For goodness’ sakes, keep the notes you take while writing a novel   4 comments

I tend to take notes on the backs of envelopes, grocery store receipts, and random pieces of paper. While working on a book, those notes pile up on my desk. Years later, I have no clue where they are.

Sometimes the notes go into a file folder. Sometimes I type them into a DOC file. File folders get lost. DOC files disappear when hard drives crash. What’s left after that? The memory that you used to know something, but now you don’t.

Case in point: a friend is reading an old novel of mine that has a lot of Blackfeet language phrases in it. I used to know what they meant. Now I don’t. So, when she asks, I can only say, “Figure out those phrases in the context of the scenes where I use them because I’ve got nothing for you.”


And now I’m thinking of writing a novel related to the one she’s reading. Or, seeing that there aren’t any notes in the house, maybe I won’t. 

A better filing system would save a lot of anguish. Not to mention time in terms of how long it will take to re-research stuff I already researched.  I guess when a book is done, I don’t think I’m going back that way again. So, stuff disappears. 

What I need is a crack staff (as opposed to a staff on crack) to tidy up the mess on my desk each time I finish a book. Then I might have a clue (as opposed to not having a clue).

My advice is to keep the notes you take (in an organized fashion) whenever you write a novel.


Since it hasn’t been that long, I still know how to find the notes I took while writing “Fate’s Arrows.”

Posted November 9, 2020 by Malcolm R. Campbell in writing

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A conversation or a momentary glance?   2 comments

Many websites ago, I noticed that the number of visits a page had over the previous day or week or month took on quite a different meaning when I considered the average length of each visit: usually in nanoseconds. So, most of those visits that I first thought were people actually considering my words or the books I talked about actually were bots that came and went faster than human fingers could possibly operate a mouse or keyboard, and that when the time-length of each visit finally got long enough to suggest a human saw my page, it was apparent that s/he was only there long enough to give my presentation a momentary glance.

Ah, so that’s why a thousand visits to a page in a website translated into so few clicks on links to other pages, much less to my books sitting there on Amazon waiting to engage you in a conversation. What a humbling epiphany it was, discovering that most of what I perceived as attempts to engage were machines scouring the web for this or that or people in a hurry to go somewhere else when they found nothing to slow them down on my page during their frenetic pace through cyberspace.

To my knowledge, WordPress isn’t telling me how long you are here, much less the impact–if any–upon you from what you see. So, as I sit here at my Dell desktop computer screen with my cat occupying a fair share of my desk chair, I wonder who you are and what you make of this place. If you’re here long enough to grok what I’m saying, you know by now that this blog has no niche. That’s good and bad, depending on what the gurus are saying.

I don’t care what the gurus are saying because if I really listened to their prescriptions about how to manage this weblog, I would become too bored to manage this weblog. Yes, I understand the value of knowing what you’re going to get before you arrive on a page, the certainty that one blogger provides daily writing tips and another provides humorous commentaries on national issues. So, I don’t offer any certainty, because I might talk about anything here from Trump to tadpoles to transformation.

I’m unrepentant about my overt lack of a niche. I thrive on chaos because as a writer (you do know I’m a writer, capeesh!) I think our most creative moments come out of chaos rather than plans and outlines.

So, you’re brave to come here because the whole place probably is about as sane as the movie “Fargo” or some film from Federico Fellini. If you’re a bot, I don’t care why you’re here, and (frankly) I hope the chaos shorts out your circuits. If you’re a person, I appreciate your brief glance at this page and can understand why it may not be your cup of tea. But then, if you’re here long enough to read today’s post and think “well, this is crap” or “hmm, he might have a point,” then thank you for stopping by–you’re the person I’m writing for.


Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of a chaotic array of books.

Posted November 8, 2020 by Malcolm R. Campbell in blog

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Time to put the caricatures back in the box   Leave a comment

“The new president will also need to redeem his promise that he will be the president not only of those who voted for him but of all Americans. Contrary to what some Democrats seem to believe, there are tens of millions of Trump voters who are not cultists, conspiracy theorists or racists.” – The Los Angeles Times

We’re not the bumbling fools the opposition says we are.

The politics of late have killed many friendships because good, everyday people from multiple positions on the political spectrum accepted as gospel the worst slanders and caricatures extremists on both sides of the aisle disseminated about the opposition.

Whether those friendships died during a discussion about an issue that exploded into a giant disagreement that could not be healed or simply because one friend or the other could not stomach a supporter of the opposite party, the deaths weakened the country and made the survivors more susceptible to the next words of hatred and contempt from the Republican and Democrat parties, their officials, and their supporters.

We have a chance, I hope, to stop accepting the worst libels flung at or by the opposition.

As the Los Angeles Times said, all Trump voters and other Republicans are not idiots trying to re-establish the ways and means and attitudes of the 1840s into the American of the 2020s, nor are they all advocating the patrol of city streets by unregulated and militant militias of unwashed thugs.

Likewise, all Biden supporters are not “commies in the making” who want to allow the entire population of Mexico into the United States with the same healthcare, employment rights, and voting rights as citizens while trying to kowtow to so many groups they advocate the repression of freedom of speech whenever a discouraging word is said about anyone they support.

