We spent Tuesday in Yellowstone. From our cabin, It took about an hour and a half to drive to the North Entrance. Although the weather turned cold and rainy—we encountered some light snowfall towards the end of the day—we enjoyed a spectacular whirlwind tour of the park. When I uploaded the photos from my cell phone and came across this one, I said to myself, “Wow. This is so amazing, it doesn’t seem real!”
On Wednesday, we met Jennifer at Yellowstone Feed where we got the “friends & family” tour before taking her to lunch at The Grand Hotel in Big Timber. While enjoying a chicken Caesar salad in the saloon, my writing mind—as it inevitably does—imagined how the saloon might have looked back in the 1890s filled with big, burly cattlemen, a saloon girl or two, someone tinkling the piano ivories. And spittoons being put to use, of course.
The Grand was one of the few structures that survived Big Timber’s 1908 fire. Some say it’s haunted. Today, it operates as a bed and breakfast. It’d be fun to stay there a night or two. “I ain’t afraid of no ghosts!”
Our plans that afternoon included a visit to the Crazy Mountain Museum. Although it was after Labor Day, I thought I’d read that the museum stayed opened for a few hours several days a week. A sign on the door informed us otherwise. There are plenty of things to explore outside the museum, however, including a one-room schoolhouse, a homestead cabin, and a replica Norwegian stabbur (food storehouse). My mom and I enjoyed strolling through the beautiful Lewis and Clark garden at the front of the museum. The garden contains the Montana plants Clark named in his journals back in 1806.
The museum sits beside Mountain View Cemetery, a beautiful final resting place sheltered by towering cottonwood and pine trees. I don’t know about you, but I enjoy walking through cemeteries and reading the tombstones. I had one particular, old-time Sweet Grass County family in mind as I wandered through the grave sites. Back in one of the oldest sections, I found them. The Van Cleves.
Now, if you’ve read my Sweet Grass-Montana Romance books, then you know about Spike Van Cleve and the insight and inspiration I gained from his writing. I discovered Spike’s books when I decided on “Melville Country” as the setting for the book series. Do a web search on Melville, Montana, and Spike’s name will pop up eventually. Spike’s grandfather, Paul Van Cleve, Sr., arrived in Melville in 1887. The family raised cattle and horses and eventually ran a dude ranch “under the Crazy Mountains at the western edge of the high plains of south-central Montana.” Spike wrote two memoirs about his family and what it was like in Melville Country back in the day. Before I began writing my Sweet Grass-Montana Romance series, I read Spike’s books: Forty Years’ Gatherin’s and A Day Late and a Dollar Short.
To my delight, I also found this short documentary made about Spike.
Sometimes, I hear Spike’s voice in my head when I’m writing my “old-timer” characters. I get phrases like “by God!”, “You Bet!”, That so?” and “sure ‘nuff” from him. And I’ve borrowed many of his descriptions of the weather and locale. Old cowboys like him are few and far between. Sure wish I could have met him, by God!
Remember this story, because you’ll here more about Spike in the next blog. And that’s the best story yet.