Montana Authors Project

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The mission town of St. Xavier belonged to two ages. The opening up of the Indian reserve brought new townsmen and new houses. The newcomers, after one look at what was before them, moved on and erected their neat clapboard bungalows on the opposite side of Buffalo Creek. Over there they laid a few cement sidewalks, hid their outhouses in woodsheds, planted round flower beds and ran fences around their lots. That was the 'Townsite,' the up-to-date quarter. The old town, which was usually called Indian-Town, was left to itself, but not out of mercy. Its lack of plan and of sanitation saved it. (35)…


We had no trouble in finding the grave. It had been opened, and not by bears or wolves. The half-bleached skeleton of Gray Eagle was lying alongside the shallow pit. The pine saplings had been pulled out, and were piled at one side, with most of the needles dropped off under them, showing, only too plainly, the saplings had been removed while green...Susie [In-who-lise] saw all this, and her wailing death cry again echoed through the silent gulch and hills.... (280)…


They were riding through the big-leaf and spear-leaf trees along the Milk River. A few winters ago, it had been good hunting for the long-legs and wags-his-tails, and, before that, bighorns, real-lions and sticky-mouths. With the settling of the Napikwans, these animals had moved into the Backbone, which loomed above the riders to the west. Rides-at-the-door looked over at Ear Mountain, and, below it, Danger Butte. (270)…


Carter County, my county, forms the far southeastern corner [of Montana], sprawling like an old wool blanket spread carelessly across the ground, complete with ridges, wrinkles, hollows, and an occasional hole. The closest thing Carter County can claim to a mountain is the buttes—a series of sandstone flattops that look like the beginning of mountains, as though some ambitious fellow came along and started building a mountain ridge, but didn't have the energy to finish it. Finger Buttes cross the county at an angle, south to northwest, like giant stones laid out to keep the wind from blowing the blanket away. (2)…


Early next morning Paul picked me up in Wolf Creek, and we drove across Rogers Pass where the thermometer is that stuck at three-tenths of a degree short of seventy below. As usual, especially if it were early in the morning, we sat silently respectful until we passed the big Divide, but started talking the moment we thought we were draining into another ocean. Paul nearly always had a story to tell in which he was the leading character but not the hero. (13)…


The center of life was the mission church.... Plain as it was, the hovels which were set against it gave it an air of grandeur.... Each cabin faced the church. Each door—there were no windows—gave a full view of God's tall house and the cropped poplar trees around it. The newcomers saw only the confusion. (35)…


The novelist always manages to cover up the trail on the Indian or villains who are pursuing the hero with the red-headed maiden in his arms on horseback. I never had such luck. They could always find my trail dead easy and run the hell out of me.... We all like to see the hero and fair damsel make their get-away from the villain and for her to live happily with the hero.... I am sorry to have to dispell the beautiful hallucination and tell, in most cases, that is B.S. (49)…


On the fifth day out they came to the head of the Little Prickly Pear where it empties into the Big River. A short distance to the southwest lay the holdings of Malcolm Clark. Yellow Kidney had told how, before turning to ranching, Clark had been a trader among the Pikunis and had married Cutting-off-head Woman. The Indians called him Four Bears and the chiefs respected him, but he was also known for his ruthless ways and bad temper. Now he raised whitehorns and had a big say with the Napikwan chiefs. (15)…


Irene and I had done up the fair before—we'd done it up big.... In years before, we thought we owned the fair. But that August we haunted the midway like ghosts—stopping in front of the Tilt-A-Whirl, then the fishbowl game, watching like we'd already seen everything there was to see but couldn't quite pull ourselves away.... Everything was painted in ringing noises and flashing lights and shouting and screaming, crazy laughter, little kids crying, the smell of popcorn and fry bread and cotton candy thick in the air, but it all just sort of floated around me like smoke. (43)…


As the heat mirages on the river in front of me danced with and through each other, I could feel patterns from my own life joining with them. It was here, while waiting for my brother, that I started this story, although, of course, at the time I did not know that stories of life are often more like rivers than books. But I knew a story had begun, perhaps long ago near the sound of water. And I sensed that ahead I would meet something that would never erode so there would be a sharp turn, deep circles, a deposit, and quietness. (63)…

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