Everyone who is somewhat politically aware (or better) can make a list of the caricatures of their opponents they’ve engraved in stone. Some are true. Most aren’t. In the 1960s, some of the antiwar protesters thought that if the U.S. and the Vietcong sat down and sang “Kumbaya” together, the war would end. People who thought so were mocked by everyone. Today, those who want all political parties to step back from the extremists in their midst and work together will be mocked by everyone. Why? Working together sounds too much like childish naïveté.

That’s too bad. The country faces multiple issues that will take multiple ideas and approaches from multiple belief systems to solve. We’ve seen that the slander/caricature approach didn’t work. So let’s try something new: honestly working together. Working together will take work rather like estranged marriage partners trying to reconcile their differences.

But what’s the alternative? Another civil war? Climate change, immigration, and racial conflicts out of control? Loss of our Bill of Rights due to one expediency or another? None of these are acceptable outcomes.

We can do better because if we can’t we will keep doing worse.


Posted November 7, 2020 by Malcolm R. Campbell in Politics

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Writers want to sweep you up into their stories   Leave a comment

“Magic doesn’t sweep you away; it gathers you up into the body of the present moment so thoroughly that all your explanations fall away: the ordinary, in all its plain and simple outrageousness, begins to shine — to become luminously, impossibly so. Every facet of the world is awake, and you within it.” – David Abram, “Becoming Animal: An Earthly Cosmology”

An ancient campfire beneath a fetching moon. Trees standing close, listening to a storyteller spin out a tale that captures the imaginations of those sitting around the fire so completely that the listeners see no boundary lines between themselves and the characters within the story. Truly, there is no outside at this point, no separation between the words and the trees and the moonlight and the derring-do of the far-away people whom the storyteller conjures into the world of that very moment.

As Wikipedia says, “Through the telling of the story people become psychically close, developing a connection to one another through the communal experience. The storyteller reveals, and thus shares, him/her self through his/her telling and the listeners reveal and share themselves through their reception of the story.”

Creating such shared moments is more difficult in a book because the storyteller and reader are worlds away from each other physically until or unless the words are strong enough and vibrating powerfully enough to dissolve the illusion of physical distance. When the book works for a reader, the experience becomes as powerful as the campfire scene where all is connected.

To be sure, the connection between writer and reader depends not only on the skill of the writer, but the a reader’s (often) long-time experience with books (how they work), the subject matter, the reader’s state of mind and (probably) physical comfort. When conditions are optimal, the reader is swept up into the story as though s/he is sitting with the storyteller next to a fire in a quiet forest or within cabin’s sweet shadows.

Books for prospective writers try very hard to teach us what we need to do while researching and writing to ensure that conditions are optimal. My approach–which doesn’t necessarily work for all writers–is that the writer must first be swept up by the story and its characters before s/he can produce a novel that sweeps up readers in the way David Abram suggests.

No matter how a writer connects with his/her story, getting those conditions right takes practice. Nobody sounds like Coleman Hawkins, Stan Getz, or John Coltrane the first time they pick up a tenor sax. Nobody writes like Stephen King, John Hart, or Neil Gaiman the first time they pick up a pencil or sit down at a computer. All of these people evolved into the people they became. 

Time seems to fly while writers are becoming comfortable with words, plots, techniques, character development, and magic. In a world where many people want everything right now, it’s difficult to submit to the necessity of practice. Even the wizards at Hogwarts needed to practice their spells. So do storytellers dreaming of campfires and writers dreaming of books and short stories.

After that, the magic begins to work behind the scenes and become second nature to the man or woman with the pencil. 


Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of the magical realism series of novels that begins with “Conjure Woman’s Cat” and ends with “Fate’s Arrows.”


Blog for Peace   2 comments

Yesterday, bloggers around the country were blogging for peace. I should have done it, but I wasn’t feeling very peaceful as I watched the election returns and felt that the country wasn’t going to seem very peaceful no matter who was elected President.

I appreciated Marianne Williamson’s all-to-brief run for the Presidency, not because I thought she had a chance of winning, but because she was disseminating a different message, one of hope and the ever-available possibility of transformation. Her candidacy reminded me somewhat of that of Eugene McCarthy years ago in which he said his goal was more in getting a message out than expecting to win.

I feel these days that Americans are a huge dysfunctional family that can’t quite stop the squabbling long enough to work together. If I had some magic words that would convince everyone to pull back from their most antagonistic stances, I would have blogged for peace. 

Seems to me, no one is listening. Half of the memes I see on Facebook are wrong because those who posted them only care about one side of the story. I’m more of a moderate than those screaming on Facebook, so after finding no common ground with the most volatile posters and groups, I’m at a loss to find anything to say that matters.

Today’s political reality seems forever on the verge of a mog waiting to happen. Yesterday people were squabbling about the Fox News’ call that Biden won Arizona. The mob didn’t seem to realize that Fox News’ decision desk isn’t running the election. I have to idea how to talk to people who have no clue how stuff works.

I should have blogged for peace, but sometimes it just doesn’t seem worth the effort when everyone seems geared up for a fight.


Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of two contemporary fantasies, “The Sun Singer” and “Sarabande.”

