Maurice R. “Monty” Montgomery, 1938- 2017: RIP

My friend Monty was always a slightly elusive presence, even in his autobiographical sketch in Amazon, written by himself:

“M. R. Montgomery, known to the various government record keepers as Maurice R. Montgomery Jr., and to all his acquaintances as Monty, was born in eastern Montana in 1938, raised partly in California, and now lives near Boston for reasons that he cannot quite explain. Over the past twenty-five years he has written for the Boston Globe on every subject except politics, a clean record he hopes to maintain until retirement. Other than fishing and a little bit of gunning, he has no obsessive hobbies, although he has been known to plant the occasional tomato and a manageable number of antique rose varieties, these for the pleasure of his wife, Florence.”

He was sort of the unknown best writer I knew. ALL of his books were good, but two in particular, Many Rivers to Cross, about native trout, and Saying Goodbye, about eastern Montana and fathers and sons, are absolute classics. Saying Goodbye is the best book on eastern Montana I know.

Monty could write about anything. Though I didn’t get to know him until the 90s, I first wrote to him for advice on bird dogs in 1970s — he replied with a column called “Find a Gentleman With a Bird Dog”. He also wrote columns I remember on rutabagas and November.

In the end I couldn’t even find his obit in the Globe. Monty was erudite, kind, and generous as well as an undervalued writer. He will be missed.

Here is a fine tribute by Corb Lund about their mutual country.

No Respect

These fine photos of a cow giving birth are by John L Moore of (near) Miles City, rancher and novelist. If they were of antelope, they would probably be on the cover of a magazine, but domestic animals get no respect. Johnson and Janiga, the authors of the magisterial Superdove, on feral pigeons, say they were actively discouraged from writing about them.

Tom’s tour- and Book

A friend in Alberta snapped this photo of Tom Russell and Ian Tyson in fine form at a concert up there.

My informant said that he told a story of bringing his Swiss Father-in-law over the Continental Divide at night to visit us and our hounds and hawks. It could have been a fraught scene — “Poppi” says that his only English was “Fuck you, cowboy”, which as Tom said “went over real big with a bunch of drunk cowboys demanding encores of “Tonight We Ride”, but our French wine, our posole, and our animals disarmed him, not to mention my ability to speak French, and he now sends us German articles on falconry.

This story and many others are in Tom’s wonderful new collection of essays Ceremonies of the Horsemen. There are portraits of Johnny Cash and Marty Robbins, of Hemingway and Ian Tyson, Charles Portis and John Graves, and a piece on J P S Brown, a hard old man we both know who may be the best unknown cowboy novelist around. There is also that story about me and falconry, one about Gallo del Cielo (the “damn chicken song”) and the only English cockfight corrida I know, which will teach you all you need to know about cockfighting (and I don’t mean that sarcastically). It is a tragedy with laughs around the edges, although Tom has been known to claim that he wrote a version with a happy ending in which the rooster buys the Golden Spur Bar.
In the weirdest of these stories Tom ends up in the Swiss castle of Balthus’ widow, discussing their mutual admiration for Tex Ritter’s “Blood on the Saddle”. Buy this book! Nobody but Tom could ever have written it.

Lever Gun Legacy

People from cities who hunt once a year think they must have he latest flat- shooting magnum to achieve success. So, often they miss because of an unexpected flinch, or end up destroying meat. Third gen ranchers like Miles City’s John L Moore (well, that is the nearest TOWN) know better:

“My dad was a phenomenal shot with the old .30-30 that was in the Krutt shack when he bought this place. My Uncle Dan told me he could shoot the heads of ducks swimming out in the middle of a reservoir. When I was 10-years-old I got an Ithaca Model 49 saddle gun, a single-shot .22 falling block with a scabbard. I thought it was the greatest present ever. Joe and Jeff Peila were at that birthday present and wow, was Jeff ever mad and jealous about that! Now, more than 54 years later, grandkids David and Selah gave it a try. Don’t miss the classic photo of my dad with an antelope…”

Here it is, John:

And the kids:

John is also a lay preacher with a sense of humor- a rare breed in my neighborhoods.He once sent me this:

UPDATE: John reminds me that Midnight, the fine horse documentary he was involved with, is available on Amazon here. It is getting five stars from everyone…

Another Wind River Poem

From Tim:

Wind River Justice

Alan riding his first horse from Big Sandy
to celebrate his thirty-seventh birthday:
his mare reared in the lodgepoles when a spruce grouse
flushed and nearly pitched him down a switchback.
My own gelding stampeded through a meadow,
and our young wrangler called those ponies “gentled.”

We braved Pyramid’s boulders, Barnard’s clinkers,
apogees of our climbs in the Wind Rivers,
then turned our backs forever on those summits,
Gannet, the tallest peak in all Wyoming,
the Highline Trail cleavered between the Temples.
We limped, blistered, back to our dusty Bronco.

There stood a girl, sobbing beside the stables.
The boy, his terror turned to helpless fury,
and a young ranger argued mixed-use forest,
treeline grazing, lamb-eating bears and coyotes,
leash law and the permitted use of rifles.
Read the rules posted at every entrance.

