A Montana writer deploys his gift for dialogue
As many readers of Montana history already know, the fascinating Thomas Francis Meagher, Irish adventurer and patriot who led the Irish Brigade for the Union during the American Civil War, is presumed to have drowned in Montana. He’s believed to have fallen off a steamboat at Fort Benton the evening of July 1, 1867, while serving as territorial governor.
But not so – he’s one of the survivors in this 2015 collection of stories by Montana writer Matt Pavelich, and he’s here given a second chance at life in order to tell his own story; how he flung himself overboard with a couple of pistols for weights, fully intending to drown, but found his instincts for survival kicking in when he found an empty cask floating next to him. “I sent my Colts one-by-one to the bottom. I continued. I am. One survives and survives, and every survival exacts its price. My God, I am hard to extinguish,” he meditates as Pavelich’s narrator in one of these stories, “Himself, Adrift.”
That might be the theme for this entire collection of stories about people caught in other kinds of streams besides the big current of the Missouri; just getting along in various ways with circumstances beyond their control.
Meagher – for whom Meagher County is named, slightly to the east and north of Helena – has already drawn the attention of some fine writers from time to time, including Joseph Kinsey Howard in his classic Montana High, Wide and Handsome. Meagher is also the focus of National Book Award-winner Timothy Egan’s latest work, The Immortal Irishman: The Irish Revolutionary Who Became an American Hero. It was due for release in March 2016. But give Pavelich credit for recognizing Meagher as a good subject for fiction in this piece that reads like a foray into magical realism.
Eventually befriended by an Indian woman whose nose has been mutilated, the Meagher in this story subsists on fare such as sage grouse roasted over greasewood fires and prairie turnips. He recalls and recites Ovid’s poetry and Plutarch’s Lives. He intones the mass, blasphemously. And along the way, he’s one of the showpieces for one of Pavelich’s best gifts as a storyteller – a deft hand with dialogue that fits each character like a garment tailored for him or her, as the case may be.
About the Irish, Pavelich’s adventurer says, magnificently, “We are a noble race … The finest motives are in almost everything we do.”
Almost? What a lot of latitude there is in that one word. You can almost hear Pavelich, or maybe Meagher, wink.
There’s something sure to please everyone in one or another of Matt Pavelich’s stories. The dialogue, particularly, is spot on for many of the characters. (“This gear box is a little broke; I miss second a lot,” a Montanan jockeying a truck up a mountain says.)
Particularly good, oddly enough, is the voice of the narrator in “Summer Family,” a story about two teenage girls that is told by one of them. For a man to write about a friendship between two adolescent females and do it well is quite a feat – what might spring to mind for some readers is the great Norwegian novelist Tarjei Vesaas in a great piece of work, The Ice Palace.
But Pavelich, too, does it well in a story that has the narrator, riding in a truck beside her uncle out to the farm on the Hi-Line, coming to terms with the bigness of Montana:
“You’re way above the road in that thing, up in the cab of his truck, and it is fun for a while, for a little ways, but then there gets to be a lot more of this state than there really needs to be, and you just keep going. You get off the bus, and then you get in that truck, and you drive, and you drive, and you drive, and you’ve already been over the mountains, but it’s hundreds of miles left to go, and you’re riding with Uncle Carl who tells you jokes he got from Reader’s Digest, and you try to laugh, but after a while it’s really hard, and he’s talking about his farm, his family, and it’s cute how much he likes ‘em, but we’re driving and driving, and the farther we go the less there is to look at, and you’re on and on, until you’re out there where the only thing there is in any direction is wheat fields and silos, and you can see for a hundred miles.”
Poor girl; she seems bored, even when she makes us want to be out there riding the Hi-Line. She should have brought a book along. This one by Pavelich would do the trick.
Pavelich, who lives now in Hot Springs, Montana, was born in St. Ignatius, Montana. He attended the University of Montana, the prestigious Iowa Writers’ Workshop and the Northwest School of Law. His short story collection, Beasts of the Forest, Beasts of the Field, published by Owl Creek Press in 1990, won the Montana Arts Council’s First Book Award. He also wrote the novels Our Savage, published by Shoemaker & Hoard in 2004, and The Other Shoe, published by Counterpoint in 2012.
Drumlummon Institute, the Helena-based publisher of this collection, is named for the fabulously wealthy Drumlummon Mine, which produced at least $30 million in bullion, the institute says on its website. Now, Drumlummon Institute says, it is “seeking quite different forms of wealth – cultural riches of infinitely various sorts – among Montana’s hills and broad river valleys, towering mountains and endless prairies.”
That’s important work. Montana and readers in other places will be the richer for it.