Posted November 5, 2020 by Malcolm R. Campbell in issues

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Review: ‘Bob, The Right Hand of God’   2 comments

Protagonist Chet Thomlin is more or less a regular guy. He runs a pet store where he treats the animals right and then goes home resigned to the fact that his mother is still living in his house. There’s a lot of depth to this character as portrayed via Pat Bertram’s trademark pragmatic, carefully crafted prose. Suffice it to say, Chet has enough on his plate, so–like most reasonably sane people, doesn’t believe a guy named Bob who appears on TV and says he’s working for God and will be supervising the conversion of Earth into a theme park.

A joke, right? Some new dystopian TV series? Or, perhaps an advertisement for God knows what. Chet hardly notices it until stuff (such as people and buildings) starts disappearing. This is urban renewal in spades, including new landforms and other projects that shake Earth to its foundations while making believers out of everyone. The thing is, believers in what?

Bob and Chet converse by phone until Bob gets tired of it, which might be just as well since he’s rather vague about the project. While vastly different from the classic novel “Earth Abides,” “Bob, The Right Hand of God” brings that old book to mind as people try to cope with the disappearance of everything they know.

The book is many things: highly readable, realistic and believable in portraying how the characters react and interact, dystopian in that everything we know is gone and the replacement plan isn’t providing anything better, and (yes) playful. Should the reader laugh or cry? Hard to say. While the ending was predictable, this well-written novel is highly recommended.


Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of “Fate’s Arrows.”

“The ending I did not see coming! You think you know somebody then BAM, right out of left field it knocks you for a loop! I found Fate’s Arrows well told with several threads woven together to make it an encompassing tale of the era. It’s raw and fraught with danger.” – Big Al’s Books and Pals

Bears, Where They Fought

Note: This somewhat lengthy post about Glacier National Park’s Swiftcurrent Valley first appeared in a now-out-of-print anthology called “Nature’s Gifts,” published in 2010 in paperback. For a short time thereafter the essay was available as a Kindle single. I hope those who visit and/or work in the park will still find the information interesting. – MRC

Bears; Where They Fought

Life in Glacier Park’s Swiftcurrent Valley


Malcolm R. Campbell

 Copyright 2010

“Give a month at least to this precious reserve.  The time will not be taken from the sum of your life. Instead of shortening, it will indefinitely lengthen it and will make you truly immortal. — John Muir, “Our National Parks,” 1901

“Far away in Montana, hidden from view by clustering mountain-peaks, lies an unmapped northwestern corner- the Crown of the Continent. The water from the crusted snowdrift which caps the peak of a lofty mountain there trickles into tiny rills, which hurry along north, south, east and west, and growing to rivers, at last pour their currents into three seas. From this mountain-peak the Pacific and the Arctic oceans and the Gulf of Mexico receive each its tribute. Here is a land of striking scenery.” — George Bird Grinnell, “The Century Magazine,” 1901

“…hereby dedicated and set aside as a public park or pleasure ground for the benefit and enjoyment of the people of the United States under the name of “The Glacier National Park;” … and for the care and protection of the fish and game within the boundaries thereof.” Enabling legislation establishing Glacier National Park May 11, 1910

Swiftcurrent Creek – Barry Campbell photo

When Hudson’s Bay Company agent Hugh Monroe and a Piegan hunting party rode up the Íxikuoyi-yétahtai (Swiftcurrent Creek) into a U-shaped valley that would become part of Glacier National Park a half century later, they saw two male grizzly bears fighting next to two small lakes. They named the place Kyáiyoix ozitáizkahpi (Bears-Where-They-Fought-Lakes) because that’s what happened there and that’s how they would speak of it later when they told their stories.

A hiker following Glacier Route Three west into the valley from the plains along lateral moraines left behind when the valley glaciers melted off 8,000 years ago will hear no residual growls from those fighting bears. No sign marks the spot. The wise aspen, spruce and pine keep their counsel. On a quiet day, however, those walking alongside the relatively recent Lake Sherburne reservoir may hear the voice of grandfather rock whispering a secret: within the scope of geologic time, all rivers are new, and the men and women who follow them are as ephemeral as monarch butterflies on a summer afternoon.

From the perspective of Glacier National Park’s Proterozoic rock born in a great sea 1.6 billion years ago, the immortality man acquires here in the Shining Mountains comes through his stories. On the eastern side of the park, the oldest stories come from the Pikúni tribe of the Blackfeet Confederacy. Also known as the South Piegans, they fished, trapped and hunted in the mountains long before Europeans arrived on the continent, and their stories were part of a long-standing oral tradition before they were recorded and published by such writers as George Bird Grinnell (1849-1938) and James Willard Schultz (1859-1947).

Place Names Capture the Stories

Other stories—Pikúni and explorer alike—have been captured in the park’s place names. Twenty-two miles south of Lake Sherburne, Rising Wolf Mountain carries Hugh Monroe’s Blackfeet name. Monroe, some said, awoke like a wolf. His name, translated from the Blackfeet Mahkúyi-opuáhsin is “The way the wolf rises.” The view of both mountains and plains from the 9,505-foot summit is among the more spectacular in the park. Seven miles up Canyon Creek from Lake Sherburne, Mount Siyeh, from the Blackfeet Sáiyi (Mad Wolf) is named after an honored warrior.

