Man in Glacier
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Chapter Three:

. . . it seems an absurdity to retain it in the category of forest reserves. This district and those adjoining it are of no use whatever for . . . the maintenance of watersheds and the conservation of the present water supply . . . the present conditions and future necessities of the ever-extending mining operations in this neighborhood, will speedily denude the country of its forests for mine timbers, lumber and fuel.

The Swift Current Courier
1 September 1900

. . . a man can find anything he wants in this region.

Charlie Howe, 1894

(Courtesy of Western History Department, Denver Public Library)

People have always come to Glacier for very personal reasons. The motivations which compel someone to travel several hundred or several thousand miles to visit or to stay in these mountains may vary among individuals, but these motives are generally personal and self-centered, and occasionally selfish. Today a visitor comes to Glacier to obtain "recreation," to hike, to view scenery different from that which he is used to, to fish the lakes or streams, to exercise his dormant muscles, or to get away from his urbanized environment. These very individual demands have been met by the mountains of Glacier National Park.

Similarly, the period following the American Civil War brought a renewed interest in Glacier's mountains which was very personal and very self-indulgent. Men came to prospect for minerals, to hunt for animals, to establish homesteads, to develop businesses, or to enjoy the scenery. However, these men were different from Glacier's earlier visitors—the Indians and the early explorers—because their visitation brought intentions of acquisition and exploitation as well as a desire for economic gain. This is not to say that people in the nineteenth century did not appreciate the "scenery" or enjoy the country they lived in or visited. But, as one observer stated: "This scenery doesn't put food on the table." Certainly their actions were not illegal nor their activities out of step with the free-enterprise capitalism evident throughout the West during this period. And as we shall see later, some of these self-centered attitudes gave way to higher purposes of preservation. But the story of Glacier's mountains between 1860 and 1910 is basically one of human greed.

The search for mineral wealth was nothing new by the 1860s. Prospectors roamed through much of the Rocky Mountain West from Colorado to Canada searching for quick wealth after the discovery of gold. The early history of Montana is the story of one "rush" following another with footloose prospectors combing the hills and mountains between major "strikes," searching for "leads." In 1862, Montana experienced its first major strikes when gold was located at both Gold Creek and Bannack. The following year the rush turned to Virginia City and Alder Gulch, with many frustrated prospectors leaving immediately for British Columbia's Stud Horse (later Wild Horse) Creek diggings, just fifty miles north of the border on the Kootenai River.

(Western History Department, Denver Public Library)

By 1864, enough people had entered Montana to provide a successful movement for territorial status and the first legislative assembly was convened. One of the first acts the assembly passed provided for the establishment of the "Fort Benton and Kootenai Wagon Road Company." The intention of that act was to provide transportation and communication between the newly located strikes on the Kootenai River and the commercial center east of the mountains. This road was to travel through Marias Pass and might have effectively opened that section of Montana's mountains to travel, but Indian troubles, combined with strikes elsewhere, meant the road plans would be abandoned by 1865.

During 1866 there was "excitement about the Saskatchewan diggings" and American prospectors headed north to claim their fortune on the gravel bars of that river system. But Indian resistance to white incursions remained quite strong. One contemporary reported that in 1867 alone, some three hundred "over venturesome miners and prospectors were killed" by Indians as they searched the mountains or crossed the northern plains in search of wealth.

Without question some of these overventuresome miners visited the mountains of Glacier while heading toward British Columbia or the Saskatchewan strikes or on their way back to Helena. Historian Paul Sharp, writing in Whoop-Up Country, reported that during 1866, eighty prospectors led by James Fiske, explored the Upper Marias drainages searching for mineral deposits, possibly as far north as today's Glacier Park. The following year a group of prospectors led by E. K. Jaques traveled from Missoula to the North Fork region. When mistaken for an Indian, Jaques was shot through both legs by a companion, and the entire party was forced to spend the following winter camped in the area. By the spring of 1868, Jaques and his friends were able to struggle back to the Flathead Valley. He then returned to the East with a permanently withered leg to remind him of his visit to this wilderness. James Willard Schultz also reported that a party of prospectors led by Joseph Kipp explored the St. Mary Lakes region in 1869, becoming the "second white party" after Hugh Monroe to observe the area. While Schultz's statement about who was first and who was second is pure speculation, the fact that these prospecting parties were entering the country is significant. Even though they failed in their search, continued on into Alberta, or fled the area, they provided evidence of early prospecting interest in the region.

Indian opposition to these incursions came to a swift and devastating conclusion in 1870. Following some escalating incidents between the Blackfeet and whites near Fort Benton and Helena, an early Montana settler, Malcolm Clark, was killed by some Piegan, and the demand for immediate retaliation echoed throughout the territory. Major Eugene M. Baker was dispatched to punish the offending Indians. Instead of finding the hostiles in a camp led by Mountain Chief, Baker encountered a camp of smallpox-stricken Piegan led by Heavy Runner and attacked them, killing 173 of the Indians, fifty-three of whom were women and children. This controversial "Baker Massacre" ended organized Indian resistance along Montana's front range. As H. L. Harrod reported in Mission Among the Blackfeet, the Baker Massacre, combined with a devastating smallpox epidemic and continuing white incursions, meant that the Blackfeet lost more than half their population, placed their social organization in "deep decay," and left them "utterly demoralized as a people."

