People & Place

  • A Coward's Guide to the Scariest Ways to Die In Montana

    By Joseph Shelton
    They say freezing to death can be quite pleasant once delirium starts to set in. That is, pleasant enough at least when stacked up against nastier alternatives. We’re talking the real doozies. And since Montanans need little impetus to brag about the peculiarities of our state, the editorial staff of Distinctly Montana have prepared a very short list of the absolute worst ways to die here.
  • Frank Conley: Warden on the Edge

    Toss a coin. “Heads,” Frank Conley was a hero. “Tails,” Frank Conley was a villain. The trouble is, no matter how many times you toss the coin, it will land on edge.
  • Dorothy M. Johnson's Recycled Cinema

    By Sue Hart
    In the 1940s and early ‘50s, a double feature always included at least one Western, usually depicting Hollywood’s version of what Johnson claimed as her West—the frontier on which she set the majority of her stories.
  • Butte Will Rise Again!

    By Sherman Cahill
    You already know the story: thousands of immigrants, arriving at Ellis Island, carrying signs bearing the name of their intended destination. They read, not "Butte, Montana," but "Butte, America." Because Montana, one of the biggest states in the Union, was too small to contain the legend of the Mining City. 
  • For the Love Of... Chinook Horses

    The great American writer Herman Melville, author of Moby Dick, proved he knew horses nearly as well as whales when he said, "No philosophers so thoroughly comprehend us as dogs and horses." That comprehension shows itself in remarkable ways—horses will sidle up close, nuzzle you, even lovingly nip at you.
  • Get to Know A County: Lincoln

    By Bryan Spellman
    As the Kootenai River cut its canyon between the Percell Mountains (shown as Purcell on Canadian maps) to the north and the Cabinet Mountains to the south, the view is almost disorienting; it is hard to feature being at Montana’s lowest point when you’re surrounded by mountains rising 5,000 to 6,000 feet above you. 
  • From Cowboys to the Cold War:

    By Joseph Shelton
    But while the Cold War never escalated beyond proxy wars and nuclear proliferation, it did change Montana, and the landscape of the West, forever. As author Ian Frazier writes, the nuclear missile silo has become "one of the quintessential Great Plains objects," along with the American bison, the prairie dog, and the outhouse.
  • The Old Broke Rancher on How Snowflake the Calf Ruined His Entire Morning!

    By Gary Shelton
    I went to the cow then, for a friendly visit, only to discover she was in a fit of bovine rage. This, too was not a good sign. As a fat old man, I figure it was about even odds in a fair fight, but I refused to die without another cup of coffee, so I started to trudge back to the house when I noticed it: a wretched little bundle of white, barely visible amidst the snow.
  • Warrior Spirit: Celebrating Native American Veterans

    By Ellen Baumler
    While some of Montana’s Indian veterans have been individually honored, the contributions of many others remain unrecognized. The Warrior Spirit Project Consortium, created in 2019, aims to change that.
  • Roger Rouse: “The Opportunity Kid”

    By Brian D’Ambrosio
    Roger Rouse might be the best athlete in Montana’s history who most people today do not remember. Indeed, even in 1999 when Sports Illustrated compiled its list of the 50 greatest sports figures from Montana, Rouse failed to rank, although two other boxers, Marvin Camel (#18) and Todd Foster (#40), were included.
  • The Curious Afterlife of Montana’s Ghost Towns

    By Joseph Shelton
    Bannack, named (and misspelled) for the Bannock Indians, was the first territorial capital of Montana and was built on the spot of the territory’s first major gold rush in 1862.  The population grew to 3,000 a mere year later, and the town became famous, or infamous, when Sheriff Plummer began moonlighting as one of its most industrious highwaymen.
  • Charlie Chaplin’s Butte, America.

    By Joseph Shelton
    Chaplin’s autobiography lingers on a particular stop along his tour, an American city which, even from the distance of a half a century on and a continent away, he was able to recall vividly: Butte, Montana.
  • Downhill

    By William Muhlenfeld
    Woosh! Doug executed a perfect parallel stop as he reached to wipe his goggles, which again were beginning to cake with the heavy snowfall. He peered into the white, attempting to see if he could spot his ski buddies who had taken the blue run when he charged off the black diamond ridge tagged as Dead Drop.
  • On the Trail with Sheepherders, Groundskeepers of the Land

    By Hallie Zolynski, with photos by the author
    The name Montana conjures up cowboys herding cattle on the open prairie, and gunfighters hiding out in canyons to hide from rope-swinging vigilantes. But does Montana summon images of the lone sheepherder tending his flock and enduring days of solitude, bitter cold and the intense summer heat?
  • Simple Practices for a Joyful, Stress-free Winter

    By Kristy LeRay
    Depression can creep in this time of year and steal your joy. The pandemic has rocked our world and caused so much stress and anxiety. Add a life crisis, divorce, or loss of a loved one to that, and you may not want to get out of bed in the mornings. I was there and can relate. The simplest actions helped transform my life.
  • Get To Know A County: Rosebud

    By Bryan Spellman
    Roughly halfway between Lame Deer and Colstrip, the Deer Medicine Rocks are a National Historic Landmark, located on private property with no public access. The landmark memorializes the site where Lakota Chief Sitting Bull had a vision foretelling his success over the U.S. 7th Cavalry led by General George Armstrong Custer.
  • A Gallery of Montana Eccentrics

    By Bryan D'Ambrosio
    He was the buzz of 1900s Broadway and a gender bender of silent films. Long-forgotten actor and female impersonator Julian Eltinge was especially popular in Butte, where he accepted his first theater position as an usher at the old John Maguire Opera House at Butte.