montana photograph Radersburg


I’ve been doing a lot of driving north out of Three Forks recently, constantly passing this sign on my way up to Helena. So I was thrilled when Montana Quarterly assigned me to follow the sign. Nine miles west of Toston, turns out Radersburg was once a thriving, bustling mining town.


Alan Smith grew up in Radersburg, son of a single father. Smith now owns the cabin his father left him, it’s walls filled with collections his father amassed in the years before his death.

Jackie Smith, 52, runs the cattle ranch she grew up on along the Missouri River just outside Radersburg city limits. “I set my own hours, I get to work outside and I don’t have to deal with too many stupid people,” she says. “I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”


Dennis Miller sorts through the meat in one of five freezers on his property. Miller and his wife, Sarah, live in a house Dennis built, and say they raise or hunt nearly everything they eat. On their place, there are turkeys, chickens, goats, milk cows, a greenhouse, a vegetable garden, incubators, and hunting dogs.


The old Radersburg School is the center of community activity. Though recently refurbished, it still bears scars from a 1959 earthquake.


One Saturday every month, current and former Radersburg residents gather at the school for a pot luck lunch and to discuss ways to preserve Radersburg.


One of Radersburg’s youngest residents speeds past a log building said to once have been a hotel in which President Ulysses S. Grant stayed.


To see these pictures big, head over to my website.

montana photograph Why I Love Montana


Look at those hands.

Seventy-nine-year-old Richard Kirchhevel isn’t wearing a cowboy hat, a fancy belt buckle or spurs. He’s just paid his bill at the Jersey Lilly in Ingomar, way out in the eastern plains of Montana. The Jersey Lilly has outhouses instead of bathrooms since it only recently got running water. It’s justifiably proud of the bowl of beans on the menu.

Mr. Kirchhevel is no actor in a costume.

He’s real.

The Jersey Lilly isn’t a movie set.

It’s real.

That’s why I love living and working in Montana.

For more on the Jersey Lilly, visit my website.

montana photographs Holistic Ranching

There’s a great story in the current issue of Montana Quarterly about ranchers in Montana who are raising cattle and managing grassland in new ways.


On the Twodot Land and Livestock Company south of Harlowton, they’re blessed with the American Fork Creek. Excellent water resources at the ranch allow the ranch managers to graze smaller portions of grassland intensely for short periods of time. In turn, that makes for more healthy grasslands.


And grass management is key to holistic ranching practices in the J Bar L Ranches of Montana. Stuart Phelps of the Twodot Land and Livestock Company says the blade of a grass plant is like a solar panel and the root like a battery. If the blade is eaten or cut too close to the ground, the plant must use battery power to regrow. If left long enough, the blade will supply power and the plant will thrive better.


So Phelps and Kathleen McConkey spend their summer growing seasons herding cattle to new grazing patches instead of growing, baling and storing hay. The cattle graze small plots of land intensely for a short time and then are moved, replicating grazing patterns of bison before European settlers arrived.


A large map takes up most of a wall inside a shack near the rangeland on the Twodot. Stuart Phelps says 70 pastures on the 24,000-acre ranch are each subdivided into 24 sections for grazing, giving an average pasture of just 50 to 150 acres. “Pretty dang small,” Phelps says. But careful planning and innovative thinking, along with a great water source, have made it possible to raise beef cattle on the Twodot without worrying over growing hay.


Portable electric fencing is used to confine grazing animals to the intended piece of pasture on the Twodot. The cattle are moved to mimic the grazing patterns of the bison that used to run on the range. Ranch hand Anya Gandy uses a rock to hammer in a stake.


The Twodot is experimenting with adding goats to their herd of cattle. These goats, belonging to Ivan and Chia Thrane, will be mixed in with the cattle at the Twodot once the goats have finished kidding. Goats eat a different mix of grasses and weeds than do cattle, balancing the grazing.


Bryan Ulring manages J Bar L Ranches. Horses are used at the ranches to work the cattle when possible. Ranchers say the cattle respond better and are easier to control with horses than with the more popular four-wheeler, though J Bar L Ranches do use four-wheelers at times.


Peggy Dulany owns the J Bar L Ranch in Montana’s Centennial Valley. Dulany bought the ranch in 2000, stricken with the pristine quality of the Centennial Valley in southern Montana. She has run the ranch with a strong environmental sensitivity ever since.


Stuart Phelps upends a newborn calf for tagging. Calving on the Twodot lasts 45-60 days and is timed to coincide with peak grass abundance in May and June. Phelps says a lot of ranchers calve in February and March when it’s cold. So they need a barn and they need hay. That means they spend their summers planting, irrigating, cutting, baling, and putting up hay. On the Twodot, they don’t need to put up hay, Phelps says. So instead of managing hay, they manage cattle and grassland.


Kathleen McConkey walks away from a successfully tagged calf.

See these pictures on my website here.

montana photographs Tom Harmon, Agate Man

Montana and the West are full of people who carve their own ways, people who are able to turn their passions into lifetimes. Tom Harmon is one of those people. He has been gathering agates along the Yellowstone River in eastern Montana for nearly all of his life.

In the late 1960s, Harmon was making a living as an auto mechanic and gathering, grinding, polishing and then selling rocks on the weekends. When he and his wife realized they was making more money working with agates than with engines, they leapt into the rock business and haven’t looked back since.


