I have some friends in Lavina, the town of 180 people about 45 miles northwest of Billings. So for the latest Rural Route for The Montana Quarterly magazine -- the column where they send a writer and photographer to hang out in a small town and tell stories about its characters -- I figured if nothing else I could write about my friends. But Lavina was so full of fascinating people that I didn't even mention them!
Gerard Peters, 86, seems to have a permanent twinkle in his eye. He’s not a cattle baron, he doesn’t have much acreage, he doesn’t live on a blue-ribbon trout stream. But his pleasures are simpler. “I like being around family and cattle,” he says.
Raised on a ranch north of Lewistown, Gerard has spent his whole life in Montana, except for a four-year stint in the Air Force where he met his wife Jeanine. They raised 10 sons and a daughter. His jobs involved livestock, land, and people: ranching, guiding, mining. Once he managed a 43,000-acre ranch for a committee of 25 owners. Now it’s just a few acres with his son John, John’s wife Mary, and their family. But to Gerard this land east of Lavina is a little slice of heaven.It's not available online, so to read the whole thing, you’ll have to subscribe.
If you listen to Montana Public Radio, you'll hear it tonight (Tuesday 12/10) at 8:30, or Wednesday at 3:55 pm. On Yellowstone Public Radio, it'll be Thursday at 7:01 pm. And if you don't get those stations, or you're away from your radio at the time of broadcast, you can listen at http://reflectionswest.org/
“The story of the ’20’s, Montana’s disastrous decade,” wrote beloved historian Joseph Kinsey Howard, was told by “the derelict privy, the boarded-up schoolhouse, the dust-drifted, weed-grown road, and the rotting, rusted fence.” This was how the homestead boom of 1900–1917 crashed: year-to-year grain yields could drop by a factor of 10, the average value per acre of farmland fell by 50 percent and 11,000 farms (one-fifth of the state total) disappeared entirely.
The tale of the forlorn honyockers, betrayed by rain that failed to follow the plow, has been often and well told. The realization that Montana’s spectacular landscapes could not become a small farmer’s paradise has often been seen as a turning point, or even an end point, in the state’s history.
But when history focuses solely on the homesteader, we miss the scale of the devastation to the state’s image of itself. One way to reveal that scale is to visit the metropolis of Mossmain. Shall we start downtown? Maybe at the Municipal (farmers’) Market, next to the Civic Center and City Hall, at one end of the grassy promenade that leads down past the Publishing House to the railroad tracks? From downtown, streets diverge in a fan pattern, and we can stroll down Gardenvale, past schools and play fields toward the tree-lined Institution.Unfortunately the entire text isn't available online, but here's where to subscribe.
The story is excerpted from my book "Stories from Montana's Enduring Frontier." It's basically the same text in both places. The magazine has more (and color!) pictures. The book has 26 other essays about Montana history. I'd be honored if you chose to read in either or both places.
Other possible causation factors: 1) In 1916 Yellowstone was taken over by the new National Park Service, which focused on publicity much more than previous administrators had. Not only did it have bigger advertising budgets, but it better understood what Yellowstone (should) mean to the public. Those messages may have become less powerful in the 1970s. 2) The Progressive Era, starting in the 1910s, was a time of general public trust in the federal government. Highways, dams, and other public works projects including parks were well loved. By the 1970s this trust was no longer rising, and perhaps even starting to erode.
Do you have other ideas? I'd love to hear them.
(Sources: http://www.census.gov/population/estimates/nation/popclockest.txt and https://irma.nps.gov/Stats/SSRSReports/Park%20Specific%20Reports/Annual%20Park%20Visitation%20(All%20Years)?Park=YELL)
“We live in an ant hill, and the world outside is very big and very far away.”
So wrote “Suzette,” the celebrity journalist from Philadelphia, during her weeklong sojourn in the Montana mining camp of Altyn in 1901. Also known as Swift Current, Altyn was two days’ ride from the nearest railroad stop. Thus, as Suzette put it, “The Boers might invade England and the news would not awaken a hundredth part of the interest that would the story that Old Man Harris has jumped French Pete’s claim.”
Located not far from what is now Many Glacier Hotel in Glacier National Park, Altyn was one of the last gasps of old-fashioned prospecting fever in most of the continental United States...
