Peter Bowen – Obituary by David McCumber

Montana novelist remembered as ‘a writer’s writer’

  • By DAVID McCUMBER Lee Enterprises
  • Apr 11, 2020
Bowen photo
Michael Gallacher
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Peter Bowen, a novelist who found acclaim and literary success writing about the Montana he loved, died Wednesday after a fall at his home in Livingston. He was 74.

Bowen was best-known for a series of 15 mystery novels set in the fictional Eastern Montana town of Toussaint, and featuring a Métis brand inspector named Gabriel Du Pré.

He also wrote a four-book series of historical novels set in Montana in the 19th and early 20th century that blended history and humor in a way that delighted readers and critics alike. They featured a fictionalized version of the real-life Western character Luther Sage “Yellowstone” Kelly, a soldier, frontiersman, hunter and scout.

Bowen was a writer’s writer, respected for his wordsmithing — and his irreverence and sardonic humor. For a time, he wrote columns for Forbes FYI magazine under the name “Coyote Jack.”

The writer Christopher Buckley, a pretty good hand at comic novels himself, was the editor at the magazine who commissioned the columns from Bowen, and he said he knew he had a winner when he read the first line of the first column: “Sorry to be late in answering. I sprained my wrist on a pair of Jehovah’s Witnesses.” Indeed, the column became one of the magazine’s most popular features.

Buckley considered Bowen one of his very best friends, even though they met in person only once during a correspondence that dated from 1982 to a couple of days before Bowen’s death.

Buckley said he has more than 1,000 letters from Bowen, and someday he would like to compile their correspondence and publish it.

“He was an American original,” Buckley said, “and a dear friend. I always learned something with everything he sent me. There was always a story. His well of stories was deeper than the Marianas Trench.”

Peter Bowen was born May 22, 1945 in Athens, Georgia, and was adopted immediately after his birth by Keith and Marie Bowen. Keith Bowen was an educator and in the first years of Peter’s life they lived in Colorado and Indiana while Keith Bowen obtained his doctorate. Then, when Peter was 10, the family moved to Bozeman, where his father became a professor — and wrestling coach — at Montana State College. His mother was one of the earliest volunteers at the Museum of the Rockies.

Bowen said in a self-written biographical sketch that his paper route ended at a Bozeman bar called The Oaks, where he would linger and listen to the stories being told by old cowboys. “”They were men in their eighties and nineties,” Bowen said, “and some had ridden up in the cattle drives from Texas in the 1870s. … That gave me the habit of eavesdropping in bars. You can hear whole novels in an afternoon.”

Clearly the romance of the West had an effect, and he loved the out of doors, riding his bicycle to favorite fishing and hunting haunts. A few days before Bowen was supposed to start junior high school, he took a rifle he had illegally purchased — he was only 12, after all — and decamped to a hideout in the Bridgers, high above town, stopping at the post office on the way to drop off a letter to his parents.

He stayed up there for weeks. His mother helped get supplies to him, but finally went to the sheriff and asked whether they should mount a rescue effort to bring him down. “No, it’ll snow soon, and he’ll come down,” the sheriff supposedly told her. And it did, and he did.

Eventually, he went to The University of Michigan, which he attended “without much effect on either of us,” Bowen said.

There he discovered the folk-music world at a coffee house on campus, which he ended up managing for a time, bringing in acts like Tom Rush, Doc Watson and a young Joni Mitchell. He also fell in love with south-side Chicago blues.

Like his character Yellowstone Kelly, Bowen himself was good at more than one thing. He learned the construction trade to put food in his mouth, and those skills would later serve him well as he fell in love with woodworking. He also would work as a cowboy, a folksinger and a fishing guide while he practiced the craft of writing.

A big, gruff, shaggy man, he loved many dogs and a very few people. For years he lived by this river or that in Montana, writing and fishing and enjoying his solitude.

When the first and second Du Pre novels, “Coyote Wind” and “Specimen Song” came out, they were greeted with critical fanfare — including a memorable New York Times rave review headlined “Thoreau in Montana.” The series continued to collect readers and praiseful reviews over the next two and a half decades.

