John Clayton's events and lectures

John Clayton has given programs and keynote addresses at a wide variety of conferences and events. Some are formal illustrated lectures; others are intimate prompts for discussion. He can tailor content to meet the needs and interests of audiences.

Why is Yellowstone famous? Obviously, geysers—I mean, wolves! Er, bears? Wildlife in general? Wait, wasn’t it the first national park? No! I know! It’s Yogi! Yogi Bear in Jellystone! In truth, it’s all of these reasons, and more. Indeed, they’ve taken turns driving Yellowstone’s fame.

 

In this 40-minute illustrated lecture, John Clayton, author of Wonderlandscape: Yellowstone National Park and the Evolution of an American Cultural Icon, examines ten different sources of Yellowstone’s fame—ten different ways that American culture has looked at Yellowstone. From Ansel Adams’ black-and-white photographs emphasizing an individual spiritual relationship with an unpeopled wilderness to the way that Theodore Roosevelt and the dude ranching industry tied Yellowstone to the frontier ideal, Clayton tells stories of compelling individuals encountering this grand natural place and imbuing it with societal values. Audiences will gain a unique understanding of Yellowstone, as both a tourist destination and a repository of the ever-changing American character.

Ten Ways to Look at Yellowstone

Many people think of public lands as an American birthright. But not literally: the country didn’t have meaningful public lands in the early 1800s. Somehow this idea got invented. How? The founding of Yellowstone National Park in 1872 is part of the answer—but what about the national forests, national monuments, and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands that form the heart of today’s public-land controversies? What’s their origin story?

 

In this 40-minute illustrated lecture, John Clayton, author of Natural Rivals: John Muir, Gifford Pinchot, and the Creation of America’s Public Lands, shows how the forces of conservation and preservation, Progressivism and anti-monopolism, science and spiritualism, East and West, united in the 1890s behind the idea that a democratically-elected government should permanently own and manage land. Clayton tells stories of heroes both well-known (naturalist John Muir, President Theodore Roosevelt) and quirky (botanist Charles Sargent, Congressman William Holman). Audiences will gain an understanding of the societal problems that public lands were designed to conquer. And in discussions of the 1890s’ mass extinctions, income inequality, public skepticism about science, and dysfunctional Congress, they may gain historical perspective on today’s challenges as well.

The Birth of
Public Lands

To many people across the West, the 1988 Yellowstone fires felt like a watershed event. In the three decades since that memorable summer, we’ve learned a lot about fire ecology and wildfire management. But did the fires change the way people think about America’s iconic landscape and first national park? What did they mean for the culture at large?

 

In this 40-minute illustrated lecture, John Clayton, author of Wonderlandscape: Yellowstone National Park and the Evolution of an American Cultural Icon, reviews the events of the summer and leads an exploration of how Yellowstone is tied to American cultural identity. Clayton focuses primarily on the humanities: how people processed the experience, and how those thoughts and emotions shaped their outlooks. Audiences will gain an understanding of societal shifts over the past 30 years in both the meaning of wildfire and the meaning of Yellowstone.

Social Implications of the 1988 Yellowstone Fires

In 1910, Preston Moss had a dream, to create a new Chicago on high Western plains. Moss had already helped build one Montana city, Billings, and now he would mastermind a bigger-and-better one nearby. Designed by famed architect Walter Burley Griffin, it would be a Garden City that fully integrated agriculture and urban life.

 

In this 30-minute illustrated lecture, John Clayton, author of Stories from Montana’s Enduring Frontier and other books, tells the story of Mossmain—and its surprising implications. People who know the history of Montana’s 1920s homesteading bust tend to see it as a tragic story of forlorn immigrant homesteaders duped by cynical railroad propaganda into doomed attempts to make a desert bloom. But the story of Mossmain shows that the mythology of growth was heartfelt and widely accepted—much like that of the 2008 financial crisis—with “victims” including even powerful financiers such as Moss. Audiences will gain an understanding of the ways that society-wide assumptions affect people’s relationships with the economy, nature, and community—and the huge changes required in the wake of such assumptions’ failure.

"Mossmain" and the misplaced blame of Montana history

In 1916, when Steve Mather and Horace Albright founded the National Park Service, they imbued their new agency with stories. Stories of heroes such as John Muir in Yosemite and John Wesley Powell in the Grand Canyon. Stories of ideas, such as the alleged birth of the national park idea at a Yellowstone campfire in 1870. Stories of what their agency’s lands could do for America.

 

Other public-land formats—such as national forests, national monuments, and lands of the Bureau of Land Management—don’t have such well-known stories. Why not? And if they did, what might these stories look like? In a 40-minute lecture and prompt for discussion, John Clayton, author of Natural Rivals: John Muir, Gifford Pinchot, and the Creation of America’s Public Lands, examines elements of storytelling and how they apply to the public land debate. He shares examples of stories from the world’s first national forest (quick: where was it?) to the creation of Muir Woods to the alliance of rivals John Muir and Gifford Pinchot on the shores of Glacier’s Lake McDonald. Audiences will gain an appreciation for the role of story in shaping public opinion, and the tools to understand and shape such stories themselves.

