John Clayton’s “Natural Rivals”

Jan 18, 2020 | Events

Elk River Arts & Lectures opens its 2020 lecture series on Thursday, March 12, with a talk by Red Lodge author John Clayton on the origin story of America’s public lands.

Clayton’s talk will be based on research for his most recent book, Natural Rivals: John Muir, Gifford Pinchot, and the Creation of America’s Public Lands. In it, he “shows how the forces of conservation and preservation, Progressivism and anti-monopolism, science and spiritualism, East and West, united in the 1890s behind the idea that a democratically-elected government should permanently own and manage land. Clayton tells stories of heroes both well-known (naturalist John Muir, President Theodore Roosevelt) and quirky (botanist Charles Sargent, Congressman William Holman).

“Audiences gain an understanding of the societal problems that public lands were designed to conquer. And in discussions of the 1890s’ mass extinctions, income inequality, public skepticism about science, and dysfunctional Congress, they may gain historical perspective on today’s challenges as well.”

John Clayton is a nonfiction writer who is drawn to the intersection of history, nature and culture. His book Wonderlandscape: Yellowstone National Park and the Evolution of an American Cultural Icon won the High Plains Book Award. His previous books include The Cowboy Girl: The Life of Caroline Lockhart and Stories from Montana’s Enduring Frontier. He often writes for the Montana Quarterly and Big Sky Journal, among other magazines.

During Clayton’s visit—which is made possible through Humanities Montana’s Montana Conversations program—he also will meet with students at Park High School. The free, public event will take place upstairs at 7 p.m., at Elk River Books, 120 N. Main St., in Livingston.

Elk River Arts & Lectures is a nonprofit organization that seeks to bring writers to Livingston for free public readings, and to provide opportunities for those writers to interact with local public school students. For more information, call 333-2330 or visit