Deirdre Shaw's History Blog
Twenty-one Days Traveling through Glacier: Journal Excerpts from the 1912 Geographic Society of Chicago's Visit to Glacier National Park
"It is Belton and the morning of the first day of the adventure. We are fifteen in number with a charming preponderance (as one of the men graciously puts it) of women. We are clothed according to the dictates of our own conscience, and our acquired ideas of what is most fitting with which to confront climate and topography in the mountains."
The preceding is an excerpt from the "Journal of the Annual Summer Excursion of the Geographic Society of Chicago"—a published recounting of the twenty-one day visit to Glacier National Park in summer of 1912 by a group of thirty-something young professionals from Illinois. As far as I can determine, the group was primarily educators with at least one physician (female) and a lawyer (male) accompanying them. Written by members of the party, the story of their sweep through the park is sprinkled with descriptions of park trails, lakes, chalets, personalities, and their own adventures on horseback and afoot. I thought I would share a bit of it with you.
If one is familiar with the topography of Glacier, their journey is fairly impressive. Starting at Belton (now West Glacier) and the Lake McDonald area, they ventured east to Gunsight Pass, St. Mary Lake, Iceberg Lake, Swiftcurrent Pass, Boulder Creek, Cut Bank, Two Medicine and many other spots in between.
But, I will let their own words tell the story, beginning at the Belton Chalets:
"The chalets were charming and artistic. There service was good indeed and Belton itself, although it lies at the outskirts of the wilderness of one's dreams, was too interesting to be exhausted in the one afternoon we had to devote to it. On the eve of our great adventure some of our interest centered in the blacksmith shop where [boot] hob nails were adjusted after a fashion and in the one store where the real luxuries of the wilderness were to be had—knives, tooth brushes, fishing tackle, collar buttons, postage stamps, etc."
Their impression of Lake McDonald as they boated up the lake from Apgar is probably much the same as today's park visitors:
"We are heading nine miles up the lake, straight into the mountains. It is a perfect day. There is not a ripple on the lake and the surface of its cold clear waters is a flawless mirror wherein appears first the reflection of the forests, then every detail of the great mountains which as we advance seem to rise up one by one and draw in about us."
Their stay at the head of the lake at the "Glacier Hotel" was not at the Lake McDonald Lodge we know today, but at the two-story frame building that preceded it on the same spot. Joining a large horse party there, the Chicagoans then proceeded up to Sperry Camp (the chalet was not yet there) for a night's stay, and then over Gunsight Pass to the foot of Gunsight Lake. Their horses rested a day while they took a day hike to Blackfoot Glacier and had a fine lunch:
"It was the time of Sunday dinner and there was no home cooked lamb, no peas from the garden, and not strawberry ice cream, but . . . what the guides drew out of the gunny sacks they had carried on their backs tasted like a royal feast. (The lady soliloquizes:) I ate three hard boiled eggs, one can of salmon, two ham sandwiches, some sardines, six cookies, and a few other things."
A day later, the party found themselves somewhat marooned at the Going-to-the-Sun Chalets (located on what is now called Sun Point) because the ferocious St. Mary winds prevented the regular boat launch from coming up the lake to retrieve them for their trip to Many Glacier. However, the end of the day found them gathered together, "kept warm and comfortable by a camp fire" and "singing our hearts out in a varied repertoire that gave the singers much satisfaction and did no permanent damage to the promontory."
At the Many Glacier Chalets, they enjoyed their stay at the edge of Swiftcurrent Lake and advised future visitors:
"Bring your bathing suit if you are of the kind that like a good cold dip before breakfast. Yes, it is ice-cold, to be sure, but that is just why it feels good. Besides it is a fine preparation for the regular breakfast of pears, corn flakes, coffee, doughnuts, bread and apple butter, potatoes, ham and eggs, bacon, fish, asparagus-on-toast, two kinds of cake, ginger snaps, cakes and syrup and you are ready for the top of any mountain a guide could find."
In addition to the lengthy itemizations of their daily fare, they also included inventories of the flora observed along the way. At Cracker Lake, they "came into high sloping meadows which were surely the last word in wild-flower gardens. Here were gentians adding their blue to that of the forget-me-nots and asters and larkspur, of hair-bells and wild flax. And the yellow buttercups and potentillas, as large as our buttercups, and columbine and hawkweed and goldenrod, paint brush, saxifrage, and heather, rockcress and heather, and almost everything you could dream of."
