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LIANE HANSEN, host:

Nearly all of Yellowstone National Park falls within the state boundaries of Wyoming. But that doesn't stop Montanans from claiming the Yellowstone River as their own. In fact, one self-described Montana chauvinist has put this sentiment to music. As we hear in this week's What's In A Song, our occasional series, from the Western Folklife Center about one song and its story.

(Soundbite of song 'Yellowstone')

Mr. STAN HOWE (Entertainer, Helena, Montana): My name is Stan Howe. I live in Helena Montana, and I am in the auction business for a living and an entertainer. I'm one of those people, I do everything I can think of to make a buck.

(Singing) Take me back along the Yellowstone. Let me see again as I use to row.

I think Yellowstone is a great symbol to a lot of people in Montana. It's not dammed. There's very little development along the Yellowstone. Most places are still ranches. And in some ways, it's kind of untamable. And I think a lot of people in Montana see themselves that way, especially Eastern Montana people, the rural people. They tend to be pretty proud of what they are, where they are, and the Yellowstone is like that.

(Singing) Where the (unintelligible) reach the sunrise every moment. Where the mountains, the sunset every night...

The other thing is, the Yellowstone starts and ends in Montana, basically. You know, most rivers cross state lines and go, you know, if you look at the Missouri or the Mississippi, the Missouri starts in Montana, too, at Three Forks. but then the Missouri runs through North Dakota and South Dakota and kind of loses its Montana identity. But the Yellowstone is basically a Montana river. It starts on the north side of Yellowstone Park, so it's a little bit in what could be Wyoming, runs north to Livingston, and then it runs northeast to Fairview, Montana, and in just a very few miles, it's only, I think, 10 miles into North Dakota, is where it joins the Missouri. So it's kind of our river.

(Singing) Let me ride across Montana's eastern prairie. Take me back along the Yellowstone.

When I was a kid, I would - big treat was to go to a movie in Baker. And Baker is 19 miles from North Dakota. It's a flat land, eastern Montana farm town, but the two paintings on the wall of the theater that we were fascinated by were upper and lower Yellowstone Falls. And that was our Yellowstone Falls.

And when I was nine, we went to Yellowstone Park. We saw Upper Falls and the Lower Falls, just like they were on the walls of the Lake Theater in Baker. And it was the high point of young life. It's 60, almost 60 years ago now. And I remember, you know, virtually every place we stopped in Yellowstone and every detail of that day.

(Singing) Take me back along the Yellowstone. Let me see again...

HANSEN: What's In A Song is produced by Hal Cannon and Taki Telonidis of the Western Folklife Center. You're listening to NPR News.

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