The best books on Montana during WWI

Who am I?

I am a history-phobe turned history fanatic thanks to a snippet of a family story about my great-grandmother. Casual interest morphed into a focused passion when I learned that she truly had homesteaded-- all by herself and in her late teens-- in eastern Montana in 1917. Her accomplishment inspired four years of research and writing, resulting in my first historical novel, Hattie Big Sky, which earned a Newbery Honor award and spent weeks on the New York Times bestseller list. More importantly, that bit of family lore revealed my purpose as a writer and I have since devoted my career to bringing the past alive for today’s young readers.


I wrote...

Hattie Big Sky

By Kirby Larson,

Book cover of Hattie Big Sky

What is my book about?

For most of her life, sixteen-year-old Hattie Brooks has been shuttled from one distant relative to another. Tired of being Hattie Here-and-There, she summons the courage to leave Iowa and move all by herself to Vida, Montana, to prove up on her late uncle’s homestead claim. Under the big sky, Hattie braves hard weather, hard times, a cantankerous cow, and her own hopeless hand at the cookstove. 

This young pioneer's story is lovingly stitched together from Kirby Larson’s own family history and the sights, sounds, and scents of homesteading life.

The books I picked & why

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Bad Land: An American Romance

By Jonathan Raban,

Book cover of Bad Land: An American Romance

Why this book?

Evocative and clear-eyed introduction to the western landscape; this compelling read orients readers firmly in place and time. It’s carefully researched nonfiction that reads like a suspense thriller; you’ll spend many nights reading it past your bedtime.

Bad Land: An American Romance

By Jonathan Raban,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Bad Land as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A New York Times Editors' Choice for Book of the Year
Winner of the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Award
Winner of the PEN West Creative Nonfiction Award

"No one has evoked with greater power the marriage of land and sky that gives this country both its beauty and its terror. "
--Washington Post Book World

In 1909 maps still identified eastern Montana as the Great American Desert.  But in that year Congress, lobbied heavily by railroad companies, offered 320-acre tracts of land to anyone bold or foolish enough to stake a claim to them. Drawn by shamelessly inventive brochures, countless homesteaders--many…


Homesteading: A Montana Family Album

By Percy Wollaston,

Book cover of Homesteading: A Montana Family Album

Why this book?

This book convinced me I would never have survived as a homesteader! Though not a professional writer, Wollaston does an incredible job of drawing in the reader and sharing heartwarming and heartwrenching details about the homesteader’s life.

Homesteading: A Montana Family Album

By Percy Wollaston,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Homesteading as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"His memories flow as naturally as his writing. . . . The reader is transported back to the day when a six-year-old stepped from the train into a new life."-Smithsonian

As a grown man, Percy Wollaston almost never spoke of the homestead where he grew up-until, in 1972, nearing the age of 70, he wrote this book about his childhood years.

Lured by the government's promise of land and the promotional literature of the railroads, six-year-old Percy Wollaston's family left behind their home in North Dakota in 1909, heading West to "take up a claim." They settled near Ismay, Montana,…


Photographing Montana 1894-1928: The Life and Work of Evelyn Cameron

By Donna M. Lucey (editor),

Book cover of Photographing Montana 1894-1928: The Life and Work of Evelyn Cameron

Why this book?

The story behind this book is nearly as fascinating as the book itself. Evelyn Cameron—Lady Cameron!—accompanied her ne’er do well husband to Montana with a scheme to raise thoroughbreds. When that failed, her husband fell into despair and it was up to Evelyn to put food on the table. She did that by photographing what she saw around her: everything from staged and romanticized “Western photos” that she sold to magazines back East, to interiors of dreary homestead claim shacks. Her glass plate negatives were converted to greenhouses after her passing but were thankfully discovered and restored, resulting in this incredible book of photographs.

Photographing Montana 1894-1928: The Life and Work of Evelyn Cameron

By Donna M. Lucey (editor),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Photographing Montana 1894-1928 as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Leaving behind her childhood world of the English gentry, Evelyn Cameron began ranching on the harsh and beautiful plains of eastern Montana in 1889 with her husband, Ewen. When their initial venture--raising polo ponies--failed, Evelyn turned to glass-plate photography to help support her family. Nearly 2,000 negatives remained in a friend's basement for 50 years after Evelyn's death until author Donna M. Lucey tracked down the exra-ordinary collection.
Photographing Montana showcases more than 150 photographs of life in Montana from the 1890s through the 1920s. Evelyn Cameron's work portrays vast landscapes, range horses, cattle roundups, wheat harvests, community celebrations, and…


When You & I Were Young, Whitefish

By Dorothy M. Johnson,

Book cover of When You & I Were Young, Whitefish

Why this book?

Dorothy M. Johnson wrote three short stories that were made into Western movies: The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance; The Hanging Tree; and A Man Called Horse. But this collection is a light-hearted visit to her childhood, growing up near Glacier National Park. A quick but delightful read to balance out some of the chewier reading I’ve suggested.

When You & I Were Young, Whitefish

By Dorothy M. Johnson,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked When You & I Were Young, Whitefish as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"[When You and I Were Young, Whitefish is] a lighthearted look into the life of a growing Western town in the early twentieth century. These fresh, jaunty tales of youth radiate good humor." -American West


Traveler's Companion to Montana History

By Carroll Van West,

Book cover of Traveler's Companion to Montana History

Why this book?

The author, a history professor and Tennessee State Historian, provides an in-depth look into Montana history, region by region. The academic tone is nicely balanced by the people and events presented on the pages – plain folk to preachers and everything in between. A great companion to Jonathan Raban’s Badland.

Traveler's Companion to Montana History

By Carroll Van West,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Traveler's Companion to Montana History as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Montana writer and historian Joseph Kinsey Howard described Montana as "high, wide, and handsome." It is difficult to find better words for Montana's geography. Between these covers, Carroll Van West discusses Montana's physical and historical landscapes, the settings for important events involving exploration, the military, Native Americans, miners, cowboys, homesteaders, and railroad builders as well as the physical remnants of Montana's prehistoric past. With this guide in hand, readers can discover a Montana past unavailable in more standard histories.


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in Montana, World War 1, and the American West?

7,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about Montana, World War 1, and the American West.

Montana Explore 49 books about Montana
World War 1 Explore 623 books about World War 1
The American West Explore 102 books about the American West

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like The Blue Hen's Chick, The Big Sky, and Knox if you like this list.