For one wicked weekend each fall, witches rule Uptown Butte
Photography of Thomas Lee
By Jim Gransbery
When shall we three meet again?
In thunder, lightening, or in rain?
When the hurly-burly’s done.
When the battle’s lost and won.
That will be ere the set of sun.
– The three witches – Macbeth, Act 1 Scene 1
In Butte, witches coven when early-setting sun tinges November snow.
Cold? It matters not as a cauldron of “evil” brew warms their wicked little hearts before a pub crawl through the Mining City’s uptown.
It’s all for fun and fantasy – and this year for charity – as the annual gathering with no official name has expanded its popularity in a 14-year run, attracting women of all ages to a costume party.
No men are allowed, except for a “sacrificial” hunk on the bus for entertainment on the ride up the hill.
Conjured by Colleen Grady Riley after encountering witches from Helena hovering near the Met Tavern about 15 years ago, Riley said the post-Halloween party spawns creativity.
“Some wear a black gown and cone hat every year, but competition has developed and some are very secretive about what they will appear in,” she said.
“I have 14 costumes in the closet and I’ve written down every detail,” she laughed. No cackle here, just a coy smile when questioned about what this year’s apparel will include.
To read the rest of this story and more Montana stories like this all year, subscribe today!
The Last Best Plates explores a Rocky Mountain oyster feed
This is the fifth piece in a six-part The Last Best Plates series about food and eating in Montana featuring the photography of Lynn Donaldson and the writing of Corinne Garcia. For more information, visit thelastbestplates.com.
By Corinne Garcia
Photos by Lynn Donaldson
For the hardworking farmers and ranchers of Montana’s eastern plains, the long, hot days of summer mean long hours spent working in the fields and little time for much else.
But before the summer days slip away, a late August celebration provides the perfect opportunity to relax and catch up with old friends and ranching neighbors.
That’s what Bill Dutton and his cousin, Dave, were thinking when they started the Jersey Lilly Rocky Mountain Oyster Feed 17 years ago.
“It’s just a way to get people together,” Bill’s wife, Karen Dutton, explains.
Bill, 68, and Karen, 67, run a cattle ranch halfway between Jordan and Sand Springs, where the ranchlands take over the horizon and your closest neighbor is likely miles away.
It’s where Bill has lived his entire life, except for his two years in the service. The ranch that his grandparents founded and the neighboring ranch are now leased out to a large cattle operation, and Bill manages them both.
The first two years of the annual oyster feed were held in Jordan before it settled into the Jersey Lilly Saloon. The saloon is the last existing business in the town of Ingomar, where Main Street is a dirt road that leads past a few clapboard buildings and heads toward more ranchlands.
Built in 1914, the Jersey Lilly was once the town’s bank, transformed into the town’s watering hole in 1933. Although it has transferred hands a number of times, it’s still a gathering place for area residents.
“Now they’re known for their beans and steaks,” Karen said. “And there’s still no indoor plumbing, so it’s not a real girly place to go, but it’s fun once in a while.”
Bill explains that Ingomar used to be a sheep shearing capital.
“The railroad went through there, and they had a big shearing plant in the early 1900s,” he said. “Ranchers would also go there to get their mail and supplies.”
The Duttons typically arrive to the Jersey Lilly around 4 p.m. on the last Friday in August (Aug. 28 this year) to help set up.
A Jordan local is hired to fry up the rocky mountain oysters (also known as prairie oysters or calf fries), and others start rolling in soon after, Tupperware in hand, as the pot luck-style side dishes and desserts start piling up on the inside tables.
“The ladies all bring a dish of some sort, so there’s not just oysters,” Karen said. “A lot of the ladies don’t like the oysters, but the guys do.”
She claims that rural cooks are the best, bringing everything from salads, meatballs and cold cut dishes to homemade pies.
Bill does enjoy the breaded and deep fried bull testicles that are left over from the seasonal brandings throughout the area.
“They’re just good to eat,” Bill said. “They’ve got a taste of their own, I don’t know how to describe it, but how can you ruin anything deep fried?”
People grab drinks from the bar, pile food on their plates and pull up chairs by friends and family to wolf it all down.
Some years there’s live music, and others, like last year, there’s a portable radio with music designed to draw couples of all ages to the dance floor.
The Duttons, who claim they’re “old as dirt,” usually start the 50-mile drive home by 9 p.m., leaving many others behind to enjoy the revelry long after the late summer sun sets.
“Some come that you know you’ll only see once a year,” Karen said. “It’s a good way to visit with people and use up all those calf fries, cause what are you going to do with them otherwise?”
Corinne Garcia and Lynn Donaldson are frequent contributors to Montana Magazine. Garcia writes from Bozeman. Donaldson is based in Livingston.
