Cover

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Title page, Copyright, Dedication

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Contents

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p. vii

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Preface

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pp. xi-xii

THIS IS THE book I swore I would never write. For most of my twenty-five years in the state, all of Montana felt like prized troutwater. The most ethical thing to do was keep quiet about it. But now, the place has been found by the rest of the world. Montana is being filmed, claimed, mined, settled, and misunderstood like never before...

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Acknowledgments

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pp. xiii-xiv

ROUND UP the usual suspects. Gratitude to Bruce Bugbee for his bountiful knowledge and good heart. Many thanks also to Land Lindbergh, Dave Odell, and Bob Kiesling for taking the time to talk. The Montana Land Reliance, Five Valleys Land Trust, and all the other land trusts in the state provided...

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1. Ghost Dance

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pp. 1-10

IN ONE OF Charlie Russell's paintings, an elderly Indian man kneels in downcast prayer beside a bison skull. Telegraph wires vibrate overhead as a woman wearing Gay Nineties finery pedals by on a bicycle. In the sky are the spirits of fallen warriors on painted ponies. They seem to be calling to...

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2. St. Patrick’s Day in Butte

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pp. 11-18

BUTTE ON St. Patrick's Day is about as Montana as it gets. This rough-boned city of abandoned copper mines, grotesque runoff, and rusting gallows frames may be down a few hands but it still knows how to throw a party. There's a lot to celebrate and to forget. No place in the state has seen things go more cattywampus. Butte started as a small gold...

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3. Myths

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pp. 19-56

MYTHS ARE things that never were, but always are." A philosopher whose name I can't remember figured that one out. But the word "myth" has two meanings. One is an untruth—sheer boneheaded bullshit. No shortage has ever been reported. The other definition is more compelling. A myth is a story that helps explain a sacred history and the origin of a way...

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4. The Puritan Epic, Prohibition and Magnetohydrodynamics Party

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pp. 57-78

PEOPLE CALL the place Pburg and go on the best they can. I moved to Philipsburg in 1975. It is one of the complete ironies of my life that I went to conservative and contrary Granite County to be a land-use planner. This is like being a vegan at a testicle festival. For those unacquainted with the drill, Montanans like to deep-fat fry mountains of bull...

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5. Land Trusting

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pp. 79-104

I WAS STANDING boot deep in the Big Hole River when the mosquitoes began to take effect. The sinuous world of channels and meander-scar sloughs was the birthplace of all bugs. Hazes, billows, veils, mare's tails of bugs. Buzzing nebulas of blood-drilling buggish bastards. My lacquer of noxious repellent only seemed to lubricate their skin-piercing equipment...

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6. The Real River That Runs through It

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pp. 105-130

SOMETIMES THERE are stories that challenge your heart, ones where good sense is at risk to nonsense, where the endurance of strong people begins to falter but will not give way. The remote Blackfoot River Valley is a landscape with one of those stories. It starts out there in the Big World. Papua New Guinea has always...

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7. The Curse of Charlot

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pp. 131-156

I REMEMBER HEARING the news on the radio. Vince Swann, a Missoula television weather forecaster, was dead at a ridiculously early age. He died of a sudden wracking fever. Rocky Mountain spotted fever. A tick bite had done in a good friend. A tick from a canyon in the Bitterroot Mountains. His wife Renee and daughters Bridgett and Michelle watched delirium collapse...

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8. The Church Lady in Paradise

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pp. 157-178

IN THE SUMMER of 1988, Yellowstone National Park caught fire and America went kind of loopy. Lightning strikes and human carelessness sent massive fire fronts roasting across the Yellowstone Plateau. Each night for weeks the press updated how many acres had been "destroyed" or "lost" to the burns. We were told the...

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9. The Elk’s Golden Eye

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pp. 179-194

AFTER THREE weeks in the Scottish Highlands you get used to climbing mountains in the fog. I rolled out of my B & B next to the Falls of Dochart and drove north to the trailhead at the base of Ben Lawers. In Scotland a "ben" is a peak. Although Lawers didn't quite reach 4,000 feet, the maps said it had...

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10. Medicine

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pp. 195-198

I LIVE IN Missoula in a small house surrounded by a stand of large ponderosa pines. Mount Jumbo rises to the south like the reclining body of a grassy elephant. The Salish called it Si Nim Koo ("Big Bump"). On June days you can hike among the waving prairies and watch lazuli buntings color the sky. On one of those absolute days, I walked...