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 https://mthistoryrevealed.blogspot.com/2016/06/

(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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Fifty years later, rumors linger over the hit and run death of a 63-year-old woman

Scene of hit and run: Fifth Street and Texas Avenue, Deer Lodge, Montana

This is the intersection in Deer Lodge, Mont., where Montana Martinz was hit. Her house was down the street ahead and just around the corner. She was walking home from the grocery store.

The following story was compiled from public court records, newspaper coverage and interviews with public officials and residents. Thanks to Gary Newlon for his research assistance.

By Kevin S. Giles

Half an hour past twilight, with only a sliver of a moon rising, Montana Martinz began her fateful walk home.

Cradling a sack of groceries, the 63-year-old woman left the IGA supermarket on the main street of Deer Lodge, Montana. It was Oct. 15, 1966. The wind off the mountains felt cold. She stepped briskly through pools of light under the streetlamps.

Four blocks later, she entered the intersection of Fifth Street and Texas Avenue. She was three minutes from her house at 524 Conley Avenue. Mrs. Martinz lived alone. A year earlier, her husband Peter had died at St. Joseph Hospital of coronary thrombosis. Their only child, a son, was grown and gone.

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Portrait of an artist, Sharon Sprung, who painted the first congresswoman’s image

Sharon Sprung, New York artist

Sharon Sprung, a New York artist, won a coveted commission to paint a portrait of Jeannette Rankin, the first woman elected to Congress. Sprung has painted for 40 years.

By Kevin S. Giles

In the world of artists, a portrait of a real or imagined person begins in a distant creative place none of us see, long before paint goes to canvas.

It was in that mind’s eye where Sharon Sprung found Jeannette Rankin – two women much alike but generations apart. Sharon’s depiction of Rankin, on her first day as the nation’s first woman in Congress, took six months to complete. The commissioned work hangs in the U.S. House of Representatives. And then she said this:

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My brush with a five-star general came in the most unlikely of places, underground.

General Omar Bradley

President Harry Truman, left, Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, center, and Gen. Omar Bradley.

By Kevin S. Giles

I was a young newspaper reporter in Helena, Montana, when a friend’s father tipped me off that the nation’s last living five-star general was seeking relief for his arthritic knees in a nearby radon mine.

I knew enough about World War II history to understand that Omar Bradley was a big deal. He was the “soldiers’ general,” a leader known for his compassion toward his troops. In 1945 he led four armies into the heart of Germany, destroyed the remnants of Hitler’s war machine, and declared: ”This time we shall leave the German people with no illusions about who won the war and no legends about who lost the war. They will know that the brutal Nazi creed they adopted has led them ingloriously to total defeat.”

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