John Steinbeck's Love Affair

Saturday, 16 October 2010 12:43 PM Written by 

LIVINGSTON, MT. -- Yellowstone Inn

 John Steinbeck fell in love with Montana when he first laid eyes on her.

Everyone does.

He said, famously, in "Travels With Charley" that Montana was his favorite state. The only thing it lacked for him was an ocean.DSC_1980_copy_copy_copy

But his love affair with Montana was just a fling.

We know from his road-letters to his wife that he left Beach, N.D., early on the morning of Thursday, Oct. 13, 1960.

He immediately crossed into Montana on US 10 west and drove all day, diverting to the Custer Battlefield and dropping in, as he told his wife Elaine, to six bars in six towns along the way. He bought a hat in Billings.

He stopped at a trailer court in or near Livingston overnight on Thursday, Oct. 13, then drove down to Yellowstone Park Friday morning Oct. 14.

After Charley had his run-in with the park's bears, Steinbeck retraced his route to Livingston and turned west on US 10.

He bought a rifle and a scope in downtown Butte, and, according to a letter to his wife, he camped that Friday night west of Missoula on private land about 60 miles shy of the Idaho line, near the tiny community of Tarkio.

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The following day, Saturday, Oct. 15, he headed west for Seattle on US 10.

Steinbeck said in "Travels With Charley" that he slept somewhere in Idaho near the Washington border that night, but that doesn't make sense. It's not likely that he would have driven such a short distance and then stopped overnight.

Let's not quibble. Altogether, Steinbeck couldn't have been on Montana soil for more than about 50 hours -- hardly more than a weekend stand.

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