Missoula

Nourished by powerful rivers and an equally powerful sense of its past, a town of cowhands and poets and bikers and professors distills the whole history of the American West—its hope and rapacity, its calamities and triumphs. Fred Haefele makes clear why our third annual American Heritage Great American Place Award goes to…

Fifteen thousand years ago my study here on the Missoula valley floor in Montana was seriously underwater. The peaks surrounding me—today the launch pads for hang gliders—were a string of islands, an archipelago in Glacial Lake Missoula.

 
 
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Butte, America

POISONED, RUINED, AND self-cannibalized, this city is still the grandest of all boomtowns

It’s spooky up here on the top floor of the Metals Bank & Trust Building. Shards of glass and crumbled plaster crunch underfoot, obscuring the elegant tile pattern of the corridor floor. Heavy oak doors with pebbled windows and missing knobs stand open to the hallway. Inside what used to be plush offices, the hardwood floors are buckling under porcelain washstands flecked with pigeon droppings. At one time this was some of the most exclusive real estate within a thousand miles. Now it gives me the creeps. Read more »

Into The Face Of History

Starting with a single, haunting battlefield image, an amateur photo detective managed to reconstruct a forgotten photographer’s life and uncover a treasure of Indian portraits.

I had waited six months to see it. A long-time collector, I loved to roam the monthly swap meet in Long Beach, California near my home. Half a year before, I’d stopped at the booth of a dealer in old photographs and asked if he had anything related to General Custer or to the Battle of the Little Bighorn, both favorite topics of mine. He told me that he had a stereo view of the Custer Battlefield, but he hadn’t brought it with him, and it wasn’t for sale. “It’s by a photographer I’ve never heard of,” he explained.Read more »

A Message In A Bottle: Or, Honeymoon On Cannon Mountain

As newlyweds in 1901 they were the first to climb the towering Montana peak, but when evidence of the feat surfaced after eighty-four years, nobody believed it

In July of 1901 my father and mother left St. Paul, Minnesota, on the second leg of their honeymoon for the Lewis and Clark Forest Reserve, which is known today as Glacier National Park. My father, Dr. Walter Bradford Cannon, was a young instructor in the Department of Physiology of the Harvard Medical School, and my mother, Cornelia James Cannon, a recent graduate of Radcliffe College with the class of 1899.Read more »

A Schoolboy’s Sketchbook

Charles Manon Russell, the famous artist of the American West, came to Montana m 1880 as a boy of sixteen. He lived there the rest of his life, working for a number of years as a cattle wrangler and gradually getting to know with intimacy the men and the country that were to be his great subject during forty-six years of drawing, painting, and sculpting. Read more »

Pioneers In Petticoats

Legend says the frontier was “hell on women,” but the ladies claim they had the time of their lives

I once had a conversation about the ways of the West with a wise and literate old man who had been a cowpuncher in Montana in the golden days of Charlie Russell and Teddy Blue. John R. Barrows was the author of a book called Ubet , describing the adventures of his parents who ran a stage station rejoicing in that typically jaunty frontier name. They had gone west with a wagon train from Wisconsin in 1879, taking several small children.