At his home in Crane, Montana, south of Sidney, Harmon has converted a dairy barn into a workshop where he transforms the rocks he finds along a riverbank into display pieces and jewelry.


A finished agate is cut and polished. This one was cut thin and framed. It is most dramatic when lit from behind.


Agates come in a wide variety of colors and configurations. This one appears to show trees.


Inside his shop, Harmon grinds a stone into what may become a claw shape.


In his basement, Harmon keeps a display of his favorite agates.



Tom Harmon, agate man.

These pictures and more can be found in the current issue of Montana Quarterly.

See these pictures big here, on my website.

montana photographs of Al Swanson, Master Woodworker

20150325134651Al Swanson is a gifted, highly skilled craftsman who uses age-old, hands-on woodworking techniques to make fine furniture at his studio in downtown Helena.




He says this dovetail joint on a bookcase he’s making demonstrates a timeless strength, elegance and beauty. “It’s all done with hand saws and chisels,” he says. “And you can tell by looking at it.”

Swanson is dedicated to his craft, despite the tremendous amounts of hand work that go into each piece he make. He teaches woodworking classes in the shop behind a large glass window in his gallery/studio.

And, like many people who move to Montana as adults, Swanson is an avid fly fisherman.

People would come from around the country to take his classes, but it was hard to send them home with a table or chair, so he needed a product that wasn’t quite so big. When he noticed fishing guides picking up their clients at a nearby hotel, he hit on the idea of a wooden fly box.

Made of quarter-sawn sycamore and tiger maple, these boxes are the result of more than 20 prototypes and hours and hours of thought and work.

20150325151018-EditSwanson has lined up a deal with fly fishing’s retail giant Orvis, and sells boxes in an array of sizes through the Orvis catalogs.

20150325131118See these images big here.

#MontanaPhotographer #MontanaPhotojournalist #Woodworking #Flyfishing #Furniture

montana photographs Bynum Dancing

As the school year winds down, I wanted to share these pictures I made while working with Al Kesselheim up in northern Montana.

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Bynum is pretty small. Twenty kids comprise the entire student body at the Bynum School.

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But every morning for 80 years or more, each and every one of those kids dances.

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Al and I happened to visit when the school was entertaining visitors from nearby Choteau. The dancing is done in an old Methodist Church next door to the school.Montana Photojournalist Bynum School Dancing17

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Susan Luinstra is the head teacher at the school and she’s the energy behind the dancing today. But she says the idea was hatched by her predecessor and mentor, Ira Perkins, who said that no matter what misery a child might be enduring outside of school, a half-hour of dancing would shake off all of the bad. During the Great Depression, Perkins mandated that every Bynum School student would learn to dance and to play a musical instrument or sing.

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Perkins taught at the Bynum School for 50 more years before Mrs. Luinstra took over. She carried on the tradition and never changed the music. Kids dance to old 78 records from the 1930s and learn to waltz, foxtrot and polka.

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“Music and dance are the best things we do,” Mrs. Luinstra says. “I don’t have the data, but I know it in my bones. The arts bring the whole child together. Dance and music exercise different parts of the brain, make connections work better. Students are comfortable with each other here as a direct result.”

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See these on my website.

#MontanaPhotojournalist #Montanaphotographer

More Favorite Things

Not too long ago, I posted some pictures of things that were rich in meaning to me, while not necessarily materially valuable. I’ve put out a call for others to share some of their favorite things (that call is still valid, contact me here). Here’s what came in:

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One friend shared this 25,000-year-old bison skull he found while paddling on the Porcupine River in the Yukon. He says the skull represents a window to an ancient landscape, a window on the evolution of a place, a reminder of our tiny fraction of time here on earth. Holding the skull, he says he can imagine being on that same river and seeing these spectacular creatures.

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That same friend found this pipe on a family expedition to the Kazan River in extreme northeastern Canada. He says the pipe is a window on the past culture and heritage. He says it’s comforting and reassuring to know a robust people lived in that country.  There were births, deaths, happiness, sadness, suffering and prosperity. They saw that same ground, listened to those same rapids. He says it takes his family out of survivor mode and into living mode.

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Another friend brought this dung ball back from central Tanzania in 2005. He said a dung beetle rolled up some elephant waste into a ball and laid her eggs inside. There was a brush fire that washed over the ball, burning the outside. A honey badger then came along and broke the ball open and ate the larvae. “Think about all of the ecology that had to come together for this to happen,” he says. The dung ball reminds him of the bush and is an artifact of a fleeting world — elephants in that area are dying out.

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And he also shared this little basket of rocks that he found on the Ilusi River in the Tanzania bush. He says native fishermen would travel to river from far away — too far to carry weights — and then fashion baskets like this to weigh down their nets. He says the window in which these baskets are being made and used is closing all too rapidly.

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Finally, this double-barreled shotgun isn’t necessarily a fine piece of craftsmanship. It’s owner no longer uses it. But it’s still a cherished treasure. It was a gift to the owner from his now deceased grandfather — the only physical reminder he has of the special relationship they shared. It speaks to their hunting legacy, the special tie between the men of his family.

See Favorite Things on my website.

#Montana Photographer #Fine Art Photograph #Favorite Things.


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