From “Better than myth” by Annick Smith, in The Last Best Place, Montana Historical Society, 1988, p. 260.
A real storyteller. . .speaks in a voice as individual and quirky and full of nuance as your own would be in your best dreams. Here, for instance, is Mary Ronan, remembering her girlhood in the gold-mining camp of Virginia City in 1863:
There were tall buttercups and blue flags in the valley. Up Alder Gulch snow and timber lilies bloomed, wild roses and syringa grew in sweet profusion and flowering current bushes invited canaries to alight and twitter. . .Robins, meadowlarks, bluebirds, blackbirds. . .bluejays, crows and magpies lured us from where men were ravishing the gulch.
And here’s what schoolteacher Thomas Dimsdale wrote in his famous Vigilantes of Montana about the same town in the same year. He is describing the events that led to the hanging of Captain J. A. Slade:
J. A. Slade was himself, we have been informed, a Vigilanter; he openly boasted of it, and said he knew all that they knew. . .He and a couple of his dependents might often be seen on one horse, galloping through the streets, shouting and yelling, firing revolvers, etc. On many occasions he would ride his horse into stores; break up bars, toss the scales out of doors, and use the most insulting language to parties present.
Can this be the same place? Which version is truest? What does “true” mean when you are talking about literature? And how has Mary Ronan’s experience altered our vision of gold camps and outlaws and vigilantes?
Beyond the voice of the storyteller, serious writing is about character and conflicts and the moral consequences of a person’s actions.