Two hikers had surprised the sheep at twilight,
young Lykos growled, then raced across a meadow
three thousand feet above Big Sandy Trailhead,
and a Basque herder shot the German shepherd
which met no blue heeler or border collie,
no, only a rifle.  Wind River Justice.

Bernie Kelly sadly saddled his horses.
Bearers rode up, and Lykos down the mountain,
but who descends it twenty-three years later,
no longer carrying Murphy or a backpack?
Slippery the scree, the pool below unfathomed.
Where is the meadow and the watchful shepherd?

C J’s latest project

C J Hadley came over as a young girl from Birmingham in England, and worked at Car and Driver magazine in its legendary years, when the late David E Davis ran a strong stable of writers and illustrators. It may be advancing age, but I think magazines were more colorful then, perhaps because they were a more important part of the market. These were also the days of the Pat Ryan Sports Illustrated, training ground for many of the writers that helped form me, howing me how broad a subject a sporting essay could be.

CJ met Tom Quinn there, when Tom did this legendary cover:

Both went on to other things, Quinn to become a wildlife painter, perhaps our best; CJ, however improbably, ended up in Nevada runing the outspoken rancher’s voice, Range magazine, where the English girl has been nominated for Cowgirl Hall of Fame by Jameson Parker, Joan Chevalier, and John L Moore, two of whom make frequent appearances here.

I have one original Quinn, a watercolor sketch of  a roadkill Bee eater that I snatched out of the fire kindling in his studio (really), any amount of prints, and have been privileged to write the text to a collection of his work, The Art of Thomas Quinn.

Tom’s firestarter:

Quinn and me, with his wife Jeri’s oil of a horse in the background (plus wolves by his old friend Vadim Gorbatov, painted by Vadim before he visited NM for a Korean edition of Seton’s Lobo, the story of a cattle- killing New Mexico wolf, with our aid for background material.

CJ, as Tom says, is not always controversial. She has just released what I believe is her second, broadest in scope, most ambitious  and best collection of western art and poetry (in this and other images forgive some rather odd croppings; I photo’d it on my coffee table!)

You say you don’t like cowboy poetry and art? Well, there are plenty of those represented: Buckeye Blake, Waddie Mitchell, Wallace McRae, as well as traditional western writers like Will James. But so is the far less traditional cowboy Paul Zarzyski (he is a Democrat!); Ted Kooser; Linda Hasselstrom, and many many more. In artists Tom is well represented, but also the old master Maynard Dixon,  Charlie Russell, and any number of writers and artists who may be new to you. Here is a broad if non- random selection:. A always, right or double click and you can blow it up big enough to read easily.

Good job, CJ! It is $43, available at 1 800 RANGE-4-U.

Here is CJ with Montana novelist and friend of Q John L Moore.

UPDATE : here is a pic she just sent of her  with her dogs Belle Star, Strider, and Cache Drogan.

Old Timers

Our annual fiesta seems to have taken on new life, and despite threatening (pre?) monsoon  clouds staggering  by, nothing is getting  cancelled. It SMELLS like O t’s. Now we just need the metronymic rhythm of 4 pm daily storms (with hail!) and maybe this will be the best “real”  rain in a decade…

Pics, random and not necessarily meaning anything, but “I LOVE THIS TOWN!” (Sis Olney) is as reasonable response as the more cynical one by the old cowboy who when asked why he stays in our harsh land: “I been three other places and they’re worse…”

Click on photos to enlarge– most will two times, with a lot of detail.

Libby took this photo of Bessie Apache in a formal shirt.

  Eleanor, Roxy, and “Cousin” Sis with her granddaughter, who wants to be a paleontologist and has assisted UNM scientists on a dig of mammoths on the ranch (it was one of the conditions Sis gave for them to dig). Sis is semi- retired from actual ranch work after getting busted up by a cow, so she has time to chase lions with her hounds and her husband Tom, ‘way below on roan. Next,  Sis and daughter Gianetta, who I have known since she was four and who is now the ag teacher at the high school. When she was four, she used to exhort me to drive “..faster, Stevebodio, faster!” on the dirt roads on the ranch. Once, when I could barely stay on the road in my Suburban, I asked imperturbable Sis if she usually drove that fast. She grinned and said “I aint driven this fast on this road in my life!”


Gospel rock band from the Alamo rez. And every parade needs a 57 Chevy.

Karolyn and Doc ham it up.

Tom Olney (above, the computer won’t add where I want), leads the parade. Barbara Trujillo Bowden, below with flag, is the aunt of my old friend James “Viejo” Trujillo, who died last year and appeared here, sister of my mentor Tony, and the recent widow of Curly Bowden, a fellow bird fancier (he briefly kept an emu!) The whole family is known for good  horses. A teacher and a reader, she beat cancer last year, and is still smiling.

Above: the guy with this float has a collection of antique (mostly 19th century) astronomical telescopes, some on display at a gallery in town, and assists at astronomical events and star parties. (Remember, we have Tech, the VLA of “Contact” fame, and a huge traditional telescope on the crest of the mags. NM is cowboys, Indians, old Spanish culture, and science fiction.

