State Report MT 2: Montana: Bring Guns And Money
Montana: Bring Guns And Money
by Quincy OrHai, Bozeman, Montana
I find it highly ironic to be writing an essay extolling the reasons why Montana should be the Free State of choice, when for years I've been downplaying the awesome beauty and easy, relaxed social atmosphere of my adopted state. Frankly, I and most Montanans don't really want a bunch more city folks moving up here and jacking up land prices and diluting the laid back ambience of our state. So generally when we are traveling out of the land of the free (as I usually refer to Montana) and queried by some city dude about what it's like up here on the highline, we will say something about how we really like nine months of winter (the other three months are road construction). It barely got cold last winter, only fifty degrees. Below. Or we marvel about how few of our children were killed by rattlesnakes last year. Maybe we'll casually suggest that you don't hug the grizzlies, pet the elk or try to ride the buffalo, as these critters usually score at least a few human casualties every year. Anything to discourage would be immigrants.
So why am I daring to promote, on the internet no less, a place I dearly love and wish to remain untrammeled? Well, I guess I'm hoping that anyone with the gumption to consider packing up and moving to a state with the hope of helping create political influence for liberty will actually be an asset here, rather than another "Let's remake the place in the image of LA" type.
As Ben Irvin succinctly states in his Montana Report "...If freedom alone is the primary objective, no other state comes close." That's why I'm here. I immigrated from New Mexico over eighteen years ago, fell in love with the scenery and society, and I've gotten to where I seldom venture out of state anymore. Too depressing.
Montana has a kind of blank slate quality to it. It's still high, wide and handsome, and plenty of room to throw a loop, so to speak. I've always felt that what I love most about this place is how no one has ever bothered me here. If people don't like me, they just ignore me. The people that move here generally think that they know what they want, and they deserve to get it good and hard (to paraphrase H. L. Mencken). The emerging problem, from my perspective, is that like so many other Americans in this day and age, quite a few of our recent newcomers seem to want another Nanny State to replace the one they are running from. The way some of these pilgrims vote, I reckon they want to remake Montana into another California, but with grizzlies.
So as I see it, we need the folks like you fellow liberty lovers to counter-balance the statist immigrants that are becoming altogether too common, especially in the fastest growing "big cities". For instance, my home town, Bozeman, has grown to 27,509 in 2000 from 22,660 in 1990, an increase of 21.4%. Montana's population as a whole grew 12.9% during this ten year period. My home is in Gallatin County, which grew from 50,484 in 1990 to 69,422 in 2001, a startling 37.5% increase in 11 years! In my personal observation, many of these newcomers seem to be well heeled liberals, with lots of new imported cars and new Carharts, providing a considerable contrast to the older style of poorer working class, more conservative immigrants (like myself) from the 1980's and earlier.
Just to further complicate the picture, there is what we call the slow churn factor. Back in the 1980's a Montana State University sociologist, Patrick Jobs, studied the population turnover of Bozeman, and of Gallatin County residents (excluding Bozeman). He left town in 1993, but to roughly summarize his findings (now dated, but still relevant), he found that Bozeman residents turned over an incredible 85% in five years, and Gallatin County (rural) residents turned over 80% in ten years. I used to have the source for these figures, but unfortunately I can't find it now (pre-hard drive :>).
Basically, the way things work around here is like this. Mr and Ms Immigrant move here from California, or Minnesota, or New York or ????. They have sold their last house for a tidy profit, and they are tired of the crime, the traffic jams, the general rat race. So they are making a fresh start in scenic Montana. He wants to be an elk hunter, or fly fisherman, or to ski uncrowded powder slopes. She wants to raise the children "someplace safe". (Please excuse the stereotypes, I'm just trying to make a point here.) So they move. Maybe they buy (the smart ones), maybe they rent. Anyway they join the slow churn. They get Montana driver licenses. Their kids enroll in school here. They go to work, usually at about half the pay they were making elsewhere. And they discover that, as the saying goes, "You can't eat the scenery." Most will find that it is very hard to make a living here. Some will stick around. Most will leave, within three to five years. But as they head out, others are moving in to take their place. The good news is, a good bit of their "nestegg" got scrambled into the local economy.
One result of this New West social situation is that Bozeman is really two social scenes. One set of citizens (the smaller set, say 10-20%) are oldtimers, either born here or been here for decades. We know each other, at least in passing. We party together, we network together, and to some extent, we stick together. The other (larger) set of citizens, from our point of view, are just passing through. If they stick around, eventually they will become part of the oldtimers. In the meantime, on the downside they are speeding up the traffic pace, inflating the real estate market, and trying to bring in strange laws and customs (like zoning). On the upside, they are spending a lot of money here that came from somewhere else, and they also bring in fresh views and culture, as well as being, in most cases, decent human beings. On the whole, this human churn is a source of public vitality and social excitement. Newcomers [as long as they respect the code of the west (see www.co.gallatin.mt.us/code.htm)] are generally welcomed here, or at least cheerfully tolerated. After all, they will soon be gone.
Out in the boondocks, Montana is quite different than around a swinging town like Bozeman. Some towns are so small, they play three person basketball. (By the way, basketball is a BIG DEAL in rural Montana. See the novel Blind Your Ponies, by my friend Stan West for details). Tolerance isn't just an abstract idea here, it's reality in the hinterlands. If your neighbor seems a bit odd, well, he or she probably is, in a harmless sort of way. Social isolation does that to people. Lots of eastern Montana is not measured in people per square mile, but in square miles per person. In my experience, rural Montanans are a quirky combination of tough and kind, clannish and hospitable, loyal to a fault, hardworking and laid back, and surprising open minded about things out in the wide, wide world. Just don't try to tell them about environmental matters. Most ranchers have forgotten more about nature than other folks will ever know. Don't judge us by appearances. The unshaven old guy with tobacco juice stains on the side of his 1976 F-250 might well turn out to be a Harvard PhD with a multi million dollar brokerage account and a seat at the statehouse. Or not. The waitress at the cafe might own half the town, or be the mayor or school board chair. Or not.
If any of you folks reading this decide to give us a whirl, just remember to be patient. If in doubt, act western. Think carefully before making enemies. Lots of folks here have mighty long memories, as well as kind hearts. Stick around for a decade or so. You might find you don't need to make so many changes after all, to experience liberty in your lifetime. Oh yeah. Bring guns and money.