If you prefer your lunch on the West End, on Saturday, June 22, I’ll be signing books at Costco from 11-1. That’s right, you can have an inexpensive hot dog for lunch, and take home a gallon of mustard and a copy of Stories from Montana's Enduring Frontier. I may even give away free samples.
I hope to see all of my greater Billings friends and acquaintances at one or both occasions!
What makes it a party? Well, I'll be tapping a special book-release keg of my award-winning homebrew beer. Some of you may have seen the recipe I contributed to the Montana Writer's Cookbook: it was for my Ginger Porter beer. I'll be giving it away, and planning for the party to continue until it's gone.
Books will be for sale via Red Lodge Books, and I'll be happy to sign them. (I can personalize it to you or just put in an autograph so you can later give it as a gift.) But there's no obligation to buy. The main point is that writing is a lonely activity, and when the book is published I get to talk to other people again. So please join me!
Years have passed, other easier social-networking platforms have arisen, and I don't post here as often as I used to. Weirdly, however, the technical background of blogging has gotten profoundly more complex. I've probably spent more time in the last year trying to fix blog glitches than write blog entries. (Part of the problem, I think, is that the blog is indeed so old. Starting anew would be easier.)
And so, in an announcement that may be moot for all of you who have successfully arrived here to read it, I'd like to note that the latest technical fix has resulted in a change in the blog's address. It's now www.johnclaytonbooks.blogspot.com. The rest of the website is still www.johnclaytonbooks.com (and the blog's feedburner address is still http://feeds.feedburner.com/JohnClaytonsBlog). I have tried to appropriately update all of the relevant cross-links. But if you find a broken one, please feel free to let me know. Thanks for continuing to read!
Thanks Russell for participating!
My friend and fellow Montana writer David Abrams recently invited me to participate in the blog-tagging "Next Big Thing" which is currently making the rounds among writers. I felt like David was interviewing me! (The questions were the same ones he'd answered, but I've seen that gimmick elsewhere...). At the end of this post, I'll tag-team a few other authors in hopes they'll tell us about their own works-in-progress. Here are the standard questions:
What is the working title of your book?
Stories of Montana's Enduring Frontier: Exploring an Untamed Legacy. I know that's a mouthful. I have trouble remembering the subtitle part myself. I can often be found thinking of it in the abbreviated form Montana's Enduring Frontier.
What genre does your book fall under?
Well, there's History, there's Essays, and there's Montana. Although when you put all three of those together, I think that's too specific for a genre.
Robert Redford actually makes two appearances here. In one, I argue that his role in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid actually stole the (warped) dreams of another dead outlaw named Kid -- Kid Curry. In the other, he attends the 1974 (re)burial of famed mountain man Liver-Eating Johnston, prompting at least one eulogist to refer to the real-life deceased as the fictionalized Redford character "Jeremiah Johnson."
In other words, this being nonfiction, I didn't really get a choice. History has already cast Redford playing more than one of my characters!
What is a one-sentence synopsis of your book?
When Montana ran out of frontier, its unique history really began.
How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
This is designed as a collection of previously-published magazine articles, so it's not like I started writing a novel and finished the following Tuesday. Still, in collecting the pieces, I was stunned to find that I've been writing magazine articles on Montana history and culture for more than 20 years! It seems like an absurdly long amount of time, even to finish a book.
What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
While putting it together, I was reading historian Jill LePore's collection of wonderful New Yorker essays, The Story of America. (Also Michael Lewis’ Boomerang, but that covers only the “essay” genre.) And when it comes to Montana history, I think all books need to be compared to Joseph Kinsey Howard’s High, Wide, and Handsome.
Who or what inspired you to write this book?
The editor called me! Will McKay of The History Press asked if I'd ever considered such a collection. Since I hadn't yet realized that I'd been doing this for 20 years, my first reaction was that I didn't have enough material. But when I took a closer look -- and got commissions for three brand-new pieces -- it turned out he was right. Any piece of writing improves when it's cut, so I'm happy to report that after I collected everything, we cut more than 20 percent of it.
What else about your book might pique a reader's interest?
It has the richest-ever portrayal of everyday life in the now-vanished mining camp of Swift Current, a defense of the importance of dude ranchers in positively influencing the path of Montana development, some unsung female and Native American heroes, and a bunch of really ornery characters who won't do what anyone tells them to.
