Montana Book Festival: An 'ornery' history of two ranch families

THOMAS PLANK for the Missoulian

Review: “The Last Heir, The Triumphs and Tragedies of Two Montana Families” by Bill Vaughn (238 pp., $19.95, University of Nebraska Press)

If there’s one newspaper-allowable word to describe the kind of people drawn to ranching life in Montana, it’s “ornery.”

Tough, cussed, leather and hard might all deserve a second opinion in the matter, but for the sheer level of defiance of the elements and potentially even God Himself, ranchers certainly deserve the adjective.

Bill Vaughn’s latest book is a visitation of the vexatious nature of two families eventually drawn together and then pushed apart by a ranch outside of Helena, on the banks of Holter Lake. It’s actually a history of Vaughn’s wife’s kin — which would seem to be a dangerous game to write about the struggles and travails therein. But it appears they are still married so all apparently worked out — and Vaughn makes use of the articles, receipts, correspondence and other ephemera families produce while trying to make a living in Montana for over a century.

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And boy, does Vaughn get the receipts. This book has multiple appendices that

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