The end of Blackfoot resistance meant that miners and traders could travel more freely through this country. During the 1870s, several documented expeditions moved through the area. While the accounts are partly unreliable, a party of prospectors led by Frank Lehman proceeded over Marias Pass from the west and then crossed into Alberta while searching for copper in 1870. Similarly, a group of Texans led by William Veach supposedly conducted a prospecting trip through the St. Mary region in 1876, discovered a thirty-ounce gold nugget near Quartz Lake, and then left the area for California. By the late 1870s, numerous parties had entered the Glacier region with men like Duncan McDonald (for whom, some believe, Lake McDonald was named) transporting supplies into Canada by way of the North Fork of the Flathead and proceeding across Marias Pass numerous times.

The hope of finding quick wealth in Montana's mountains brought an influx of prospectors and miners during the 1860s. Early maps of the northern Rockies were labeled "Copper, Silver, and Gold." Rushes to Bannack, Alder Gulch, and Last Chance Gulch yielded wealth for, a very few miners while the overflow or disappointed scoured nearby regions hoping to find a "lead" to the "mother lode." (Western History Department, Denver Public Library)

The end of "Indian deviltry" introduced another type of individual to the country east of Glacier during the 1870s. The whiskey trader played upon the weakened condition of the Indians and upon their desire for liquor. H. L. Harrod noted: "The spread of liquor was especially devastating to the Blackfoot society because there were no traditional social controls to protect individuals from the effects of the powerful 'white man's water.'" Historian Ralph Beals added: "Although there were exceptions, most of these traders were of a very low class. Liquor flowed freely and the Indians were hopelessly debauched. Gambling and lawlessness reached a true 'wild west' pitch." Heavily fortified trading posts began to dot the plains east of Glacier and northward into Alberta. One of the most infamous of these was Fort Whoop-Up near today's Lethbridge, Alberta. Others, like Forts Slideout, Spitzee, and Standoff, provided locations for the illicit liquor trade. According to James Willard Schultz, John Kennedy established a small whiskey post at the junction of the St. Mary River and Kennedy Creek, near the northeast corner of today's park. This outpost lasted only a short time, but Kennedy Creek remains as a reminder of that period.

The illegal trade of liquor to the Indians was halted by increased U.S. Army patrols and other federal agents in the region. Numerous traders fled north of the border to escape local or federal law-enforcement officials. Finally, the presence of the newly organized Northwest Mounted Police in western Canada, after 1874, effectively ended that kind of free enterprise among the Red Man. The damage done was considerable. As a Catholic missionary stated: "In the summer of 1874, I was traveling amongst the Blackfeet. It was painful to me to see the state of poverty to which they had been reduced. Formerly they had been the most opulent Indians in the country, now they were clothed in rags without horses and without guns."

The prospectors and whiskey traders led the way to and through the mountains of northwestern Montana, but left little evidence of their visits. Official surveys, with well-documented observations, followed on their heels. By late summer of 1874, the North West Boundary Commission, directed by U.S. Commissioner Archibald Campbell and British Commissioner Capt. Donald R. Cameron, approached Glacier's northern mountains. Coming from the east during August of 1874, the joint survey entered the mountainous region. Mute evidence of Blackfoot presence was seen when the survey members found the bodies of twenty slain Crow Indians just east of the foothills. During their encampment at Waterton Lake, their pack animals were badly frightened by a grizzly bear; members of the expedition toured the surrounding mountains, rolled rocks down precipitous cliffs, fished the lakes and streams, and observed the scenery and wildlife. Completing their task, they left at the end of August and headed back east, having established the mutual border between the two nations.

That same year two Army lieutenants from Fort Shaw were directed to explore the country between Fort Colville in Washington and the plains of Montana. Upon their return from Washington, the lieutenants, Charles A. Woodruff and John Van Orsdale, proceeded north from Flathead Lake, followed the Middle Fork of the Flathead River, visited Lake McDonald (which they called Terry Lake in honor of their commanding officer), continued up Nyack Creek, crossed Cut Bank Pass, and returned to Fort Shaw. Substantially impressed with the country, Lt. Van Orsdale would later be the first to suggest that this territory be kept free of settlement and be made a national park.

The decade and a half following the Civil War changed the complexion of the region surrounding Glacier. The Indians were transformed from their position of power to a people racked with disease and poverty. Prospectors began to explore this unopened region, leaving only scattered reports of their activities. The official surveys came and left, impressing only a few of their members with the grandeur of the scene.


Man in Glacier
©1976, Glacier Natural History Association
buchholtz/chap3.htm — 28-Feb-2006

Copyright © 1976 Glacier Natural History Association. All rights reserved. Material from this edition may not be reproduced in any manner without the written consent of the author and publisher.