Author seeks to show the real Montana as part of 56-county journey
Thu, 07/06/2017 - 11:44am admin
By Ray Dale / Public Services Librarian
Over the years, I’ve been blessed with many opportunities to travel. I’ve been to all the states west of the Mississippi River, all along the Gulf coast, all around Western Europe, and lived for three years in Japan.
It never seems to matter where I am; when people find out I’m from Montana, they often get excited and want to know what it’s like to live here. Many times, I’ve had people tell me, “I would love to live in Montana.”
Why? Why do people who have never been to Montana think they would love to set up residence here?
Honestly, there is a real mystique that surrounds the west in general and Montana specifically. When I was in the military, stationed overseas, I met people who truly believed the state and its people were just like what one sees in a John Wayne western movie. I had to explain that I did not ride to town on a horse or a buckboard, that we had paved roads, cars, running water and never once had I worn a Colt .45 on my hip. I don’t even own a cowboy hat.
One of the new books we have at the Big Horn County Library is entitled Fifty-Six Counties: A Montana Journey and was written by Russell Rowland. Rowland lives in Billings and is a native Montanan himself.
After living in 16 different states over the past 30 years, he found that people’s perceptions of Montana – especially from who had never been here – often weren’t grounded in reality. People would often say to him, “Oh I love Montana,” but when he asked if they had ever been there, they would say things like “No, but it looks so beautiful in pictures. I would love to go there.”
Rowland points out that people’s perceptions of Montana is usually shaped by what they see in movies or books. He quotes a statistic from a 2014 Gallup poll on the happiest states in America, in which Montana finished No. 1. And why not?
People in Montana do seem happy. They smile at you because there’s no reason not to, they wave at you in the car even though they’ve never met you, they let you go first through the door while holding it open. They’re happy and friendly, right?
He then points out that in several studies that same year, Montana ranked No. 3 for suicides. He asked himself how a state with the happiest people could rank so high in suicides and has been in the top five every single year for the last 40 years.
Rowland says that, when he finally moved back to Montana, he was very happy to be home. Despite the misconceptions about Montana around the country and worldwide, it’s still a place that inspires a sense of identity and a powerful loyalty in its people.
He also found that he didn’t know the state as well as he thought he should if he was going to continue writing about it. And so he decided to embark on a journey to visit every county in Montana, then write a story about his experience. He wanted a story about Montana and its people – and this time, a story that wasn’t pandering to the stereotype created by Hollywood. He wanted it to be about the real Montana, with both the beauty and the shadows.
Fifty-Six Counties: A Montana Journey is available for checkout on the main floor of the Big Horn County Library in the new book section.