Storytelling and Public Lands

When Caroline Lockhart moved to her homestead in Dryhead, Montana, in 1926, she was trying to enact in real life the sort of "happily ever after" experience she had described in her Western fiction. Though little-known today, Lockhart (1871-1962) in the 1910s wrote six novels, three of which were made into movies, and all of which culminated in the hero retiring to a cattle ranch. Lockhart based her novels on her real-life experiences—and vice-versa. So can a single, liberated woman with a tendency to romanticize succeed at running a 1920s ranch?

 

In this 30-minute illustrated lecture, John Clayton, author of The Cowboy Girl: The Life of Caroline Lockhart and other books, tells the story of Lockhart’s challenges in running the ranch. From rustling to shootouts, the story features many clichés of Western fiction, but the real-life versions lack glamour, and are instead wrapped in conflict over gender and class. Audiences will gain surprising perspective on frontier challenges and society, and the differences between Western romance and Western life.

"Happily-ever-aftering" on a 1920s cattle ranch

Upcoming and recent events

October 8, 2019, 6:30 pm: Keynote address for the Montana Wilderness Association Eastern Wildlands Chapter Annual Meeting.

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September 13, 2019, Montana Book Festival, Missoula, MT.

September 12, 2019, 7:00 pm: Book launch for Natural Rivals, Bozeman Public Library, Bozeman, MT.

August 15, 2019, 4:30 pm: Book launch for Natural Rivals, National Museum of Forest Service History, Missoula, MT.

 

August 14, 2019, 5:30 pm: Book launch for Natural Rivals, The History Museum, Great Falls, MT.

 

August 6, 2019, 5:30 pm: Book launch for Natural Rivals, Red Lodge Ales, Red Lodge, MT.

May 11, 2019, Discussion and Q&A on Wonderlandscape, OneBook Billings, Billings Public Library, Billings, MT.

May 9, 2019, Emcee for Friends of the Library dinner, Red Lodge, MT.

March 19, 2019, "Mossmain," Carnegie Library Lunch and Learn, Red Lodge, MT.

March 15, 2019, Wonderlandscape, This House of Books, Billings, MT.

March 12, 2019, “Ten Ways to Look at Yellowstone,” Northwest College Writers Series, Cody WY.

November, 2018, "The 1988 Yellowstone Fires" Red Lodge Hometown Humanities, Red Lodge, MT.

 

October, 2018, "Ten Ways to Look at Yellowstone," High Plains Book Fest, Billings, MT

October, 2018, "Ten Ways to Look at Yellowstone" National Council of University Research Administrators regional conference, Billings, MT

September, 2018, "Our Yellowstone," Bozeman Public Library, Bozeman, MT.

March, 2018, "Storytelling and Public Lands," U.S. Forest Service District Ranger regional conference, Billings, MT

(List continues below!)

More previous events

TESTIMONIALS

“We wanted a speaker who was tied to the local area but who could also speak on a topic of global interest. John Clayton, with his 10 Ways to Look at Yellowstone presentation, was a great match for us! John is a terrific speaker and his presentation was both entertaining and informative.”

Deborah N. Shaver, 2018 Region VII Chair of the National Council of University Research Administrators (NCURA)

“DOUBLE CLICK HERE OR CLICK EDIT TEXT TO ADD SOME POSITIVE FEEDBACK ABOUT YOUR SERVICES"

NAME / JOB / TITLE

“We wanted a speaker who was tied to the local area but who could also speak on a topic of global interest. John Clayton, with his 10 Ways to Look at Yellowstone presentation, was a great match for us! John is a terrific speaker and his presentation was both entertaining and informative.”

Deborah N. Shaver, 2018 Region VII Chair of the National Council of University Research Administrators (NCURA)

“DOUBLE CLICK HERE OR CLICK EDIT TEXT TO ADD SOME POSITIVE FEEDBACK ABOUT YOUR SERVICES"

NAME / JOB / TITLE

TESTIMONIALS

“We wanted a speaker who was tied to the local area but who could also speak on a topic of global interest. John Clayton, with his 10 Ways to Look at Yellowstone presentation, was a great match for us! John is a terrific speaker and his presentation was both entertaining and informative.”

Deborah N. Shaver, 2018 Region VII Chair of the National Council of University Research Administrators (NCURA)

“In his keynote address for our Research, Creativity, and Community Conference, John Clayton shared stories about his research into frontier novelist Caroline Lockhart and, in the process, roused his audience’s dreams of exploring research frontiers. His love of western history infuses his work.”

David Craig, Director, Montana State University Billings Honors Program

“Caroline Lockhart is a well-known figure at the American Heritage Center (AHC), University of Wyoming.  Her papers, which are held at the AHC, are popular with students and the public alike.  But I had never known Lockhart to ‘come alive’ as she did during John Clayton's presentation about her passions and her foibles.”

Leslie C. Waggener, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming

“An excellent speaker—professional, responsible, and personable.”

Lee Cooper, President, Red Lodge Friends of the Library

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