Even though reclusive, he was always a great correspondent, and his few friends, like Buckley, heard from him frequently.

One of those people he cared for and kept in touch with was Christine Whiteside, whom he met back in the ’60s at the Ann Arbor coffee house. More than half a century later, Bowen and Christine Whiteside were married in 2013, and made their home in Livingston.

Bowen wrote several other novels, including one, “Buffalo Star,” a fictional account of Daniel Boone’s wanderings in Montana. Rick Ardinger, Limberlost Press editor and publisher, read the manuscript years ago and only recently discovered it had not been published. He said Limberlost plans to do so in 2021-22.

Ardinger said Bowen was “as wild and compelling and engaging as a historical character” from one of his novels. “Montana and the West were in his blood, a river of history that poured out best over a hammering typewriter,” he added.

A 16th and final Du Pre novel is also completed, pending finishing touches from Whiteside, who also served as Bowen’s editor in recent years. At least three other Montana historical novels await discovery by publishers, including Water Rose, a love story and thriller set in the Prohibition era.

Bowen was working on a memoir at the time of his death. “I am at sixty thousand words and with a clear path to the end, and if I can avoid getting ill I will be done before May,” he wrote a friend a week ago. Whiteside said that the part he has written will be treasured by family members. “But no one can finish it, because they were Peter’s stories, and only he knew them.”

Bowen is survived by his wife; a younger brother, Bill; two nieces, Alison Guan of Palo Alto and Natalie Brookshire of San Francisco; and his stepdaughter, Elizabeth Bedford of Seattle.

Whiteside said that depending on the pandemic, she expect that Bowen’s friends and family will gather this summer in Livingston for a memorial.


None of this quite conveys either the savage loyalty that Peter showed to his friends, his love for Montana (a year he spent in Cambridge with his wife, the love of his life, convinced him they must live in Montana- it is amusing to imagine him in Harvard Square); and his whole wonderful contradictory character. I have written a memoir of him, “Of Peter Bowen and Gabriel Du Pre”,and will try to get it in here. If not It was available in his website for a while, and will also appear in my second book of books if I ever finish it. We also dedicated books to each other,I dedicated Tiger Country, partially inspired by his Wolf No Wolf, to him; he dedicated Solus, wIth its Kazakh theme, to Libby and me, “Eagle Dreamers.”

Russell Chatham also died back in November.

Although he was already eighty and in assisted living, he was not expecting to die. That morning he told photographer Steven Collector that he had plans for future paintings.

He was an artist first, a fisherman, and a gourmand. He loved painting, fishing and women, perhaps in that order. When he attended Libby and my wedding (he had introduced us) he came to us blubbering about the beauty of the ceremony and said that if he had had a ceremony like that (it was just a simple church of England liturgy) he never would have gotten divorced. Libby said to him “Yes you would have Russ. You love all women too much.” He was a man of strong appetites and opinions.


Writing goes well, if slowly. I’m walking badly, sleeping worse, and not typing. I need some light guns- maybe one of those pseudo- Italian Turkish autoloaders in .410 — I don’t do heavy any more. On the other hand, I’m flying a goofy Harris hawk and have acquired several new, old guns.

Libby needs new knees, and is having trouble hearing me. And Ataika has died of cancer at 17. Life at seventy in the time of the Plague…

The death of dogs

On a Good Dog

O, my little pup ten years ago
was arrogant and spry,
Her backbone was a bended bow
for arrows in her eye.
Her step was proud, her bark was loud,
her nose was in the sky,
But she was ten years younger then,
And so, by God, was I.

Small birds on stilts along the beach
rose up with piping cry.
And as they rose beyond her reach
I thought to see her fly.
If natural law refused her wings,
that law she would defy,
for she could do unheard-of things,
and so, at times, could I.

Ten years ago she split the air
to seize what she could spy;
Tonight she bumps against a chair,
betrayed by milky eye!
She seems to pant, Time up, time up!
My little dog must die,
And lie in dust with Hector’s pup;
So, presently, must I.

