Peter E. Bowen

Friday, April 10, 2020
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“When I die … I want to come back as a coyote. If they are God’s dogs they must know about everything important. Me, I tell my dog everything. I like it when they sing.”

That’s how Gabriel Du Pre described things in the 1994 novel “Coyote Wind,” by Livingston author Peter Bowen, who died of heart failure after he took a fall early Wednesday, April 8, 2020. He was 74. That book was among his finest, and the New York Times review of it ran beneath the headline “Thoreau in Montana.”

Peter published 15 books in the Gabriel Dupre series and four in the Yellowstone Kelly series. He wrote a column under the synonym Coyote Jack for Forbes FYI magazine. He also wrote poems, essays, snarky emails (“Boil the Republicans!”), and songs that he played on the guitar.

He loved a lot of dogs and had little patience for fools, which included most people until they proved themselves otherwise. He had a most impressive glare and could command attention in a crowd without saying a word. His blue eyes could drill holes.

But those eyes could soften quickly as well, show his tender and generous heart, especially when his wife, Christine Whiteside, was at his side, or in his mind. Until they married seven years ago, Peter had never been very good at taking care of himself. He lived in tents for months at a time, picking out songs or pecking at his manual typewriter while getting by, it seemed, on a diet of hand-rolled cigarettes and whiskey. Some elk steaks now and then.

Christine added years to his life. And put joy in those years.

Peter was born in Georgia and was adopted by Marie and Keith Bowen. When he was 10, they moved to Bozeman, where his father taught and coached wrestling at MSU. In the last months of his life, he was working on a memoir of his youth, which he spent gamboling in muddy ponds, building forts by the railroad tracks and shirking school.

“I am at sixty thousand words and with a clear path to the end… and if I can avoid getting ill I will be done before May,” he wrote to a friend a week ago. “There may not be a publisher or a country left, but I will have done my job, man.”

Peter was a fast writer, but maybe not quite fast enough.

As a young adult, he spent time traveling the country and attended the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, where he ran a folk club. Performers included Joni Mitchell, Tom Rush, Doc Watson and others bound for stardom. But for the last 30 years or so, Livingston was home, whether it was in a tent in somebody’s pasture or under a roof. For a time, he bunked up with three other single male writers in a big house on Lewis Street. They called it The Bent Fork and the stories still circulate.

He was a fixture in Livingston, tall and imposing, with blond hair “like a forkful of hay,” as he described one of his characters, with those blue eyes scanning a room or a horizon, maybe watching for coyotes.

If you hear one sing, it might be Peter.

Peter is survived by his wife, Christine Whiteside; a younger brother, Bill; two nieces, Alison Juan of Palo Alto, California and Natalie Brookshire of San Fransico; and stepdaughter, Elizabeth Bedford of Seattle.

Services will depend on this pandemic. They’ll include songs and stories.

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