George Bird Grinnell is often called the “father of Glacier National Park.” His name adorns a glacier on the eastern face of a narrow arête along the continental divide seven miles from Lake Sherburne. Like the park’s other existing Glaciers, Grinnell Glacier was born 4,000 years ago and reached its maximum size during the mid-1800s. While the glacier still moves an inch and a half per day, it’s shrunk to 35% of the size it was when Hugh Monroe saw it. Apikuni Mountain, next to Swiftcurrent Falls at the head of Lake Sherburne carries a revered tribal name (literally “spotted robe”). It was conferred on James Willard Schultz who, like Monroe, lived with the Piegans for many years.

Swiftcurrent Valley – NPS photo

The Piegan Nation Owned the Land

Charlie Howe, who homesteaded near Lake McDonald west of the continental divide in 1892, once said, “A man can find anything he wants in this region.” Men wanted riches in the Swiftcurrent Valley. But there was a snag. The riches lay hidden on Piegan land. There were incidents. Several Piegans were killed in the streets of a town on the Missouri River. The Piegans attacked freighters and settlers crossing Indian land. Long-time rancher Malcolm Clark was murdered even though his wife was a Piegan.

Sent to bring the offending Indians to justice, Major Eugene Baker attacked the wrong camp. At 8:00 a.m. on January 23, 1870, Baker’s troop swept through the camp of Isók-omahkan (Heavy Runner)—a friendly chief already fighting a small pox epidemic—and slaughtered 120 men and 53 women and children. The chief, killed while waving his identification papers in the air, is remembered now by the 8000-foot mountain alongside today’s Going-to-the-Sun Highway and by many stories. Baker is remembered for the “Baker Massacre.”

Buchholtz writes that, “the Baker Massacre, combined with a devastating smallpox epidemic and continuing white incursions, meant that the Blackfeet lost more than half their population, placed their social organization in deep decay, and left them utterly demoralized as a people.” The buffalo were gone by 1882 and starvation was rampant by 1883. While miners and prospectors could travel into Blackfeet land without resistance, they could not stake any legal claims.

After political pressure, money and arm-twisting were applied, the Piegan (usually referred to as Blackfeet) sold the mountain portion of their land for $1,500,000 in 1895. It was half of what they wanted, but they were resigned to losing it anyway. This “ceded strip” represents all of today’s Glacier National Park east of the continental divide. The Blackfeet reservation abuts the park’s eastern boundary at the foot of Lake Sherburne.

The ceded strip was declared “open” on April 15, 1898 and the rush of men surged up the Íxikuoyi-yétahtai Creek through the stair-step valley of paternoster lakes dreaming of a great Montana mining center. They felled trees, drilled for oil and built a mining town called Altyn at Kyáiyoix ozitáizkahpi in the mountain sheep lambing flats where Monroe saw the grizzlies fighting. Dead six years now, old Mahkúyi-opuáhsin (Rising Wolf) was spared the new vision for scenery he had been one of the first white men to see. They followed Canyon Creek seven miles along the foot of Píta Síxinam (named for Black Eagle who was wounded in the Baker Massacre) to a lake named Patáki (Carrier Woman). The present name of Píta Síxinam is Mt. Allen, for Cornelia Seward Allen, the granddaughter of Lincoln’s Secretary of State. The lake is now known as Cracker Lake either because it became the site of the Cracker Jack Mine or because some prospectors ate cheese and crackers there for lunch in 1897.

Mining Equipment at Cracker Lake – Wikipedia Photo

The Cracker Jack Mine was served by a road built over Cretaceous Rocks covered with glacial drift alongside a white water creek through a forest of pine, fir and spruce. Like the other mines within the ceded strip, the costly Cracker Jack failed. Thirty-five years later, floods destroyed the road.

Miners moved west from Altyn past Lake McDermott, which they named for a lumberman and mine claimant, into a region where the valley split into multiple branches. The Piegan called the area Óhpskunakáxi (Waterfalls). Following the creeks, one group searched for minerals at the horn-shaped Mt. Wilbur that today forms one of Glacier Park’s most sought-after postcard views across the lake from Many Glacier Hotel. Though Grinnell renamed this mountain in 1885 for one of his publishing partners, the Piegan remembered one of their warriors Isokwi-awótan (Heavy Shield) in the flat-faced mountain. Like the adjacent Pinnacle Wall arête, Wilbur has a conspicuous diorite sill, a black band of igneous rock that intruded between sedimentary layers.

Prospectors also followed a branch of the valley that led toward Grinnell Glacier over the forested moraine that contains Lake Nitáki (Lone Woman) nestled within a spruce and fir forest. Today, the lake is named “Josephine.” Many Glacier Hotel visitors making the six mile hike to Grinnell Glacier along the southern slopes of Grinnell Point often notice the old entrance to the Josephine Copper Mine. Strong hikers and beginning climbers can reach the mine above the broken cliffs and talus slopes with some careful scrambling. In “Place Names of Glacier/Waterton National Parks,” author Jack Holterman said he couldn’t be sure whether the lake was named after the mine, prospector Dan Doody’s wife Josephine or a miner’s mule.

