The big sky

by A. B. Guthrie

Paper Book, 1992




Boston : Houghton Mifflin, c1992.


The first in an epic western saga that spans over a hundred years in the course of six novels. Boone Caudill travels west to the Rockies, leaving his abusive father to find a life of freedom in the wild. He wins the love of a beautiful Blackfoot princess, a woman willing to love him despite his wild ways. Their lives become forever entwined through adventure, travel, and eventually betrayal. He finds that freedom comes at a price, higher than he ever could have imagined.

User reviews

LibraryThing member anna_in_pdx
My father read this book in the 1960s when he was serving as a fire lookout for the Forest Service. We have often discussed what it was like to live in the lookout tower for three months at a time. He told me this book really helped him survive that first time he did this, and that for him it was
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"the Great American Novel." It is a very powerful book about a mountain man, Boone Caudill (seriously, is there a better mountain man name than that? It is the ur-mountain man name). It is not a happy book, but it is a memorable look at a short time in American history (pre-Civil War in the American West) when men could actually decide to be mountain men and trap beaver for a living. Much of the plot concerns the ways in which Native Americans and white people met, fought, and sometimes cooperated, and the differences and similarities in their lifestyles. The dialect is really interesting, a far cry from Mark Twain, lots of profanity and colorful expressions. It rang very true to me, though I am no scholar of the Old West. This was also a tragedy, in the Greek sense, in that you could see the trajectory of the hero and know from the get-go that it was not going to end happily. I can see why my father loved it so much when he was a young man coping with isolation in the wilderness that was very different but not entirely dissimilar from the lifestyle described in the book. I am very happy that I read it. It should be more widely known, but I think it is one of those books that was written in the mid-20th century that was famous in its day and has been at least partly forgotten. This is a shame. Read this book, you won't soon forget it.
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LibraryThing member EBT1002
"By day Boone could get himself on a hill and see forever, until the sky came down and shut off his eye. There was the sky above, blue as paint, and the brown earth rolling underneath, and himself between them with a free, wild feeling in his chest, as if they were the ceiling and floor of a home
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that was all his own."

First published in 1947 and set between 1830 and 1843, A.B. Guthrie's classic novel of mountain men and the opening of the west to white settlement is both a tribute to the breathtaking beauty of the vast northern plains and Rocky Mountains, and a eulogy for the territory in its unspoiled state. His descriptions of the landscape are like the best of paintings; they evoke the images, the light, the sounds, and the feeling, the precious loneliness of the landscape.

Guthrie also creates memorable characters: Boone Caudill and Jim Deakins and Dick Summers will live forever in my mental cast of favorites. These are not completely idealized heroes, although they do lean in that direction. They are tough and, to greater or lesser degrees, stone-hearted. But they each have redeeming qualities to balance out the brutal self-determination. Boone, too quick to judge, is nonetheless deeply loyal and unflinchingly honest. Jim is optimistic and warm, never underestimating the risks inherent in the adventures to which he is inexorably drawn. Dick, the father figure (Boone's own callous and vicious father failing to serve), is the quintessential hunter: he understands the land, its human occupants, and the creatures that roam her vast expanses.

Sexism and racism run deep in the narrative; it is a product of its time. And yet you get the sense that Guthrie knew things would change, that they must change. You can also sense that he grieves the invasion of white civilization into a territory that was never perfect, never fully peaceful or easy, but untainted and beautiful in the simplicity of its seasons.
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LibraryThing member DeltaQueen50
Originally published in 1947, The Big Sky by A. B. Guthrie is the first in a limited series that the author wrote about the taming of western America. This first book deals with the mountain man, a unique breed that were the first white men to come to the western mountains trapping beaver and
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staying to live the free lifestyle. The story follows the life of Boone Cauldill who starts off as a young runaway from a farm in Kentucky and grows to be a weathered, veteran mountain man, wise in the ways of both the country and the Indians that reside there.

Spanning the years of 1830 to 1843, the book is full of the adventures of Boone, his friend Jim Deacon and their mentor Dick Summers. Boone grows to admire Summers a great deal but although Summers can see that this way of life is ending, Boone has no desire to be anything but a trapper and hunter. He dismisses any idea that the country could change and that settlers will come. Although one can’t help but root for him, Boon Caldill is far from perfect. Much like the father that he ran away from, he is hot tempered and stubborn. He never learned how to express his feelings and he tends to act without thinking about the consequences.

