Cowboys and Realtors

The mythical West lives on - even as the wealthy, the leisured and the retired buy into Big Sky Country. An essay.

Smithsonian Magazine | Subscribe

(Continued from page 2)

Over time, of course, reality has a nasty way of asserting itself. Just as the starry-eyed sodbusters of my great-grandfather's generation were forced to give up on eastern Montana, so have voters in Western states been compelled by pollution, congestion and assorted urban ills to acknowledge a few facts of life. In California, Washington and Oregon they regularly elect politicians who promise to clean up the air, unclog the highways and regulate big business—and who don’t have to sit on a horse while doing so.

But in Montana and elsewhere in the Rocky Mountain West, mythology still calls a lot of shots.

Consider those federally protected grizzlies in the Flathead Valley, dying in a cultural warp zone, apparent victims of Montanans who cannot square the rise of a prosperous new economy with the fall of a lifestyle sanctified by stirring stories of self-reliance. Federal investigators told me that whoever has been killing the bears is probably known to his neighbors, probably even brags to his neighbors. But those neighbors, investigators say, are not talking. It is not the way of the West.

Blaine Harden, a Seattle-based reporter for the Washington Post, wrote A River Lost: The Life and Death of the Columbia.

"Don’t Fence Me In" by Cole Porter © 1944 (renewed) Warner Bros. Inc.  

Comment on this Story

comments powered by Disqus