Please note that the poems and essays on this site are copyright and may not be reproduced without the author's permission.

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Arthur Rothstein: Butte, Night


Image, Source: digital file from original

It was Sunday night, I had hoped the saloons would stay open long enough for me to see them. They never even closed. In a great old-time saloon I had a giant beer. On the wall was a big electric signboard flashing gambling numbers ...What characters in there: old prospectors, gamblers, whores, miners, Indians, cowboys, tobacco-chewing businessmen! Groups of sullen Indians drank rotgut in the john. Hundreds of men played cards in an atmosphere of smoke and spittoons. It was the end of my quest for an ideal bar...

Image, Source: digital file from intermediary roll film

Exhausting or not, there's no better way to see the West than to take a good old bus and go batting along on regular roads and come to all kinds of towns and cities where you can get out and walk sometimes a whole hour and see the world and come back to your bus and drive on. When I bought my ticket from San Francisco clear to New York City via the Pacific Northwest the clerk thought I was crazy. I started back all the way across the continent with my ten sandwiches and a couple of dollars...

Image, Source: digital file from intermediary roll film

Jack Kerouac, on a stop in Butte during a 1949 cross-country trip, in The Great Western Bus Ride, Esquire, March 1970

Night street scenes, Butte, Montana: photos by Arthur Rothstein, 1939 (Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Collection, Library of Congress)


Elmo St. Rose said...

the exuberant innocence
of Jack Kerouac

but is Montana about
night scenes in Butte?

or as Ed Dorn asked

Is the sky bigger in Montana?

Anonymous said...

in america, only the road is loyal.

Anonymous said...

Each of these images is now burned into my memory. The Skill Ball photo was in my dreams last night. I was sitting with a friend in his (apparently new) car just out of the frame of the picture. It was a very large Rolls Royce, which he told me that he had purchased that day for $56,000. He said it was all the money he had, that he was in pretty desperate straits, but that he thought it was worth it. Then he asked me to buy the car from him.

TC said...


Well, both Arthur Rothstein and Jack Kerouac were New Yorkers, not cattle ranchers.

Of course, Rothstein's Montana portfolio, like John Vachon's Montana portfolio, is loaded with ranch and cattle scenes, silos, grain elevators, feed and general stores, & c.

(You may recall this bit of Vachon's Wisdom.)

But Rothstein was a city boy, and of his Montana work, I think the Butte night street scenes are the best work.

As to Kerouac, I don't know that there was much variety to the view above the top of the bar.

(The piece from which the excerpt is taken, by the way, is an account of his quest for "the ideal bar", which he believed he had discovered in the M&M Bar in Butte.)


Oh, golly, then we must really be in trouble. (All I've ever gotten from the road are bruises and lacerations.)


Your dream reminds me of my waking state, it's this house that's parked just around the corner, and I don't want to look. (But I'm not much of a psychologist.)