Winners of the 2023 Montana Memory Project Short Story Contest!

Mojave Gregersen, Winner, 3rd - 6th Grade Division:   


Courtesy of Montana Memory Project

One beautiful early fall morning, Bonnie woke up at six as always and got ready to check on her cattle. While she was eating a small breakfast, she watched one of her calves walk through the yard. As soon as she stepped out of the house to take a closer look, the calf ran north up the mountain. She knew the herd was grazing in the southwest quarter of the property, so she called up her friends Billy and Anna to lend a hand.  
    Anna left right away to check on the main herd, while Bonnie and Billy saddled their horses to search for the lone calf. As Bonnie and Billy ascended a steep hillside, the terrain got rockier and more difficult for the horses to climb. After one last dizzying scramble, they came upon a flat open area. What they saw in front of them stopped them dead in their tracks.  
    Up ahead, a female mountain lion was caching its kill. The lion stopped scraping and gazed at Bonnie and Billy. Without making eye contact with the cat, the two slowly turned their frightened horses around and retreated down the mountain, glancing back every once in a while to make sure they didn’t become the lion’s next kill. 
    At the bottom of the hill, Bonnie would be in for a big surprise. Bonnie and Billy were on their way down the sheer slope, when they saw a figure moving through the trees. Bonnie thought - Is it the mountain lion? Did she follow us down? - but it was just the lost calf.  
    Bonnie whispered to Billy, “There’s the calf. Pass the rope.” Bonnie slowly approached the little calf with the rope in her hands. Before it could bolt she skillfully lassoed it. The calf was frantic for a moment but calmed once Bonnie reached it. She and Billy continued down the mountain with the little calf in tow. 
    “We are finally here,” Bonnie declared once back to the ranch house. Bonnie’s horse started acting up. “What's wrong, Rusty?” Bonnie questioned. Suddenly a rattlesnake slithered up to the horse and opened its mouth ready to bite. Bonnie’s horse went crazy and started kicking up its back legs, causing Bonnie to go flying over the horse's head and land crashing down on her back.  
    “Oww!” Bonnie exclaimed.  
    “Are you ok?” Bonnie did not answer. All Billy heard was a weak moan. Billy jumped off his nervous horse and rushed to Bonnie. She was unconscious.  
    Anna had heard the commotion and soon arrived at the scene. She leapt off her horse and told Billy, “We have to get the horse cart and then take her to the nearest hospital!”   
    While Billy got the cart Anna tried to wake up Bonnie. Billy hooked the horses to the cart and lifted Bonnie in, wrapping her in some old saddle blankets. Off they went trying to both keep a steady pace and cover ground as quickly as possible.  
    When they reached the hospital, the nurses picked up Bonnie and rushed her inside. “Is she going to be ok? How long will it take for her to recover?!” Billy questioned one of the nurses.  
    “She will live, but it will take a few weeks for her to recover.”  
    Billy and Anna remained at the hospital with Bonnie for the first couple of days. The nurses tried to kick them out but quickly realized the bond of friendship between Bonnie, Anna, and Billy was too tight to break, and they were there to stay by Bonnie’s side no matter how long it took for her to recover. 

Neva Sliman, Runner-Up of 3rd - 6th Grade Division

Courtesy of the Montana Memory Project

  The Schoolhouse

“There it is, the schoolhouse,” Jones said, “Are you sure you want to do this?” 

“Positive. I got this,” 

3 Hours Earlier, Augusta, MT: 

“Now, to find the interquartile range you have to… MISS SMITH! Are you paying attention?” 

“Yes mam, I am,” I replied flinching away from her, 

“Well then, how do you find the interquartile range for…” Ugh, we just went through this yesterday. The dismissal bell interrupted my thoughts, good, no more school until Monday. I sprung up and grabbed my books, now I had to wait for my brother, James, and his friend, Jones. Luckily they didn’t take as long as they usually did, and they were out in 2 minutes instead of 10. 

“Hey, Elizabeth,” Jones said, “how was school today?” 

“Boring, just like any other day,” I said, exaggerating the pronunciation of boring, “ready to go to the schoolhouse?” I asked, now I know what you must be thinking, I just left the schoolhouse, but we were going to a different schoolhouse, the abandoned schoolhouse down the road from my house, to be exact. 

“Yeah, let's go,” James said, leading the way down the road toward the schoolhouse as the sun was setting over the horizon. 

When we reached the schoolhouse I started shaking, surprisingly not from the harsh wind but from fear. I knew the schoolhouse was abandoned, but it couldn’t be haunted could it? As I was about to voice my suspicions to my companions, I stopped in my tracks. We were here, standing in front of the schoolhouse, on the dead grass scorched by the recent fire.  

“There it is, the schoolhouse,” Jones said,” are you sure you want to do this?” 

