My dear man, you forget that we are in the native land of the hypocrite.”
– Oscar Wilde, Picture of Dorian Gray
We need to come to grips with the gentrified folk that have escaped to Montana to increase their investment portfolios and live the Owen Wister myth. Coveal with this monied migration and the right-ward shift in Montana politics, is the apparent need for a new western dress code to replace standard western clothing which was once considered “grubby” or the way kids dressed in front of a mirror when they were twelve years old, after returning from a Hopalong Cassidy matinee at the Strand Theatre. Shirts vary, from snap buttons to T’s, cowboy boots come in various forms, but “the hat” is mandatory for self-identification.
The California-born governor of Montana sports a modified version of western wear with Levi and Carhart clothing and the ever-present over-sized, somewhat Freudian compensation, belt buckle with his ranch brand, implying good-old-boy Lyndon Johnson type power, including body-slamming reporters half his size. A candidate for a Montana U.S House seat, when he isn’t Nav cribbing a travel invoice, is often seen during election times clad in cowboy attire with a black hat and riding a paint horse like Monte Montana. While the governor tries to pass as one of the common people (excluding reporters) the potential House Seat politico tries to portray a John Wayne image, but resembles a goofy ex-jock variety of Don Knotts, with the ethics of Richard Nixon.
The new women of the west sport over-sized belt buckles, sequin-laden clothing, pink ropes, intentionally shredded Levis and New Mexico buckaroo hats, with silk scarfs, spurs and chinks that make a statement – apparently with a subliminal desire to look like a hybrid Dolly Parton and Dale Evans – while going to the post office in their RAM 3500, dually, diesel pickup. Meanwhile, back at the ranch, the chore person will deliver the bedecked lady rider in a side-by-side to a saddled, trusty steed. This modern-day cowgirl will then transport the trusty steed in a $50,000 plus, truck and trailer, to a place to ride in circles in a large barn.
Once the new western gentry procure their Rancho Deluxe, they begin their “look at me and my ranch” tax-deductible improvements, such as, fish ponds (not always permitted) a trophy house or two, and barns and sheds for every horse – oftentimes with no concern for riparian zones, floodways or their neighbors.
In my neck-of-the-woods, rather than respectful and courteous communications to resolve an issue, four civil lawsuits have been filed by these newcomers against their long-time neighbors: one, over the rights of an adjacent landowner to lease his land for hunting, one, against a neighbor that had been using a poorly defined easement to walk his dog for over thirty years (all the way to the Montana Supreme Court), one, over a traditional stock drive route and one, when the newcomer attempted to close a county road (at a cost of some $60,000.00 in legal fees to the long-time landowner).
Ironically, while benefiting from conservation easements, tax shelters, property appreciation and ensuring their family needs, they want to tell us “riff-raff” and “hicks” what we need to do to preserve the land and lifestyles. I remember one of the newcomers saying, “ I really love my ranch and this beautiful area, but I especially like the fact that it has increased over four times in value in twelve years.”
As Owen Wister notes, “ When a man ain’t got no ideas of his own, he’d ought to be kind o’ careful who he borrows ’em from.”