Recipe: Apple Pandowdy
4 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups vegetable shortening
1 cup water
6-7 apples, peeled and sliced
1 ½ cups sugar
1/3 cup flour
Cinnamon to taste
Mix crust ingredients. Put half of the dough in the bottom of a jelly roll pan (I have used a heavy duty cookie sheet with sides).
Mix sugar and flour for filling. Put half of the sugar mixture over crust and then top with apples. Add the remaining sugar mixture and dab butter over the top. If you forget to put the sugar on the bottom crust, don’t worry, you can put it all over the top.
Roll out the remaining crust and put over the top. Seal the edges, vent top to allow steam to release.
Bake at 350 degrees for one hour.
Mix a small amount of powdered sugar, butter and milk to drizzle over the hot pie when it comes out of the oven.
Courtesy of Karen Dutton
Montana Book Reviews: Worth a Read
By Doug Mitchell
A blue suitcase full of memories at the center of a poetic work of fiction. A thought-provoking book about business that challenges readers to tilt their perspectives. A set of stories that help with reconnecting, dealing with death, a visit to heaven and offer a twist on the classic Western novel. Montana Magazine contributor Doug Mitchell reviews a multifaceted set of books as broad as the Big Sky is wide.
A Constellation of Vital Phenomena
Hogarth – 2014
I was introduced to Anthony Marra’s extraordinary book A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by my college-age son Andrew. We were visiting my brother in Washington, D.C., and we took one of those father-son walks to catch up. We were wandering down Connecticut Avenue and stopped into a bookstore called Politics and Prose.
As we were browsing, my son went to the fiction section and took a moment to rearrange a shelf so one of the books – A Constellation of Vital Phenomena as it turns out – would have its full cover facing outward instead of just the spine.
Curious, I asked about this peculiar practice. He told me the book he was rearranging was the first novel written by one of his professors and that, although he hadn’t read it yet, whenever he went to a bookstore he tried to highlight the book by giving it a bit more shelf space.
While I had never heard of either the book or the author, I thought it only appropriate that I purchase a copy. Boy, am I glad I did.
A Constellation of Vital Phenomena is one of the best, if not THE best book I’ve ever read. Period. It is startling, challenging, important and poetic. Every page is a gift – even the cover – and I found myself regularly putting the book down in the middle of a chapter just to give myself time to reflect on the writing and to spend time with the feelings and thoughts the writing inspires.
Set in war torn Chechnya, the book follows the actions of Akhmed, an artist turned failed physician turned reluctant activist, as he turns his life upside down to save Havaa, the 8-year old daughter of a neighbor.
Havaa’s single-parent father, Dokka, has been taken by the secret police in the dark of the night, leaving Havaa and her blue suitcase behind; alone and afraid.
This is where the book begins and where the book’s center can be found; in turmoil, relationships, decisions, despair and hope. From that center, we as readers go on a journey with Akhmed, Havaa and a cast of compelling, complex and very authentic characters who weave a tale that is at the same time depressingly stark and astonishingly rich.
The cover of my version of the book captured this dichotomy perfectly. The entire cover was black and white except for Havaa’s blue suitcase. Perfect.
I’m not going to tell you much more about the story, because doing so feels a bit like cheating you out of the many, many gifts Marra has in store.
Take the suitcase. I’ve already mentioned it, and it’s on the front cover, so I think it’s OK for me to talk about it. In a lesser writer’s hand, the suitcase could just be a suitcase. But Marra transforms it and its contents into a story all its own.
Havaa collected in the suitcase gifts given to her and her father by refugees seeking shelter in their home. Many of these items have special meaning to our story. You’ll be astonished by the connectivity between even little things in the book.
The author has chosen every word carefully, and in so doing shows such a deep respect for the reader and for the characters he brings to life through his prose.
A couple of weeks ago I went into Book Passages, my favorite bookstore in the San Francisco Bay area, and found myself rearranging the display, much the way my son did in Washington, D.C.
A Constellation of Vital Phenomena deserves a prominent place in bookstores and on the “must read” list of fans of good literature everywhere.
Tilt: Shifting Your Strategy from Products to Customers
By Niraj Dawar
Harvard Business Review Press – 2013
For those of you familiar with my reviews, this book may seem a bit of a departure from the norm. In some ways it is, and in others it isn’t.
I like books that challenge me to think and I really treasure writing – fiction or nonfiction – that challenges me to think differently.
Tilt, published by the Harvard Business Review Press, challenges the reader to both think differently and to use that new knowledge to inform organizational growth.
Before you dismiss Tilt as just another “how-to” business book, give me a moment of your time to convince you otherwise.
Is it a good business book? Yes.
Is it more than that? Indeed it is.
