Wind River Country, Hidden Heart of Wyoming

by Claude Poulet

Wind River Country, Hidden Heart of Wyoming book cover - front - Click for larger image

Front cover - Click to enlarge image

Wind River Country, Hidden Heart of Wyoming is a 176 page book containing hundreds of color pictures by Claude Poulet, the award winning French photographer who fell in love with this country and has spent much of his time here for the last 25 years and lengthy text by Bayard Fox, owner of the Bitterroot Ranch.
Wind River Country, Hidden Heart of Wyoming book cover - back - Click for larger image

Back cover - Click to enlarge image

In the early pages of the book dealing with history, there are also some black and white pictures taken in much earlier times. While it is a coffee table book, there is far more text than is usually included in that class of book. It discusses in some depth the history of the area including the fascinating tale of how the acquisition of the horse in the early 18th century transformed the lives of the Plains Indians and the tragic fate of the Mountain Indians who lived in the high Alpine fastnesses, mainly by hunting bighorned sheep. It describes the lives of the mountain men, the early pioneers, the start of cattle ranching, the chaotic era of outlaws like Butch Cassidy, the cowboy mystique and the history of dude ranches. It includes modern activities, flora and fauna, pack trips and lumbering.


Read a review of the book from the Billings Gazette below:


CHRISTINE PIERCE For The Gazette | Posted: Sunday, September 6, 2009 12:00 am

"Wind River Country: Hidden Heart of Wyoming"

Author: Bayard Fox
Photographer: Claude Poulet
Publisher: Fremont County Publishing

What I find the most compelling about "Wind River Country, Hidden Heart of Wyoming" is the passion that binds this book.

A true love and passion for the land, the place and its people are evident on every page by both the author, Bayard Fox, and the photographer, Claude Poulet.

Two men brought together a mutual admiration of the West and their own personal history in the unheralded Wind River Country to create a documentation of this unique piece of the Wyoming West. They explore the Wind River's history, flora, fauna, hidden treasures, communities, livelihood's and cultures in 176 pages of well-thought-out narrative and photo documentation.

Having seven generations of family who have lived and are living in the Rocky Mountain West, I feel a very personal connection to place and like to think I may have an insight into the West that can be easily overlooked by newcomers.

The fact that both Fox and Poulet are not native Westerners gives this book a deeper sense of credence to me because that passion and love of place that I mentioned is so alive in their book. Even though the author and photographer were not Westerners by birth, if one can measure connection to place in terms of appreciation and decades of hands-on interaction, one could say they are now.

French photographer Poulet tells a carefully constructed story with his images. Translated into text, this personal documentation of place would fill volumes.

Poulet, a professional photographer, displays a wide range of subject matter and style in his exposé of Wind River country.

His photos range from professional portraiture, everyday folks, cowboys, American Indians, landscape vistas, zoomed-in wildlife to simple storytelling snapshots.

He covered what looks like every accessible part of the Wind River country on horseback, from back roads, small planes, on the water, on foot and probably on snowshoes or skis. The looks of this book show Poulet collecting and documenting images for what must be a minimum of a full year of seasons, likely much longer.

Action, skill, superior horsemanship, intensity and teamwork explode from the pages in his series of shots covering the Indian bareback relay race.

During this hair-raising annual event, riders race the half-mile track bareback three times on three different horses. Team members wrangle anxious horses to ensure as smooth a leap from one horse to another for the rider as they can.

Poulet's series of portraits of locals doing what they do on their own turf is quite the personal essay. Musicians playing guitar and washtub bass at home; a family harvesting their pumpkin crop; the owner of a local very colorful, cornerstone bar seated at his counter; a trapper on the river; a farmer standing with his tractor in green, freshly cut hay, pausing for a moment against rolling gray clouds and a fading rainbow.

All of these faces show a relaxed, open and at-ease demeanor.

I've always thought you could tell a lot about a photographer by the looks on the faces of those they photograph.

Fox's narrative shows that honed insight of a life-long learner and that of one with respect for the land and its wild, ongoing orchestration of interdependent fauna and flora.

He is one who keens into stories of local geology, history, human connections, the untold and unexpected stories. His writing speaks as much about him as it does this small slice of the West he portrays.

I must say I truly appreciate the range of depth and detail he explores in his economical yet rich style.

Historical photos of Scandinavian railroad-tie hacks and lumberman are astounding.

One beautiful image documents precision stacks of several thousand hand-hewn railroad ties. The 15- to 20-foot-tall stacks are monumental stepped walls of almost perfectly squared timber that line the banks of the Wind River for probably an eighth of a mile.

This black-and-white, turn-of-the-20th-century photo shows about a dozen men tending to and moving the heavy, wooden ties, prying and rolling them one at a time, into the Wind River for free-floating transport 100 miles downstream to Riverton.

This single image represented an entire year's work for a team of these powerful woodsmen. Fox says they were accurate with their axes to within a quarter of an inch, never measured and are still celebrated with an annual event in Dubois.

Fox's narrative chronicles the area from geologic upheavals to present day. He includes a respectful piece on the first people, Americans Indians, the first French trappers in the area, centurion and Shoshone statesman Washakie, the Shoshone Arapaho nation, ranching, cowboys and through the present day.

Fox points out that French explorer Verendrye saw and wrote about this area in the 1740s, crediting French trappers as the first mountain men in the American West.

A few things may have rounded out this book a bit more.

Fox could have mentioned a bit about the Spanish influence on the West and their one-time ownership of what is now Wyoming. About his suggestion of global warming as a natural cycle, one may want to investigate what leading scientists in the world are saying.

Wolves are less humane killers than hunters? Again, might want to note how many wolves have ever abandoned wounded prey. While most hunters are careful to only take a shot that will ensure a harvest, there are those who are not as respectful.

While Poulet's photos tell a powerful and personal story, I would have enjoyed a more consistent quality of color reproduction and an overall more in-sync thematic thread in terms of stylistic approach.

Some of the images seemed color balanced favoring one color over another. For example, while more blue pops the sky or water, it, in turn, gives the entire image a subtle blue cast.

Some images are compositionally and technically astute, while others seem a bit more opportunistic.

All in all. "Wind River Country" is an important documentation of a specific area's history and present complex culture.

Poulet and Fox have illuminated a small corner of the West and, for the outsider, have given it a compelling persona and a well-defined voice.

Reviewer Christine Pierce is a Montana native with an undergraduate degree in communications from Montana State University Billings and a master's in art from the University of Montana, with an emphasis on writing, directing and film studies.

She has been a photographer most her life with many shows of her work over the years in the area. She studied graduate-level photographic composition and design at UM and has specialized in hand-painted and hand-colored photographs.

If you go

Thirteen books were selected as finalists for the 2009 Parmly Billings Library High Plains Book Awards. All of the books were published for the first time in 2008 and written by a regional author or writing team, or is a literary work which examines and reflects life on the High Plains.

"Wind River Country" by Bayard Fox and Claude Poulet was a finalist in the "First Book" category.

For tickets and more information about the Friday, Oct. 2, High Plains Book Award banquet at Montana State University Billings, call Billings Parmly Library at 657-8292 or visit highplainsbookawards.org/.

The seventh annual High Plains BookFest will focus on Native American culture, history, literature and art. Presented by YMCA Writer's Voice and the Billings Cultural Partners, the bookfest features public readings and panel discussions on Oct. 2 and 3 at sites around Billings. It also kicks off The Big Read with Louise Erdrich's novel "Love Medicine."

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Wind River Country book cover

Bayard's book about this part of Wyoming

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