Putting Three Montana Towns in Perspective


Like people, communities are characters. They are defined by identity, history, adversity and place. And like people, we acquaint ourselves with communities through reputation, a brief meeting or meaningful time spent together. In this gallery, Bozeman-based pilot and photographer Christopher Boyer introduces us to three distinctly unique Montana communities through an aerial view captured from his 1956 red Cessna plane. Upon first glance, we gain information about these places; we put them in context: What natural features surround them? What relics of history are they built around? How do the built communities interact with the landscape they exist within?

Through photojournalist Hazel Cramer’s work, we’re then afforded a more intimate experience in these communities. Who are their members? What are their challenges? What does their resilience look like? What are their identities?

This issue, we invite you to explore these portraits of Lame Deer, Anaconda and Big Sky and acquaint yourself with a visual take on community.

-The Editors

The Northern Cheyenne Reservation, one of the seven in the state of Montana, was established in 1884. Nestled in its hills on the edge of Montana’s eastern plains sits Lame Deer. Evidence of systemic racism and cultural genocide is planted throughout the community, which continues to deal with daily hardship as a result. And yet, this place is a generational home that breeds community, connection and a love for the land. PHOTO BY CHRISTOPHER BOYER

LEFT: This U.S. Federal Government building is on the north side of Lame Deer. “Lame Deer is our biggest district,” Limpy said. “It’s the economic hub of the reservation.” | RIGHT:Teanna Limpy, Northern Cheyenne’s culture and resource preservation officer, sits at her desk in Lame Deer, Montana. “There’s a saying that the land we have today was fought for. The literal blood of our people,” Limpy said. “This land has provided everything for us, it’s always been a cherished part of our homeland.”

LEFT: Two Bulls holds sacred Northern Cheyenne heirloom corn in the YBLC greenhouse. “I think it’s really important for our community to come together to heal, and now science is catching up with what our people always knew- that the land heals us,” Two Bulls said. | RIGHT: Lynette Two Bulls stands in the early spring educational garden of the Yellow Bird Lifeways Center (YBLC). The YBLC, founded in part by Two Bulls, is a nonprofit organization focused on reciprocity for its community. The educational garden is a part of their food sovereignty program.

LEFT: Vikki and Troy Cady own the Flower Grinder, the only coffee or flower shop in a 25-mile radius. During the pandemic, Vikki kept a record of all the events she prepared flowers for. “I ended up doing about 120 funerals that year,” she said. | RIGHT: Arlene Rogers (front) and her daughter, Danielle Shotgunn, lost their son and brother, Shane Shotgunn, to alcohol abuse. The wall of photos behind them is to remember him. “He was so friendly,” Rogers said. “He would strike up a conversation with anyone, even strangers.”

Trash and other debris surround a burnt vehicle alongside a residential street in Lame Deer, Montana. “The Majority of us who live here live in poverty,” Rogers said on April 18, 2023.

A child of the Anaconda Copper Mining Company of the late 1800s, Anaconda, Montana, is both a place petrified in its history and fertile with new opportunity. The community is a patchwork of a predominantly older demographic with young entrepreneurs and families woven in. While relics like “The Stack” (top left) remain as a museum of the town’s past, new shop fronts and new faces indicate the community is undergoing an identity shift. PHOTO BY CHRISTOPHER BOYER

LEFT: Smelter City Brewing, Anaconda’s only brewery, opened in 2017. “It was one of the first new ‘Happenin’ Businesses’,” said Matt Johnson (featured on the following page). “It gave us, the newer folks, somewhere to go.” | RIGHT: Straight streets and homogeneous housing characterize the town. Anaconda was a pre-planned city, built in the early 20th century with the purpose of running the smelter, so the houses east of Main Street look like this to accommodate more workers.

LEFT: Born and raised in Anaconda, Nicole McDonald, 29, rolls silverware at Firefly Cafe, a place where customers and employees know each other on a first-name basis. “I would stop to chat some more, but I get paid to work, so I gotta keep working,” McDonald joked. “I have to get my money if I want to get out of this town someday.” | RIGHT: Kim Magnusson, who has lived in Anaconda for 20 years, stands in the kitchen of her bar, Carmel’s Sports Bar & Grill. “Our community is mostly older people since the smelter closed,” Magnusson said. “The younger people move away when they get old enough because there’s nothing to offer them.”

LEFT: Logan Dublin is starting a new life in Anaconda. She just completed her second job interview since moving from Colorado last week. “It’s definitely small-town vibes,” she said on April 19, 2023. “At first, I was a little nervous, but everyone has been really welcoming.” | RIGHT: Matt Johnson and his wife, Emily Adams (not pictured), moved to Anaconda in 2019 and opened their bike shop in April 2022. “The community is changing from when I first recognized it 10 years ago,” Johnson said. “The town seemed sleepier and quieter… just not like the outdoor recreation place that it’s turning into.”

Founded by famous newscaster Chet Huntley in 1974, Big Sky, Montana, was established with the intention of creating opportunities for people to enjoy wide open spaces and experience the mountains. Today, Big Sky is an increasingly popular tourist destination and second (or third) home location. And yet, the town is also a community, home to longtime locals, eager newcomers and seasonal workers. As the demand for a piece of this paradise climbs, so does the cost of living, and striking the balance between economic growth and livability becomes somewhat of a white whale. PHOTO BY CHRISTOPER BOYER

Ethan Schumacher (left) and Holden Samuels are geared up for some spring turns at the Beehive Basin trailhead. “Big Sky has changed a lot,” Samuels said. “Literally everyone knew everyone when we were growing up here, and now that’s not necessarily the case.”

LEFT: The Franklin Residences, a complex of high-end condominiums and penthouses, is being built in Town Center, one of Big Sky’s distinct areas. According to the development’s website, short-term rentals will be allowed in the building, and the average unit price is $2.76 million. | RIGHT: Ben Bonesho stands in the back room of East Slope Outdoors, a gear and rental shop where he works. “The main issue here is housing,” Bonesho said. “I know people, like our other manager, that drive an hour and a half to come work here.” According to the Big Sky Chamber of Commerce, 50% of the workforce commutes from other towns.

LEFT: David O’Connor is the executive director of the Big Sky Community Housing Trust (BSCHT), a nonprofit that identifies community housing challenges and seeks to address them. Big Sky is unincorporated, meaning there is no organized local government to fulfill such services. Instead, it is run by a network of special districts and nonprofits, like BSCHT. “We’re such a young community, there was no mining town here first,” O’Connor said. “So we have a great opportunity to decide our values and identify what it means to be from Big Sky.” | RIGHT: Daniel Bierschwale, executive director of the Big Sky Resort Area District, addresses a crowd at the groundbreaking event for a new long-term rental workforce housing development. The construction of Riverview Place started on May 3, 2023.

Signs of Montana employees Micah Harvey (top left) and Wyatt French install the official sign on Cowboy Coffee’s new Big Sky location. The business, which started in Jackson, Wyoming, opened its second walk-in coffee shop in 2023 and is among many new businesses to move into Town Center.

Hazel Cramer is a documentary photographer and videographer based in Bozeman, Montana. She acknowledges her previous status as a guest on Northern Cheyenne land, and says a special thank you to Ȟokšilá Šahíyelá íčíčaǧá Mesteth for his help with this story.

Christopher Boyer is a commercial pilot and photographer flying survey, mapping and photography projects throughout the Northern Rockies and Great Plains.