USA 2015

Murray came in to ask me about the stranger with the short beard. (Here in rural Montana we often grow our beards down to the second button, and Murray's is forked at the end as well.)

Friendliest place in Montana? All names in the story are changed.

Friendliest place in Montana? All names in the story are changed.

The stranger had come in to my shop, my 'Inconvenience Store', with his family, to buy drinks. Jake was with me, resting after some log-cutting: he had taken them outside to where we do the communal potroast most Saturdays, and was telling the history of Neihart. Will, passing by, had parked his bobcat and joined them; Murray had been following Will. Jake's history started in the present, of course, as he and Belle were trying to buy Bob's bar and diner from Jim. He did tell them, before Will started on the recent history of his bobcat's solenoids, about how there were once 12,000 people in this valley, chasing the lead and the silver in the hills. This side of the road, he told them, had been the disreputable one, the bars and brothels which always attracted folk and sustained such pioneer towns. There was still a 19th century livery stables just down there, and those cement blocks behind the store were the old prison.

When they came back in the store to pay, Lyle was with me at the rummy table and asked the stranger how many people lived in his town. 8 doggone million! There are only just over a million in the whole of Montana and here in Neihart the bearded stranger had met, during the hour he was with us, with a good proportion of the 36 permanent residents.