Man in Glacier
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Chapter Three:

The decade of the 1880s hastened the deterioration of the Blackfeet and heightened interest in the mountains adjacent to their territory. By 1882, the last of the buffalo were slaughtered for their hides by both Indian and white hunters alike. The Blackfeet failed to consent to or adopt cattle ranching or farming, and by 1883-84 starvation among the tribe was rampant. Because of government neglect, James Willard Schultz wrote to the well-known Indian authority and editor of Forest and Stream magazine, George Bird Grinnell, concerning the welfare of the Blackfoot tribe. In the spring of 1885, Grinnell arrived on the Blackfeet Reservation and observed their destitute condition. Due to his influence and a change of administrators, government aid to the Blackfeet gradually increased.

St. Mary Lake
The region of St. Mary Lakes and the Swiftcurrent Valley attracted prospectors and sportsmen alike. Though referred to as "The Walled-In Lakes" or "The Lakes-Inside" by the Blackfeet, missionary Father, Albert La Combe renamed them St. Mary Lakes in 1855. Arriving in the 1880s, naturalist George Bird Grinnell became fascinated by the region's wilderness character, camped and hunted there, and wrote a series of articles about it for Forest and Stream magazine. (Courtesy of Doug Erskine)

Grinnell was also introduced to the mountainous region of the reservation—particularly the area of St. Mary Lakes. With Schultz and Otokomi (Yellow Fish) as his guides, Grinnell explored and hunted in the region, listened to the Blackfoot stories told by both men, and became enchanted with this little-known region. Upon his return to the East, he described his adventures in the mountains in a series of fourteen essays in Forest and Stream magazine. His observations, entitled "To the Walled in Lakes," gave his readers the best description of that area presented to the general public up to that time. Grinnell described the "white bones of the buffalo" as present everywhere on the plains and provided vivid descriptions of the mountains surrounding the St. Mary Lakes. His major interest in the area was fishing and hunting, and almost all of his essays detail his adventures in pursuit of fish, fowl, and game. While camped between the two St. Mary Lakes, Grinnell met and hunted with some Kutenai Indians. There were "eight lodges" of "Kootenay" camped at the foot of the lower lake, and they had been in the area for over fifty days. Led by Chief Back-in-Sight (Keh Kowitz-Keyucla), the western tribe was busy trapping beaver but had also killed forty sheep, two bear (one black and one grizzly), one moose, a few elk, and had found plenty of beaver. Grinnell was quite impressed with Kutenai adaptation to the mountains and their ability to hunt and travel afoot. He hunted with them on several occasions.

Through Grinnell's observations and Schultz's reports of the previous year, one can piece together the changing condition of these mountains in the 1880s. Easterners like Grinnell were attracted to the hunting possibilities of these mountains. Even Schultz wrote: "As a resort for the sportsman the Chief Mountain country cannot be excelled. The scenery is grand, game plenty, the fishing unexcelled." During his 1884 hunting trip in this area, Schultz encountered three men prospecting, found evidence of gold and silver, met a trapper, and saw an entire forest stripped by Canadian timber thieves. Ben Norris, head of a prospecting party, apparently spent most of his time hunting sheep, but Schultz recorded: "Ben's two young men have been sinking holes in many likely places, but as yet have been unable to get to bed-rock on account of water. It's no boy's play to 'delve for gold.'"

