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On this date in 1864, in the brief and fraught respite between the gruesome battles at Spotsylvania Courthouse and Cold Harbor, Abraham Lincoln signed a proclamation making Montana a U.S. territory. Statehood would come 25 years earlier.

In the ensuing decades, Montana has stamped itself as a special place in our national consciousness, celebrated in songs, novels, and movies as "the last best place," a Lincoln-esque description coined in 1983 by naturalist Douglas H. Chadwick.

I've been to Montana many times, fished its rivers and streams, patronized its saloons, hiked its mountains, broke bread in that state with old friends and new. But I loved the place before I ever set foot in it, mainly because of its writers.

Movie fans (and followers of this newsletter) are familiar with the opening sentence in "A River Runs Through It," by Montana native Norman Maclean. "In our family," he wrote, "there was no clear line between religion and fly fishing."

Equally evocative are some of the first few lines of "This House of Sky," Ivan Doig's autobiographical account of his own Montana childhood:

"Soon before daybreak on my sixth birthday, my mother's breathing wheezed more raggedly than ever, then quieted. And then stopped.

"The remembering begins out of that new silence. Through the time since, I reached back along my father's telling and around the urgings which would have me face about and forget, to feel into these oldest shadows for the first sudden edge of it all.

"It starts, early in the mountain summer, far back among the high spilling slopes of the Bridger Range of southwestern Montana. The single sound is hidden water -- the south fork of Sixteenmile Creek diving down its willow-masked gulch. The stream flees north through this secret and people-less land, until, under the dark fur flanks of Hatfield Mountain, a bow of meadow makes the riffled water curl wide to the west."

Carl M. Cannon is the Washington bureau chief for RealClearPolitics. Reach him on Twitter @CarlCannon.

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