Almaty Ataika died last night, in my bed, worn out from her cancer but peaceful. She was just short of 17, She had been my best dog, hound, pack leader, bird dog, and companion, and I’ll never have one better.

I read 2 passages from my late poet friend Tim Murphy’s Hunters Log: “the last look in her fearless eyes was trust” and “Vaya con dios, love, you were the dog of God”. Terri, who had also attended Lashy and Plummer, brought her to my bed to be kissed.


Recently Tom McIntyre asked several of his friends to recommend books for a young woman who had not encountered them in college. My list follows.

I once said that in my school the curriculum would be Classics, poetry, history, evolutionary biology, and how to run a chainsaw…

Politics and philosophy. Sorta…..

John Gray: Straw Dogs, John is a calm erudite calm nihilist and perhaps the most original mind in England today. He wrote a book on atheism in which he held that faith is dumb, then proved atheism is at least as…

Michael Oakeshott: Rationalism in Politics (he’s agin it)
An immense detailed scholarly book that in the end shows that the best society was in the English countryside before WWI, and that all deliberate change however inevitable is bad, by an old English small l libertarian who lives in such a village and likes to swim naked.

Prince Peter Kropotkin: Mutual Aid . Mutual aid! As far as I am concerned all political wisdom resides in these books.

Art etc: Camille Paglia, Sexual Personae. Her later ones are pretty good but she gets caught up in her schtick

A couple of uncharitable (but funny) Catholic novelists; my favories among their books

Evelyn Waugh:
A Handful of Dust
Scoop (The Daily Beast!)
Black Mischief
– Redemption? Brideshead Revisited

Muriel Spark:
A far Cry from Kensington
Loitering with Intent — woops, an autobiography but still , “I went on my way rejoicing.”

A charitable Catholic (redneck academic): Mary Karr. The Liars Club, Lit: the one about writing biographies. I have it lent out to a cowboy right now — I can’t remember the name .It covers everybody from Nabokov to Frank Conroy ‘s Stop Time.

A little natural history — Ed Wilson‘s Biophilia; Berndt Heinrich‘s Mind of the Raven.

Ted Hughes: The Collected Poetry — accessible, memorable, mostly nature poetry that stays in your head.

Possibly, the LOA edition(s ) of Nabokov. One contains Lolita (the ultimate motel road novel), Pale Fire and Pnin . Another contains Speak Memor and the good butterfly stuff ((see my next book).

Imperialism: nothing better than Heaven’s Command, Jan (James) Morris‘ trilogy about the British Empire, also containing Pax Britannica, and Farewell the Trumpets

Two great books of American History: Empire of the Summer Moon by S. C. Gwynne and Blood and Thunder by Hampton Sides. The first is more or less about the Comanche Empire, which actually was one. The second is about Kit Carson. Both are full of blood and guts and heroism; neither have easy villains.

Can you bring yourself to read someone as unpopular as Kipling? Every sentence in every one of his books, especially when he gets on his feet and gets going (which happens remarkably early –HENRY JAMES was calling him a genius at 20 I think) contains its opposite, as only happens in the greatest art. The Jungle Books are kids’ books. Sure. I read them when I was four and have read them every year since. They contain the world. Kim is the best adventure story ever told with its utterly ambiguous boy hero, and Tom; Libby sat on the great guns Zim Zimmah!

If you enjoy these kind of things — I do very much — you will doubtless enjoy Anthony Powell’s Dance to the Music of Time. But there are twelve frickin’ volumes and I doubt there’s enough time in a lifetime to read them twice. So why not read instead his autobiography? The four titles tell it all: Messengers of Day; Infants of the Spring; The Strangers are all Gone; and Faces in My Time (“I have seen better faces in my time/Than stands on any shoulder that I see/Before me at this instance”– Lear). They are short enough that you can read all of them every year. And they contain everybody that was anybody in British literature for fifty years.

You can help support me by using one of our affiliate links above! I will be getting a small amount for each purchase you make. Thank you, Steve


Some posts have been appearing here that are not mine. They are nothing offensive; in fact, one of them may have been an old post of mine from years ago, but they are NOT MINE. Until I get to the bottom of this, treat everything skeptically.