When and how will it be published?
In late May it will come out from the History Press in most of the various permutations of publishing today: physical (paperback) book or e-book, at your independent bookseller or a chain or online. Check back here soon for how to pre-order.
And now here are some of my friends who have agreed to talk about their Next Big Things:
Russell Rowland, my editor on the book West of 98 and wonderful novelist (In Open Spaces) in his own right (Russell's Next Big Thing will be presented as a guest post right here on my blog);
Susan Kushner Resnick, whose Goodbye Wifes and Daughters is the best book ever written about Bearcreek, Montana: http://www.susankushnerresnick.com/wp/blog/
Gary Robson, author of the popular Who Pooped in the Park? series of children's books: http://garyrobson.wordpress.com/
and Tamara Upton, whose writing coincides with her career as a stand-up comedian: http://www.tamaraboggioupton.com/apps/blog
Labels: Montana's Enduring Frontier
It's hard for me to believe that I've been publishing magazine articles for 20 years. But when editor Will McKay approached me with the idea of collecting them, I had two realizations. First, I had plenty of material to make a book. (After collecting it all, I ended up cutting almost 25 percent.) Second, the book isn't just a random ego assortment -- it actually has a theme.
It turns out that when I propose topics to magazine editors (or, less frequently, when they assign topics to me), I gravitate toward a certain time period, type of character, and historical impulse. I'm fascinated by the moment when Montana ran out of frontier. It's a "moment," of course, that takes place at various times in various places across the state. And it can play out very differently. But Montana's relationship to its frontier past is strong, immediate, and really fun to explore.
There's more information on the book at http://www.johnclaytonbooks.com/EnduringFrontier.htm. You can also follow its Facebook page at www.facebook.com/MontanasEnduringFrontier.
I'm always interested in feedback, via info at johnclaytonbooks dot com
Labels: Montana's Enduring Frontier
One such was Valentin di Colonna, also known as Bill Miller, whom Lockhart described as "the son of a bona fide Italian count.” He helped draw posters for the initial Cody Stampede rodeo. I was intrigued by him, wanted to learn more. Was he really nobility? A good artist? Whatever happened to him? But their affair was incidental to Lockhart's quest, and I reluctantly set him aside.
Luckily, Roy R. Behrens has done that digging, and discovered that di Colonna served in the American Camouflage Corps during World War I -- apparently at the forefront of using protective coloration in warfare. A fine artist indeed. Behrens has the full story (to which I contributed) here.
I'm always interested in feedback, via info at johnclaytonbooks dot com
In researching Images of America: Red Lodge, I found some indication that in the 1930s the Northern Pacific railroad portrayed a totally different feature as the Bear’s tooth: one lying south of Beartooth Butte. No way it’s visible from Reedpoint. And although it may be visible from flatlands somewhere in Wyoming, it poses the same difficulty regarding the origin of the range’s name.
Anyone who could enlighten me, I’d love to hear from you, via info at johnclaytonbooks dot com
On Thursday, March 29, at the Western Heritage Center in Billings, I’ll be talking about Caroline as part of the Noon Lecture Series that’s focusing on extraordinary women. The series is related to an outstanding exhibit the Center has put together, which includes a newly-found map of the Lockhart homestead in the Dryhead. There’s more on the event, co-sponsored by Humanities Montana, here.
On Wednesday, April 25, at 6:00 p.m. at Northwest College in Powell, I’ll be leading a discussion of Lockhart’s novel “The Lady Doc.” Celebrating its 100th anniversary this year, this controversial novel split Park County in two upon its publication. Was it a scathing indictment of high-level incompetence and evil, or a hate-filled delusional rant? The one thing everyone could agree on was that Lockhart had made little up. The free event, sponsored by Powell Valley Community Education, is in the NWC Fagerberg Bldg, Rm 70.
On Friday, June 29 I’ll be at Beavertail Hill State Park, 25 miles east of Missoula on I-90, as part of its Friday evening interpretive series. Then the following evening, Saturday, June 30, I move to Salmon Lake State Park, near the town of Seeley Lake. A great chance to get outside during a gorgeous Montana summer!
Labels: Caroline Lockhart