Haycox didn't live the open-range life of his books' heroes, but he had plenty of adventure in his younger years. Born in Portland in 1899, he spent his childhood with various relatives after his parents separated in 1908. By the age of fourteen he had been a newspaper and delivery boy, bellhop, and dishwasher. He spent the summer of 1915 alone in San Francisco, selling peanuts on the Oakland-Sacramento train, where, among other things, he learned to short-change customers. Later that year he lied about his age to join the Oregon National Guard, and was stationed at the Mexican border during that country's civil war. He served in France during World War I, worked as a commercial fisherman in Alaska, and attended Reed College for a year, stating on his application that he intended "to equip myself for fiction writing."