Mining Expected to be Long Term

Courier – Man in Glacier – NPS photo

In its one and only issue, Altyn’s Swift Current Courier on September 1, 1900 observed the high-pitched activity within the ceded strip and headlined: “NO DOUBT ABOUT THE PERMANCY AND PRODUCTIVENESS OF THE SWIFT CURRENT MINES.” And also: ‘THE GROWTH OF ALTYN ASSURED.” The stories growing out of the valley chronicled during 1900 by the Acantha, in nearby Dupuyer include:

  • February 22 – Swift Current will have a railroad inside of six months.
  • March 3 – The road up to Swift Current in its present condition has been known to make a preacher curse, and I have my opinion of the man who makes the trip over this road (!) without breaking the 3rd commandment or perhaps all ten of them.
  • March 22 – It’s been rumored that a vein of coal has been discovered, but nothing definite can be learned.
  • March 29 – ABOUT THE CEDED STRIP. There is no limit to the possibilities in this new country when all the restrictions have been removed. This is the verdict of all men, and some women who have looked the ground over intelligently, intelligently, and this reminds me that the Cattle Queen was right up to the front when the strip opened. She forded and swam her horse across streams which turned back more than one man.
  • April 12 – Sherburne Morse has visited the camp and says that he is well pleased with the prospects of the camp. Sherb does not say much, but his money talks.
  • May 3– A post office has been established at Harris Flat, and the government is advertising for bids for service at Blackfoot. The new office is called Altyn. [The Great Northern Railway, connecting Chicago to Seattle via Minneapolis, Minneapolis, had a station at Blackfoot for the delivery of freight.]
  • May 10 – The Swift Current Butchering Company have secured a lot at the mouth of Windy Creek, on the Crucible claim, where they have erected a first class plant…Mr. Wilson and a crew of men are trying to blow the bottom out of Swift Current Falls…Hold onto your quartz claims, for in a year you can get your own price.
  • May 24 – The Swift Current road is in terrible condition, and unless a large amount of work is done on it, it will be impossible to get machinery in. A six-horse outfit is stalled on the road, the wagon being in the mud above the hubs and two wheel horses down on their sides.
  • June 7 – Altyn, formerly known as Harrisville, is still in the boom, and several buildings have been erected…The saw mill has been erected and is ready to begin operations. It has been erected on the north shore of McDermott Lake…The Swift Current Butchering Company has been doing well of late…A barber could do well here, for such a man is in demand…The Sherburne residence is completed and ready for occupation. [This residence was owned by Joseph Sherburne for whom the two lakes (and the current reservoir) were ultimately named. He owned a large general store in nearby Browning and drilled the first oil well in the Swiftcurrent Valley.]
  • June 28 – Swift Current is about to have a “washie” house. John Chinaman is in camp making arrangements…The Lippincott boys are erecting a good sized building on the main street of Altyn…Mr. Thompson has been clearing a lot on the west side of Main Street, where partners from Kalispell intend to erect a general merchandize store…The Josephine Mine continues in richness, and is now in the district…A building is being erected on the first lot which will be used for a saloon…Mr. Sherburne of Browning, and a couple of gentlemen from Minneapolis, are in camp.
  • July 6 – A few good sober carpenters, and experienced quartz miners can find work here…Two gin mills going up—resulting in nearly all of Mr. Esler’s men going on a tear, and causing him to warm up under the collar.
  • July 26 – Old Glory was raised over the saloon last Friday, the first flag raised in the camp.  • July 11 – The 50-ton concentrator will be erected in the Spring, and from that time forward, the activity will be great.
  • August 16 – Heavy shipments of mining machinery continue to arrive at Blackfoot and are being freighted to Swift Current where great activity prevails at present. Ere long the sound of the steam whistle and the roar of the concentrator will be heard in the region and ye Copper King will say “Come and take something. My dream is realized, so who cares for expense?”

Joseph Sherburne’s well produced a small amount of oil, the first in Montana. Substantial oil and gas would be found 72 miles east along the “Montana Hi Line” rail corridor at Cut Bank. The town was once known as the oil capital of Montana. Swiftcurrent Valley’s Precambrian sedimentary formations contained copper, but the amounts fell far short of promoters’ expectations. While one writer on the Dupuyer Acantha used the pseudonym “Copper King,” the real king copper was “The Hill” in the notorious boom town of Butte 276 miles south of Altyn.

Even at 1,300 feet into the mountain, the Cracker Jack Mine tunnel never produced much ore, and the heavy equipment freighted to the site was left behind where it would be noted on modern trail maps as relics from another age. Some of the claims would exist for a half century, including the one where the National Park Service entry station now sits on the road into the Swiftcurrent Valley. Some prospectors had already given up and headed for the Klondike before Altyn’s post office arrived. Only the most stubborn dreamers were still there when the post office closed in 1906.

While Jim Hill’s Great Northern Railway never built a branch line into the valley, the railroad did in fact establish a direct presence there for 43 years, a presence that lasts in wood, stone and spirit to this day. Glacier National Park’s primary hotels and chalets were built by the railroad as tourist destinations for rail travelers. Under its Glacier Park Hotel Company subsidiary, Great Northern built the Swiss-style, 240-room Many Glacier Hotel on Lake McDermott between 1914 and 1917 a few years after the park was established. In the early years, most of the seasonal employees were hired at the company’s headquarters in Minnesota and traveled to the park over the “Empire Builder” route in a staff rail car.

