”. The club was open to all boys and men who:

  •  Have an interest in outdoor life

  • A desire to develop their ability to use and enjoy the land and water trails

  •  And an eagerness to follow in the footsteps of the pioneers who, in blazing the way and in founding our country, lived on intimate terms with nature

The Open Road Pioneers’ Club was patriotic, non-political and non-sectarian. The club had no membership dues and was only loosely organized; local chapters were on their own to format their own outdoor program. Lone Pioneers, who could join the club alone without forming a multimember chapter, were also encouraged.

 Motto:  Be Sure You’re Right – Then Go Ahead.

Code:  Meet each obstacle physically, mentally, morally and face to face, and overcome it.

Club Activities & Ranks

In the back of the first book there was an entire section on The Open Road Pioneers, how you could join, and many projects you can take on in order to learn skills and spend time enjoying the outdoors. There were even club ranks so each individual could track their progress as a club member.

Open Road Pioneer Club Ranks
Open Road Pioneer Club Ranks

Boy Scouts of America Vs The Open Road Pioneers Club

Seventeen years after Boy Scouts of America was founded in 1910, The Open Road Pioneers Club came along.
Whereas the Boy Scout program focuses both on indoor and outdoor activities and values, The Open Road Pioneers Club was geared solely toward outdoor life. Members vowed to live up to the ideals of the “old pioneers,” embracing the defining characteristics of those groundbreaking frontiersmen: courage, self-reliance, honesty, determination, endurance, progress and meeting obstacles squarely.
The Open Road Pioneers Club members received several premiums for the price of simple shipping and handling (back in the 1930s it was about 15 cents). Among these were a pin, a certificate and a sweater emblem. The Club also published a magazine in the 20s and 30s, The Open Road for Boys, which included applications for membership, club write-ups, adventurous anecdotes and ads for premiums advertisers.
Open Road Pioneer Club Pin
Open Road Pioneer Club Pin
Though the club is far less known today than the Boy Scouts of America, it was anything but a slight venture. In its heyday, the Club boasted over 3,000 chapters and endured for nearly 30 years, with well over 80,000 thousand individual members.

In Conclusion

The two Deep River Jim’s Wilderness Trail Books are very dear to me. I always keep my eyes open for any copies when I am in old book stores or antique shops. If I can come across any his books, and if the price is right, I’ll buy them.

I really love everything that the Open Road Pioneers Club stood for.


P.s. Pioneers drank coffee! If you enjoy the outdoors and want a premium craft coffee experience to go along with your outings, check out my coffee company, Folklore-Coffee! Folklore themed roasts in paper Craft bags for that old fashioned look and feel. And it tastes great…  Freshly roasted upon order and delivered to your door in time for peak flavor brewing. Folkore Coffee!


TD is the owner and publisher of TD All Outdoors. He has been enjoying the outdoors since since he was a child. Over the years he has spent as much time as he can solo wilderness canoe tripping, overlanding, hiking, fishing, bushcrafting, hunting, hammock camping, and more. Aside from this blog, he also own his own coffee brand, www.folklore-coffee.com.

4 thoughts on “Who Was Deep River Jim?

  1. Hi TD, thanks for this information! I also devoured my dad’s original copy of Deep River Jim’s Wilderness Trail Book as a kid growing up in northern Indiana and now have a copy of my own, of course. I wasn’t even aware that a second book existed until I read your article though. Found a copy of it on eBay and am now eagerly looking forward to its arrival.

    1. That’s awesome! You are certainly going to enjoy it. If you think about it, let me know what you think of the second book.


  2. Wow! Takes me back to my childhood growing up in Lancaster County, Pa., devouring Richard Halliburton’s books from my older brothers’ bookshelves, and the settling in to a wonderful groove of small-time nature exploring with Deep River Jim and the books and magazine and club and membership achievement system. My childhood dream was to get to Alaska, and here I am, living off of Vancouver Island in British Columbia, close enough to the Alaska of my imagination. One of my good friends here was Dale Chase, who grew up in Indiana, and ended up here as an accomplished caver and explorer.. Similar story.

    1. Richard – that’s fantastic. Love British Columbia, beautiful Provence…

      Glad you found my blog about Deep River Jim and shared a piece of your story.


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