The Big Sky is an epic adventure novel, set in the Rocky Mountains of Montana, Idaho and Wyoming an area that the author knows wells and obviously loved. This is a skillful depiction of how the west was able to capture the hearts of these independent men whose time was so colorful yet short-lived. While not setting out to romanticize these men, nevertheless, reading of them makes one yearn to experience that lifestyle, if only for a short time. Beautifully written and full of lyrical descriptions, The Big Sky recreates the savagery and splendor of this untouched frontier.
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LibraryThing member LisaMaria_C
I tried--truly I did. Guthrie is a Pulitzer Prize winner and this has been called his masterpiece. It's not badly written by any means, quite the contrary, but this is one of those books I find way too dark in terms of the characters--and I say that as someone that loved The Color Purple and The
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Kite Runner. But then, both those novels have very appealing protagonists you can root for, here the major character never seemed anything but despicable, not simply just a scoundrel like in Little Big Man, and this novel lacks the leavening humor of that one.

Set on the American frontier from 1830 to 1843, this novel is centered on Boone Caudill, who the introduction tells us, is destined to become a savage "mountain man." Problem is from the beginning there isn't anything very civilized about him. He leaves home at seventeen after punching out his abusive father and stealing his prize rifle, and his even more cherished razor strop--made from an Indian's scalp. Before he's eighteen he'll be collecting his own Indian scalps--and will have contracted "the clap" from a prostitute. Moreover, well more than half-way through the novel, the only female character of note, Teal Eye, a blackfoot tribe member, is practically mute. And the stereotypical, wince-worthy depiction of Native Americans didn't help, even if I make allowances for the filter of the white characters' perspective and that contemporary views might be overly romanticized. I mean, "heap?" And "how" as a greeting?

Also, the narrative is frequently punctuated with the word "nigger." I'm not mentioning this because I'm accusing Guthrie of being racist, any more than Alice Walker or Toni Morrison or Mark Twain for that matter are guilty of being racist when using such words in fiction to depict character. It's rarely if ever used to even refer to blacks--apparently the "mountain men" often use it to refer to themselves. But it's one aspect of the novel that made this a tiresome and unpleasant read for me. There's not one character that engaged my sympathy or interest. Those who care far less about characters being likeable and have more tolerance for brutality and graphic violence might find this more enjoyable.
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LibraryThing member mbmackay
The original beaver-hunting mountain man novel. Montana in 1830s.
Read Samoa Aug 2003
LibraryThing member J.A.Bridge
Past the 50 year marker and an avid reader for as long as I could read, I am always amazed to read something amazing.

A.B. Guthrie's "The Big Sky" is such a novel.

It is raw as the buffalo liver the frontiersmen eat still steaming in the moments after the kill.

The talk and dialog tells you something
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about that America. A compelling and tragic story that stays with you long after completion.

There is no political correct speech. The word "nigger" must appear a hundred times. I can see them marching around the New York Times building, "Ban this book!" Perhaps, "Burn this book!"

Yet this rough-hewn story is from America's very soul. What we were like 170 years ago...and for A. B. Guthrie, they were second-hand stories from his father, who listened to the wizened old coots in the early moments of the 20th century, who had lived through the 1830s and 1840s.

This story makes one ache for more.

If you saw the movie by the same name, have no worries about spoilers. While the Howard Hawks 1952 has some of the characters, it omits key figures, turns the protagonist Boone Caudill into a pleasant side-kick to the secondary figure in the book, Caudill's best friend Jim Deakins. The movie is enjoyable. It is NOTHING like this novel.

I finished The Big Sky several days ago. I cannot dislodge it from my waking thoughts!

