Distinctly Montana Magazine

Distinctly Montana Fall 2015

Distinctly Montana Magazine

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D I S T I N C T LY M O N TA N A s FA L L 2 0 1 5 36 36 LITERARY LODE LITERARY LODE DEPARTMENT LITERARY LODE FEMMES FRONTIER Women's early work about Montana crackles with the energy of the early frontier. MARY RONAN, arrived with her family in Al- der Gulch, shortly after the famous 1862 Grasshopper Creek gold strike. In Girl from the Gulches, she described the mining camp as populated by "rough-clad men with long hair and flowing beards" and echoing with the "sounds of brawls, insults and oathes (sic)." But it was also a place where she buys candy with leftover gold dust from sluice boxes and discovers "on the tumbled hills," that "the primroses made pink splotches in early spring." After marry- ing Indian agent Peter Ronan, she lived for 20 years in the Jocko Valley, where "the mountains rose so abruptly that they seemed to lean forward." On an agent's monthly salary of $150, Ronan entertained constantly, everyone from Indian councils to Irish earls, noting that "as long as I lived on the reservation, I was never again alone in my home with my own family." NANNIE ALDERSON (1860-1947) left her life as a southern belle in Virginia to move to a ranch in Birney, with her husband, Walt, in 1883, just five years before Montana's statehood. Cowboys chasing stray calves and male couriers often stopped by the Alderson Ranch, where, as Nannie says, "she felt like a mother to the bachelors." All called her "Mrs. Alderson," just as she call her husband "Mr. Alderson" On the frontier, she noted, "I believe that we stuck all the more firmly to our principles of etiquette because we were so far from civilization." B.M. BOWER (1871-1940) who arrived in Montana in 1888, portrayed the isolation of ranch life in Lonesome Land, one of several successful novels, including Chip of the Flying U. When newlywed Val sees Cold Spring Ranch, it is not the small cot- tage where the "western breezes napped white curtains in the windows." It is a shack, with a lean-to, a few straggling flowers, on a "wide, wide prairie." e spring is "a stock-trampled pool Legacy of Dorothy Johnson Mary Ronan Nannie Alderson Montana D OROTHY JOHNSON WAS THE FIRST WOMEN WRITER I EVER MET. It was in the 1960s, when she was teaching at the University of Montana's School of Journalism after a 15-year editing career in New York. Described as a "little bobcat of a woman," Johnson (1905-1984) wrote about the frontier west in 17 books and 52 stories — three of which, e Hanging Tree, A Man Called Horse, and e Man Who Shot Liberty Valance became movies. In delightful contrast to the Girl Scout Troup leaders and symphony wives who comprised my images of womanhood in small-town Missoula, Johnson had dark black glasses, an acerbic speaking style, and she was famous for shooting a rattlesnake in her basement. As women writers go, it wasn't a bad introduction.

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