“Positive. I got this,” I replied digging my nails into the palms of my hands to keep my body from shaking. My brother handed me a lantern and gave me a reassuring smile, I smiled back, “here I go,” 

I walked to the burned porch, a million thoughts racing through my mind. Why did I choose to do this, why was I so stupid? But still, I continued, reaching the threshold of the door and cautiously stepping into the schoolhouse, I got this, don’t look back, just keep on going. Deep breaths. As I stepped into the main entrance I looked around, the walls were black as coal and the floorboards were rotting. I lit my lantern, shining it down the hallways as I kept walking. I crept up the stairs, brushing the spiderwebs out of my path.  

As I reached the upper floor I heard a whisper, 

“You shouldn’t be here, leave while you can,” I gazed around searching for the source of the voice. Finally, my eyes fell upon a pale,ghostly-looking girl with a petrified look on her face, fire reflecting in her glassy eyes. 

“Why? Who are you?” I questioned. 

“Look around, can’t you see the fire?” She replied in a frantic voice, “I know you, Elizabeth Smith, don’t you know me? My name is Victoria,” 

“No, what is going on? There is no fire.” I said, slowly backing away, glancing over my shoulder “Um, I have to go.” As I looked back I saw a burst of flame engulf the figure. I fell backward down the stairs as we screamed simultaneously. Faces jumped out at me screaming with pain, I could feel the heat from the fire around me. James and Jones came rushing in yelling and asking if I was okay. 

“Yes, I am fine, I mean I think I am fine, I don’t know” I started sobbing and looked up at them baffled. They carried me all the way home.  

Three years later: 

I gazed at the abandoned schoolhouse, remembering the day three years ago when I had dared to enter the foreboding schoolhouse. The day when I knew I would never go in there again. 

Thomas Johnson, Winner of the 7th - 12th Grade Division


Courtesy of the Montana Memory Project

Ray silently paced along, weaving through trees, adept feet moving soundlessly in the drifts of snow. Gilbert, his brother, paced along five feet away, clutching his rifle close. This was Gill’s first time out, and he was nervous. His eyes darted around the forest. Ray stopped and stiffened abruptly, holding up a hand for Gilbert to stop walking.  
“What is it?” whispered Gilbert. 
Ray shifted and cut Gilbert a sharp look. Utter silence was required for this, something Gilbert needed some practice on. Ray looked up. He scanned the trees, his trained eyes searching for the slightest difference in brown. He saw it. A cougar, only signaled by the littlest rise in the contour of the branch on which it rested. Ray raised his rifle, eyes focused on the animal. He held his breath, steading his ironsight behind the lion’s shoulder. 
“Is it a mountain lion?” Gilbert’s voice cut through the silence, eager and inquisitive. 
The cougar jumped up, startled at the sound. It turned, and adeptly raced down the tree.  
Ray grit his teeth. It was perfect! Perfect! And of course Gilbert had to screw it up, just like he screwed everything up. They might have to be out here for hours now to try and get anything. 
“What is wrong with you?!?!?” Ray’s scream broke the clear and tranquil environment of the forest. Birds scattered. Gilbert stood, shocked.  
“How many times have I told you that you have to be silent, completely silent? I had a perfect shot, and you had to go ahead and open your big mouth and ruin it!” 
“I…I didn’t mean to…” Gilbert stuttered, and his eyes welled up with tears.  
“I should never have taken you! I should have known you’d mess this up, just like you mess everything up! You’re useless!” 
A silence took hold once more, but not a tranquil one. Gilbert blinked away tears, his face quivering into a hurt scowl. Without a word, he turned and strode off between the trees, wiping tears from his cheeks. Ray watched him go, eventually being hidden behind the towering trunks. Ray slumped, as the sick feeling of hurting someone crept in. Well, Gilbert had scared away the cougar…but it was his first time. Maybe Ray had been too harsh. Ray sighed, and started after Gilbert, following his footsteps.  
“Gilbert!” Ray called. “Gilbert, I’m sorry!” 
Ray walked for a while. He stopped in a small clearing between the trees. Here, the tracks were muddled and shifted. Ray stooped, and noticed some red dots in the snow. Confused, Ray saw more, making a path into the woods. Gradually, they thickened into streaks. Along the lines of blood, there was a depression as if someone had been dragged… 
Ray gasped as the realization hit him like a brick in the teeth. He sped off along the trail of red, screaming Gilbert’s name.  
“Gilbert! Gilbert!!!” 
Suddenly, a huge weight slammed onto Ray’s back, sending him to the ground. Pain shot through his shoulder as razor sharp fangs dug into his flesh. Ray screamed, and desperately thrashed to free himself from the cougar pinning him. He poked at the cougar’s eyes, and the cat pounced off him. Ray stumbled to a tree, and turned around to see a huge cougar a few feet away. The animal pounced. Just before the cat reached him, a shot rang out and the cougar lost momentum, falling dead to the ground. Ray rose, shaky. He saw Gilbert, covered in blood, one arm outstretched holding a rifle. In the other hand was another mountain lion, hanging limp.  
Back at their family’s log cabin, Ray and Gilbert sat munching on cougar kebabs. Their father had taken a picture of them with the cougars, and they stood tall and proud. Ray apologized to Gilbert, and thanked him. But Gilbert just smiled and embraced Ray. Ray smiled too. He couldn’t wait for the next hunt.