For me, and I think for many, the message author Niraj Dawar delivers so effortlessly in Tilt is transferrable to the work of community building, nonprofit work and advocacy. In its essence, the book is about taking a fresh look at how we do things and for whom we are doing them.
I guess it’s kind of like the old time movie that shows the art connoisseur closely examining a painting and exaggeratedly “tilting” his or her head to one side to get the full picture.
Without giving away the book’s premise, let me give you a CliffsNotes example. One of the stories Dawar tells is about the competition in the explosives sector as it relates to the sale of explosives to create gravel. The gravel producers need explosives to turn rock into certain sizes of gravel. They use explosives to do this and the competition for that business is fierce and highly price driven. One of the competitors, tiring of consistently having to reduce prices, decided to “tilt” their head and think a bit about what their customer really wanted. In thinking about it, they decided the company only wanted explosives as a mechanism to break rock into specific sizes. The company decided to “tilt” its business model away from selling explosives and toward the customer’s need – guaranteed gravel of a certain size.
This changed the competitive playing field from explosives as a product, to explosives as a service. On this new playing field there was now only one competitor; the one that “tilted.”
This is game changing stuff. Think about it. What if we took a similar approach to thinking about what “customers” want in the area of education? In the nonprofit world? In government?
Now, don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot of business-speak in this book.
You’ll learn about “playing in the consideration set” and about “cognitive inertia” and even get a primer on “network effects.”
Thankfully, you’ll get that information in a way that makes Tilt read much more like a set of stories than a textbook. Dawar’s writing style is engaging and accessible, and I argue, very translatable.
One of the first chapters demonstrates this transferability and sets the tone for the book.
In it, Dawar walks the reader through an exercise to determine if an entity is “tilted” upstream or downstream. In his terms, upstream means tilted toward infrastructure and capacity and downstream means toward the end customer. This is a test in which nearly every enterprise can and, I would argue, should engage on a regular basis.
There are good reasons to “tilt” both directions, but one should understand which way they are “tilting” and own and capitalize on that intentional decision.
Dawar and his exciting book Tilt don’t presume to tell us how to think, but it provokes us to think, to wonder and to grapple with new ideas. Isn’t that exactly what a good book should do?
Moving Through Grief, Reconnecting with Nature
By Jay Dufrechou
Muswell Hill Press – 2015
While I count Jay Dufrechou and his family as friends, (our kids went to school together here in Helena) I have to admit I have not been intimately familiar with his work. That’s why I was delighted when Dufrechou wrote me and asked if I would consider taking a look at his book Moving Through Grief, Reconnecting with Nature. It gave me the opportunity to learn more about his work and to delve into an area with which I don’t have a great deal of familiarity.
Initially, I feared the book might be a clinical text that would be above my pay grade. Dufrechou has both a doctorate and law degree, and is a professor of transpersonal research ethics at Sophia University. So you can see how I might think I was out of my depth.
But in the end, I was pleasantly surprised. Dufrechou’s writing style is bright and refreshing.
He takes his subject – but not himself – very seriously and fills the book with personal stories that make the subject matter very easily accessible.
The content won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but the topic of connecting our emotional selves with the nature that surrounds us will resonate with all of us – especially those of us in Montana.
Moving Through Grief, Reconnecting with Nature is a spiritual journey that has power, grace and a message that will be transformative for many readers.
Lucy’s Biggest Fish to Fry
By Tom Stockburger
iUniverse – 2013
I read this book in two big bites. Author Tom Stockburger is a talented writer and University of Montana graduate who shares his story of losing his wife to cancer.
Lucy’s Biggest Fish to Fry gives voice to a story all too common in today’s world. All of us know families we care about who are today going through what Tom, Lucy, Keely and Kyle Stockburger went through beginning in 2009 when Lucy was diagnosed with a brain tumor.
While I am sure the book was a catharsis for Stockburger to write, it is much more than that.
It is a wonderful and frank discussion about the decisions, emotions, victories and defeats this disease brings to people and families and communities around the world.
I want my kids to read it. My wife, Julie, and I are healthy now, but who knows. By sharing his experience so openly and eloquently, Stockburger provides a road map of sorts from which we can learn a great deal.
While I cried when Lucy died, Lucy’s Biggest Fish to Fry is not in any way a sad book. In fact, it is inspirational and empowering in its focus on hope and family and love.
Just Over The Ridge
Sweetgrass Books – 2015
Fort Smith native and current Reed Point resident Aud Steinfeldt’s debut novel, Just Over The Ridge, is at its best painting the magnificent landscape of Montana.
Set in north central Montana, the novel is on its face about the life and times of its main character John Tousette. Under the surface though, like Montana itself, it covers a lot of ground.
