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Wonderlandscape 

I'm pleased to announce that my new book, WONDERLANDSCAPE: A CULTURAL HISTORY OF YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK, will be published by Pegasus Books in August 2017. The book tells ten stories of adventures in Yellowstone that demonstrate the park's changing meaning to American culture at large.

The book tells stories of artists (Ansel Adams, Thomas Moran), naturalists (Ernest Thompson Seton, Frank and John Craighead), entrepreneurs (dude rancher Larry Larom, hotelier Harry Child), and cartoon bears (Yogi). Each character makes a journey that fulfills an individual quest such as money or fame. But each quest also ends up reflecting and redefining Yellowstone for the values of its era. For example, when Seton in 1897 wanted to observe bears so as to more effectively craft his popular illustrated animal stories, his adventures highlighted the way Yellowstone in that era transformed from a set of geological oddities to a wildlife sanctuary -- at a time when the nation was concerned about disappearing populations of bison and other species.

Each journey thus added a layer of meaning to the park, and these accumulated layers are what make Yellowstone such a culturally rich place. (What's that, you thought Yellowstone was a natural place, not a cultural one? Well, yes, that's part of its fascinating cultural development!)

I've been working on this book for several years and am delighted to have placed it with Pegasus, an outstanding house with a rich list in history, nature, science, and narrative. This will be my first book published in New York, and my first time in hardcover. When the book is published, it will be available in your favorite bookstore, and I'll be sure to announce details on this site as well as social media. But if you want to get a personalized notice (and yes, of course I won't sell your name), shoot me an email at info@johnclaytonbooks.com.

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A narrative nonfiction reading list 

My gig as visiting writer at Montana State University-Billings is about one-third complete, and I'm enjoying teaching “Finding and Telling the Story: Narrative Nonfiction,” the advanced writing workshop that's listed under four categories in the English and Honors departments. The students are intelligent, motivated, and generally well-prepared. The institution has been very supportive.

And friends have been very curious. What are we reading? The bedrock for the course is Jon Franklin's Writing for Story, an easy-to-read how-to. For easy insight into how an author made certain choices, we're reading selections from my Stories from Montana's Enduring Frontier. But additionally, we're reading some famous pieces that have appeared in American magazines over the last 25 years, including the following:

Gary Smith, “Shadow of a Nation
Susan Orlean, “The American Man, Age 10
Peter Hessler, “Dr. Don
Michael Paterniti, “Driving Mr. Albert
Laura Secor, “War of Words
Chuck Klosterman, “Why I Am Rooting For Duke

For me one of the great joys of the course is revisiting some of my favorite works and discussing them with others. Perhaps you will find some gems on this list as well.



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John Steinbeck's Montana, in The Montana Quarterly 

"We go to press tomorrow," the editor emailed me at ten minutes to 5:00 that night. "And I have one question. Did Steinbeck travel over Homestake Pass or Pipestone Pass?" I'd written that the author John Steinbeck, in Travels with Charley, stopped at Montana's Continental Divide, "presumably on Pipestone Pass near Butte." But Interstate 90 travels over Homestake Pass. Almost nobody goes over Pipestone Pass, five miles south.

"It's a small item, but I don't want some Buttian calling up pissed off," the editor said. Let me say here how much I love writing for the Montana Quarterly. They notice things like this. Because they have readers who notice things like this. Some of those readers live in Butte, which has a reputation for directness.

There was a moment of panic because I didn't have proof handy. Steinbeck just called it the Continental Divide. Bill Steigerwald, whose wonderful book Dogging Steinbeck I quoted, didn't mention the pass. "I believe I saw a map," I emailed back right away. "Let me see if I can find it."

It took a while to find. But I did. And I was glad. Because it makes a difference.

One of the main points of my article is that road-tripping was different in 1960, when Steinbeck and Charley crossed the country. There were very few Interstate highways. And so on back roads, Steinbeck got a different, richer feel for the landscape and culture he was traveling through. Today the Interstate catapults you over Homestake Pass as fast as your transmission will allow.

But soon after arriving in Montana, I made a point of driving over Pipestone Pass. It was a Blue Highways kind of experience, one I've never forgotten. It helped me envision what Steinbeck had seen, that we don't see today. That's what I tried to capture in the article, and maybe by mentioning the backwater pass I could inspire one or two of our readers to go have that experience themselves.

