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.

The old teacher, prim and particular, said she was moving to Missoula to live with the nuns. She would come back to Alberton on weekends to sort stacks of papers in bedrooms on the other end of the old house. The nature of those documents went undisclosed. When we moved in we found plywood nailed over the doorway to those bedrooms. We never saw her but heard rustling back in those rooms on Saturday nights and hoped it was her.

We had the living room and bathroom and a bedroom and lean-to kitchen. When autumn came for good a chill set into the house. The little stove in the living room burned all night. The only warm place was within four steps of it. We wore boots and stocking caps to bed under heaps of blankets. Before breakfast we chipped ice out of the kitchen sink. Night air howled through the window frames.

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


Becky fell sick with the flu. Hearing commotion outside, I heaped her with blankets and wandered downtown. It was a homecoming parade, making the best of two blocks. A three-piece band bounced along on a hay trailer, following a procession of skittish horses. The street smelled of burning fir and beer on old linoleum and diesel fuel spilled along the railroad tracks. When the parade turned around, at the precise moment the horses passed the band, a Milwaukee Road freight train roared through town, its horns blaring at the crossing. Horses bucked, the band shrieked its last notes, beer drinkers waved their glasses in tribute. A few dozen people ran for cover. I walked home to the silence of the sad dark house, Becky asleep under those blankets and that poor old dog nailed to a board somewhere beyond the plywood partition.

Kevin S. Giles is an American journalist and author whose books have roots in his native western Montana. He published One Woman Against War in October 2016. Two other books take place in his hometown of Deer Lodge: a novel, “Summer of the Black Chevy” (2015) and the nonfiction work, “Jerry’s Riot: The True Story of Montana’s 1959 Prison Disturbance.” (2005)

6 thoughts on “Renting in Alberton, Montana, autumn 1973

  1. Your story is only my second trip to Alberton, MT. The first was a day trip with Finchie to visit his cousins, Tom Patch and sisters. I want to visit again and seek out the large book store as advertised on the billboard along I-90.

  2. Milwaukee freight train for punctuation while those who hoisted their beers did so because they knew the crew.
    Many of the bear became sausage and rugs for the locals.
    I don’t know if you remember Judy’s dad died in a light plane crash with some of the Alberton guys when they were scouting for elk.

  3. My grandparent lived in Alberton Mt. I have good memories in that small town. My grandfather worked for Milwaukee Railroad for many years. I also was born in Deer Lodge Mt. We lived near the state prison. I was around for the 1959 riot. My dad seen it up close. There was a big cover up on how many prisoner died. My dad was one of the national guardsman that haul out the 17 bodies. Johnny Wilson told my dad not a word about the other dead prisoner’s. They use the Military vehicles to remove the bodies. anyway I like the writing on Montana. Thanks

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