A Black Woman’s West

A Black Woman’s West: The Life of Rose B. Gordon completes a duology of biographies about the Gordon family from Montana. Can’t Stand Still told the story of singer Taylor Gordon. A Black Woman’s West follows the life of his sister Rose.

Available from the Montana Historical Society Press.

Born in the Barker mining district of central Montana Territory, Rose Beatrice Gordon (1883-1968) was the daughter of an African American chef and an emancipated slave who migrated to the West in the early 1880s.

This book will tell the story of the Gordon family—John, Anna, Robert, Rose, John Francis Jr., George, and Taylor—and pays tribute to Rose, who lived most of her life in White Sulphur Springs. In her youth, Rose excelled academically and distinguished herself as a musical performer.

As an adult, she established her economic independence as a restaurant owner, massage therapist, and caregiver. She also made a place for herself in the public sphere through letters to the editor and eventually through a regular newspaper column for the “Meagher County News”—a remarkable undertaking at a time when Black women in America were largely denied a public voice.

As a Black woman in the West, Gordon’s life was ordinary in terms of its day-to-day struggles but extraordinary in its sum. Her story offers unique insights into the Black experience in the rural West in the first half of the twentieth century.

Softcover, 265 pages.

“Michael Johnson has found Rose Gordon’s voice, and all Montanans should applaud. Johnson presents the important Gordon family, and Rose’s own life and times, through her own words and in the context of Montana and the nation’s racial environment. The result is rare insight and marvelous reading—I came to love Rose, her words, and Johnson’s work.”

—Ken Robison, author of Cold War Montana and Historic Tales of Whoop-Up Country

“The story of a single life, well told, always amounts to more than the sum of its parts. Critically, Johnson allows the lives that Rose Gordon and her family led in White Sulphur Springs to stand on their own. But through Rose’s story, he recovers a much wider history of Montana’s society and culture that is seldom told. As a book meditating on race, belonging and the meaning of home, A Black Woman’s West has much to say to all students of Montana and Western history.”

—Anthony W. Wood, author of Black Montana