Keeping the West Wild: Celebrating the American West on Earth Day
For Earth Day, we’re taking a special look at the Great American West
For Earth Day, we’re taking a special look at the Great American West. Novelists Peter Bowen and Brian Garfield write powerful novels that evoke the wild spirit of the West, stories in which the characters are tightly bound to the land, and whose livelihoods depend on its protection.
Similar to his own life in Montana, Peter Bowen’s books celebrate the great outdoors and history of the West. He hunts, fishes, camps, plays folk music, and drinks with the local cowboys. His Yellowstone Kelly historical novels explore the discovery of the West, and feature iconic American hell-raisers such as Teddy Roosevelt, the Rough Riders, and Buffalo Bill. Beginning with Yellowstone Kelly, the four volume series stars Luther “Yellowstone” Kelly. Based on a real scout, his wit, courage, and sense of adventure make for hilarious stories and authentic slices of life in the Wild West.
Bowen’s contemporary Montana Mysteries follow a cattle rancher/town sheriff whose trials and tribulations are reminiscent of those faced by the locals—stolen cattle, wild fires, and water pollution. Gabriel Du Pré is part Métis Indian and part French, and besides working as a cattle-brand inspector, he is a lawman, whiskey drinker, and fiddle player. In the twelve books in the series, beginning with Coyote Wind, Du Pré confronts serious issues that plague the West today—doing so in a way that is undeniably Western. Poetic, gritty, and comical, the reader cannot help but be transported to the Big Sky country.
Brian Garfield’s historical westerns narrate a very similar livelihood. This is most obvious in his novel Manifest Destiny, about a group of ranchers who unite to protect the land they love. Inspired by true events, the story also stars a young Theodore Roosevelt, who finds solace riding, hunting, and ranching in the Dakota badlands after the death of his wife and infant daughter. Soon after his arrival, his charm, intelligence, and love of nature impress the tough frontiersmen, forming a bond that will last forever. But that bond is put to the test when a rich French marquis arrives and threatens to destroy the town with a large-scale cattle operation, and the men must band together to protect the environment and the local ranchers from the disastrous effects of early industrial farming.
Both author’s books speak passionately about a time and place where the people are acutely connected to the environment in which they live. When a drought hits, a rancher’s livelihood disappears; when a botched mining operation pollutes the water, the inhabitants of a nearby reservation perish. Although the West may not be as wild as it once was, it is more vital than ever to protect the environment that is rapidly changing before our eyes.