Essay

Peter Bowen: Montana’s Mystery Author

Cowboy, hunting and fishing guide, folksinger, poet, and, novelist

peter bowen

For today’s Mystery Thursday, we would like to introduce Peter Bowen: cowboy, hunting and fishing guide, folksinger, poet, and, novelist. Bowen wrote the hilarious Yellowstone Kelly historical novels, as well as the Gabriel Du Pré mysteries. He’s a fixture of the great American West, and may be one the most eloquent cowboys around. (And certainly more talkative than his laconic sleuth hero, Du Pré!)

Bowen was also persuaded to begin writing a blog. Here we share his first post, “In Montana,” an evocative meditation on home, family, and life in the West.

“Montana always shimmered in my mind,” an old cowboy told me, “we was all tryin’ to get here . . .” and he had, on a cattle drive, in 1884.

He was one of the old cowboys who sat most days at a big round table at the front of the Oaks Bar in Bozeman. There were half a dozen of them, sipping ditchwater highballs and waiting for death.

That was a long time ago, when I was a kid peddling newspapers in Bozeman, Montana. In1957. There were men in their 80s and 90s who had been there since the beginning.

How I ended up in Bozeman, Montana, like anyone’s life, was the sum of a series of small events, which somehow got linked. The odds were incredibly high, like they are in anyone’s life, that this would happen, but, then, it did.

Now I can look back on the markers in the arc of my life before I had one.

My father’s splendid athleticism, my mother and the Dust Bowl, water, the books of Thomas Wolfe, the Great Depression, a cuckoo clock, the attack by the Japanese on Pearl Harbor, and a character called Ten-Cent Jack, who owned and captained a small and fast-moving carnival that toured the Midwest and the Upper South.

Any child’s odds of being born at all are about twenty-five million to one for openers, so it is hard to find a plan in there.

Now I live in Livingston, with about seven thousand other people, and from my window I can see Sheep Mountain, a scarp marking where the land was when the Yellowstone River began to flow about ten million years ago. The river carved and chewed its valley, and if I squint right I can see ghost rivers writhing in the air. South of me The Dragon sleeps, the largest volcano ever known to exist. The three vents, the holes, are larger than the state of Delaware. When it last blew, it dumped twelve feet of ash in Maine.

Lots of stories here, lots of stories . . .

Some a little too good to tell, I would expect . . .

 

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