Montana 1948


Montana 1948 is a 1993 novella by Larry Watson. The novella focuses on the life of young Montanan David Hayden, his family and the fictional town of Bentrock, Montana, and focuses on the struggles of a family torn between loyalty and justice. It was awarded the Milkweed National Fiction Prize.


When David's Native American housekeeper Marie Little Soldier falls ill, Frank Hayden, the local doctor and David's uncle, is called. When Marie refuses medical treatment from Frank, David's mother, Gail, discovers that Frank has been using his medical status to prey on the local Native American women. David's father, Wesley, is the local sheriff and begins to investigate these allegations against his brother, but is in a difficult situation between his loyalty to his family and his obligation to justice.

When Marie is found dead, Frank convinces the family that the cause of death was pneumonia. Wesley later confronts Frank about his actions at a family dinner at their parents' house and they reach a compromise, where Wes agrees to forget the whole incident. David, who was playing with his grandfather's pistol, once contemplates shooting Frank because of all the troubles he has given their family. Eventually, David decides to tell his parents the truth - that he had witnessed Frank leaving their house around the same time Marie had died, implying that Frank had something to do with her death.

Wesley eventually arrests Frank, who confesses to killing Marie and molesting Indian women, and holds him captive in the basement, in order to avoid the embarrassment Frank would experience by going to the local jail. Wesley and Frank's controlling and racist father Julian is strongly opposed to Frank's arrest and sends men to break Frank free when Wesley is not home. Gail manages to scare them away by firing warning shots into the air, while David calls for help. Gail later pleads for Wes to take Frank out of their home. Wesley's moral values override his family loyalty and he agrees to take his brother to the local jail the next day, but later that night the family wakes to the sound of jars breaking in the basement. In the morning, Wesley finds that Frank committed suicide by slitting his wrists with the broken glass.

Soon after, David's family moves out of Bentrock, ending the fight between Wesley and Julian Hayden.


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