I have often thought of books that perfectly describe the American Frontier. This is one of them. My personal list:
"Two Years Before the Mast" R. H. Dana
"Roughing It" Samuel Clemens
"Life on the Mississippi" Samuel Clemens
"Huckleberry Finn" Samuel Clemens
"Moby Dick" Herman Melville (yes, for the sea is a frontier, too)
"The Galvanized Yankees" by Dee Brown
"Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee" by Dee Brown
"Little Big Man" by Thomas Berger
"Hands Up!" by Gen. D. J. Cook

P.S. I found a line in The Big Sky that may have inspired Thomas Berger: "...he was a little man and a big man." Who knows!
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LibraryThing member baumgarten
This is a great story - it has such a BIG feel to it- the whole west is open, and there are no cars or trains or planes to whisk you quickly through it. This is a bittersweet story that catches a time between eras - the old unsettled west is passing away, and everyone knows it. It is a sad and
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beautiful glimpse of what once was, but cannot last in the face of a capable greed; of manifest destiny. The language is evocative, so be ready to read long descriptions of a forest or a field, or a mountain range. The people and the things they do to each other are very real, very touching, and sometimes painful. This is a story about life that's often hard, very rough, but quite poignant.
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LibraryThing member speedy74
I read this in my role as a special educator coteaching in an American Heritage classroom. The teachers used this book for higher leveled readers in a western expansion unit. To this end, the book was a good fit for discussions regarding the Mississippi river trade, the effects of western expansion
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on the Native Americans, and the life of the mountain man.

However, I found Guthrie's writing style to be somewhat dry and uninteresting to me and I was thrown sometimes by his use of various dialects and words multiply meanings. In some parts of the book, I didn't feel the writing was especially clear. While there were many parts of the book that aided the American history buff in understanding the west, I found the plot to be uninteresting and even though there was a twist at the end of the novel, I somehow didn't feel unsatisfied.
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LibraryThing member chosler
The first of 6 Big Sky novels, this one follows three mountain men/trappers from the years 1830-1843 as they travel by boat, horse, and foot along the Missouri River into the Upper Teton valley. The themes of man’s relation to the solitude of nature and other humans, and the conflicting needs for
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both, are explored. Fairly accurate, although Native Americans are viewed stereotypically by tribe by the main characters. Also some major use of the word “nigger,” in reference occasionally to blacks, but often by the mountain men to refer to themselves. Profanity (damn, son of a bitch), moderately explicit sex, graphic violence.
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LibraryThing member Bruce_Deming
I liked this story of mountain men and the early west.
LibraryThing member fwendy
Very picturesque and packed with adventure, this seems to capture the reality of the earliest western “mountain men.” Some stark violence that took me aback and really made me think about the “wild west”. Definitely an eye-opener. (in the old Kirk Douglass film, the events are dissimilar
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and softened.) Guthrie has a writing style that complements this genre, but it is easily understood.
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LibraryThing member lindawwilson
very very good; one of my all time favorites; seemed a true picture of the solitary mountain man, the sequels were also excellent; a real man against nature
LibraryThing member dougwood57
The Big Sky is the first in a series of great Western novels by A.B. Guthrie. The story begins in 1830 as young Boone Caudill escapes his Kentucky home for the plains and mountains of the west. He meets up with Jim Deakins, a pleasant country philosopher, early on his journey and finally the
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experienced mountain man Dick Summers on the keelboat trip up the Missouri.

I enjoyed Deakins' theological disquisitions. "You can't beat God for bein' picky. No, sir. If he catches you playin' cards or sayin' one swear's to hell with you forever and ever...Even thinkin' is mighty dangerous. As a man thinketh, that's how he is, and to hell with him ag'in. Why you reckon he gave us a thinker then?...God is some busybody."

Guthrie takes us up the Missouri, a slow fight all the way, across the plains, into the mountains and back. He creates for the reader the palpable sense of the openness and wildness of the West. Yet the book steps back from fully romanticizing the end of the mountain man era. The story is often disturbing, not the least in Boone Caudill's quick and often brutal ways.

Highest recommendation for anyone interested in the American West.
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LibraryThing member DinadansFriend
A fictional account of Americans winning their way across a hostile prairie to find a prosperoue settlement in the Oregon Country. The characters contain the usual roes first established by Fenimore Cooper in "The Prairie" but the writing with an experiment in presenting dialogue, goes well enough.
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While expected, the charactewrs are well drawn and motivated. We are solely concerned with the affairs inside the wagon train, and the natives are treated in a very dismissive fashion. The book made a lot of money for Mr. Guthrie, who also became an early environmental invstigator. ut, i was not very impressed.
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LibraryThing member patience_crabstick
Wow, I never thought I would like a Western, but this book blew me away. I loved the dialogue, Boone's spar reflections on being a man, his complete separation from Western civilization. I loved the writing, I loved the characters. I would definitely read this book again.


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