|F. Scott Fitzgerald|
Source: Princeton University Library
In July 1915, a fresh-faced young man got off a train and presented himself at a working cattle-and-sheep ranch in the North Fork of the Smith River, a few miles outside of White Sulphur Springs, Montana. He was slender - about 5'8," 150 pounds - and handsome, with champagne-colored hair and blue-green eyes. He carried himself so lightly on the balls of his feet that his wife later wrote, "There seemed to be some heavenly support beneath his shoulder blades that lifted his feet from the ground in ecstatic suspension, as if he secretely enjoyed the ability to fly but was walking as a compromise to convention."
The ranch hands must have been astonished at the sight. F. Scott Fitzgerald had arrived in Montana. In the summer before his junior year at Princeton University, the boyish, eighteen-year-old Fitzgerald had traveled west to visit the Castle Mountain Livestock Company, the ranch owned by the family of his wealthy prep school and college friend, Charles W. Donahoe. In the ensuing weeks, Fitzgerald would do what easterners visiting Montana often do: he went native. He outfitted himself in boots, brandished a pistol, rode horses, drank bad whiskey, played cards with cowboys, flirted with daughters of neighboring ranchers, and took but one bath a week.
More significantly, Fitzgerald also found in Montana a western version of the predatory capitalism and baronial lifestyles that had so fascinated him in the East. Montana gave Fitzgerald the setting for one of his best-known short stories, “The Diamond as Big as the Ritz,” written just six years after his visit. His literary imagination continued to be fired by the stories he heard at the ranch about wide-open Butte and its Copper Kings. In Fitzgerald’s masterpiece, The Great Gatsby, Jay Gatsby’s mentor, Dan Cody, is described as a version of Marcus Daly, “a product of the Nevada silver fields, of every rush for metal since seventy-five. The transactions in Montana copper . . . made him many times a millionaire.” The Donahoe family’s palatial stone manor, which Fitzgerald visited and which still looms atop a hill in White Sulphur Springs, may have contributed to his imagining of the “feudal silhouette” of Jay Gatsby’s “huge incoherent failure of a house.”
|Donahoe Manor - White Sulphur Springs, Montana|
by Landon Y. Jones
The contrasting experiences of Fitzgerald and his friend Ernest Hemingway in the West are especially instructive. A fellow Midwesterner, Hemingway did not visit the northern Rockies for the first time until 1930, fifteen years after Fitzgerald. But Hemingway repeatedly returned to Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho for his increasingly obsessive hunting and fishing trips. Fitzgerald never returned to the Rockies at all (though he spent his sad, last years writing screenplays in Los Angeles). If he ever caught a trout or shot an elk, he never mentioned it. A few other travelers were not as enamored of the West as Hemingway either. The India-born Rudyard Kipling, exulted over fly fishing for cutthroat in the Yellowstone’s Yankee Jim Canyon in 1889 but saw no romance whatsoever in the unwashed westerners “without clean collars and perfectly unable to get through one sentence unadorned by three oaths.”
Full piece at Pen American Center