I am breaking out of the mold a bit with this post. While I usually talk about what is happened out-of-doors, this time I am going to cover a few excursions I have enjoyed while never leaving the warmth found indoors.
As regular readers will attest, I am not much for staying in. However, when the temperature drops into the single digits - and below - it is sometimes nice to curl up in a comfy chair with a warm beverage and a good book.
Furthermore, I have lived in the Centennial Valley several years now. While my knowledge of our local history is not completely lacking, I have yearned to learn more about the general area. With that impetus, I began searching for books about (or set in) this vicinity.
What I’ve unearthed, so far, is not necessarily limited to my own back yard (and I use that term very loosely). Some of my more recent reads were located in the Colorado Rockies. Yet, the ‘spirit’ of the writer, their hardships and triumphs, and even their love for this wild country speaks strongly to my own passion and experiences.
With the turn of each page, I have found friends - traveled to known (and newly discovered) locations - experienced life as I know it or, on some occasions, as I’m glad I do not have to know it. Thus, from time to time, I plan to share the books I am enjoying. They will vary greatly in genre and topic, but they are all united by a common thread - that fragile link which ties us to a place and draws our hearts back to the place we call home.
THE NATURE OF MIDNIGHT
Author: Robert Rice
Genre: Murder Mystery
Setting: Ennis - McAlister - Norris area
I must admit, I opened this book because the author is one of our guests. Not until this summer did I learn he is a writer, The Nature Of Midnight being his third novel. So, out of pure curiosity I picked up a copy in Bozeman.
His story did not disappoint. In fact, Bob did a great job keeping his readers on the edge of their seats, frantically turning the page to see what happens next.
As the cover suggests, the story centers around some lost letters from a by-gone era. These letters may re-write history as we know it. Yet, as so often happens, more than one person is interested in these letters. Thus the books is a true murder mystery with a few casualties and several close calls.
This story is well-written. The story line is even more interesting if you are at all familiar with Ennis, McAllister, Norris or Hwy 84 between Norris and Bozeman. I’d recommend this book to all you mystery fans out there!
INCIDENT AT BIG SKY
Author: Johnny France & Malcolm McConnell
Genre: True Crime
Setting: Big Sky - Ennis - Norris
Several guests recommended this book before I finally purchased a copy. I must admit, I felt a bit chagrined when I realized a key player in this true story has stayed at Elk Lake several times. Perhaps, however, it is best I didn’t know. Notoriety is good - but only to a point. Most people come to Elk Lake to escape the ‘real’ world!
The one disclaimer I think should always accompany any "true" story written from only ONE person’s perspective is: “This is one person’s take on what happened.” I add that not because I believe the story to be inaccurate. I have no reason to doubt what lies between this hefty book's covers. Yet, like any other true story, there is more than one side. Perhaps, if I were to hear the other side, the story might sound a little different. I suspect I’ll never know - and not knowing certainly doesn’t detract from the story's appeal.
They say truth can be stranger than fiction. Certainly this applies to Johnny’s story. From beginning to end, the manhunt (for the events leading up to the manhunt are really just a small introduction to the real story) retold in this tale read more like a novelist’s nightmare than real life.
I would recommend this story to anyone interested in one of the most bizarre happenings in our quiet corner of Montana. Like any well-written tale, the author does not need to dwell on violence, blood and gore to keep you riveted.
LETTERS OF A WOMAN HOMESTEADER
Author: Elinore Pruitt Stewart
Genre: True History
Setting: Colorado’s Eastern Rocky Mountain Front
I stumbled across this book while searching for another recommended on a friend’s blog. Both are true stories. Both are based on one woman’s experience in the Colorado Rockies during the prior century. I believe Elinor's book may have been ‘adapted’ a bit, but if so, it still brings forth the flavor of the letters written by the author.
While not as riveting as Incident At Big Sky nor as beautifully written as the other book (which I’ll review at a later date), Elinore’s tale is very interesting. Of course, the story does not take place anywhere near the Centennial Valley. So, why read it? Because Elinor experienced life not so different from what I expect many homesteaders in Southwest Montana experienced.
Elinore’s story intrigued me because, like Lillian Hackett Hanson Culver (a very local homesteader) Elinore made the drastic decision to move not only herself but her young child west - at a time when the west wasn’t friendly to men, let alone women and children. Furthermore, like Lillian Culver, Elinore Stewart moved west to keep house - in Elinore’s case, for a bachelor rancher. And, like Lillian, Elinore had a lot of backbone - and a healthy independent streak. I admire these women and thus recommend Elinor's story to you.
CATACLYSM: WHEN HUMAN STORIES MEET EARTH”S FAULTS
Author: Douglas W. Huigen
Genre: True Tragedy
Setting: Earthquake Lake, Montana
In an upcoming post (or two), I plan to share a place I think every visitor to the Yellowstone area should visit: Earthquake Lake. The natural beauty is breathtaking, of course. However, something more makes Earthquake Lake a must see. For, here, in 1959, one of the largest earthquakes in US history triggered the 2nd largest landslide in North America.
I had driven past the visitor’s center many times. However, during this summer's visit to Virginia City and Nevada City I found numerous photos taken after this devastating natural disaster. Curiosity aroused, I determined to stop at the visitor center before it closed for the season.
The stories. The pictures. The facts. They all combine to make one pause and count their blessings. I’m not one to ‘worry’ about natural disaster. Thus it did not bother me to realize how close I live to several serious fault lines. Such is life!
Yet the more I learned, the more I wanted to ‘meet’ the people whose lives were forever changed those many years ago. So, I picked up two books. The visitor's center staff recommend Cataclysm. It is well written and thoroughly researched. It covers many aspects - not only the real stories, but also the area geography. This makes it a worthwhile read.
OUT OF THE NIGHT
Author: Irene Bennett Dunn
Genre: True Tragedy
Setting: Earthquake Lake - Ennis
While Out Of The Night does not contain the quality of writing found in Cataclysm, Neither is the story line the best. However, the real life experiences, the emotions, the impacts of that terrible earthquake are adequately recorded by this real life survivor who lost most of her family on that fateful night. If for no other reason, this makes the story is worth reading.
PS - Have you read a favorite book which highlights either the Greater Yellowstone area or the Rocky Mountains in general? Was it worth sharing? If so, I’d love to hear about it!