Brielle Carr, Runner-Up of the 7th - 12th Grade Division

Courtesy of Montana Memory Project

Smokey's Rant 

My name is Smokey. I am a bear. Don’t ask me why my name is Smokey, it’s just a popular bear name. This is my rant on why you should let bears into your towns. 
#1. Bears love a good beer every now and again. You humans hog it all! Because we bears don’t have the equipment or the thumbs, we can’t make it ourselves. So we try to get you to share it, but you don’t speak Bear so you think we’re here to scare the wits out of you! Typical.  
#2. Bears love to sleep in beds. Winne The Pooh and Paddington can confirm this. Go read one of their books. Anyways, we bears don’t like caves. We live in caves because it's the only way to keep dry. We’ve tried to talk some sense into you people that the whole forest is dying to try sleeping in one of your famous beds with the pillows and the warm blankets, but again, you don’t speak Bear. Instead, you scream and get people with guns on the case. How would you feel in our shoes? Or paws? 
#3. Our lady bears love to go shopping. They’re suckers for jewelry and scarves. They love to buy nick-nacks and clothes and pretty little things that make them feel beautiful. The thing is you lock the doors every time they try to do a little girl's date. Then we guy bears have to listen to how you spoiled their whole day, and how you missed a perfectly good opportunity to make more money! Guys can only listen to the same subject for so long. So my point here is that nobody’s winning.  
#4. Our cave beds made of straw (not bones, as you humans think) are not suitable for our grandbears. Their poor bones get chilled and cramped and they get sick too… sometimes. How could you turn down letting our grandbears stay in your cozy hotels? We have the money you know! 
#5. Bears are dancing kings! Remember Baloo? He was jiggin’ it up in the Jungle Book! Why won’t you let us dance with you on live music nights? My dad says it's because you humans don’t like losing dance competitions. Well, I’ll have you know, the birds had you beat from day five of creation! The only thing birds do is dance and sing and party in their little flocks. Also, we bears are great to have on your side in a bar fight, just saying. 
#6. We bears love to see how you humans admire us. Don’t think we haven’t noticed. We’ve seen how you make paintings, honey bottles, slippers, pajamas, books, sculptures, movies, music, and many more things based on bears! You can’t resist how cuddly we are! We would let you hug us more if you didn’t try to shoot us! It’s wolves you’ve gotta watch out for. Those guys are killers. Bears are like giant living teddy bears. We just want your attention… and your beer. 
#7. Bears are forming a rally to advocate for bear’s rights. We are planning to sue you. Yes, you heard me right. The bear race is plotting to sue the human race. The rally begins here and now with me. By sitting on this porch I’m advocating for bear's rights. The others should be along soon… I think. Long Live The Bears! 
I hope you were convinced that bears are wanting to be allowed into your towns, not to wreak havoc, but to enjoy the luxuries of town life. 
-Smokey the Bear 


Brent Baldwin, Winner of the Adult Division

Courtesy of the Montana Memory Project



       “Since your dumber than a penny in a nickel slot machine I am giving you the easy job,” said the gruff, red-faced man to the 12-year-old boy, “all you have to do is shovel out the chicken coops. Shovel it onto that cart, then dump it out, pretty simple.” 

       The boy looked up at him nervously. 

     “Where should I dump it, sir?” the boy asked. 

Red-faced Mr. Winslow stared at the boy as he would stare at a mule that had just crapped on his lunch. 

“You can dump it on the moon for all I care, you idiot. Where do you think you should dump it? You can pick a spot anywhere on the property,” he said gesturing to the surrounding prairie, “we will be back after dark, just make sure it gets done.” 

“Old man Hobbs always sends his dumbest kid,” he added. 

Mr. Winslow and his three sons walked to the barn, then rode east on their horses. Young Vernon Hobbs was relieved to see them leave. 

Born on January 14th, 1904, Vernon was the youngest of eleven children raised by Hubert and Flossie Hobbs. Located 35 miles north of Bullhook, Montana, the Hobbs farm kept all eleven children busy. When there wasn’t enough work to go around, the youngest was sent to the Winslow place a couple of miles to the west. 