The article isn't available online, so please subscribe to read.

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Lavina in the Montana Quarterly 


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!

I did this assignment with photographer John Warner. In addition to running in the magazine, his shot of the little-seen interior of the Adams Hotel was recently highlighted by National Geographic

Here's an excerpt from the article:
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.

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Millenials and the New West in Magic 



When Magic (formerly Magic City, the magazine of Billings, Montana) was developing a package on the millennial generation, the editor asked if I could contribute some thoughts from a historical perspective. And as she talked about potential conflict among generations, I thought of the 1990s fad of talking about the New West. Wasn't that, beneath the hype, merely a previous generational clash?

My essay, adapted from Stories from Montana's Enduring Frontier, is currently up at this link (on p. 44 of the October issue).

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Philipsburg in Montana Quarterly 



When the editor tossed out an idle question -- "Do you know anything about Philipsburg? I'm thinking of doing it for a Rural Route" -- my response was immediate.

"Oh please please please let me write it! I love Philipsburg!"

He did let me write it, and my love grew. This small old mining town has so many classic Montana qualities: historic downtown architecture, outdoor recreation, great scenery, interesting artistic connections, a great microbrewery, and fascinating friendly people.

For our Rural Route feature -- when the magazine sends a writer and photographer out to describe what life is like in some small town that readers might not otherwise visit -- I was again fortunate to collaborate with photographer Thomas Lee. Our results are not available online, but you can subscribe here.

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Medicine Lake in Montana Quarterly  

For many years my favorite section of my favorite magazine has been the “Rural Route” feature in the Montana Quarterly. There’s no plot: they just send some writer and photographer to a small Montana town. In his five-year tenure, Jeff Hull continually got me to love these towns I’d never been to. Jeff has recently moved on to new challenges, and this quarter, I got to write one of the columns. It’s a tremendous honor and great thrill. Furthermore, the town of Medicine Lake (waaaaay up in the northeast corner of the state) was far more fun than I could have imagined. I hope the piece captured at least some of the pleasure I had at Lake's Homecoming weekend.

It’s not available online, so please subscribe!

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Reflections West radio program 

I'm honored to have had an essay selected for the fine public radio program "Reflections West." The program pairs a "reflection" with a passage from a work of western literature. Given how much time I had spent with Caroline Lockhart's novels, she seemed the obvious choice for me. I selected one of my favorite passages from her work, and then talked about what I think it means to people today.

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 Mossmain in Montana Magazine 

I have a new story in the July-August issue of Montana Magazine. It's titled "Mossmain: The Metropolis that Wasn't." Here's how it begins:
“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.

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Yellowstone visitation as compared to national population 

This chart shows the visitation to Yellowstone National Park as a percentage of the total U.S. population for 1904-1999. There's a huge dip caused by World War II. Otherwise, it rises rather steadily, and increasingly, from about 1918 to 1970. After 1970, there are many more fluctuations, but the general trend is steady or ever-so-slightly increasing.
To me, the trend clearly relates to the nationwide increase in automobile usage and appreciation. Autos weren't allowed into Yellowstone until 1915 (although the numbers don't start rising for a few years after that). And by 1970, I suspect every family that wanted a car had one.

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)

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“Hope and Bacon” in the Montana Quarterly 


I have a story out in the Summer 2013 edition of the Montana Quarterly magazine. It’s an expanded version of an essay that appears in Stories from Montana’s Enduring Frontier. Here’s how it begins:
“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...
It's not available online, so to read the whole thing, you’ll have to subscribe. Subscribing to this magazine -- purchased last autumn by one of its editors -- is worthwhile for more than just my story. It effectively captures life in Montana through great writing and photography. 

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Events in Billings June 20 and 22 

I'm excited to be in Billings for two upcoming Stories from Montana's Enduring Frontier events. In the first, I’ll be at the Western Heritage Center as part of their High Noon Lecture Series, on Thursday, June 20, 2013 at Noon. This is a great venue and a vibrant part of downtown. I’ll be doing a summary of the book with some slides. (The program may also air on Community 7 television Friday at 5pm, Saturday at 10am and 4pm, and Sunday at 7am and 9pm.) The event is free and books will be for sale.

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!