While it wasn’t my favorite book of the summer, Just Over The Ridge is a good story and Steinfeldt is clearly a writer gathering her considerable talents.
If you think for a minute, though, that you are picking up a modern day Loius L’Amour feel-good western story, you will be sorely mistaken. This book is dark at times, and the hero doesn’t act the way we expect our fiction heroes to act. While I found myself uncomfortable at times with the direction of the story, I tip my cap to Steinfeldt for not letting Just Over The Ridge be just another formulaic novel.
That said, this book has plenty of the things we have come to expect in a western story – guns, hunting, love, lust and alcohol.
In the end though, I think it is a book about redemption and I’m interested to see what Steinfeldt has in store next.
Doug Mitchell is the Montana Magazine book reviewer. He writes from Helena.
Skull Bound: Florence duo showcases hunting adventures on Sportsman Channel show
By Perry Backus
Jana Waller grew up as her father’s shadow.
From the time she was old enough to walk, she tagged along on his hunting and fishing adventures in her home state of Wisconsin and beyond.
Through him, the young girl experienced dawn’s first light streaming through a meadow and the excitement of seeing a deer appear from its shadows. She heard the sound of a pheasant’s wings pounding hard as it rose from the edge of a corn field and felt the excitement as her father’s shotgun swung across the horizon tracking the colorful bird.
- Scroll down to watch a video from Waller’s favorite Skull Bound hunt
But most of all, her father taught her to appreciate the tranquil feeling of being outdoors and to fully understand what it means to be close to the natural world.
So when the other teenage girls started to worry about the latest fashions, Waller focused on honing her skills with a bow. She shot her first whitetail from a tree stand she shared with her dad and her high school boyfriend.
“Early on, I fell in love with the peace and serenity that you find in nature,” she said. “And then you couple that with the excitement and adrenaline that happens when game suddenly appears and the woods come alive all around you. I also find it incredibly rewarding to put meat in the freezer.
“Hunting pushes you and challenges you in a way that non-hunters will never understand,” Waller said. “There is challenging weather and steep hills that seem to never end. You learn patience. You see the natural in a whole different way. I love the entire process.”
- Season 5 of Skull Bound will debut on the Sportsman Channel in January 2016. You can view and download episodes of the show here.
To read the rest of this story and more Montana stories like this all year, subscribe today!
Jana Waller’s favorite Skull Bound hunt
By Jana Waller
One of the most popular questions I get asked is, “What is your all-time favorite hunt?”
It’s difficult to name only one because every hunt produces its own sense of spontaneity and emotions. However, if I were only able to take one memory to the proverbial deserted island it would have to be our 2014 Montana elk hunt with retired U.S. Navy SEAL Bo Reichenbach.
Reichenbach lost his legs after stepping on a roadside bomb in Afghanistan in 2012. We met at a fundraiser in Missoula, where money was being raised to help him build a home in his hometown of Billings.
Grizzly football: Stitt in the spotlight
By A.J. Mazzolini
Bob Stitt settles into a padded, metal patio chair in the shade in his new groomed backyard and checks the time. It’s a mid-July afternoon, cooler than it’s been in weeks and far more temperate than typical for the days following Independence Day.
He and his wife, Joan, have enjoyed the reprieve.
Even Colorado was getting a bit too hot.
The Stitts hardly knew what to expect when Bob’s job took them to Missoula this past winter. Not from the weather, not from the town and not from its football crazy inhabitants. What Bob did know is the latest step in his life would be much different than those prior.
“In Golden (Colorado), I’d maybe do four interviews all season,” said Montana’s new head football coach. “Here I have four today.”
This is No. 3.
He laughs, flashing the personable smile that’s as good at catching recruits today as it was at catching Joan’s eye more than 25 years ago at the University of Northern Colorado.
He’ll do a lot of chuckling today.
After 15 years at the Colorado School of Mines, Bob dreamed of coming to a place where football ruled. Where the team – his team – crept in on every conversation over breakfast, lunch and dinner. Where the games mattered on more than just on Saturdays. Where on an arbitrary Tuesday in July, he’d get to talk football with four different media agencies.
- Read more about Bob Stitt’s coaching history here
“He’s wanted so much to be at a place where people appreciate football,” Joan said as her husband, dressed in dark grey slacks with a maroon polo T-shirt bearing the script Griz logo, steps away to prepare for his next obligation.
Welcome to Missoula, Coach Stitt.
Summerfield, Kansas, the kind of town the word rural was invented to describe, is no more than 10 blocks wide in any direction and tucked in the northern most section of Marshall County within sight of the Nebraska border.
Summerfield is an island in a sea of farmland.
