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When I Came West Paperback – February 26, 2010


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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

In the early 1970s, Buyer, a restless young college student yearning for the outdoor life—though she’d never even been camping—became the mail-order companion of a man 13 years her senior. Bill was a Vietnam vet from Whitefish, Montana, determined to live off the land with no modern conveniences, including indoor plumbing and electricity. She endures loneliness and physical hardship, occasional volatility and abuse from Bill, but what she missed most was the companionship of women. Four miles from their closest neighbor, she learned to appreciate solitude and endure Bill’s taciturn moods. She also learned to set traps and skin animals, to avoid grizzlies and stand up to mice, to adapt to the temperament of rivers and streams and animals and seasons. Though her attachment to Bill eventually fades, she never tires of her love for the remoteness of Montana and later Wyoming. Buyer is poetic in her descriptions, documented with photographs, of the physical beauty and challenge of life in the western wilderness. --Vanessa Bush

Review

“A tour de force, brilliant, utterly candid, and unforgettable.”—Dale L. Walker, author of Eldorado and Pacific Destiny


In the early 1970s, Buyer, a restless young college student yearning for the outdoor life—though she’d never even been camping—became the mail-order companion of a man 13 years her senior. Bill was a Vietnam vet from Whitefish, Montana, determined to live off the land with no modern conveniences, including indoor plumbing and electricity. She endures loneliness and physical hardship, occasional volatility and abuse from Bill, but what she missed most was the companionship of women. Four miles from their closest neighbor, she learned to appreciate solitude and endure Bill’s taciturn moods. She also learned to set traps and skin animals, to avoid grizzlies and stand up to mice, to adapt to the temperament of rivers and streams and animals and seasons. Though her attachment to Bill eventually fades, she never tires of her love for the remoteness of Montana and later Wyoming. Buyer is poetic in her descriptions, documented with photographs, of the physical beauty and challenge of life in the western wilderness. —Booklist


Buyer, a novelist and poet of the West, offers a memoir account of her initiation into traditional backcountry ways in an isolated Montana homestead with a Vietnam veteran survivalist in the 1970s-80s. The romantic city girl with dreams of going back to the land learns to break horses, chop wood, track and hunt, butcher animals, and tan hides. Her day-to-day life, her isolation, and her physical and emotional dependence on a hard and sometimes cruel man recall the lives of countless frontier women of the previous century. Her journey from girl to woman, her struggle to become independent while holding on to her dream of living close to the land, will inspire all readers.—Book News, Inc.


[A] beautifully crafted memoir of a young city woman who gave up college to live in the Montana wilderness with a man she had never met. Brims with engaging stories of the friends she made and the ones she left behind during her thirty years living off and with the land.  Readers. . .will be captivated.—ForeWord Reviews


Few women in the 20th century set out to ‘homestead’ as Laurie Wagner Buyer has done. This personal story has many lessons about challenge and hardship. Clearly the author kept a journal and the words she wrote became a way to center her life. The power of this book is Laurie’s lyrical writing, and . . . she is absolutely one of the best writers I’ve ever read. This is a book you won’t soon forget, written by a woman who has endured privation, loneliness, physical and emotional trauma…all of which she survived, in part, by putting words on paper.—Candy Moulton, The Fencepost


A revealing account of how this naïve young college student traveled from a pampered life in Chicago to the West in 1974 to live remotely on the North Fork of the Flathead River, 86 miles from Kalispell, with no electricity, indoor plumbing, no telephone, no close neighbors—with a surly man she’d never met.  She was as inexperienced with matters of the heart as she was with preparing food or setting a mousetrap.  And that makes this detailed reminiscence fascinating, viewed as it is through the long lens of insight and age that nearly 40 intervening years allows. When I Came West affords readers a privileged look into the fragile life of a young woman brimming with promise and naïveté, and on the cusp of personal change that feels so familiar at times. . . addressing the inevitable transformation we all undergo. Lucky for us that Laurie Wagner Buyer recognized she had something to say—and had the skills to share with us all these years later.—Big Sky Journal


From the very beginning of her beautifully wrought, ethereal memoir, author Laurie Wagner Buyer reminds us of both her broken-wing fragility and her toughness. With the grace of a poet, Buyer describes in detail the rough beauty of the frontier she comes to treasure.—Roundup


A personal memoir so riveting it reminds the reader that the truth really can be much stranger—and more compelling—than fiction. Wagner Buyer shifts the physical and emotional effortlessly, painting a picture of raw beauty, sometimes painted over pain.  It’s a lovely little book.—January Magazine
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 200 pages
  • Publisher: University of Oklahoma Press; First Edition edition (February 26, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0806140593
  • ISBN-13: 978-0806140599
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.6 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,408,749 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Poet, memoirist, and novelist Laurie Wagner Buyer Jameson spent over thirty years living in the backwoods and working on remote ranches in the Rocky Mountain West. Now married to renowned author/singer/songwriter/professional treasure hunter W.C. Jameson they reside at Casita de Luz in the small hill country town of Llano, Texas.

Laurie has a ThD from the American Institute of Holistic Theology and an MFA in Writing from Goddard College. Her freelance articles and photographs have appeared in dozens of periodicals, journals, reviews, and anthologies. She is the author of seven collections of poetry, Glass-eyed Paint in the Rain, Red Colt Canyon, Across the High Divide, Cinch Up Your Saddle, Infinite Possibilities: A Haiku Journal, Accidental Voices, and Reluctant Traveler; a novel based on a true story, Side Canyons; and three memoirs, When I Came West, Rough Breaks: A Wyoming High Country Memoir, and Spring's Edge: A Ranch Wife's Chronicles.

