By Daily News staff and wire
Dan Cushman, a renowned fiction author who once lived in Havre, died Saturday of congestive heart failure. Cushman, best known for his 1953 novel "Stay Away, Joe" about life on a north-central Montana reservation, died at the age of 92 in a hospital in his hometown, Great Falls.
Survivors include Cushman's daughter, Mary Lou Iverson of Littleton, Colo., and sons Bob of Missoula, and Matt and Steve, of Great Falls. A cremation is planned.
Though he authored more than four dozen books, including "The Grand and the Glorious," "The Old Copper Collar," and "The Silver Mountain," Cushman was largely identified by "Stay Away, Joe," a lust-filled tale about a Native American rogue. The book sparked controversy throughout Montana because of what some perceived as a negative portrayal of Native Americans.
A former New York Times book critic, Cushman also spent time as a cowboy, printer, prospector, geologist's assistant, advertising writer and radio announcer. Drawing from his life experiences, Cushman wrote a series of books set in the South Pacific, the Congo and the Yukon.
In 1998, Cushman received the H.G. Merriam Award for Distinguished Contributions to Montana Literature, joining a recipient list that included renowned writers Richard Hugo, A.B. Guthrie Jr. and Norman Maclean.
Born in Marion, Mich., Cushman moved to Montana when he was a young boy. Much of his childhood, spent in Box Elder and Big Sandy, was documented in his autobiography, "Plenty of Room and Air." In the book, Cushman wrote about moving to Havre with his family for the winter of 1918-'19. He said he attended his fourth-grade school year at Lincoln Elementary. He wrote about the beautiful home his family rented on Fifth Avenue for $25 per month, and a cow they owned.
When Gary Wilson, now vice president of the Clack Museum Foundation, moved to Montana in 1977, the fledgling author devoured as much literature on the state as he could much of which was penned by Cushman.
In an attempt to glean morsels of writing tactics from well-established authors, Wilson wrote to Cushman in 1980 and asked the Great Falls resident for a chance to meet. "I got on a kick of meeting writers, so I met him and I met A.B. Guthrie," said Wilson, who described Cushman as friendly, down to earth and the possessor of a good sense of humor. "I just wrote (Cushman) a letter and said I would like to start visiting him and he said, Sure.' "
Their encounters, in Cushman's three-story home, touched on topics ranging from journalism to Montana history to personal stories. Wilson said Cushman wrote from his cellar, where he had a typewriter.
"I figured if I was going to be a writer, I could absord the talents of the best," said Wilson, who wrote the novel "Tall in The Saddle" in the early '80s. "I'm really a great admirer of his books."
Such an admirer, in fact, that Wilson worked up the courage to ask Cushman to write the forward for "Tall in The Saddle," to which Cushman agreed.
"He didn't get the spotlight like some of the other writers but he didn't need that, from what I saw," Wilson said.
In the latter stages of his writing career, Cushman began self-publishing his own books, with the help of his two sons, Wilson said.