In 1915, the last time James Willard Schultz traveled into the valley, the Piegans with him asked about him the place names. Who is this McDermott? The lake should be named Jealous Woman after the old story. Are the men behind these names powerful chiefs? Schultz confessed that he had never heard of most of them. The party thought even the wild animals looked changed, domesticated for the visitors in some way. McDermott Lake would later be given the long-time local name of Swiftcurrent.

Great Northern logo and map – Wikipedia photo

Legacy of the Great Northern Railway

The Great Northern (now BNSF) entered the valley in force, building the hotel out of local materials. They erected a saw mill on site and even now, evidence of the old logging road to Lake Josephine still exists. While the railroad didn’t like rail passengers seeing Indians along its “Hi Line” right of way, the company promoted the Blackfeet as the “Glacier Park Tribe” and sent them on rail excursions around the country to publicize the park. Great Northern, a predecessor road of today’s huge Burlington Northern Sante Fe, sold its hotel subsidiary in 1960. A half century later, Many Glacier Hotel remains the most popular in the park—a National Register District rather than a mining district.

Between 1914 and 1921 the Bureau of Reclamation constructed a dam near Joseph Sherburne’s former oil drilling site. The 107-foot high compacted earth fill structure created the 242,000 cubic yard reservoir as we know it today. As part of Milk River Project, Lake Sherburne’s water helps irrigate 121,000 acres of land in north central Montana. Water destined for the reservoir originates near Piegan Pass and flows down Cataract Creek to meet the water from Grinnell Glacier in Lake Josephine. Lake Josephine’s turquoise color comes from the “rock flour” in the glacial water. At Swiftcurrent Lake, the water from Lake Josephine merges with water from Swiftcurrent Glacier, Iceberg Lake, and Ptarmigan Lake.

Glacier National Park’s Lewis Thrust Fault, where hard 1.6 billion-year-old limestone formations were shoved by crustal forces eastward over the softer 70-million-year-old Cretaceous-age shale, is visible above Lake Sherburne at Swiftcurrent Falls. The fault is also visible on the eastern face of Mt. Wynn on the far side of the reservoir.

While some have imagined this over-thrusting as a violent 50-mile-long stone toboggan ride, the event occurred over millions of years. Along Glacier National Park’s eastern boundary, the mountains don’t have deep roots. In his “A Natural History Guide: Glacier National Park,” David Rockwell writes that the mountains “that stand like a parapet against eastern Montana, are rootless in the sense that they are not anchored, not sunk into the earth like most mountains. Rather they perch on top of it, unconnected except by juxtaposition to the rock beneath.”

Since geologist Bailey Willis discovered the thrust fault in 1901 during Altyn’s boom, the mining geologists following Canyon Creek through the valley between Mt. Allen and Mt. Wynn were probably aware of its significance. At the time, Mt Wynn was called Mt. Altyn, supposedly honoring prospector Jim Harris’ horse. The name was changed to Mt. Wynn in 1927, the same year Mt. McDermott was renamed Mt. Alytn.

The water of lake Sherburne now covers the oil well drill sites and the remnants of the town of Altyn that have, like changing place names in changing times, been shifted from the worlds of industry and commerce to the world of archeology. The forest around the two small lakes where Hugh Monroe saw the bears fighting to the death was logged off before the town of Altyn died. Its remnants are under water, too.

Most tourists visiting Swiftcurrent Valley have never heard of the town of Altyn 104 years now after its passing. The Kyáiyoix ozitáizkahpi, the Bears-Where-They-Fought-Lakes, have faded deeper into the past and so, too, the Blackfeet place names. Hikers leaving Many Glacier Hotel for the five mile hike to Morning Eagle falls are probably not aware the falls is named after a famous warrior Apinákui-Pita who was said to have had power over ghosts. Climbers following Apikuni Creek from the shore of Lake Sherburne to Natahki Lake may guess the name is a Blackfeet word. The fact that it’s the name of James Willard Schultz’s wife who was crippled for life from wounds received in the Baker Massacre is not noted in maps and climber’s guidebooks.

The valley’s stories stack up like the park’s Shepard, Snowslip, Helena, Empire, Grinnell, Appekunny, Prichard and Altyn rock formations. Memories of the men, women and children lost or wounded in the Baker Massacre on the Marias River stand out in the historical record as sharply as the stunning red argillites of the Grinnell formation. Stories of boom town gin mills and fighting bears pale into inconsequential obscurity like the light, buff colored Altyn formation dolomites and limestones. However, those looking closely will find ripple marks in both the Altyn rock and the fading memories.

Meriwether Lewis was the first man to specifically apply the old descriptive phrase “Shining Mountains” to the mountains of Montana’s Glacier National Park and Alberta’s adjoining Waterton Lakes National Park. The history of the region after the Lewis and Clark expedition (1804-1806) enhances our understanding of Glacier National Park in its centennial year—a birthday 1.6 billion years in the making. But it is our personal stories, borne out of direct experience, that provide our psychological and spiritual connections to such places as Swiftcurrent Creek and Grinnell Glacier.

