Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Con Price, Memories of Old Montana

Branding cattle, Montana ranch, 1880s
This priceless memoir is told by one of the early cowboys in Montana. Con Price was a friend and sometime business partner of the cowboy-artist Charlie Russell, whom he remembers fondly, as he does a number of other men he worked with and for.

Starting out as a teenager from Iowa, Price was a horse wrangler, freight-wagon driver, and bronc buster. Though he was fairly accomplished in these skills, he seems to have been broke most of the time. Then at the age of 30 he courted and married the daughter of a prominent cattleman.

His story, jumping backward and forward in time, recalls the 1880s. These were the years of the open range, as ranchers moved their herds continually northward, across the Missouri and into Canada, braving winters that sometimes wiped out whole herds. Price remembers working in the coldest of weather, once or twice nearly losing his life in blizzards.

Somewhat ambivalent about Indians, he devotes a chapter to them, in which he grants them a certain dignity above and beyond the typical cowboy's disdain for them. He tells of an incident I've never read before in which Sitting Bull offended the chief of the Crows while on a government-granted visit to the site of Custer's defeat at the Little Big Horn.

A Crow chief, Crazy Hair, is revealed as the probable descendant of an African-American whom the tribe had given shelter to years before. There is also an illuminating chapter on outlaw Kid Curry. This enjoyable short book (154 pp.) was published in 1945, includes several illustrations, and is currently out of print. It shouldn't be.

Picture credit: wikimedia.org 

Coming up: Zane Grey, The Heritage of the Desert (1910)

4 comments:

  1. I hope some day to see some of these places. Would love to see Montana especially.

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  2. Con Price. Even the name sounds like a L'Amour hero.

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  3. I'm with Pattinase, would like to see Montana one of these days.

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  4. Patti, go when you can spend at least a couple weeks. It's a b-i-g state.

    Charles, it's those single syllables.

    Oscar, you can get primed for it reading Ivan Doig's novels and his bio, THIS HOUSE OF SKY.

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