A.B. Guthrie Jr. was one of the more successful novelists of the mid-20th century, and authored a series of books that were turned into major motion pictures. Alfred Bertram Guthrie Jr. was born in Bedford, IN, in 1901, one of nine children, only three of whom survived childhood. The family moved to the stockman's town of Choteau, MT, before he was two years old. His father was a newspaper publisher, and as a young teenager he spent his summers working at his father's paper; it was there, if not already through his birth, that he discovered he had newsprint (and writing) in his blood. Guthrie attended the University of Washington from 1919-1920, and later transferred to the University of Montana, from which he graduated in 1923 with a degree in journalism. He also had a keen knowledge and appreciation for the land, derived not just from having been raised in Montana but also owing to summers spent working as a ranch hand and for the U.S. Forest Service.
Guthrie later moved to Kentucky, intrigued by what he'd heard of the Bluegrass State, and made his home there. Soon after, he began his journalistic career in Lexington, starting out at the Lexington Leader in 1926. Over the ensuing 17 years, he moved up from reporter to city editor to editorial writer, and then to executive editor, marrying and raising a family along the way. He began writing fiction in the early '40s, principally set in the far West and the Northwest. His work was characterized not only by an earthy, quirky humor -- sometimes with twists worthy of Ambrose Bierce -- but also by an unusually dignified and ironic portrait of Native Americans, in their interactions with whites. He published his first novel, Murders at Moon Dance, in 1943 (retitled Trouble at Moon Dance for its 1951 reissue), and the following year, he received a Neiman Fellowship for a year's study at Harvard University, during which he separated himself from the process of being a newsman and dealing with day-to-day events, and he became an author. This was the flashpoint in his serious career, resulting in the publication in 1947 of The Big Sky, an epic novel about the 1830 journey of a group of white frontiersmen and traders from St. Louis to the Northwest Territory and what later became Montana. The book became a bestseller but didn't immediately attract the attention of the Hollywood studios, owing to the sweep of its narrative, and its lack of a single heroic figure -- no one could figure out how to turn it into a traditional Hollywood movie.