Below, Paul Pino’s band has played in every fiesta for years, decades…

Left: Marin Harris, who I have known since she was born (in this town), has gone to college in British Columbia and Maine, and worked for the circus in Manhattan. She is in Albuquerque when not visiting her family here,  pursuing further degrees. Then, Sharon, Marin’s mother, and Terry, teachers

The last float was incomprehensible. When Libby asked Felipe, more or less driving, what it was for, He said “I don’t know– they came and woke me up and asked me if I wanted to ride in it.”

Below, us. We are still staggering, still smiling. A few hours later, the rains came. Libby in the aftermath just outside the front door, as some will recognize…

Rueful truth

Reid attended Tom McGuane’s signing for his new book of short stories, Crow Fair, at the Tattered Cover,  where they talked of Helen’s meteoric rise, gun nuts, and the blog– I was pleased to know he sometimes checks in. He was kind enough to send down an inscribed copy via Reid– thanks to both.

I have read several of these stories already, mostly in the New Yorker; some are funny, some very dark. I see a deep Irish thing there, transplanted to the Plains; I often find the same thing in North Dakota poet Tim Murphy: “Cast a cold eye/ On life, on death. / Horseman,  pass by…”;  though I think both Tom and Tim are merrier characters than Yeats…

But for some reason I went to the back of the book to read the last line of the last story and laughed aloud, albeit not without that frisson of recognition of one’s own mortality that accompanies such rueful truth- telling. It applies to me as well as it does to his narrator, and to Tom, who is eleven years older than I am. And  you’d better believe he did it consciously.

“Lately, I’ve been riding a carriage at the annual Bucking Horse Sale, waving to everyone like an old-timer, which I guess is what I’m getting to be.” 

The Rose of Roscrae

Tom Russell’s magnum opus, his “Western Opera” or “Cowboy Musical” will be out in mid-April, debuting at Passim at 47 Palmer Street under Harvard Square, once the home of the legendary Club 47. It was one of the very few venues that kept a sort of vernacular American music alive even as it morphed into something else. Club 47 played “folk music” when I started going there in ’65, but it was already showing songwriters, bluegrass, and blues — Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf. I saw Tom Rush there before he had a mustache. Jim Rooney was a skinny kid with cowboy boots and ran the door as well as playing in a band. Maria Muldaur had just married Jeff Muldaur, and played with the Jim Kweskin Jug Band, before Kweskin became part of the odd Fort hill Cult under former musician Mel Lyman. Ian Tyson, the great Canadian cowboy singer, played with his then wife Sylvia, singing “Someday Soon”, “Four Strong Winds” and my favorite, “Summer Wages”.

I kept going there through the early ’70s. The last act I remember seeing there was Jimmy Buffett, who didn’t have a band, only a backup singer. His songs were fine, including the number “If We Only Had Saxophones”, when Buffett and his backup guitarist made saxophone noises through the breaks.

 Tom’s album, two CD’s and a book, is almost novelistic AND  thoroughly musical. It is the saga of the West, seen through the memories of a ninety year old outlaw. It starts dramatically as he stands on the gallows in mid- life, waiting to die for stealing horses. He escapes the hangman, then  remembers his youth in Ireland, and takes off to participate in the whole bloody history of the west. As an old man he returns to Ireland, still searching for his lost love.

 The breadth and (and depth) of the music is like nothing else. New songs by Tom and others, an incredible cross-section of living artists including Ian, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, Joe Ely, Thad Beckman, Sourdough Slim, Guy Clark (who does a version of Desperadoes waiting for a Train from his home, sounding as ancient as the desert), Gretchen Peters, and Henry Real Bird. There are also posthumous performances by, among others, Johnny Cash, Tex Ritter, and Leadbelly. There is poetry from Walt Whitman and orchestral backing by the Norwegian Wind Ensemble. There are, quoting the libretto,  “Indian voices and chants, old cowboy songs, Mexican corridos, Swiss Yodel Choirs, French ballads”; hymns and Irish folksongs, Gallo de Cielo (“The damn chicken song”); even a ballad based on John Graves’ wonderful novella The Last Running.

 Amazingly, it tells a coherent story, and the new material stands proudly with the classics. You also get an 82 page book with the libretto, the lyrics, and the history of each song and performer. You can see why I say that it’s something of a new genre. And as big as it is, at one point Tom wished he had ten discs to fill because there is so much more that he wanted to put in.

I will be putting up a lot of material about Rose of Rosecrae in the next few months. Stay tuned!

Below, my sister Karen, Tom, my brother- in- law George Graham, and Nadine, at Passim the last time Tom played there.

Heirloom Photos?

Two “family” photos that hang on our walls are a little better than snapshots.

Our friend Jay Dusard took this of me a LONG time ago at Libby’s house in Montana.

This, even longer ago, was an outtake for this. That is Libby over near the right with the short black hair and the blonde baby: Jack! His biological father– I dislike that term, it sounds clinical– his father, the late Harry Frishman, is on the left beside them.