My brush with actors in a western movie, in six easy interviews

Gray Eagle movie

This publicity photo from the movie shows Alex Cord as Gray Eagle and Lana Wood as Beth Colter. The movie was filmed near Helena, Montana.

By Kevin S. Giles

It was a big deal, interviewing those movie actors in person for the newspaper. Natalie Wood’s sister Lana? Wow. And Ben Johnson, winner of an Academy Award? Yes.

I was a young writer at the Helena Independent Record when American International filmed “Gray Eagle” east of the city. Sensing an opportunity, I volunteered to write profiles of the top actors. Then the fun began.

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Honeymoon, somewhere in eastern Wyoming.

Ringsby Trucking Wyoming ranch

These folks hosted us at the Ringsby Trucking ranch. I wish I could recall their names. This was the morning we left.

By Kevin S. Giles

The man who answers my knock at a trailer house behind the locked gas station holds a pistol. Behind him, a television flickers black and white images on a bare window.

“Too late for gas, Bud, we’re closed.” He brushes his wild gray hair back with the hand holding the gun, swinging the barrel toward the darkening Wyoming sky. “Damn insurance people don’t allow no gas this time of night. Can’t turn on the pumps so I can’t help ya, get it? We open at dawn if you’re still around.” He motions me away with the gun and slams the door.

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Renting in Alberton, Montana, autumn 1973

Alberton Montana

This photo of Alberton, Montana, was supplied by the Evergreen Railroad Club.

By Kevin S. Giles

That dog looked obedient enough, staring at us with shining eyes and nary a whimper until the old retired teacher told us Tippy was dead and stuffed and nailed to a board. A black poodle she couldn’t bear to part with when the parting time came. Dead dog on a board decorating the living room in the dead old house.

It sat on a hillside beneath an umbrella of trees, pretty enough at a glance. Just out the back door, half a dozen steps north, the mountain began its steep climb to somewhere a thousand feet above us. Watch for bears when you hang your clothes outside to dry, she warned us. They come around, right down that mountain, wandering into the yard just as they please. They like it best after dusk.

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Hitting the open road in California in 1971. Rolling down Highway 1 on a hippie bus.

Hippies hitchhiking in California 1971

The California coastal highway in 1971 was busy with hitchhikers, many of them hippies in search of adventure. I felt the same way. We possibly passed these girls somewhere on Highway 1.

By Kevin S. Giles

Oranges rolling down the aisle. That’s what I remember about that bus. Bright oranges as big as softballs tumbling from a yawning-open drawer in a rattling dresser.

Roy and I gripped an array of battered furniture as the old school bus shook and swerved. The hippie chick stayed with her man up front as he drove toward Los Angeles. They were nice enough folks, completely trusting, as they welcomed two hitchhikers aboard. “Hey man,” the driver greeted us. We were young. He looked hardly older. As the man grinded the bus into gear, the girl guided us through a doorway of dangling beads into their apparent living quarters. Tapestries ballooned from the ceiling and music posters blocked light from the windows.

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How a young Yank found his way into an Aussie newsroom, on hardly a dry note

Image result for courier mail brisbane front page

Some recent Australian newspaper front pages, the Courier-Mail among them in the upper left corner. When I worked at the paper, it was grayer and type-dominated, much like American newspapers at the time.

By Kevin S. Giles

We shared a desk maybe four feet wide, sitting side by side. He responded to my questions with grunts and wave-of-the-hand dismissals. He was older and knew the drill. I felt intimidated.

We worked the evening shift at the Courier-Mail, the large morning daily newspaper in Brisbane, Australia. We were “sub-editors,” meaning we edited stories and wrote headlines before the presses started late at night. Our combined desk sat at the end of a long room full of other desks, all empty by that time. We sat alone in this room, known as Trade and Finance, staffed in daylight hours with reporters and editors who wrote the business section of the paper. Frosted glass separated us from several other night editors who cussed and coughed beneath a cloud of blue cigarette smoke.

Geoff was an Aussie. I was a Yank, seemingly a fatal distinction to him.

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Somewhere on life’s long road I lost my wonderful well-traveled friend. Then he died.

Kevin S. Giles

We were friends and fellow journalists for 40 years. Somewhere along the way we lost sight of the big picture. Now it’s too late to fix.

By Kevin S. Giles

Death came too early for my old friend. I knew the news was true. Yet, when I heard of his passing, I searched online for his obituary and read it again and again to convince myself it wasn’t another of his fun-loving pranks.

The truth is that I lost David six years before he died. I lost him as he struggled over his mortality, defying the cancer he knew would kill him. I lost him because he drifted into a pool of bitterness and resentment after devoting a decade to his life’s work, an esoteric multi-generational novel that even he acknowledged left readers confused and indifferent. I lost him because he pushed me away in anger. I lost him because I let him do it.

Long friendships should tolerate misunderstandings big and small. Ours did until, one day, it didn’t.

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About writing, selling books, and the solitude behind making it all work out

Logan Pass in Glacier National Park

From the summit in Glacier National Park, mountain vistas and cumulus clouds stretch as far as the imagination. (Photo by Kevin S. Giles)

You’re taking a break now that you have three books on the market?

