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Ken Egan Explores the History of Montana’s Statehood

November 22, 2017

The Montana Western “Dances with Words” event held on Nov. 13, 2017 featured executive director of Humanities Montana, author Ken Egan, reading several excerpts of historical non-fiction from his new book “Montana 1889.”

Ken Egan
Author and Historian Ken Egan reads from his latest book, “Montana 1889.”

Humanities Montana are a non-profit organization that provides support for public humanities programs throughout the state. Egan was urged to create his previous work, “Montana 1864,” by his co-workers at Humanities to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Montana Territory and has followed suit with his new sequel “Montana 1889.”

“Dances with Words” is produced by English Professor Alan Weltzien. The series, free and open to the public, provides the community with a unique opportunity to listen to writers reading their own works, including Montana Western student writers.

Tessa Miller
Montana Western student Tessa Miller shares her poetry with the audience during “Dances with Words.”

University of Montana Western senior Tessa Miller kicked off the event, reading several examples of her poetry.

“Walking with Martha” detailed her experiences working at the YMCA, and the relationship she formed with a senior citizen.

When Miller revealed that during the entire year they worked together, Martha never failed to speak about her deceased husband, the crowd including Egan, were noticeably moved.

After receiving his Ph.D. in American literature at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Ken Egan taught college English for 25 years. Introducing Egan, Professor Alan Weltzien commented on the unique structure of Egan’s new book, saying, “He creates several braids within each of these months. It’s a nice series of threads that creates a pretty impressive composite of what this place was.”

Montana 1889
Ken Egan’s latest book, “Montana 1889.”

“Montana 1889: Indians, Cowboys and Miners in the Year of Statehood” is divided into months, chronicling major events from the eyes of prominent figures involved in Montana’s journey to statehood during the year 1889. It tells the many stories of the overwhelming transformation to statehood by entering into the lives, emotions, and decisions of diverse peoples cooperating and competing on this contested ground.

The first passage Egan read regarded Canadian politician and 19th-century revolutionary, Louis Riel.

During the Q&A that followed the reading, Egan said that Louis Riel was his favorite character to research and document.

He also read passages about “Mr. Montana” Stuart Granville and the Butte Copper King, Francis Augustus Heinze.

Egan emphasized that, “One of the worst things we do [when writing history] is convert historical figures into flat stereotypes. It’s my hope that this book will help de-heroicize famous figures in the West.”

His eye for capturing striking personal details creates well-rounded portraits of these larger-than-life figures, bringing them back to life from this pivotal time in Montana’s past.

The Dances with Words series continues throughout each academic year. For upcoming readings, please visit our upcoming Events page.