Coming Home to Montana – Part Two

SuzAnne Miller and Danielle Lattuga are hard-working Montana women, but they still prefer horsing around. Horse Around, Missoula is a chronicle of life with horses in the Missoula area. It is written from the perspective of a seasoned horsewoman and ranch owner, and a novice horsewoman who hopes to one day have a horse of her own.

By SUZANNE MILLER

Soon after settling into our little slice of paradise along the Bitterroot River, my husband brought home a wooden sign that read, “Dunrovin Ranch.” He knew that I found my place and that I would live out my life here. I was “done roving,” like my great grandmother Clara, who returned to Montana as an old woman, reclaimed her log cabin, and nailed a similar sign above thedoor.

Clara followed her husband, Harry, to Montana in 1887, in search of gold along Carpenter Creek in the Little Belt Mountains south of Great Falls. This venture brought considerable wealth and several children – the oldest of which was my father’s mother, Gertrude. Eventually, Harry took his family back to the Midwest where he built a mansion along the Mississippi River.

There, Harry invested and lost all of the family wealth in a sugar deal in Cuba. Unable to face the consequences, he abandoned his family and fled to Northern Wisconsin. Left with seven children and a huge house, Clara did the only sensible thing: she piled the family into one bedroom and opened a boarding house. She remained until the last child left home and she was free to follow her own muse–Montana.

Childhood memories of life along Carpenter Creek had already lured Gertrude and two of her sisters back to Montana. Gertrude was living in the Great Falls area when she met and married William Goodman. Clara rejoined her and found her way back to the tiny settlement of cabins along Carpenter Creek. She declared that she was “Dun Rovin’” – she never meant to leave Montana and she was back to stay.

Her cabin played a significant role in my own childhood. My heart is full with memories of long summer days hiking the hills, picking wild raspberries, fishing the streams, and sleeping on the screened-in porch during wild thunderstorms. Best of all, we searched the old mining town dumps for fancy bottles. Grandma and I gathered a collection of perfume and oil bottles that we kept in a beautiful wooden steamer chest with multiplecompartments.

My urge to return to Montana stemmed from these memories and seemed to parallel that of my great grandmother’s. Yet my connection with Clara became eerily clear as my life back in Montana unfolded, and I found out how much her spirit inhabits mine.

In the early hours of my father’s first birthday after his death, a beautiful champagne-colored filly was foaled by my first Tennessee Walking Horse mare. She was big, strong, curious, confident—stunning! She was a gift from my father. Somehow he had a hand in her being born on his birthday. What could have been a very sad day became a joyous one. I would name her after him.

The names Bill or William did not, however, offer much inspiration as a name for a filly. What to do? Then it struck me – I could take his middle name of Lonzo, feminize it with an “a” and call her Lady Lonza! The Lovely Lady Lonza still rules the pastures.

Shortly after Lonza’s birth, my mother received a small publication from one of Dad’s distant relatives. The thin volume was published by the historical society in little town along the Mississippi River where Clara had her boarding home. The booklet was ostensibly a history of that big mansion – but it really was a tribute to my great grandmother. It chronicled her life there and relayed the Dunrovin story. Reading it, I came upon a picture of Clara during their prosperous years. There she was, standing next to her “fancy gaited horse named Lady” with a dog at her side. Here I was – back in Montana, with Dunrovin nailed above my door, my “fancy gaited horse named Lady Lonza” and a dog at my side. Chills still run up myspine.

Back to Horse Around, Missoula blog home page.

Click here to see Horse Around Missoulaarchive.

**************

SuzAnne Miller is the owner of Dunrovin Ranch, a small guest ranch nestled against the Bitterroot River and the Sapphire Mountains, south of Missoula. She shares her home with her husband of 42 years, 2 sons, 20 equines, 2 or 3 dogs, the resident wildlife, and anyone looking for highadventure.