Jerry Stitt ran the bank in the tiny community and his son, Bob, was once the only first-grader in town. In the fall of 1970, young Bob spied a handful of green-and-white clad high schoolers coming off a dusty football field near the K-through-12 school on Main Street.
He was fascinated.
Bob started showing up every day – practice was even more important than catching Adam West’s “Batman” on television – to serve as the Summerfield Irish’s student manager. He handed out salt tablets after practice. He brought players water. He became so much a part of the team that the boy would cruise around with the players in their cars after practice.
“I kind of had a bug for it basically,” Bob recalls. “I was gonna be involved in football. How many 6-year-olds would give up their days for football?”
In one way or another, he’s been at football practices ever since. First as a running back at Tecumseh High School a half hour north into Nebraska, then at Doane College another hour northwest before he turned in his pads for a clipboard and whistle.
Bob moved to Greeley, Colorado, in 1989 to pursue a master’s degree in physical education and serve as a graduate assistant after meeting Northern Colorado head coach Joe Glenn the New Year’s Eve prior.
Montana fans will likely remember Glenn from his days roaming the Grizzlies’ sideline and that 2001 FCS national championship.
That next spring he met Joan – just weeks before leaving Greeley for good. To make a little extra money, Bob was working for a company organizing spring break tours to Mexico. Joan had seen him around before signing up for a trip. They’d had a class together the semester before, but never spoken.
They’d be together for the next 6 years despite rarely living in the same time zone. Bob was soon off to Doane again for a 4-year stint as offensive coordinator at the NAIA school. He then took a similar position at Austin College in Texas.
Theirs was a relationship fortified by the telephone. His phone bill spilled over $400 a month sometimes. Like everything on a $12,000-a-year salary, their time on the phone was budgeted. When the egg timer dinged, that was goodnight.
“Imagine how much money we’d have saved with cell phones,” Bob says with an exasperated sigh.
They got married back in Denver in 1996 before Joan joined him in Texas. Three years later, with Joan 8 months pregnant, Bob took a job at Harvard coaching the offense. The hours were long, the stress was immense and their relationship started to strain.
It’s something Bob has not forgotten. He missed much of his oldest son’s first year.
Joe Stitt, named for Glenn of course, is 16 now and younger brother, Sam, is 11. Time with them is Bob’s favorite part of the day, whether it comes in walks with Joe to talk about girls or debates with Sam on the merits of Superman over Batman.
The Stitt family home in Missoula, a lovely pale yellow two-story with decorative white columns on the outside, is a work in progress inside, Joan says as painters brighten up the basement walls. A half-court basketball top, the hoop’s rim sun-bleached a faded orange, takes up a small portion of the expansive backyard while a wooden play fort, complete with swing, mini climbing wall and rope ladder, hugs the back fence. The play space, decked out with a colorful welcome banner reminiscent of a child’s birthday party, is perfect for when the coaches come by for meetings over barbecue.
Most of them have little kids, Bob explains.
“Guys have to be able to get out to their kids,” he adds.
Luckily for the Stitts, their time in Massachusetts was short. Bob earned his first head coaching position after just 1 year at Harvard, heading west to Colorado School of Mines in suburban Denver. There he’d spend 15 years turning an afterthought into one of the most exciting programs in Division-II football.
The Orediggers went 2-8 his first year but only once finished below .500 again. They scored points upon points upon points and claimed three RMAC league titles, the school’s firsts since 1958. The success translated into a $21 million football facility upgrade that was to be completed by the 2015 season.
But in a market dominated by the professional sports of metropolitan Denver and the big-time colleges up the road in Boulder and Fort Collins, Bob and his Diggers continued to toil in relative obscurity.
“Everybody is interested in what we’re doing; that’s what I wanted,” he says of his impressions at Montana. “There were times, sitting around Mines, we’d be wishing anybody was interested.
“I could run across downtown Golden naked and no one would know who I was.”
But West Virginia head coach Dana Holgorsen put Bob’s name on the map in the 2012 Orange Bowl when the coach’s innovative fly sweep play showed up on national television. Suddenly interest in Bob Stitt perked up.
“I watched him year after year never even get a phone call,” Joan said. “Then this whole fly sweep thing happened. He’s waited so long.”
For a team like Montana to come calling.
A.J. Mazzolini covers Grizzly football for the Missoulian. He writes from Missoula.
To read more Montana stories like this all year, subscribe today!
Battlefield science: Evolving search techniques help history-minded group find artifacts
By Brett French
Photos by James Woodcock
Holding the corroded, dirt-filled piece of metal up to a small magnifying glass, Doug Scott confirmed what the volunteers surrounding him had waited almost breathlessly to hear.
“It is what it’s supposed to be,” the historical ballistics expert said. “That’s a .50-70 fired in a Sharps, so definitely Indian.”
