John Clayton's book "Stories from Montana's Enduring Frontier"

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  [cover of

When Montana ran out of frontier, its unique history really began.

John Clayton's book "Stories from Montana's Enduring Frontier: Exploring an Untamed Legacy" collects 27 essays on Montana history, composed over a 20-year timespan. Several of the essays were first published in magazines such as Montana Magazine and The Montana Quarterly. Others are available for the first time. Published in May 2013 by The History Press, the book also includes more than 30 illustrations.

From the back cover:

At the turn of the twentieth century, Montana started emerging from its rugged past. Permanent towns and cities, powered by mining, tourism, and trade, replaced ramshackle outposts. Yet Montana's frontier endured, both in remote pockets and in the wider cultural imagination. The frontier thus played a continuing role in Montanans' lives, often in fascinating ways. Author John Clayton has written extensively on these shifts in Montana history, chronicling the breadth of the frontier's legacy with this diverse collection of stories. Explore the remnants of Montana's frontier through stories of the Little Bighorn Battlefield, the Beartooth Highway, and the lost mining camp of Swift Current -- and through legendary characters such as Charlie Russell, Haydie Yates, and "Liver-Eating" Johnston.

From the introduction:

When it comes to the history of Montana and the American West, I say enough with the Indian fights, vigilantes, and cattle drives. What I find compelling is when places start actually filling up with people, such that those activities necessarily fade. In this phase, like a teenager coming to grips with what kind of person he or she is going to be, the region starts developing a personality -- one that shapes its future.

As Montana's frontier faded, Montanans started building communities. Of course, there had always been communities in the vaguer sense of the word: links among groups of Native Americans, trappers, soldiers, prospectors, or far-flung ranchers. But physical communities -- towns and cities each with an economic and social and architectural structure -- could arise only when there were enough people to both need and create them. So what did that process look like in Montana? What dreams did the state's natural splendor inspire? How often did those dreams succeed, how often were they further elevated into myth, and how often did they collide with hardscrabble reality to hone the character of everyone involved? That's what I'm always writing about.

Montana didn't run out of frontier all at once. Along the Butte-Miles City railroad corridor (see p. 12), it was vanishing in the 1890s. In the imagined metropolis of Mossmain (see p. 30), the post-frontier age was going to arrive about 1914, but then evaporated. And when I visited a particular spot in the wilderness outside Yellowstone National Park in 2002 (see p. 44), the frontier there seemed to be cantankerously thriving.

Some reviews:

"If there's such a thing as a Western psychology, John Clayton comes close to finding it in Stories from Montana's Enduring Frontier, a collection of perceptive essays..." --Jamie Harrison, The Montana Quarterly

"Regional history at its best...a great introduction to Montana history for the general reader." --Bill Croke, American Spectator

"Very insightful essays about Montana." --Russell Rowland, Noise & Color

"John Clayton resuscitates people, places and legends of Montana that most have forgotten or never knew... Clayton's book provides a quick, enchanting read that even the most casual of history buffs will take great pleasure in." --Charity Dewing, Billings Gazette

"What I like about this collection of essays is that it doesn't dwell on the guns-blazing stuff that most people associate with Montana and history... The stories of the people who started these communities, and those who remain, and the weird things that happened there . . . these are the stories that Clayton tells." --Chris La Tray, Naked but for a Loincloth

"When it comes to digging up obscure Montana history, and best of all taking it somewhere, Clayton is like a divining rod. For him the digging 'doesn't seem difficult.'" --Alastair Baker, Carbon County News

The book's ISBN is 978-1626190160. The History Press distributes through all traditional and online booksellers -- all you need is that number or the title.

You can order direct from the publisher here: Stories from Montana's Enduring Frontier. If you prefer, the book's page is here: Stories from Montana's Enduring Frontier: Exploring an Untamed Legacy. Or you could support one of the author's favorite independent bookstores, Bozeman's Country Bookshelf or Missoula's Fact and Fiction.

To join the book's Facebook community, and thus get updates on events and follow-up conversations, please visit this page. (You can also connect with the author via social media as discussed here.)

--- Revised: 9/2015

Copyright 2013-2015 John Clayton info [at]