Stories of Wyoming’s enduring frontier 

Although my new book collects my essays on Montana history, I live close to the Wyoming state line, and have long been fascinated by frontier issues just to the south of me. (Some of them took up another entire book.) So I also want to note the official launch of an incredible online resource, to which I was happily able to contribute a couple of items.

WyoHistory.org is an online mega-encyclopedia covering the history of the Cowboy State. It includes encyclopedia entries on major people, places and events -- all vetted by professionals --- and it also includes essays, oral histories, and field trip ideas. It’s all attractively formatted, easily searchable, and continuing to grow. Great kudos should go to editor Tom Rea.

My two contributions are listed at http://www.wyohistory.org/authors/john-clayton but really one can spend hours at any portion of the site.

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Book Release Party! May 17 in Red Lodge 

Please come help me celebrate the release of Stories from Montana's Enduring Frontier. I'll be hosting a Book Release Party on Friday, May 17, from 5-7 pm at Cafe Regis (501 S Word Ave) in Red Lodge. The event is free and open to the public.

What is a Book Release Party? It's a chance for me as an author to say Thanks! to all the many people who have helped make this book become a reality. And since the book collects 20 years' worth of essays on Montana history, that's a lot of people! But it's not a tedious lecture -- I plan to do almost all of my talking in very small groups -- it's a warm, fun get-together.

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!

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New blog address: johnclaytonbooks.blogspot.com 

When I started this blog ten years ago, blogging was new and unusual. It was the earliest form of social networking. And although I'd describe my technical skills as "intermediate at best," I was easily able to incorporate the blog into my website.

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!

Russell Rowland's "High and Inside" (another Next Big Thing) 


When I was tagged as one of the latest writers to talk about the "Next Big Thing," I wrote about Stories from Montana’s Enduring Frontier. And then I tagged some friends, including novelist Russell Rowland. Although Russell’s website is here, he’s answering his Next Big Thing questions as a guest-blogger. So without further ado, here’s Russell:


What is the working title of your book?
HIGH AND INSIDE

What genre does your book fall under?
This would fall under the category of alcoholic former baseball players move to Montana literature.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
Jack Huston for the lead guy. He's that guy on Boardwalk Empire that is missing half his face... John Huston's grandson. Catherine Keener for his sister. John C. Reilly for his brother-in-law. Not sure about the others.

What is a one-sentence synopsis of your book?
Pete Hurley, former pitcher for the Red Sox, moves to Montana to escape the damage he's done back East, only to create a whole new set of problems for himself.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
Probably about a year. I've been working on this book for fifteen years, so it's hard to say.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
It's sort of a combination of Field of Dreams and Affliction.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?
A friend of mine told me a story that happened when she was about twelve. She had a crush on a friend of her brother's... a big biker dude. One day he was at their house and he was so drunk he started to tip over, and she ran over to try and catch him before her brother pulled her out of the way just in time to avoid having the guy fall on her.

What else about your book might pique a reader’s interest?
The other main character is a three-legged female dog named Dave.

When and how will it be published?
This summer by Bangtail Press out of Bozeman, Montana.

Who are you tagging to be the next writer to talk about their Next Big Thing?
Novelist Nancy Bilyeau at http://nancybilyeau.blogspot.com

Thanks Russell for participating!

The Next Big Thing: Montana's Enduring Frontier 



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.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
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

I'm always interested in feedback, via info at johnclaytonbooks dot com

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New book coming out 

Great news! I will be publishing a new book in May. "Stories from Montana's Enduring Frontier," a collection of my magazine articles about Montana history, will be coming out from The History Press.

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

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Caroline Lockhart's talented ex-boyfriends 

When I was writing The Cowboy Girl, there were dozens of tangents that I had to stop myself from going down if I ever wanted to finish. Many of these tangents involved Caroline Lockhart's boyfriends. In addition to being quite a character herself, Caroline's taste in men ran toward the unusual, the talented, the zest-for-life types.

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

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Mountains named after a hard-to-see tooth? 

I love this article about viewing the Bear’s Tooth of the Beartooth Mountains from a spot near Reedpoint. But it brings up an issue that has confused me for a while with the sentence, “Supposedly the mountain range's name comes from the Crow Indian naming of the spire.” Why would the Crow tribe have named the entire mountain range after a spire that is so difficult to see?

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

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