Then he gently admonished himself as well as the volunteers, “We need to find more than one a day.”
Scott was standing near the top of a bluff overlooking a small drainage where in 1876 more than 2,000 Indian warriors and U.S. Army soldiers, prospectors and scouts collided in a six-and-a-half hour gun battle waged across these Eastern Montana hills.
“There was a lot of give and take, a lot of serious fighting in here,” Scott said of the battle in which more than 40 combatants were killed.
The conflict erupted only eight days before the same combined forces of the Sioux, Northern Cheyenne and Arapahoe killed 267 members of the 7th Cavalry in the most famous battle of the Indian Wars – the Battle of Little Bighorn.
The Rosebud Battlefield, now a state park, is located about 35 miles north of Sheridan,Wyoming, or roughly 60 miles southeast of Hardin.
Scott returned to the 3,000-acre state park last spring to lead a group in a field school about battlefield ballistics combined with a survey of a portion of the park that burned in a 2013 lightning-caused fire.
“It really is a wide-ranging partnership,” Scott said. “This was something that needed to be done, but Montana State Parks couldn’t afford it.”
The survey was funded by a grant and staffed through cooperation between federal, state and university partners that included the National Park Service, Montana State Parks and the Colorado Mesa University.
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More about the battlefields
Fighting between U.S. Army forces and Indian tribes across the Western plains reached a peak in the late 1870s, with many battles playing out in the prairies of Montana.
The Little Bighorn Battlefield, perhaps the most infamous battle led on the U.S. side by Lt. Col. George Custer, is now a national monument kept by the National Parks Service.
A second battlefield, Rosebud, is lesser known in history but was nonetheless a significant battle. It is now a Montana State Park. Here’s more about both sites:
Rosebud Battlefield State Park
3,052-acre state park near Busby
Site of the June, 17, 1876 battle between U.S. soldiers and Indian forces
Remote, quiet and undeveloped, the 3,052 acre Rosebud Battlefield State Park includes prehistoric sites and the homestead ranch of the Kobold family. Take a picnic, your camera, and plenty of time to appreciate the history and place.
This National Historic Landmark on the rolling prairie of eastern Montana preserves the site of the battle that was a harbinger to the Battle of Little Bighorn.
It represents the proactive position of the 1,500 Sioux and Northern Cheyenne as they forced the withdrawal of Brigadier Gen. George Crook’s 1,000 troops at Rosebud Creek. The presence of thousands of warriors and soldiers on the field on June 17, 1876, made the day one of the largest battles of the Indian wars. Eight days later, because Crook’s troops were withdrawn from the war zone to resupply, they were not available to support Lt. Col. George Custer and his troops at Little Bighorn.
-Courtesy of Montana State Parks
Little Bighorn Battlefield
765-acre national monument near Crow Agency
Site of the June 25-26, 1876, battle between U.S. soldiers and Indian forces
A national monument run by the National Parks Service, this area memorializes the U.S. Army’s 7th Cavalry and the Sioux and Cheyenne in one of the Indian’s last armed efforts to preserve their way of life. Here on June 25-26, 1876, 263 soldiers, including Lt. Col. George A. Custer and attached personnel of the U.S. Army, died fighting several thousand Lakota and Cheyenne warriors.
Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument was originally established as a national cemetery in 1879 by the Secretary of War to protect the graves of the 7th Cavalry troopers buried there.
It was redesignated Custer Battlefield National Monument in 1946.
In 1991, the national monument was renamed Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument.
– Courtesy of the National Parks Service
Northern Montana plains help fulfill bucket list trip with man’s best friend
Story and photos by Bill Cunningham
We all have dreams, some of mysterious origin. Others, well, we know exactly where they come from. And I knew exactly when the seeds were planted for a dream I harbored for 20 years.
I had just read A Hunter’s Road by Jim Fergus.
Fergus and his faithful Labrador lived the ultimate upland game bird fantasy by hunting in 24 states, including Montana, over a five month period.
Someday, I promised myself. But “someday” was delayed year after year – seemed like it would never come.
Until last fall.
I had a heart-to-heart with my loyal hunting partner, Xena, a 9-year-old -going-on-1 Labrador cross breed with boundless gusto for the hunt.
“You know Xena, we’re not getting any younger.”
“How about spending a big chunk of October exploring a big chunk of Montana chasing upland birds?” Tail knocks over everything in its path.
Come mid-October, us two old dawgs hit the road in a tiny old pickup towing a tiny camp trailer. The idea was that the trip would be open-ended, sans artificial time constraints. We would mostly hunt public land or open private land, such as state Block Management Areas, or BMAs.
My theory is that a public land hunt can match that of private leases if one is willing to hunt harder.