It was in the Many Glacier valley that the group traveled up Cataract Creek, accompanied by none other than Mr. Louis Hill (President of the Great Northern Railway) and the area's district park ranger, Frank Stevenson. According to the journal, the two men were in search of a "practicable" route for a trail up and over Piegan Pass to the St. Mary Valley. Citing the challenges of scaling the mountainside after a stop at the foot of what must have been Morning Eagle Falls, the journal notes that most of the party "sought Piegan Pass, in fancy, which left plenty of time for a comfortable siesta, Piegan unvisited!" The party then ended their Glacier adventure by riding south from the Swiftcurrent Valley to Two Medicine via Boulder Creek and Cut Bank.
I hope you've enjoyed this sampling of their journal. I am pleased to tell you that you can view photographs of the group in the park on the website of the current Geographic Society of Chicago at www.geographicsociety.org. Click on "Photo Gallery" and you'll find some great images of their 1912 trip to Glacier.
Over the River and Through the Woods
This weekend many of us will sit down to a familiar Thanksgiving repast of turkey, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, sweet potatoes, and, of course, pumpkin pie. For me, the day always sparks memories of other Thanksgivings amongst family and friends. This week also brought the first real winter weather to park headquarters and necessitated the performance of the seasonal rituals of scraping windshields, shoveling snow and mindfully making one's way over icy paths between office, home, and car. Simply stated, it's that time of year again.
Paging through the older ranger station logbooks we have here in the archives, one can get a peek into the winter holiday rituals of the park's ranger staff of years past. I thought I would share some of their logbook entries made over the Thanksgiving weekend of 1932 when many rangers and spouses still lived and work year-round in the park's main ranger stations.
Logging Creek Ranger Hugh Peyton, creatively referencing both the historical and geographical roots of the holiday, noted that Kishenehn Ranger Andy Fleutsch had paid him a visit to "help devour ye whole turkey in commemoration of the establishment ye Pilgrim fathers on the Baked bean coast of Bawston. The radio did sqwak [sic] many nasal attempts to call attention to the fact that we should be thankful when lo full of ye afore mentioned bird we are thankful already."
Ray Newberry, writing from the Lake McDonald Ranger Station at the head of the lake, made no mention of any special dinner for that Thursday, but documented at least one accomplishment: "Used up the rest of the bale of oakum on the west end of the house. If I had another bale could make a fairly warm cabin of this 15.00 shack. However, the oakum I have used has added much to the comfort of the living room and cut down the wood consumption a lot." The holiday did not go uncelebrated, however. Two days later Newberry drove over to the Lake McDonald Hotel [now Lodge] to attend a 'bit of a party with nearly everybody at the head of the lake there' hosted by the winter caretakers, the Stevensons. Newberry last note for the day was "returned home late."
Down on the Middle Fork, Ranger Ben Miller made it home for his Thanksgiving dinner with his wife after a seventeen-mile patrol from Coal Creek Snowshoe Cabin back to his base at the brand new Walton Ranger Station. Running into a "real old fashioned Chinook wind" along the way, Miller noted that he had taken a shot at a coyote just north of Park Creek, but "didn't score as it was a snap shot through the trees."
Over on the east side of the park, Cut Bank Ranger Harry Doust and wife entertained a couple of fellow rangers for dinner the Friday after the official holiday. Doust recorded that he "went out to main highway to meet Tom [Whitcraft] who brought in 2 turkeys & all the trimmings. Drove car with a bit of shoveling as far as the last hill about 150 yds from park entrance." I'm not sure if it were Doust or Whitcraft that had to do the shoveling, but Doust recorded his travel for the day as: "Foot 5 miles, car 5 miles."
Stationed at Two Medicine, Ranger Clyde Fauley traveled by foot and snowshoe to join the Cut Bank crowd and noted the day in his own logbook: "Went to South Fork cabin [on Lake Creek] and put in some time sawing wood after which I mushed on over to Cut Bank and helped Dousts on a turkey dinner. Tom W who had taken the fixings out also assisted and a big time was had by all. A great hostess--Mrs. Doust. Carried a full pack of mail to [them]."
I hope these rangers don't mind us stealing a look at their Thanksgiving holidays of seventy-eight years ago. My guess is that—if it were possible—we would have been invited in for dinner.
Did You Know?
Did you know that 2003 was one of the hottest recorded years in Glacier National Park's history? That year, approximately 144,000 acres burned from multiple wildfires.