My next few columns explore the Bozeman area's increasingly strong appeal to people with many options. This includes not only Bozeman proper but also the communities around it; Gallatin Gateway, Manhattan, Big Sky, and a few others. I've thought about and lived with this attractive puzzle for over four decades. With my best interest at heart, distinguished mentors were unanimous in their strong efforts to dissuade me from coming to this remote backwater. The forthcoming columns will explain my good luck in proving them wrong.
Bozeman, Montana is viewed far differently today than it was fifty years ago. Then, aside from a few fly-fishing aficionados, it was barely known, merely a pleasant agricultural town with a small college in the most remote of the lower 48 states. Interstate 90 wasn’t completed through Bozeman Pass, the airport was tiny, the college had less than 9,000 students, and Chet Huntley hadn’t yet initiated Big Sky's development. Now Bozeman is frequently listed in the “Top Ten Places to Live.” The town began modestly, not with a boom.
Montana became a state in 1889. Bozeman competed for the state capitol and prison but lost. Helena became the capitol and Deer Lodge won the prison. Then in 1893 the Montana legislature created the Land Grant Agricultural College of the State of Montana in Bozeman. Civil and electrical engineering majors were added in 1898. It was called Montana State College in the 1920s. Fifty years ago, in 1965, it became a university.
I'm often asked: Why did you pick Bozeman as a place to live way back in the 60s? Short answer: I had precocious vision and was extremely lucky. In 1970 I accepted a job at MSU, bought a rundown ranch for a price just over its value in agricultural production, and brought some logging equipment here from the hardwoods of southern Indiana. Great beginning. Here's how it unfolded.
In grad school during the late1960s, I began searching for a home. I wanted a location to craft and direct the ideal movie of my life. With great luck and a few stumbles and knocks, it's made. This version couldn't have happened elsewhere.
Bozeman is unique in the true sense of that overused descriptor. It had all the elements I needed: a university, agriculture, timberland, open space, and much outdoor recreation. Now a great many successful people have discovered this former cow town with its small land grant college and engineering school. Their discovery of and attraction to it changed Bozeman greatly. Some things, for example medical care, restaurants, and grocery stores are far better. Naturally, congestion is worse. Already at 5:00 p.m. we sometimes have to wait through two stoplights on Main Street. Soon we might even understand ski lines.
Living in the most remote of the contiguous 48 states, I've logged over two million miles on Delta Airlines and hence am often upgraded. On recent trip home from the East I routed through Salt Lake. I was in row three, seat B. The man in three A, Don, is a Vietnam veteran. Flying up front, we were among the first to board.
It was a full size plane, not a pencil plane. Like most Bozeman flights, it was nearly full. A surprising number of people said "Hi, John" when filing to their seats. My seatmate, Don, exclaimed, "You must live in Bozeman, everyone knows you." “My wife Ramona and I have lived here a long time. People who labeled us newcomers are dead. To others we are part of the landscape.” I explained.
Don had recently sold his financial management company in Houston. He told me he had recently bought a modest vacation place up Cottonwood Canyon. I saw it the next weekend and found Don out clearing brush with a wheelbarrow, shovel, and ax. Such new neighbors are indeed welcome.
His is an extremely fine house with a guesthouse, wooded acreage, and is only a few miles from our place on Cottonwood Road. Chris, a man who had lived in our manager's apartment for a decade, had helped build Don's main house in the late 90s. He greatly admired its construction quality and scale. Don is improving it.
Like other neighborhoods around Bozeman, Gateway is changing. It's building on favorable ecology, economy, hydrology, location, and topography. Our challenge is to retain a sense of community and respect for individuals, qualities we value highly. Outsiders who are disruptive, disrespectful of locals, opportunistic, and deceitful poison the waters with their nastiness. Please don’t stay. People who are honest, appreciate our setting, community, and the value of good work, are indeed welcome.