Grinnell also found evidence of other hunting parties in the Swiftcurrent region and expressed some interest in the glaciers of the area. His observation of Chief Mountain indicated that its name was clearly established by that time. He remarked that "Dick King" was the sole white resident of the St. Mary valley. Schultz stated that he and a companion named "Jim" picked up several pieces of "float quartz, which were rich with gold and silver." [Because] "we were tired, and as this country is an Indian reservation, we concluded we didn't want a gold mine." In 1936, Schultz related a presumably fictionalized account of mineral discovery in the Glacier Park region. He stated that in 1885, he convinced E. C. Garrett, an Indian Agency clerk and mystic, to believe a manipulated Ouija board which Schultz and his friend George Steel were adept at using. Together they invented "Bedrock Jim" who returned from the dead to tell Garrett of a gold discovery in the Swiftcurrent region and of his untimely demise at the hands of some hostile Indians. Excitedly, Garrett outfitted a prospector named "Dutch Lui" (Lui Meyers) and sent him into that area. As Schultz's story in Blackfeet and Buffalo concluded, Dutch Lui completely surprised them by returning in a couple of weeks with some copper ore. Word spread and the prospectors began to invade the Indian reservation.

In November of 1889, the Fort Benton River Press reported that Dutch Lui had been prospecting in the mountains (of today's park) since October 1885. He established a camp on the Continental Divide at the head of Copper and Quartz Creeks and located a vein of "grayish white quartz carrying gold, silver, copper, and some lead," which supposedly assayed at from $80 to $500 per ton. While other prospecting parties were reported in the region during the last half of the 1880s, Dutch Lui's strike proved the main attraction for numerous footloose prospectors to enter the mountain country.

By the 1870s and 1880s, mining areas in Glacier, appeared promising. Exploratory shafts were sunk and some more elaborate tunnels followed copper leads deep into the mountains. The Swiftcurrent Valley, near, today's Many Glacier, proved to be the center of activity. Most of the mines produced little, if any, profit and were abandoned within a few years. (Courtesy of Glacier National Park Historical Collections)

But prospectors were not the only individuals arriving. Hunting and fishing expeditions began to arrive in the eastern valleys each season. George Bird Grinnell returned a second time in 1887 and would continue to revisit the mountains for many years to come. Joseph Kipp, Schultz, Jack Monroe (a trapper not related to Hugh Monroe), and William Jackson (grandson of Hugh Monroe), among others, began to conduct parties into Glacier's wilderness. Men of wealth like Grinnell, the English banking family of Cecil Baring, Ralph Pulitzer, and Henry L. Stimson (later Secretary of State and twice Secretary of War) were guided into the area and explored the mountains, lakes, and streams of the region. Each man considered himself an "explorer," and their local guides promoted that concept by arbitrarily naming geographical features in their honor. Schultz claimed substantial credit for placing names of many mountains, and in 1926, he published Signposts of Adventure relating his rationale for names like Singleshot, Fusillade, Red Eagle, Otokomi, Jackson, and many others.

John F. Stevens
Engineer John F. Stevens verified the usability of Marias Pass for Great Northern Railway magnate lames J. Hill. (Courtesy of Glacier National Park Historical Collections)

While these wealthy visitors and their guides exploited the hunting resources of the mountains, other adventurers sought more lucrative uses for the area. In 1882 and again in 1883, the distinguished world traveler and explorer, Raphael Pumpelly, was engaged by railroad magnate Henry Villard to survey the region and evaluate the country for anticipated railroad feeder lines. While concerned with the mineral wealth in the area as well as its agricultural potential, irrigation possibilities, and forests, Pumpelly's Northern Transcontinental Railroad Survey (1881-84) was intended to compile a complete inventory of the various resources. Arriving in Helena in June of 1882, Pumpelly hired William R. Logan as a guide and packer. Logan would later become the first superintendent of Glacier National Park. When they attempted to cross the Continental Divide via Cut Bank Pass and later Two Medicine Pass in order to travel to the Flathead plains, deep snow remaining from the Fourth of July forced them to turn back and attempt their survey the following year. In 1883, Pumpelly returned to Montana, rehired Logan, and headed for the Flathead Valley via Missoula in order to cross the mountains from the west. Accompanied by Lt. John Van Orsdale, who had been over the route ten years before, the expedition struggled up the Middle Fork and headed up Nyack Creek. Pumpelly located a glacier (today bearing his name) in that region and then crossed over Cut Bank Pass. Pumpelly's survey helped to call attention to the region, but further action was delayed since Henry Villard's railroad conglomerate (including the Northern Pacific Railway) experienced its financial failure.

