Well Montana Maven is more alliterative than Montana Badger. According to Malcolm Gladwell’s “The Tipping Point”, it takes three types of people to produce a trend; mavens, connectors and salesmen. . Mavens tend to badger people about new fun things like IPads, books like “The Shock Doctrine” and Tom Geoghegan’s “Were You Born on the Wrong Continent?”, best restaurants in Florence, Italy or in Bozeman, Montana. Mavens insist you try the Bobby Flay grilled potato with tarragon salad. And they can badger you about politics.
This week’s badgering includes telling everybody I can about a brilliant history of Montana which is still relevant today even though it was published in 1943. It is Joseph Kinsey Howard’s “Montana : High, Wide, and Handsome”. Filled wit figures like “Rattlesnake Jake” and “Long Haired Owens”and heart wrenching scenes of poor homesteaders “honyockers” huddled by a stove in a tar paper cabin in 30 below weather and cattle dying of thirst or buried in the snow, it is not just another colorful portrait of Western cowboys and plucky immigrants. It calls out the corporate exploiters from the Copper Kings to the banksters to the railroad owners to the power companies. Howard is angry at the loss of Montana’s youth in WW I. The state’s over sacrifice was due in large party to an accounting error. He’s hopping mad about stupid land policies and thievery by the Federal Reserve. Even the farm equipment manufacturers get him in a lather.
Since he is writing about desperate times, it is good to hear tales of local officials who step up and defend the little guy. It’s good to hear of innovative county agents who try to bring sustainable farming techniques to this high desert state. It’s good to hear about the people of Montana going against the mighty Anaconda Copper Mining Company and winning a ballot initiative that finally forced the company to pay its fair share of taxes. It is good to hear about how the New Deal helped starving farmers with 10 mouths to feed and gave them a dignified place to live and a chance to prosper. Good policies that we should be using now.
Montana is a strange and unpredictable place. It seems forever filled with sun and big skies. But still so much darkness underneath my feet as I walk on the ranch that the yin and yang is breathtaking. Ranches are made up of many failed homesteads. You come across a foundation with just a set of stairs or the seat and steering wheel of an old jalopy. Dashed dreams and dead deer. But then again, this is “next year” kinda country.