PINEDALE — As a child, Dustin Lindley remembers grandpa helping him clean up the biscuits and gravy he couldn't finish at breakfast and the day his family hung a plaque on a tree and scattered his famous grandfather's ashes at Wolf Lake in the Wind River Range.
Louis Burton Lindley Jr., better known by his stage name Slim Pickens, was an actor and rodeo performer who developed deep ties in Sublette County. He died Dec. 8, 1983, at age 64, after surgery for a brain tumor.
Grandson Dustin was 5 years old at the time. Dustin is now a tall, dapper hunting guide and father of four who bears a striking resemblance to his famous grandfather and lives in the cabin Pickens built near Boulder Lake.
"My grandma always said I looked just like him and was built just like him — but I was better looking," Dustin said.
Memories Of Grandpa
Pickens doted over this grandson and shared a lot of time with him. Dustin's eyes light up when he talks about making the morning rounds in their hometown of Columbia, California, with Pickens to chat with a friend who ran a tire shop and another who made saddles.
"He would pick me up and take me to breakfast," he said. "I would order biscuits and gravy and take a couple of bites. He would finish his and then clean up whatever I couldn't."
He talked about a time they went to the circus, but young Dustin said he couldn't see the performers because of all the people who came up to chat with Slim.
"My mom (Maggi Lou) took me to a different seat and told me that's what's bad about going everywhere with grandpa," he said.
Later, the ringmaster came over to visit with Pickens and a little while later, Dustin was riding on the back of a circus elephant.
"That's what was good about going with grandpa," he said.
"He always took the time to talk with people and it always took us 10 times longer than normal to do anything," said Dustin. "He never turned down an autograph request and said if it wasn't for his fans, he wouldn't have a job. That's how he looked at it."
Another time Pickens picked Dustin up in a brand-new Chevrolet El Camino. Pickens brought along his two dogs, Heather and Poco. They went for ice cream and then to the post office. Someone cornered Pickens inthe post office and Dustin spilled his ice cream in the new car.
When Pickens got back to the car Dustin was wrestling with Heather and Poco, who wanted the ice cream.
"I thought I was in trouble. I said, ‘Grandpa, I spilled my ice cream.’ He said, ‘Well, what are you holding those dogs for, let them clean it up,’" Dustin said.
Becoming 'Slim Pickens'
Pickens grew up on a dairy farm and was interested in rodeo as a young man. He got bucked off a saddle bronc in a rodeo and broke both of his wrists. After that, his father told him no more rodeos.
A life history written by Pickens' son, Thomas Michael Lindley, contains the following description:
"My father was against rodeoing and told me he didn't want to see my name on the entry lists ever again," Pickens said in an interview. "While I was fretting about what to call myself, some old boy sitting on a wagon spoke up and said, ‘Why don't you call yourself Slim Pickens, ’cause that's what your prize money will be.’"
Pickens Life History
In Pickens most famous role as an actor, he revived his rodeo past wrangling a nuclear bomb in the 1964 war comedy “Dr. Strangelove.” The film was produced by Stanley Kubrick and described as political satire and a black comedy.
Dustin said it was a turning point and the "best break" in Pickens' movie career. Actor Peter Sellers, who played three roles in “Dr. Strangelove” — including the title character — was supposed to play four roles, but broke his arm and wasn't able to accept the part of Major T.J. "King" Kong, pilot of the B-52 bomber in the film. That's how Pickens landed his most famous role.
“Dr. Strangelove” was a film about the Cold War and the fear of nuclear conflict between the United States and Russia. The film is often considered one of the best comedies ever made and one of the greatest films of all time. In 1998, The American Film Institute ranked it 26th on its list of best American movies.
Other Pickens Films
While he may have become famous riding that nuclear bomb in “Dr. Strangelove,” Pickens for years had already been a successful character actor, mostly in Westerns.
He also had some other notable roles.
Pickens had an appaloosa horse named Dear John that Dustin described as "special." The horse could buck on command and was very athletic. A movie company wanted to hire the horse. Pickens said he and the horse were a package deal and the company hired them both.
"He always joked that the horse brought home a bigger paycheck than he did on that first picture," Dustin said.
Pickens’ other film credits include the bumbling cowboy boss in "Blazing Saddles," "The Cowboys," "Major Dundee," "The Great Locomotive Chase" and the Disney comedy "The Apple Dumpling Gang."
He was a longtime friend of Willie Nelson and played Nelson's sidekick and guitar player in the 1980 film "Honeysuckle Rose."
He also appeared in a dramatic role in the film "One-Eyed Jacks" with Marlon Brando and took an offbeat part as a werewolf in the 1981 horror film "The Howling."
Rodeo Cowboy And Veteran
Dustin said his grandfather was a rodeo clown and helped pioneer the sport of bullfighting. He also served in the Army during World War II in a radio unit. He was stationed in the Midwest, according to the website defense.gov.
Pickens was a natural for Western movies because he spent 20 years working among the nation's top rodeo cowboys. He was proud of the fact that he was one of only a few Western actors who could actually drive a six-horse stagecoach team. Pickens used his own horses and mules in several pictures.
He was a member of the Cowboy Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City and a board member of the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association.
Pickens came to Wyoming to hunt elk. Dustin said his grandfather hunted several years in the Wolf Lake area of the Wind River Range. Dustin has hunted and guided hunters in that same area every fall for the last 12 years.
In 1972, Pickens bought a piece of land near Boulder Lake and had a cabin built on the property. Dustin, his wife Tiffany and their two youngest children live there now, but they rent a place in Pinedale during the winter months.
"Grandpa loved to hunt and he hunted all over, including in Alaska," said Dustin. "His agent used to get mad when he would turn a picture down because it was during hunting season. The agent said, ‘You know, you could buy a lot of hunts if you'd do this picture.’ He'd say, ‘Well, I need to put food on the table.’"
Scattering The Ashes
A big bunch of family and friends saddled up and rode into Wolf Lake on the day when they scattered the ashes of Slim Pickens. The ashes were kept in a beaded medicine bag and each rider took a turn carrying them "so they could have a last ride with grandpa," Dustin said.
They were passing a canteen full of Jack Daniels and Dustin took his first sip of whiskey that day. He had to spit it out and everyone laughed, he said.
"He loved hunting out of Wolf Lake so much that his ashes are scattered up there," said Dustin. "There's a plaque nailed to a tree with his name on it and quite a few other people have followed. That's where my plaque is going. Spread me up there too."