Eighty-five years ago, National Park Service director Stephen Mather lost his patience with the Great Northern Railway. The GN’s long-abandoned sawmill next to Many Glacier Hotel was a dangerous eyesore, and the railroad couldn’t find time to dismantle it. Without telling anyone, Mather rigged the derelict building with explosives; then he invited hotel guests out on to the large back porch off the lobby to watch and blew up the sawmill. Mather made his point and put on quite a show for his tourists in 1925. In the parlance of “Bears, Where they Fought,” the story about “Sawmill, Where It Exploded” was something to write home about.

Seventy-seven years ago, a sheep-herder’s unattended fire burned off the forest on Boulder Ridge on the south side of Lake Sherburne. The effects of the fire can still be found today. Those living and working around Swiftcurrent Valley wouldn’t forget the “Sheep, Where They Ran” story of 1933.

Seventy-six years ago, Franklin D. Roosevelt became the first and only sitting President to visit Swiftcurrent Valley and other locations throughout the park. The Presidential party rode in the now-legendary White Motor Company Red Buses with the tops town. FDR had lunch at Many Glacier Hotel and then continued on to Two Medicine Chalet where the he gave a fireside chat in which he said, “Perhaps I can best express to you my thrill and delight by saying that I wish every American young and old, could have been with me today.” The National Park Service and concessioner employees who served the President on August 5, 1934 had a once-in-a-lifetime experience that might be styled, perhaps, as “The President, Where He Ate.”

Seventy-four years ago, the month of August was unkind It had been a dry summer. On August 18, lightning started a fire on the Glacier Wall near Heaven’s Peak. Multiple fire crews were dispatched during succeeding weeks, but the winds were high, the fire was stubborn, and its location was nearly inaccessible. Consequently, it jumped the continental divide at Swiftcurrent Pass and raced down the valley past Mt. Wilbur, reaching Many Glacier Hotel in less than an hour. Lake Sherburne formed a natural barrier, and the Heaven’s Peak Fire stopped where Altyn once thrived. On the night of August 31, 1936, seasonal employees manning fire hoses kept the hotel wet enough to save it, though four chalets were lost. According to John Hagen’s “History of Many Glacier Hotel,” the manager sent a telegram to the railroad, saying “WE HAVE SAVED THE HOTEL.” He received a one-word response from the Great Northern headquarters: “WHY?” The hotels were not a profitable enterprise, though employees would spin yarns about “Many, How We Saved It” for years.

Damage at St. Mary – Montana Highway Department photo

The Great Flood of 1964

Forty-six years ago, heavy rains and a heavy snowpack in the mountains of Northwest Montana combined to create a flood that is still considered the state’s largest natural disaster. Thirty-four counties, including Glacier County, were declared a disaster area. The Flathead, Clark Fork, Blackfoot, Milk, Marias, Teton, Sun and Missouri rivers were involved as were Swiftcurrent and numerous other creeks within the park. Roads and structures were damaged or destroyed throughout the park. Swiftcurrent Lake inundated Many Glacier Hotel’s lake-level rooms and then left them filled with mud. Glacier Road Three, on Swiftcurrent Ridge above Lake Sherburne, was washed out in two places, one at Windy Creek where, just sixty-three years earlier, the Swift Current Butchering Company operated a first class plant. During the first days of June, 1964 college-student employees from around the country had enough yarns about “Flood, How We Survived It” to fill a stack of postcards of the surrounding vistas captured on sunnier days.

Thirty-Five years ago, the rain was so heavy that Many Glacier Hotel’s roof sprung multiple leaks, and again Swiftcurrent Lake filled the lower level rooms with water. The road was washed out and the hotel was closed for ten days. Employees working at the hotel on June 19, 1975 would write home—when mail service resumed—about how cold the lake water was and how cold the guest rooms were after many days with no boiler and no heat. The incoming guests probably wrote home about, “Extra Blankets, How We Begged For Them.”

Stories are a natural component of everyone’s experience in the valley where Hugh Monroe and the Piegan hunting party saw the bears fighting in another era. Whether based on fact or caprice, neither the reliable accounts nor the tall tales can be truly separated from the place any more than the narrow arêtes and cirque lakes, grizzly bears and Columbian ground squirrels, ospreys and golden eagles, Englemann Spruce and Subalpine Fir, or the evergreen kinnikinnik vines and yellow-tufted beargrass. Our stories come from hikes, climbs, campfires, animals, weather, hotel accommodations, tour bus trips, launch rides, trail horse rides, and the garden-variety vicissitudes of a wild place mixed with tourists.

Henry David Thoreau suggested an ideal that has been hard to meet when he wrote that “In wilderness is the preservation of the world.” The value of safeguarding natural ecosystems is so vital, scenery actually does put food on the table while maintaining our lives in ways that surpass our understanding of earth as a multi-creatured organism.

Ironically, as we figuratively sang “Happy Birthday” to the park in 2010, others literally wanted to spoil the party. Often called the most endangered national park in the system, Glacier was threatened by a proposed strip mine in British Columbia in 1985. While proposal was defeated, a prospective coalbed methane field in British Columbia looms across the border.

While Altyn will always lurk beneath the surface, grizzly bears are also there as mythic symbols of an epic story far greater than a land ethic focused on the preservation of habitats and their interface with modern civilization. True stories are always personal. Everyone who follows Íxikuoyi-yétahta, Swiftcurrent Creek, past Kyáiyoix ozitáizkahpi where the bears fought to its source at the top of the backbone of the world receives Earth’s greatest gift—the transcendent renewal of spirit.

