Ride With Me, Mariah Montana Background Notes
completing a voyage around a century
When I set out to put a century of the American West into my Two Medicine trilogy of novels, the past was almost too cooperative. As I crisscrossed Montana in ten years of research and writing, the cycle of drought and hard times that I was exploring in the homesteaders' era of Dancing at the Rascal Fair and the Depression years of English Creek struck the state again. People I talked to there in the 1980's echoed what their parents said about the hardships of the 1930's and their grandparents said after the terrible winter of 1919; again and again I was reminded that the past has its own undying voice.
The rigors and splendors of traveling the West competed during my writing of this finale novel of the trilogy, as I traced out my characters' reportorial "circumnavigation" of Montana's landscape and history during the state's centennial year of 1989. At the National Bison Range at Moiese, a buffalo herd grazed past my car so close the swish of their tails could be heard. At the Chief Joseph Battlefield, while changing to a heavier coat as night and cold descended, I locked myself out of my rental car, fifteen miles from anywhere—a bonehead maneuver I immediately foisted off onto one of my characters. The summer before, Montana was being scorched by record heat as I and my photographer wife, Carol, drove a newly rented motorhome out onto the prairie expanses east of Billings. When the temperature hit 105, the motorhome conked out on a remote road. Miraculously, with maybe a few cusswords thrown in, the vehicle was coaxed back to life, only to suffer system failures of one kind or another in each day's extreme heat until the ultimate meltdown, the air conditioner. Our final recourse: a bedtime visit to a swimming pool and then sleeping in wet bathing suits. Clamminess never felt better.
Finishing up that novel and the decade of creating people and past akin to my own—I'm the grandson of Montana homesteaders and the son of Montana ranch workers—I let the book have the last word on my belovedly difficult home country:
"You look at the unbeatable way the land latches into the sky atop the Rocky Mountain Front or on the curve of the planet across the plains, and you end up calculating that our first hundred years here could have been worse."