Book: Meanings in the Mountains

Just as a microscope or telescope reveals complexities invisible to the naked eye, so too does knowledge of the past bring forth a hitherto-unknown richness. In Meanings in the Mountains: Place Names in the Absaroka-Beartooths & Crazies (Sweetgrass Books, $20), Jeff Strickler reveals the origins of hundreds of geographic denotations, from lakes and creeks to towns and peaks. Ever wonder how Cooke City got its name? Or the story behind Crazy Peak? How about Grasshopper Glacier, Mystic Lake, and Hellroaring Creek? Some of the explanations are interesting, some entertaining, some both; but they’re all illuminating, shining a bright and meaningful light on our region’s past. The writing itself is not particularly stylistic, so I don’t recommend a cover-to-cover read unless you’re a history buff with plenty of time on your hands. But the book is fun to flip through, and it’s an indispensable source of information about the historical development of southwest Montana. I keep my copy in the car, alongside Roadside Geology of Montana; between the two, my road-trips are enhanced by a greater understanding of the history—both natural and human—of the place I call home. An even more enriching reference may be the book’s predecessor, Bozeman’s Backyard, which offers the same appellative etymology for place names in the Bridger, Gallatin, and Madison ranges.