Success would be measured by quality field time, not by birds in the bag.
Lowering the harvest bar held two advantages: I would be less disappointed by my lousy shooting and, lacking a freezer, I would need to eat as I go. How could I possibly consume the daily limit of three pheasants, eight huns and four sharpies anyway?
With the pressure off, I could simply revel in sunrises, broaden my Montana horizons with inspiring prairie vistas, and watch Xena pursue running roosters.
And this is how it turned out during the golden days of October across a wide swath of northern Montana.
We left Choteau with no firm destination. I pointed east and 150 miles later, ended up on public land along the Judith River near Denton. Along the way, I noticed that fields had been scoured by heavy rain. I’d heard that entire upland bird populations in Montana’s heartland had been wiped out by torrential rain during August. Here was another excuse for not bagging many birds – nature had beat me to it.
I marveled that there were any upland birds given the vagaries of weather, habitat loss and predators. At least my inconsistent shooting greatly improves the birds’ chances of survival.
After setting up camp along the river, I learned from a hunting couple, Terry and Linda, that hunting pressure had driven most of the pheasants across the river.
Terry tried to wade it, but had to turn around in the swift current.
Having anticipated high water, I crossed in my pack raft, with Xena swimming alongside. We were soon hunting in cover so thick that I could only hear the pheasants Xena was flushing.
And so it went for the next couple of days: lots of miles and misses punctuated with boredom when my mind drifted elsewhere.
While working back upstream to the raft, I reminded myself that to hunt properly the pace should be deliberate but not too fast. I should be at home on the land with a Zen-like contentment that comes with being in the present.
Just then, Xena locked on a scent, charged into a thicket, busting a rooster whose brilliant colors glowed in the azure sky.
The felled bird was delivered to hand with a look that said, “It’s about time, Dad!”
A thunder storm arrived that evening prompting me to move camp from the gumbo bottom to the bench above.
After the move, I went on the hunt with local habitat specialist Virge Gluth, who plants food plots and shelter belts for upland birds.
Miles later, we entered dense patches of snowberry lining a serpentine stream. Xena flushed a rooster followed by a heroic blind retrieve.
Once again, we would enjoy the fruits of our labor, this time with one of the gourmet recipes in A Hunter’s Road, which had inspired the trip in the first place.
That had me reflecting again: When hunting public land, one has to out-walk the competition to be successful. It all begins with quality habitat, which is why Gluth’s habitat work is so vital.
During his “personal journey into the romance of open country,” Fergus hunted with a host of memorable characters.
In like manner, and after my time with Gluth, I headed to Malta to rendezvous with my old friend Bob Jamieson, a retired outfitter from British Columbia.
Jamieson has an amazing gift for stumbling upon just the right person at just the right time. He befriended Bob Skinner, a Malta bow maker, who in turn got permission for us to hunt private land just south of town. We saw but didn’t kill any pheasants. This led to nearby state land along the Milk River where we saw but didn’t kill even more pheasants.
We made a quick trip to nearby Bowdoin National Wildlife Refuge. It was way too hot and dry for Xena to pick up scent, and besides, the birds had been hammered by heavy rain and hunting pressure.
Instead, we got there to see what really good bird habitat looks like and it was impressive.
The next day at the Malta City Park, Xena was barking at Lindy, an early morning walker. Turned out she and her husband had recently retired from ranching north of Circle where her brother-in-law still ranches.
Lindy said the pheasants there are so numerous they’re a nuisance.
Unable to resist we made the 3-hour drive to Prairie Elk Creek. Along the way, we drove through desolate badlands and wondered if there could possibly be any upland game birds within 50 miles.
Upon entering the ranch we obtained permission, set up camp next to a pond, and marveled at the number of pheasants running around the buildings.
Our euphoria ended the following day when Jamieson missed the only rooster we saw. No matter, pursuing game birds was merely an excuse for exploring new country.
After a couple of days, Jamieson headed home and I made one final sweep through pheasant cover.
To my surprise, both Xena and I did our job and produced a rooster for the pot.
Heading home, we made a grand sweep toward Jordan, across the Musselshell River and ended up on the West end of a BMA swath along McDonald Creek.
We hunted as a team, flushing, shooting and retrieving well. By the end of the morning we were “bagged out” and ready to find a campsite.
Coming full circle, we ended up alongside the Judith River where the odyssey began two weeks earlier. After six miles and six hours, we drug into camp with a few birds and memories that will last forever.
As you read these words chances are Xena and I are somewhere in this magnificent space we call Montana, reliving the dream.
Bill Cunningham of Choteau became a “dog person” somewhat late in life but can’t imagine life without a Lab. He writes from Choteau.
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