Laurie has received the Beryl Markham Prize for Creative Nonfiction, the Western Writer's of America Spur Award in Poetry, has twice been named a finalist for the Colorado Book Award and three times named a finalist for the Women Writing the West Willa Cather Literary Award. She was recently awarded the ForeWord Book of the Year Award Honorable Mention for When I Came West.

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Dr. M on March 2, 2010
Format: Paperback
The mystique of the west has been a draw for American culture since the days when Horace Greeley encouraged young men to "Go West". From Zane Grey, Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, to Riders in the Sky, popular culture has presented the enchantment of the West in ways that stir up powerful images that spawn childhood dreams.
Laurie Wagner Buyer's saga of her youth when she headed West, conjures up those romantic notions of expansive landscapes, untamed rivers and the glory days of Mountain Men and Cowboys. This story is about a young woman seeking love, finding her voice and becoming a woman comfortable in her own skin.
The underlying story is of her love affair with natural places. Her heart is captivated by men who live close to the land, but it is her passion for the raw environs of the Western landscape that endures.
I may be the only reviewer of this book who has actually brain-tanned a deer hide or set a Paiute trap, so I have a deep appreciation for the range of skills and knowledge Laurie acquired in her life living in remote places. With true grit she endured the wildest of environmental conditions and survived a wide-range of emotional situations.
I don't find it hard to understand why Laurie chose to live her life intertwined with irascible men. The myths she held dear, like "first love is forever" and the respect she had for symbolic gestures, held her close to a man who exhibited "militaristic" traits like she first experienced with her father growing up. Once she had felt the profound silence of deep winter snowfall and the roaring chorus of white water rapids, there is no way she could return to the life she knew before. I think the word "devotion" is apt to describe the feeling I got from her life lived with all the men in her story.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Story Circle Book Reviews on February 24, 2010
Format: Paperback
When I Came West is the story of Laurie Buyer's transformation from a timid urban girl afraid of mice to a seasoned wilderness woman who could butcher her own meat, grow her own food, and take care of herself. In the early 1970s, at the age of twenty, she went to live in the wilderness of Montana with a man who calls himself "Makwi Witco," Crazy Wolf, whom she knew only through a short correspondence. Not the wisest choice in the world, perhaps, but Buyer tells her tale with a blunt candor and honesty that many readers will find appealing--especially those who would like to create a wilderness life for themselves.

There are many things about this book that I enjoyed. A homesteader myself, I appreciated Buyer's story of a deepening engagement with the wilderness landscape and the wild animals of her new home. I valued her care and concern for the domestic animals she tended, and smiled at her descriptions of her relationships with her goat clan. (Yes, goats are really like that!) I also enjoyed the book's narrative style: I had read her first memoir, Spring's Edge: A Ranch Wife's Chronicle, and found some of the same lyricism in this second memoir. And I understand the romantic appeal of a life on the land anchors Buyer in place, long after the romance of a love affair (perhaps mostly in her imagination) has faded.

The book does raise some difficult issues, though. What are we to make of a 20-year-old woman who leaves her urban home and family to live with a 33-year-old man whom she has never met--a man who (as she describes him) seems to be more interested in her ability to work on his homestead than to share in a loving relationship?
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By C. Walker on February 5, 2010
Format: Paperback
Laurie Wagner Buyer's words quickly drew me into her world of wilderness and heartache. Painting a picture with words in bold, vivid colors of a place few of us dare to experience for a weekend let alone a decade or two. Her courage to put her journey onto the page for all to see reflects a quiet strength that we are allowed to watch develop as a young girl learns the lessons of life from the land, animals and men it supports. The included photos came as both a surprise and delight helping illustrate this amazing story.

I had read her book: Spring's Edge: A Ranch Wife's Chronicles before I read this book so I thought I knew her "story". I was totally blown away by the unmentioned foundation she had built her "Ranch Wife" life upon. I highly recommend When I Came West as well as Spring's Edge: A Ranch Wife's Chronicles to anyone with an interest in nature, the west or the incredible journey of womanhood.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Richard S. Wheeler on April 14, 2010
Format: Paperback
I've been enjoying this extraordinary memoir by Laurie Wagner Buyer. At a tender age Laurie abandoned college in Illinois and headed to the most remote corner of Montana to live with a mountain man as a sort of mail-order bride.

The result was both a joy and an ordeal, and certainly a rare journey into the deepest layers of self-discovery. The mountain man, William Atkinson, was a Vietnam vet with post traumatic stress disorder and a host of other ghosts in his head, and possibly bipolar. He lived a subsistence life on the Canadian border west of Glacier Park and in deep wilderness, surviving on game and a few animals he raised.

Laurie plunged into a life of utter isolation, and saw no other women for months at a time. Her new man was alternately tender and hostile, and seemed full of submerged violence, although he never harmed her physically. The natural world around her was both idyllic and violent. The meat they ate they killed: chickens, goats, beaver, elk, deer, bear. They lived beside a dangerous river that threatened to kill them. They dealt with broken bodies, wounds, sickness, grizzly bears, and sometimes two-legged strangers who could seem the most menacing of all.

It wasn't love that kept her though she felt conflicted about that. She loved; he couldn't. It was the demanding wilderness, the tests of deep winter and bug-crazy summers. It was living with hundreds of mice and pack rats, which they killed and fed to their cats. She also was determined to win his approval, become as skilled in wilderness survival as he, but she never won that from him.

Increasingly, they fashioned a life in which they were emotionally and physically isolated from each other.
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