Exit Zero

I am thrilled to once again be in the pages of Montana Quarterly magazine, which was bought recently by my friend Scott McMillion.

Scott is one of the very best writers in the state and I’m lucky to be working with him. For his first issue as publisher, we traveled to Monida, on the Montana-Idaho border, population 8.


Monida hasn’t ever been a big metropolis.

Scott writes, “But in its earlier days, Monida showed some promise. Founded in 1898, its lawful commerce focused around the railroad. Passenger trains disgorgred tourists willing to brave a 65-mile bone rattle of a stagecoach ride to Yellowstone National Park. Freight trains loaded cattle and sheep from the vast Centennial Valley to the east, where dozens of people tried to scratch a living in that harsh and spectacular environment. Railroad maintenance workers also lived in town, helping to keep things afloat. There was a nice hotel with a bar and a dance floor, a couple stores, and a school that once educated as many as 25 children.”


These old buildings once were going businesses, catering to the needs of travelers. And travelers do still stop in Monida, looking in vain for a bathroom or a bite to eat. Rumor has it that the building on the right has been purchased and will one day house a convenience store serving fried chicken, but no one’s holding their breath.


“I’m the last one here,” 63-year-old Clay Roselle claims, while relaxing in his cabin between 2-week hunting trips. Roselle says he moved to Monida full-time in the 1970s, working in prospecting, trapping and lumber. In the 1980s, Roselle started the junk yard he runs today — Monida’s only open business — collecting scrap iron. “I’m eventually going to clean the place,” Roselle says. “Iron is going to be worth something if I live long enough.”


Roselle’s father arrived broke in Monida just before the start of World War I. “They had hardly nothing,” Roselle says. “Then they got into moonshine and prosperity soon followed.”


“After the war,” 73-year-old Jack Giles remembers, “all the assholes in the country came to Monida.” Giles says he was 9 in 1948 when men carrying briefcases full of $100 bills came to Monida and bought out the ranchers, including his father.


Melissa and Hannah Smith wave to a passing hunting rig outside their Monida home while Casey Smith chats with a friend. The Smiths are Monida’s newest residents, and daughter Hannah is the first baby to arrive in Monida in a very long time. Melissa says when they bought their home in November 2008, the previous occupant left just about everything behind. “There was a pot of oatmeal on the stove,” she says.


And that’s Monida. Exit 0 on Interstate 15, heading south to Idaho.

7 thoughts on “Exit Zero

  1. Fine photographs, Thomas. Enjoyed the rich lighting in the first photo and the one of Clay Roselle. His position was quite engaging. Very pleased you are doing this. Congratulations. Happy New Year. Jane

    • Thanks so much, Jane. I’m glad to be doing this work for this publication. Also glad great people like you take time out of their days to read my posts and post comments of their own. Thanks!

      Thomas Lee Thomas Lee Photography Bozeman, Montana 406.599.1101c 406.587.7111o ThomasLeePhoto.com ThomasLeeTrueWest.com

  2. I’m so glad MTQ is continuing! It always gives such a slice of Montana life that you wouldn’t find anywhere else. (and your pictures tell a story all their own which I absolutely love)

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