The Old Scott Place

Contributed photo
Contributed photo
Location: Rockypoint and Ridge Road at the WY / MT line
GPS:   44d 59m 59s    -105d 1m 0s
Map / Satellite Image: Google Link

Travel Directions:
From Gillette, follow WY-59 north 26.6 miles to the “Rockypoint” sign (Heald Road).
Turn Right (E) onto Heald Road; go 1.9 miles to the Rockypoint Road intersection.
Turn Left (N) on Rockypoint Road and follow it 25 miles to the Rockypoint Cemetery. (Reference: 44d 54m 54s, 105d 5m 10s)
Continue North on Rockypoint Road (becomes the Rockypoint and Ridge Road) 10.9 miles to “the old Scott place,” at the Wyoming / Montana state line. (Reference: 44d 59m 59s, 105d 1m 0s)

Annie Proulx placed Jack’s family home in Lightning Flat, an extinct community that in the 1920s occupied a sleepy spot on the Wyoming / Montana border, about two hours north of Gillette. Some claim that she visited this place and drew inspiration from it. But, as Jack would say, “truth is,” she never did. [1] As she crafted her brilliant story, Proulx was unaware of Lightning Flat’s lone remaining dwelling, “the old Scott place.” Even her fantastic imagination could not have envisioned that one day readers of her story would make pilgrimages to Lightning Flat, seeking to feel a precious bit of Brokeback here.

Lightning Flat was settled by homesteaders following World War I at the headwaters of the Gammon Prong of the Little Missouri River. Grace Scott secured a homestead patent for this land in 1923, one of many area parcels claimed by members of that family. By the late 1920s, the town had a dance hall, a general store, a grocery store, and a farm gas station. It also had a fourth-class post office and a weekly newspaper, “The Lightning Flat Flash.” [2]

Absent irrigation, the local land was poorly suited for grazing and, as such, was “dry farmed.” A series of severe droughts in the late 1920s, and episodes of invading locusts, wiped out most farmers in that area. Much of their land was sold back to the Federal government during the Great Depression. Lightning Flat’s last remaining business, the store, closed in 1936.

The old Scott place is a grand ruin by any measure. It is, by far, the largest structure of its vintage in the region. It is even bigger than the substantial building that Ang Lee chose, and Judy Becker expertly decorated, for use in the film, the former Esslinger house near Beiseker, AB. Those who have visited both places will immediately recognize that the Esslinger house, though itself a crumbling ruin, is in a decidedly better state of preservation than its much larger Wyoming counterpart.

Neither of these buildings is the Twist Ranch of Annie Proulx’s story. She envisioned, and explicitly described, a much simpler, poorer house than the one found here. Her Twist Ranch was modeled upon “the old Childress place” near East Ulm, WY, an area almost as remote as Lightning Flat, located southwest of here, near Buffalo.

Much of the sublime experience of visiting this location derives from the hour of gravel road driving that is required to reach it. Just as Proulx wrote, your journey will be punctuated by occasional abandoned “blank-eyed” ranch houses, though none even approach the majestic old Scott place in their scale and poignancy.

We returned via the Montana road and were both astonished and pleased to spot a “rainbow” windsock on display some five miles north of here. (Reference: 45d 02m 42s -105d 1m 15s). As the “Gay Liberation” slogan of the 1980s proclaimed (admittedly dating ourselves to make a point here), “We are everywhere.”

Fill your automobile tank with gas at Gillette. Bring water and a snack. Wear boots and protective gear. Always obtain appropriate permission before entering private property. Those planning to enter old buildings should bring flashlights and be cautious of loose or missing floorboards and railings. Use caution, driveway may require four wheel drive / high-profile vehicle. Snakes may be active inside and around the building; take appropriate precautions. The building has been the subject of pilferage and vandalism. Please leave all that you find intact out of respect for the history, both real and fictional, of this powerful place.

“The road to Lightning Flat went through desolate country past a dozen abandoned ranches distributed over the plain at eight- and ten-mile intervals, houses sitting blank-eyed in the weeds, corral fences down.” [3]

[1] Conversation with E. Annie Proulx, Davidson College, Davidson, North Carolina, Shakestheground, September 14, 2006.
[2] Lightning Flat background information courtesy of Wyoming historian and author Geoff Dobson.
[3] Brokeback Mountain - Story to Screenplay by Annie Proulx, Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana (Scribner) ISBN-13: 978-0-7432-9416-4, page 24.

Pictures of surrounding area:



























  Revised 16 January 2011