I stumbled over it in the Glendale Public Library back in 1987. You know there’s no way I’m going to pass by a book titled Yellowstone Kelly: Gentleman & Scout. I sat down on the floor in the aisle, cracked it open and started laughing my ass off.
Peter Bowen’s first book was an irreverent romp through High Plains Hi-jinx that hit on all the right notes in my youthful frontier symphony, taking the scout from Montana to Zululand in a series of picaresque adventures that owed an obvious debt to George MacDonald Fraser’s Flashman.
Bowen’s depiction of Luther Sage Kelly was a far cry from my understanding of one of my favorite frontier heroes — but the damn book was so funny and just so plain good that I didn’t give a damn.
Peter Bowen has headed on up the trail, the result of a bad fall — and Valhalla is now enlivened by some outlandish yarns spun by a cantankerous character.
For a character Peter Bowen surely was. The great Craig Johnson, author of the Longmire series, posted this on Facebook:
I did a couple of Montana Book Festival panels with Peter, and he was always a card. I remember one where an innocent audience member asked a question and Peter’s response was, “That’s a the stupidest question I’ve ever been asked.” He then got up and stormed out of the filled auditorium, but as we continued I noticed he didn’t leave but hung around near the door. After a few more questions he came back and sat beside me and we continued. Afterward, I made the comment that I didn’t think it was a stupid enough question to force him to get up and walk out. He leaned in to me and whispered, “Actually, I had to fart…”
He will be missed.
Bowen’s main claim to fame in the writing game was his series of Gabriel Du Pré Montana Mysteries, featuring the delightful fiddle-playing Métis cattle-inspector. Gabriel Du Pré is an obvious homage to the great 19th century Métis rebel leader Gabriel Dumont, whom I wrote about in Warriors of the Wildlands. Each is married to a remarkable woman named Madeline, etc.
There’s a bunch of ’em and they are a hoot, wrapping serious environmental and social issues in Bowen’s trademark irreverent, iconoclastic humor.
The Montana Standard has a fine obit for the cowboy-fishing guide-folksinger-nail pounder-essayist and novelist.
…he loved many dogs and very few people.
How can you not love this:
Clearly the romance of the West had an effect, and he loved the out of doors, riding his bicycle to favorite fishing and hunting haunts. A few days before Bowen was supposed to start junior high school, he took a rifle he had illegally purchased — he was only 12, after all — and decamped to a hideout in the Bridgers, high above town, stopping at the post office on the way to drop off a letter to his parents.
He stayed up there for weeks. His mother helped get supplies to him, but finally went to the sheriff and asked whether they should mount a rescue effort to bring him down. “No, it’ll snow soon, and he’ll come down,” the sheriff supposedly told her. And it did, and he did.
Here’s a piece of intel that warms a Frontier Partisan heart:
Bowen wrote several other novels, including one, Buffalo Star, a fictional account of Daniel Boone’s wanderings in Montana. Rick Ardinger, Limberlost Press editor and publisher, read the manuscript years ago and only recently discovered it had not been published. He said Limberlost plans to do so in 2021-22.
I reckon I’ll pull up a piece of floor somewhere and spend some time with ol’ Dan’l and Peter Bowen — laughing my ass off.