Several readers of my new Sweet Grass – Montana Romance series have asked if the location is real. While the town of Hollister, Montana is fictional, its setting is real, based on the unincorporated community of Melville, Montana. Melville is located about twenty miles north of Big Timber in south-central Montana.
The first time I visited Montana, it was to attend a friend’s wedding in Big Timber. It was the same summer The Horse Whisperer was being filmed just a few minutes south of town in the Boulder River Valley. As my dad and I tried to catch glimpses of Robert Redford and the cast from our distant perch on the county road, little did I know I would live in Montana one day and write stories set very near that same spot. And what a beautiful place – the Crazy Mountains, the Boulder River Valley, and the Absaroka and Beartooth mountain ranges, the rumbling rivers, the waving prairie grass… One caveat to living in Sweet Grass County: it’s VERY windy. But that’s what makes it good cow country.
Melville sits on a bench above Sweet Grass Creek and below the Crazy Mountains. Melville was the hub of Sweet Grass County back in its heyday in the late 1800s to early 1900s. “Melville Country” was known for its saloons, gambling, horse races and general wildness. It’s the home of the first Lutheran church
in Montana, Melville Lutheran, which is still active, as well as Melville Elementary School– a one-room school house —
also still flourishing. But the hotel, the saloons, the general store and the flour mill are long since gone.
During my research, I came across the writings of Melville native, Spike Van Cleve, whose family raised cattle and horses and ran a dude ranch “under the Crazy Mountains at the western edge of the high plains of south-central Montana” starting in the late 1880s. For a fascinating and very entertaining look at what Montana ranch life was like in the early to mid-1900s, I encourage you to read Spike’s books: Forty Years’ Gatherin’s and A Day Late and a Dollar Short.
So, if you’ve read (or plan to read) any of the books in my Sweet Grass – Montana Romance series, now you can better imagine scenes like this:
Old-timers couldn’t remember a more glorious spring day: the vast, cloudless Montana sky a plate of cerulean blue; a warm, gentle breeze rippling across the timberline and dancing through the sweet meadow grass; the fragrant scent of pine trees; a faint, tumbling rush of water sounding from creeks and distant canyons; the magnificent backdrop of the Crazies—their snow-capped peaks rising from purple-grey granite above the shadowed green forest. (Trusting Travis, Copyright © 2019 Margaret Desmond)