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Know the West

Down — but far from out — in Drummond

  In the early 1950s, the town of Drummond, Mont., boasted busy bus and railroad stations, 11 bars, three grocery stores and 14 gas stations. Now, you can count what’s left on one hand. The ranching families that persist are resilient and dogged, and this book of large-format black-and-white photographs with accompanying interviews grows on you: You want Drummond to survive.

Photographer-interviewer Jill Brody relished getting to know the people of Drummond: "While most Americans have what we call a ‘lifestyle,’ " she says, "these people have a life." Brody says that though she expected people to wallow in self-pity, nobody obliged. Sixth-generation rancher Jan Manley is an example: "I was always treated equal when my husband was alive," she tells us. "But since my husband’s died, I have found out that women are very definitely not equal. To have a woman in agriculture try and go and borrow money from a bank, for instance — impossible situation. You just can’t do it." And she’s adamant about outsiders. "No one tells me — especially a man — what I can do with my land. It’s mine, and I’m smart enough to know how to preserve it, how to keep our creeks and meadows and things like that clean. Ranchers are probably the best environmentalists there are. ... So for environmentalists and people who want to tell us how to live our lives, there is no access across this ranch."

Brody says she never pushed the question of survival too hard, though she’s aware that everyone thinks about it. "So what if some folks are actually still living what appear to be mythical lives in the mythical West?" she asks. She might also have asked why it is that so many people still want to live on the land, just like ranchers.