The Last Best Place

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

William Kittredge and Annick Smith have successfully undertaken a monumental task in sorting out and evaluating the literary output of a region and presenting it in such a fashion that it makes intellectual and artistic sense. The organizational pattern is chronological, but not merely sequential, for one of the major achievements of this work is that through the arrangement of the selections, from the myths and stories of the Native Americans that lived in the land before the coming of the Europeans to the speculative poignancy of the contemporary poetry, one comes to a deeper appreciation and understanding not only of Montana and its people but also of the patterns of civilization in the West.

This wide-ranging collection includes reminiscences, reflections, and works of fiction by such notable figures as Meriwether Lewis, William Clark, George Catlin, John James Audubon, Elizabeth B. Custer, Chief Joseph, Charles S. Russell, and Dashiell Hammett. Spellbinding as these selections are, the special delight of this anthology comes from the lesser-known figures. The Crow chief Plenty-coups’ story of the trouble it is to have “white men” for allies, the reflections of Pearl Price Robertson on the hardships of homesteading in Montana, Linda Weasel Head’s tragic poem of drunken despair--these works present unforgettable pictures of times past and present in Montana and much of the land west of the one hundredth meridian. This is a collection that transcends regional concerns and speaks to those who love the special details and original perspectives that compose the story of the Westward Expansion.