¶ A break from writing, yes. From selling, no. I don’t know which is tougher, the writing or the selling. It’s perfectly satisfying to publish a book, ending years of research and writing and editing. For a while that accomplishment alone is a sustaining comfort. I’ve held my first book when it arrives from the printer and look it over with some dismay that I distilled all that work into two pounds of paper. Once the early fascination wears off, I start working to enlist readers. What’s the point of leaving a book unread?

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Echoes and ghosts: Prison women left their teardrops on the cell house floor

Youngest Montana State Prison woman inmate.

One of the youngest women ever held at Montana State Prison was Evelyn Donges, then 16. She was convicted for luring a man into a robbery on September 11, 1951. He was beaten and later died. Details are available at

(This story first appeared in the Sunday features section of the Helena, Mont., Independent Record, on August 14, 1977. I wrote it after women held captive at Montana State Prison in Deer Lodge were moved elsewhere. In those days, the women’s unit held only few female offenders. Today, Montana has about 200 inmates in the women’s unit, now in Billings.)

By Kevin S. Giles

DEER LODGE, Mont. — It was a long time ago, it seems, when the women were here.

The row of empty cells – four of them – are dark and damp.

One is empty. Its mattress is rolled and stacked at one end of the bunk, which is cyclone fencing stretched across a metal frame.

In another, books of salvation are scattered across the bed. The gleam of a faraway window bounces off one cover, illuminating its title: Prison to Praise.

A third is the home of a ghost. The bedding has been thrown aside, as if the cell’s occupant was startled by the cold metallic clank of a cell door, and stood for a smoke, or was awakened by a nightmare of the past.

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Tale of mysterious 1966 hit and run death draws strong interest from readers

By Kevin S. Giles

My recent post about the lingering mysterious hit and run death of 63-year-old widow Montana Martinz attracted a record number of readers to my website.

Within two days, the number of “hits” topped 1,000. My story also generated dozens of emails and instant messages from readers who ventured theories about who drove the car that killed Mrs. Martinz in Deer Lodge, Mont., on Oct. 15, 1966. Most commonly stated was that the driver was “the son of a prominent businessman,” coupled with another persistent theory that the driver disappeared after police began investigating. Some people remain convinced that a young teenager drove the car that killed her. Others think the driver was a young adult, in one case the father of new twins who moved his family out of town soon afterwards. Many readers used the word “coverup” to explain their interpretation of the mystery.

If you’re just now joining us, here’s some brief background: A coroner’s jury empaneled soon afterwards concluded that two and possibly three drivers were racing when Mrs. Martinz was struck. Paint chips taken from her body indicated the car that hit her was a new, blue, 1966 model Chevrolet or Buick. The jury ruled that she died “by an automobile driven in a careless and reckless and criminally negligent manner by a person unknown.”

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100 years ago, Jeannette Rankin cast the first vote by a woman in Congress

Jeannette Rankin first day in Congress

Jeannette Rankin leaves for Congress after a welcoming ceremony at suffrage headquarters in Washington, D.C. She was expected to lead the effort for woman suffrage by federal amendment. Photo courtesy of Library of Congress.

Copyright 2017

In April 1917, the nation’s first congresswoman took her seat in the U.S. House of Representatives amid much fanfare. Soon, however, President Woodrow Wilson asked Congress to declare war on Germany and enter World War I. Never had a woman cast a vote in Congress. For Rankin, the “war vote” held much more significance. Expectations were high that she would carry the banner for a federal amendment to the Constitution to secure women’s right to vote. Either way, she voted on the war, her decision would carry substantial political implications.

The following excerpts come from “One Woman Against War: The Jeannette Rankin Story.”

By Kevin S. Giles

The city shook with war news. President Wilson entered the joint session at 8:37 p.m. to a prolonged welcome. When the applause died, he rose to the podium and spoke of “the spirit of ruthless brutality” that war would bring. He recalled that he had, in his message to Congress on February 26, favored a foreign policy of “armed neutrality.” That was no longer practical, he said, because the German government now regarded American merchant ships as pirates. Wilson had decided that Germany’s reckless aggression would continue unless the United States raised a military to help the Allies. “We have no quarrel with the German people,” he said, “but only with their aggressive rulers.” The Prussian autocracy had filled the United States with spies, Wilson said, who had tried to persuade Mexico to turn against her northern neighbor. The United States would fight a war not only for itself but for the German people and all nations big and small. His speech, recorded as “House Document Number One” in the new Congress, argued that aggressive actions by the German government amounted to war against the United States. “We must make the world safe for democracy!” he implored to thundering ovation. Wilson warned of “many months of fiery trial and sacrifice ahead of us.”

Take me to Kevin's books: One Woman Against War, Summer of the Black Chevy, Jerry's Riot


Having imparted a request for war, the president left the Capitol at 9:11 p.m. for the White House. There, in the Cabinet Room, he sat “silent and pale” with his secretary, J.P. Tumulty, for a long time. Finally, Wilson said: “Think what it was they were applauding. My message today was a message of death for our young men. How strange it seems to applaud that.” …

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