Captain Rick Rozen

Rick in the 70’s

I just heard that my old (3rd oldest I think) friend Rick Rozen had died, of cancer and bouts of flesh-eating bacteria. Best I can tell he was 70 or 71.

I first met Rick when I was 13 and he was 15, freshmen at a Catholic prep school. He had already attained his full growth at 15 and he was large enough to be eccentric. He smoked Lark cigarettes, wore a sport jacket with large green elephants on it, and spoke an unlikely patois of surfer and hipster. He was cool, but formidable; even the jocks were afraid of him, and somehow he took a liking to a little brainy kid and protected him.

We both had relatives with houses on the “Irish Riviera” south of Boston. Rick had picked up a taste for sport, especially fly fishing, and an old L. C. Smith he had traded for a roll of carpet, whenr he had spent a hippie stint in Vermont after he had dropped out of college. He, Mike Conca, and I and a few others all moved to Marshfield, MA, where we spent the early 70’s as an unlikely band of hunter-gatherers. I will never eat so well again .

Rick took it most seriously. He eventually earned enough to buy a Novi tuna boat named the Half Fast. There were still bluefin tuna around in excess 1000 pounds. He eventually learned how to catch them. I remember one that brought in a six figure price at the dock — in 70’s dollars that was a lot of money..

With the proceeds from the tuna, he eventually bought a camp in Golfito, Costa Rica, though he maintained his fishing business in Massachusetts. His last years were good; pictures of him show him surrounded by beer and beautiful Costa Rican girls. My photos have all been eaten by the computer, but I’ll try to get more.

He is survived by his wife, Rita, and a couple of brothers. His most interesting brother, Bill, preceded him in death, and is worthy of a column of his own.

Rest in Peace, Captain Rick. You earned your title.

God, I am sick of writing obituaries

Some Birds Past

I got a 7/8 Gyrfalcon, 1/8 Saker male falcon from a commercial breeder in Wyoming. He became He became, as most birds raised this way do, a quiet social imprint who loved dogs, and flying on the Henderson ranch.

He was doing fine when a rich young ornithologist of my acquaintance insisted on “starting” him for me. He didn’t need starting– he was already chasing things. I suspect that the kid just wanted to chase things with a Gyrfalcon; the bird was in a self indulgent slow development stage as most Gyrs are. He fed the bird a poxy bridge pigeon to save money. Any fool knows that poxy pigeons kill a bird as sure as cyanide. The kid who killed the bird never even told me because he was afraid I would be “sad”, especially when the breeder told me he would never give me another bird because I was “irresponsible”. There really is no excuse for not telling me this had happened. I’m of the “No excuse, sir” school, so I never told the breeder what actually happened.

This is Tuuli, a male Gyr Prairie, one of the best, if no the best, birds I ever had. He used to allow the dogs to sniff under his tail, and beat them up if they didn’t find quarry fast enough. I have no idea why this picture appeared.

This is Chicken. She was Barb – Taita. She was very fast but could not soar, which is why she got killed. She carried songbirds away. I had few ducks on the plateau. The same year I lost the Gyr, my friend Bodie lost his Peregrine and asked if he could borrow Chicken. She killed nine ducks larger than herself on the golf course. One morning she missed her strike and rather than soar around the pond, she landed on a power pole and promptly fell to the ground, burnt to calcified ash. It happens. About four seconds later, Bodie, who is a military Scot and a Zen swordsman, called me on his cell phone and said “Stephen, I just killed your falcon.” I was sad, but guess which one of those people I’d give another bird to?

Once and Future Hawk

I had a couple of these.

One of them was afraid of hats. In New Mexico. I fed her off one all summer and she still leaped off the perch every time she saw it.

I’m getting one of these. He caught 70 small birds last month (legal, House sparrows).

…And one of these

I like these too — a lot — but they fly a bit big for me these days, especially on Lee’s ranch, with its 12 mile vistas and Golden eagles.