An inept recounting of a Montana pioneer's glory days. James Wells (1835-85), a North Carolinian, came to Montana in 1860 after having tried his hand at riding for the Pony Express and driving a stagecoach in California. For the next quarter-century he lived among Gros Ventre and Blackfeet Indians, trading and trapping and, in the end, dying of consumption. As far as regional history is concerned, his story goes little deeper than all that. His great-grandson, former State Department official Franks, tries mightily to give more significance to his forebear's life, but he fails, largely because his handling of the biographical and historical materials is so clumsy and his narrative skill so wanting. Franks relates too many episodes through invented dialogue that makes no effort to be true to its setting and time; Wells talks like a bit player in a very bad B Western (""Damn, this is good coffee!--I've been drinking ground buffalo chips when I could find them. . . . I been trying to get back here for weeks, damn near killed my team and froze my ass""), and what he has to say seems calculated to make the reader set this book aside at the first opportunity. Franks turns up an interesting factoid or two about life in frontier forts and trading posts, and, for lard lovers, he offers a useful recipe for powder biscuits. But these are rare shining moments in a book that swiftly goes from bad to--dagnab it--plain unreadable.