Vernon didn’t like going to the Winslow farm. Ed Winslow was the orneriest resident in Dry Creek County, if not the entire state of Montana. He treated his own children like work animals and treated Vernon worse. With only three sons of his own, Ed Winslow always needed help on the farm. 

Ed had wanted a large family to populate his farm with cheap laborers. Unfortunately for him, Mrs. Ed Winslow disappeared from Dry Creek County shortly after bearing his third son. Some folks speculated Ed murdered his wife during one of his infamous anger spells. The county sheriff always answered those allegations with the fact that Winslow’s ranch hand had also left the county at about the same time. Additionally, he would point out that the youngest Winslow boy looked a lot like the ranch hand. 

None of this mattered to young Vernon. Shovel in hand, he had three filthy chicken coops to clean out. Each coop was about the size of a small house. It wasn’t a complicated job, but it was disgusting. Once unsettled by a shovel, the dust from chicken excrement floated in the air. This feces fog settled on his hair and clothes and in his mouth and nostrils. Today’s work would require a long bath. 

It was dark when the Winslow men rode onto the homestead. Walking up from the barn they saw the cart parked near the house, but there was no sign of Vernon.   

“That dumb shit didn’t wait around to get paid. He probably didn’t finish the job anyway,” said Ed Winslow as he approached the house. 

When Ed opened the front door dried chicken manure poured out, covering his left boot. When he realized the floor of his house was buried in six inches of chicken crap his face turned a deep shade of red. 

“I am gonna kill that dumb little son of a—“ 

Winslow grabbed his chest, then fell to the ground. 

Bullhook Beacon, August 23, 1916: 
Edward Enos Winslow was laid to rest on Sunday morning during what is believed to be the largest gathering in Dry Creek County history. 

Approximately 250 residents witnessed the body being lowered into the ground. 

“I think anyone who ever had contact with Ed was here today. You could say he left an impression on people,” said local man Karl Gustav. 

“I guess we all just wanted to see Ed being put in the earth,” explained county resident Hi Holsapple, “it’s a shame it happened when it did.”

Sharee Miller, Runner-Up of the Adult Division

Courtesy of Montana Memory Project

One Hell of a Hand  
Stoney sat in the dust, staring expectantly, the campfire reflecting a soft red glow in his dark eyes, begging for his paycheck at the end of a hard day's ride.   
The cattle drive had begun back in Texas. One of the last of its kind, moving one hundred fifty head of stubborn longhorns from the Texas grasslands to the wide prairies of Montana. The trails had all but disappeared to progress, first the fence, then the motor car. Two tracks, turned to asphalt, asphalt into four lane superhighways. We were proud to prove that a drive could still be done the old-fashioned way by horse and grit. A bunch of stubborn cowboys refusing to be paved over.   
Stoney had joined up late. We picked him up in Oklahoma City. He just appeared one night as we were gathering for our grub round ol’ Cookies wagon.   
“Nothing but a bum lookin fer a handout. Annie Go Lightly said  
J.W., being soft hearted pled his case for him. “He’s starvin! Can’t just turn him out.”  
“He ain’t the right kind, nothin personal, but it’s in his breeding. He’ll be just as likely to get trampled then not.” Old Ace retorted  
“Well this food ain’t worth a damn anyways.” Claude said as he passed his plate to Stoney  
“Now what’d ya go an do that for? Now we will never be rid of him!” Ace growled at Claude  
That’s when Cow Boss Jim spoke up. Everyone knew he would have the final say, even Stoney who hadn’t so much as sniffed the plate of food yet, just sat with a dead eyed stare fixed on the big man.   
“Well now I reckon everyone deserves a fair chance, but you better believe me when I say you will work for your next plate, and every one after that too.” Jim announced with a nod to Stoney.   
Stoney did prove out as a hell of a hand. The kind that any cowboy worth his salt would be proud to call his friend. It wasn’t but two days after joining up with our rag tag operation that he put himself in harm's way to save the whole herd after a passing cattle truck blew his horn and nearly sent the whole herd to stampeding. He darted in and out of traffic, dodging horns, hooves, and killing blows from the ornery lead Heffer we called Carrot Top, on account of the red mop of hair atop her head. He was circling, a nippin and a yippin, quick as lightning, holding her in place just as good as any old cow dog I’d ever seen. Held the herd back until the rest of us could get em bunched again. He continued to prove his toughness every day since then too, never whining, or cowering to man or beast, and I had never met a better listener when your worries became too much to hold in. We’ve all grown fond of his company, even Ace. Though I reckon he would tell you different.  
The drive is almost over. We will be in Montana in just another day's ride. A job done, a point proven, we will part ways. I am going to miss Stoney’s company. Campfire embers snap and pop sending soft sparks above my head. I tip my hat and pass my plate for the last time to the best cow dog hand that ever was. Stoney Beagle Buckaroo you earned it old boy. 



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