The Montana Town Named For A British Poet
"Kipling himself, I’m sure, would be as proud of the town as the folks there are to bear his name."
Montana and Michigan are two very different states some 900 miles apart. Aside from the same first letter, one thing both have in common is a town named Rudyard. Michigan, however, also has another town named for the same man—Kipling.
A few hundred people inhabit the unincorporated Hill County community of Rudyard, about 40 miles south of the Canadian border. A sign up there declares, “596 Nice People, 1 Old Sore Head.” They have good reason to be proud of their name. Rudyard Kipling was a remarkable and popular poet and novelist.
He was born a British subject in Bombay, India in 1865, and is remembered mainly for his significant contributions to English literature. His novels, short stories, and poetry earned him an immense following the world over, rekindled with the release of the Kipling-inspired 2016 film, “The Jungle Book.” In 1907, at the age of 42, he was awarded a Nobel Prize in Literature, the first English-language recipient to ever win the award. And 87 years after his death in 1936, he remains the youngest Nobel laureate in Literature ever.
He was also an unofficial Poet Laureate of Great Britain—unofficial only because he could have had the title but declined it. He wasn’t much for awards and fancy appellations; he even turned down a knighthood.
Kipling’s extensive travels took him to many of the major cities along the East Coast and to Seattle, Vancouver, and Yellowstone National Park in the West. He passed through Montana in 1889, marveling at the soon-to-be state’s “ideal” trout streams.
In New York, he knocked unannounced on the door of Mark Twain, who welcomed him in for several hours of storytelling and cigars. The two enjoyed each other’s company immensely. “Between us, we cover all knowledge,” Twain wrote of their meeting. “He covers all that can be known, and I cover the rest.”
Kipling’s outspoken views on the foreign and domestic policies of his day guaranteed him some powerful enemies and sometimes rattled his friends. While his foreign policy views in defense of Empire and military interventions were troublesome to some, he was outspoken in favor of liberty and free enterprise at home. Along with two other prominent Brits in 1920, he co-founded the Liberty League with the express purpose of advancing those very ideas. When his cousin Stanley Baldwin became Prime Minister of Great Britain in 1923, Kipling publicly chastised him as “a socialist at heart.”
Kipling detested communism, especially the Soviet variety from its inception under Lenin in 1917. With the Bolshevik rise to power, one sixth of the world, he wrote, had “passed bodily out of civilization.” In a 1918 poem, Kipling depicted the Soviet Union as a sanctum of evil that replaced what good there once was in Russia with “the sound of weeping and the sight of burning fire, and the shadow of a people trampled into the mire.” Moscow banned his writings for decades long after his death in 1936.
In 1895, when he was 30 years of age, Kipling penned a poem with the single-word title, “If.” He set it aside for 15 years before authorizing its publication in 1910. Seen by literary critics as an example of “Victorian-era stoicism,” it remains well-known and popular across Britain today.
The last stanza of “If” may encourage you to read the rest of the poem:
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son.
I haven’t yet had the good fortune of spending time in Rudyard, but I very much want to visit one of these days—to tour the notable local history museum in the town’s old train depot and to see the cars in the vintage automobile museum. Kipling himself, I’m sure, would be as proud of the town as the folks there are to bear his name.
Lawrence W. Reed writes a monthly column for the Frontier Institute in Helena, on whose board he serves. He is president emeritus of the Foundation for Economic Education and blogs at www.lawrencewreed.com.