Alan Sorensen Havre Daily News firstname.lastname@example.org
Arnold Hokanson’s saga of Bears Paw Mountain ranchers is a read that transcends Montana. Published by AuthorHouse, the 525-page novel , which came out just before Christmas, proves that quality fiction requires a good storyteller, not a top grammarian. The story is without blemish. And anyone who knows northcentral Montana, the intermingled plots and character development are more than believable; they’re recognizable. The saga spans about 70 years, from the birth of the protagonist, Ace Bowens in 1914, to the surprising climax in the 1980s. Those 70 years are little more than half as long as Hokanson’s family has owned its spread abutting the community of Warrick. The family settled in the Bears Paws in 1892 and has had the same brand 3 bar reverse B brand for nearly as long. Hokanson’s mountain ranchers refer to their bailiwick as the Bears Paw Mountains, while a few outsiders call them the Bear Paws, recal l ing the argument arising from time to time among area residents since the range was named in the 1800s. Hokanson said he had heard a story when he was young about a confrontation between Montana cat t lemen and a German spy on a train from Havre to Chicago during World War II. “Some people I got to know in later years were on that train and spoke of the story,” he said. While Hokanson embellished the tale, using it to get the story going, the largest part of the book revolves around Montana family ranch life. Numerous families take part in the fictional account of life in the Bears Paw Mountains and throughout north-central Montana. The communities of Chinook, Havre, Big Sandy and Harlem play prominent roles along with their cafes, clubs, bars, banks, merchants and doctors. And, of course, Christmas pageants at Warrick School and dances at Warrick Community Hall are strewn throughout the story. Th o u g h e n t i r e l y f i c t i o n a l , t h e characters do resemble the real, salt-ofthe- earth people and the less-scrupulous who populated the area in the last century. “A lot of instances in the book are taken from the truth things I and friends of mine have experienced through the years,” Hokanson said. The lone Republican among a cadre of diehard Democrats, Bowens decries the slow switch of the party of Lincoln from less government and less spending to more government and more spending. The arguments he has along the way with his father-in-law, brother-in-law, hired hands and others never come to blows and are usually grist for laughs among friends. Hokanson’s characters use teasing to defuse situations that could otherwise have been explosive. “People in the era I grew up in, the ranchers, they talked a lot of politics,” Hokanson said. Readers throughout the country can appreciate his characters’ political d i s c u s s i ons b e c a u s e they a lmo s t exclusively involve the presidency and its candidates throughout the decades in the book. Hokanson is particularly adept at drawing out the evolution of ranch life from the horse and wagon and horsedrawn buckrakes to modern mowers and Balers. At each new development, Ace Bowens muses about what is being lost with nostalgia, recognizing as i t disappears each piece of the way of life he was reared with and loved. “The Uncertainties of Life” is as much a love story as a mystery, western or family saga. Like his lead characters in the book, Hokanson and his wife, Joy “Sug,” have shared much through many years of marriage. The real-life retired ranching couple will celebrate their 39th anniversary Saturday. The vagaries of ranch life in the harsh Montana climate without today’s modern conveniences brought people those who weren’t driven out by them closer together. It is the tale of men and women, husbands and wives and their children, working the land and cattle together in all kinds of weather, relying on each other miles from the nearest outside help. Hokanson’s familiarity with the Bears Paws pulls the reader into the country’s freezing winters, blizzarding springs and sweltering, dry summers. Hokanson’s work i s filled with authentic though fictitious Montanans: Lawrence “Ace” and Kate Bowens, their son, John Bowens, his wife, Linda, and their son Jeff, Ace’s mother, Elsa, his benefactor Albert and Nan Hillman from whom he inherited his ranch and brand lazy H R bar, Jerry Brannigan, Ben and Helen Holmes, John and Martha Holmes, Paul Brown and his son Pete Brown of Browning, Leo and Del Curtis, Ted Smith, his wife, Susan, and their children, Havre western wear store mogul Don Morgan and his wife, Mavis, Dr. Ken Barber and his wife, Nancy, George and Stella Hindle, bachelor rancher Higgins, and numerous other neighbors, cowhands, rodeo riders, cattle buyers, stockyard and feedlot owners. And of course, a Colorado hardware store owner named Henry Robins, aka Heinrich Rousch, aka Hugh Reins, aka well that’s the rest of the story fills a significant role in the story. The book wa s s e l f - e d i t e d by Hokanson, so he takes the blame for the handful of misspelled words. The story is strong enough, though, a Montana saga reminiscent of Edna Ferber’s “Giant” to negate any technical flaws, some of which are merely in keeping with the style of the area and the times. “(AuthorHouse) did the planning and I paid a marginal fee for the printing,” Hokanson said, “and they provided the cover and take care of the distribution and they pay me a royalty on what they sell.” The book is available locally at Creative Leisure, the Book Exchange in the Atrium, Bing N Bob’s, from the Hokansons, at Barnes and Noble, Border Books and Hogelands in Great Falls, by e-mail at email@example.com and on the Net at Amazon.com. “It’s done better than we anticipated,” Hokanson said, “that’s always good news, I guess.” Hokanson, a well-known and often published cowboy poet, storyteller and comedy musician, can be heard reciting his poetry at the Grand Union Gathering Oct. 5-7 in Fort Benton’s Grand Union Hotel. He’s also a regular at the annual poetry gathering put on by the Montana Cowboy Poets and Pickers in Chinook the first weekend in February. He and Sug also are sponsoring a calf and book for auction at Bear Paw Livestock in Chinook on Oct. 12 to benefit R-Calf USA.