Grizzly Bear with Cubs – NPS photo

The research assistance for this essay provided by Montana Historical Society reference librarian Zoe Ann Stoltz and Glacier National Park museum curator Deirdre Shaw is greatly appreciated. Any errors and omissions belong to the author.

Calendar time for such phrases as “XX years ago” is calculated based on the original publication date of this essay in 2010.

Hey, folks, my memoir is all about me

It’s a vanity thing, right?

So many people are writing memoirs these days because they’re ready to tell the world “all about me.” Before they even graduate from college. I wonder what they plan to say. I see that some MFA programs are offering courses in memoir writing. How discouraging it is to think there are enough self-centered people to justify such vanity fair courses.

If even half of the derring-do fantasies I had before I graduated from college were true, I might have enough for a memoir, say, James Bond and Rocky and Dirty Harry rolled into one. Some people, for better or worse, have exploits, over-the-top trials and tribulations, feats of extreme bravery, and inexplicable miracles to write about. Okay, so the memoir may not be a vanity thing.

I’m still suspicious about the memoir writing fad. Yes, I know, we all have things to say, but that doesn’t mean all that will fit into a book that the public cares about. Well, maybe it’s a “seeking closure” thing, cheaper than or in addition to psychoanalysis. Yet, is there a viable market for that?

Memoirs make me think of people who are all talk but no action. They have plans, great plans, but nothing comes of them. Sure, one can write a memoir called I Always Missed The Bus, but will it sell? And is it vain to think that it would sell? Especially if the prospective memoir writer “hasn’t done enough” to even get into Wikipedia?

The wonderful people most of us know don’t need the validation of a memoir or a Wikipedia entry to keep being wonderful. Those who could write and sell a million copies of a memoir are often the last people willing to do it. Telling people “all about me” isn’t who they are.

Memoirs can be very inspiring, even educational or motivational. Call me cynical, but I don’t think we need everyone’s life story in print. “All about me” is really a turn-off kind of thing (at best).


Posted November 1, 2020 by Malcolm R. Campbell in writing

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When Bond, James Bond, Reaches the Pearly Gates

He will throw his hat on the right-hand gate post, engage in light-hearted banter with Miss Moneypenny (Lois Maxwell), tell M (Barnard Lee) that everything he did in this life was for Queen and country, and then slip downstairs to tell Q (Desmond Llewelyn) that all the equipment he destroyed was the price the U.K. had to pay to get the bad guys.

James Bond (Sean Connery) is gone now, but he’s about to learn he’s being sent back because there’s more work to be done. The Queen demands it and Miss Moneypenny admits she wants to be shaken and not stirred. M has the paperwork ready to go and Q has something called a Delorean with a special flux capacitor.

“Do be careful with the motor car or you’ll end up in the year you just left,” Q will caution him.

“The powers that be would have me bang to rights then,” Bond will say.

“Only a gobshite would do that,” Q will say, “so since that means you’ll do it, I’ve added a few special features.”

“I read the owner’s manual later,” Bond will inform him.

Q will shrug because the world always spins in the wrong direction when Bond gets a new toy.

Both Q and M know that the Queen loves James and would have married him if he’d come from a proper family. Hence, he can do what he wants even if it’s a bit messy.

The bad guys don’t have a chance.


Posted October 31, 2020 by Malcolm R. Campbell in Film

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My books take me by surprise

Writing books is fun because once I get into the story, I want to know how it’s going to end. I promise I have no idea until I get there.

I thought of writing Fate’s Arrows because a new character named Pollyanna showed up out of nowhere in Lena, my previous novel. She had a lot of sparkle and energy, so I thought, “Hmm, maybe she has enough spunk to carry a new novel on her own–rather like an actress with a small role in one movie who ends up staring in the studio’s next movie.”

While I planned for Fate’s Arrows to be a standalone novel, I set it in the same fictional town (Torreya) where the Florida Folk Magic Series was set. It’s not surprising, then, that the characters from the series began showing up and found important things to do.

Fate’s Arrows relies less on conjure and more on Pollyanna’s skills, skills that readers learn about as the story moves along. I can’t mention them here because they would be spoilers. Suffice it to say, she is a lot more than she appears while sitting behind the counter in the Mercantile balancing Lane Walker’s books. If you’re a bad person, don’t mess with her.

The Big Al’s Books and Pals nailed it in her review when she said, “Malcolm R Campbell is an author who has lived in the Florida panhandle (where this novel is set) and is old enough to remember the final days of the KKK. His anger about that organisation continues to burn, and this is an angry book.” 

I needed a protagonist who had the same hatred for the KKK I’ve always had and who had the guile and the grit to do something about it. If I’d tried to take the action she takes in the novel when I lived in the Florida Panhandle in the 1950s and 1960s, I probably would have gotten killed–or worse.

Of course, Pollyanna has a strong supporting cast from the earlier books: Eulalie the conjure woman and her cat Lena, Willie Tate who knows how to get people out of trouble, Police chief Rudy Flowers, and others.

I admire Pollyanna and I think you will, too. She kept surprising me every with every risk she took.