Growing up in the MonDak


Arlene Davidson reads her memoir, “On Sourdough and Commitment.”

Fairview native Arlene Davidson recently published a memoir recounting her childhood in eastern Montana.

Davidson’s book, titled “On Sourdough and Commitment,” weaves together the story of her own upbringing in Fairview, the 12 years she spent as a cattle rancher in Sanders County and the murder of an army captain, who was killed by his own mother-in-law shortly after returning home from World War II.

“It was a pretty sensational case for the state of Montana,” said Davidson, who learned of the murder after she married her first husband, Ray Warner, whose grandmother committed the offense.

Davidson’s book came as a result of her research on the murder. “I was trying to figure out what really happened,” Davidson said. “Because the stories that came down from the family were inaccurate.”

Davidson’s research included checking newspaper archives from the Missoulan, the Plainsman and the Sanders County Ledger. She also consulted court documents and the Montana Historical Society to piece together what really happened.

While the book attempts to set the record straight regarding the murder, Davidson said the book is also about her own life. “The book is really a memoir about my childhood in eastern Montana,” she said. “There is a lot about what was happening in the 1940s in that area. It was a wonderful place to grow up.”

Davidson, the daughter of pioneer settlers, graduated from Fairview High School in 1953. Her mother, Alpha Dow, came to Fairview from Hatton N.D., to accompany a southern woman named Emily Worst. Her father, Howard Dow, traveled to Fairview with his family in the 1920s when irrigation came to the valley.

Davidson met Warner at a ski resort when she was a college student at the University of Montana. The couple married and moved to Warner’s family’s ranch outside Plains in Sanders County.

She eventually left the ranch and moved to Boise, where she held various administrative positions within the Idaho state government. Before she retired, she was the executive director of the Idaho Commission on Aging.

Davidson began writing her memoir four years ago after she met John Updike at a luncheon put on by the Idaho Humanities Commission. Davidson was interested in writing a memoir at the time, but she didn’t think it was possible because she was not very good at typing. Looking for inspiration, she asked Updike how he physically wrote his novels.

“He said the only way I can write is at a stand up desk on yellow legal pads,” Davidson said. If that was good enough for him, Davidson thought it was good enough for her. “That was when I got serious about writing,” she said.

Davidson took four years to complete her memoir, writing the entire book on yellow legal pads, which were transcribed onto a computer by Justin Larson, who was Davidson’s administrative assistant when she worked for the Idaho state government.

“On Sourdough and Commitment” can be purchased at the gift shop in the MonDak Heritage Center.

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