Picking a favorite book or author with Montana roots is like roaming through a complex and beautiful canvas, always toward a new view, a fresh perspective.
Members of the news staff at the Daily Inter Lake offered takes on some of their favorites. Some of the authors are on the above list. Some aren’t. But they all make for a fine bookshelf of good reads.
“Indian Trails and Grizzly Tales”
“Indian Trails and Grizzly Tales” by Bud Cheff, an autobiography.
Bud Cheff was a native, born near Ronan. He hunted, fished, worked on the Noxon, Hungry Horse and Kerr dams, guided hunters in the Mission Mountains. He had friendships with Native Americans and it’s a pretty frank account of what life was like then.
When I was in state 20 or so years ago, I bought it somewhere. Good read, very enjoyable. There are still family members living in the Mission area now, where he lived for most of his life. Some of them still run the outfitting business he started.
— Scott Shindledecker, outdoors and law enforcement reporter
“A River Runs Through It”
I will never forget the end of the movie, “A River Runs Through It.” Robert Redford’s iconic film is beautiful and poignant. It is etched deeply in my memory. But for as much as I love the story, it is the last lines of the final soliloquy I found so unforgettable.
“Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world’s great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs. I am haunted by waters.” — Norman Maclean
I wondered if the book could be as good as the film, and of course, the book is better, as is always true. I read it almost immediately. And loved it so much I purchased an audio edition of it. Then, years later when I found myself moving to Montana, I decided to listen again to the story of the Big Blackfoot River as I uprooted my life to head west.
This book was the perfect soundtrack for that journey. And Montana has proven to be every bit as exquisite Maclean’s book made me dream was possible.
— Brenda Ahearn, photographer
I knew little about the Anaconda Company and its notorious history in Montana when I became the Anaconda bureau reporter in 1990 for The Montana Standard.
The reporter I replaced identified sources I should get to know. One was Wayne Hadley, a state fisheries biologist.
We met for lunch. I quickly realized he was extraordinarily smart, irreverently funny. He tolerated my ignorance because he sensed I wanted to learn.
He told me to read “A River Runs Through It and Other Stories.” He said the book would provide vital background about the Anaconda Company that would inform my coverage of the EPA Superfund cleanup underway in Anaconda and Butte.
Hadley was right. And I discovered that the background I needed was delivered in Norman Maclean’s haunting and eloquent prose.
— Duncan Adams, natural resources and legislative reporter
“Indian Creek Chronicles”
I’ve read many on this list and among these authors Ivan Doig is dearest to my heart. I’ve had the good fortune to meet him several times through the years thanks to my earlier job at the former Village Book Shop and an interview I later did with him for the Inter Lake in 2003 when his novel “Prairie Nocturne” was published. He was a thoughtful, distinguished man, a prolific writer and one who could turn a phrase with such finesse that I’d find myself relishing reading it over and again in wonder of its perfect imagery and expertly crafted syntax.
One author who isn’t on this list, however, that I count among my favorites is Pete Fromm. His nonfiction “Indian Creek Chronicles” is just the stuff for a daydreaming adventurer, full of Fromm’s self-deprecating humor, endearing honesty and deep love for wilderness during his Thoreau-esque winter stint in the Selway-Bitterroots baby-sitting salmon eggs.”
— Carol Marino, community editor and This Week in the Flathead Editor
“Deliverance: Mary Fields”
Columbia Falls author Miante McConnell spent more than a decade poring over state records, old newspaper articles and archives from the Ursuline Center in Great Falls for her fascinating account of a 53-year-old second-generation slave who became an integral figure in Montana history.
“Deliverance: Mary Fields,” one of my favorites written by a Montana author, is an ambitious 517-page book that tells how Fields became the first African American woman star route mail carrier in the United States.
MConnell told me during an interview two years ago it was an act of love that compelled Fields to get on a night train in the winter of 1885 and travel from Ohio to Montana after getting word of her friend’s impending death. With early-day medical remedies tucked in her satchel, she arrived to find Mother Mary Amadeus nearly frozen to death in a dilapidated cabin.
Convinced that the frostbitten nuns and their students and would not survive without her help, Fields stays. McConnell’s beautifully written narrative reveals how Fields’ life unfolds in Montana as she overcame obstacles that continuously were put in her path.
— Lynnette Hintze, news editor
“The Egg and I”
My choice is not by definition a “Montana book,” but the author spent part of her childhood in Butte and captures it in such hilarious detail that it would be a shame to let a few technicalities get in the way.
In the first chapter of her 1945 comedy classic “The Egg and I,” Betty MacDonald shares her youthful Butte adventures in her descriptive yet matter-of-fact way. She has a knack for making u-turns in the middle of a thought — you can never predict where one of her sentences will end.
She describes her mother’s first impressions of Butte after moving there as a new bride in the early 1900s.
“A party was given at the Silver Bow Club to welcome Mother to Butte and she was amazed to find that the ladies of the town wore Paris gowns but painted their faces like prostitutes.”
She offers childhood memories under the influence of her opinionated grandmother: “The sulphur smoke smelled awful but Gammy made us breathe deep and suck it down inside of us. She said it disinfected our insides. She also made us drink gallons of vile-tasting water at White Sulphur Springs.”
MacDonald goes on to tell the colorful story of her life with her husband on a chicken farm on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington state. Despite the hardships of her remote and rustic existence there, she kept up her spirits and went on to write three more humorous autobiographical books. She also might be familiar to people as the author of the children’s “Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle” series.
Note: MacDonald makes plenty of unfair and crude assumptions about the “Indians” she encounters, but keep in mind this was written in a very different era.
— Heidi Gaiser, business and city of Kalispell reporter