Ridgeline: A great summer book

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Montana novelist Michael Punke, author of 'The Revenant,' releases his newest book June 21

By David Reese/Montana Living

Grab a lawn chair and a copy of 'Ridgeline' and settle in for a great summer read.

'Ridgeline' tells the story of how settlers in the West landed in Indian territory, and the violence that often ensued. Punke's character development is keen, and his historic angles to the Indian/settler conflicts keep you engaged. Punke doesn't shy away from the violence of battles in the 1800s, and how the white settlers, armed with repeating rifles and ravenous lumber mills, devoured the Native American's treasured hunting grounds.

'Ridgeline,' due out from Henry Holt, is set in 1866. With the United States only barely recovered from the Civil War, new war breaks out on the western frontier—a clash of cultures ensues between the Native tribes who have lived on the land, and a young, ambitious nation.

Colonel Henry Carrington arrives in Wyoming’s Powder River Valley to lead the U.S. Army in defending the opening of a new road for gold miners and settlers. Carrington intends to build a fort in the middle of critical hunting grounds, the home of the Lakota.

Red Cloud, one of the Lakota’s most respected chiefs, and Crazy Horse, a young but visionary warrior, understand full well the implications of this invasion.

Punke, who lives in Montana, is the author of several books including The Revenant, a #1 New York Times bestseller and basis for the Academy Award–winning film.

In his diverse professional career, Punke has served as the U.S. ambassador to the World Trade Organization in Geneva, correspondent for the Montana Quarterly, and an adjunct professor at the University of Montana.

As a high school and college student, he worked summers as a living history interpreter at Fort Laramie National Historic Site in Wyoming. Punke literally immersed himself in frontier war culture as a young man, even dressing up as a soldier.

novelist author michael punke, montana author, montana living, ridgeline, the revenant

Author Michael Punke

"I’ve been fascinated with the Indian War Era since I was a boy growing up in Wyoming," Punke said. "As a teenager, I had a summer job working for the National Park Service at Fort Laramie National Historic Site, dressing up as an 1876 cavalryman and talking to tourists all day about Western history.”

All of Punke's characters in "Ridgeline" are precise, developed and for the most part, relatable. “Crazy Horse has always been a hero of mine," Punke said. "I remember reading a biography about him when I was in second grade.” 

Punke said there are more stories to come from Montana and the West. “I’m always on the hunt for new story ideas, and my muse is Montana and Western History," he said. "I’m currently courting a few new ideas, but I haven’t married one yet.”

Punke earned accolades for his novel 'The Revenant,' which was based on  frontier outdoorsman named Hugh Glass. “I read a paragraph summary about Hugh Glass in a nonfiction book about the fur trade era," Punke said. "To me, it had the bones of a great story and the more I dug into the research, the more obsessed I became.”

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