Encyclopedia of the Great Plains

David J. Wishart, Editor

GUTHRIE, A. B., JR. (1901-1991)

Alfred Bertram Guthrie Jr. is best known for his cycle of six novels spanning the exploration and settlement of the West from the days of the fur trade through the mid–twentieth century (The Big Sky, 1947; The Way West, 1949; These Thousand Hills, 1956; Arfive, 1971; Last Valley, 1975; Fair Land, Fair Land, 1982). He also produced six relatively slight mystery novels, the screenplays for Shane and The Kentuckian, a children's book, a volume of poetry, and short stories. All the fiction, except the last mystery, are set in the Plains of eastern Montana and at the edge of the Rocky Mountains. His autobiography, The Blue Hen's Chick (1965), reveals the influence of the "Big Sky Country" on his vision of the westward movement and the consequences of the closing of the frontier.

Guthrie was born January 13, 1901, in Bedford, Indiana, but moved with his family to Choteau, Montana, six months later. Like his father, he felt a sense of freedom on the Plains and in the mountains, and he made the Choteau area the hub of his fiction. The landscape is significant in all his fiction, and space is a persistent theme.

After graduation from the University of Montana, Guthrie worked at a variety of jobs, including as a newspaper reporter in Lexington, Kentucky. In 1944 a Nieman Fellowship to Harvard gave him the opportunity to work on The Big Sky. After publication of his second novel, The Way West, he left newspaper work and returned to Montana to write fiction. He died in Choteau on April 26, 1991.

Paul T. Bryant Radford, Virginia

Bryant, Paul T. "External Characterization in The Big Sky." Western American Literature 31 (1996): 195–210.

Ford, Thomas W. A. B. Guthrie, Jr. Boston: Twayne, 1981.

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