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Impressions of the West: Ivan Doig


Ivan Doig’s Dancing at the Rascal Fair follows the lives of two men, Angus McCaskill and Rob Barclay as they leave their homes in Scotland in 1889 to homestead as sheep ranchers near Gros Ventre, in Montana’s Two Medicine Country (an unidentified number of miles north of Helena). In this excerpt, Angus has toured his homestead, still marveling at its beauty. He twists himself in his saddle to look at all directions. Finally he looks west:

West. West, the mountains as steady as a sea wall. The most eminent of them in fact was one of the gray-rock palisades that lay like reefs in the surge of the Rockies, a straight up-and-down cliff perhaps the majority of a mile high and, what, three or more miles long. A stone partition between ground and sky, even-rimmed as though it had been built by hand, countless weathers ago. … Close as I was now to these promontories, which was still far, for the first time since Rob and I came to Gros Ventre these seemed to me local mountains. They were my guide now, even the wind fell from mind in their favor. Seeing them carving their canyons of stone into the sky edge, scarps and peaks deep up into the blue, a person could have no doubt where he was. The poor old rest of the earth could hold to whatever habit of axis it wished, but this Two Medicine country answered to a West Pole, its own magnetic world top here along its wildest horizon. - Dancing at the Rascal Fair, p. 74.

McCone County, Montana. Herder watching his sheep. Credit: Library of Congress

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