But Villard's competitor, James J. Hill, the aggressive developer of the growing St. Paul, Minneapolis and Manitoba Railroad, constructed his railroad into the mining regions of Montana. By 1887, Hill was prepared to extend his line westward toward the coast and needed to determine a route across the mountains. Numerous individuals suggested that the "Marias Pass" provided the most usable route for Hill's railroad. In November 1887, the Great Falls Tribune reported that W. D. Barclay, chief locating engineer of the Manitoba Railroad had completed a preliminary survey to the head of the Marias River. Some early residents of the Flathead Valley had approached Hill about the feasibility of extending the railroad to their valley. In December of 1887, Barclay was reported to have returned "from his extended trip to the summit of the main range at Two Medicine Lodge Pass." About a year later, in December 1888, the Deer Lodge, Montana, New Northwest reported that Duncan McDonald "thinks if the Manitoba wants a direct line with easy grades from tide-water to tide-water they will strike directly west from [Fort] Assiniboine over a fine prairie country to the Marias pass." Then, in 1889, former Blackfeet Indian agent Maj. Marcus D. Baldwin traversed the Marias region from Flathead Valley to the plains, advocated the use of Marias Pass, and communicated its usability to Mr. Hill.

James J. Hill
James J. Hill completed his transcontinental railroad route in 1803. While building a railroad was his major concern, Hill also intended to develop and populate areas adjacent to his railway. Rarely described as a conservationist, Hill would be instrumental in supporting the establishment of Glacier as a national park. (Courtesy of Burlington Northern, Inc.)

Consequently, in December of 1889, the chief engineer of Hill's Montana Central Railroad dispatched engineer John F. Stevens to the Marias Pass area to verify these numerous reports. Though encountering temperatures near forty below zero, Stevens and Coonsah, a Flathead Indian guide, had little other difficulty in finding the pass and confirming its feasibility for railroad location. Now the newly organized Great Northern Railway (today's Burlington Northern) could be constructed westward over one of the lowest passes (5216 feet) in the entire Rocky Mountains, and John F. Stevens would enter railroad folklore as the legendary "discoverer."

"Empire Builder" Hill made the decision to expand the Great Northern to the coast, and in the spring of 1890, survey crews determined the exact route over Marias Pass, down Bear Creek, and along the Middle Fork through Bad Rock Canyon to the Flathead Valley. Workers then constructed tote roads to carry supplies along the route and finally, in April of 1891, the "gandy dancers" began laying track westward from Cut Bank, Montana. By September they had reached the summit of Marias Pass and on December 31, 1891, the railroad was completed to Kalispell. Hill finished the Great Northern to the West Coast in less than two years, making a new transcontinental system which cut directly through a virtual wilderness visited previously by only a handful of adventurous individuals.

Official surveys of the region also provided a means to develop interest in the region, as noted by Lt. Van Orsdale in 1883. When Lt. Samuel Robertson traveled to St. Mary Lakes in 1886 and Lt. George P. Ahern crossed the Continental Divide in 1890, they both drew maps and provided "official" recognition to the physical features of the area. None of these official visits had the impact upon the region's development and exploitation which mining expectations would engender or which the Great Northern automatically brought.

Dutch Lui's publicized strike in the fall of 1889 spread to the mining centers of Butte, Helena, and Anaconda, and numerous prospectors began to invade the region west of the Continental Divide. One historian noted that there was not a single area on the west side of the mountains that had not been prospected and claimed. Historian James Sheire stated that eventually two thousand placer and lode mining claims were staked throughout the park by over three hundred different individuals. The pressure to exploit these resources and to find a road to easy wealth was intensified by the discovery of oil seepages near Kintla Lake in 1892, as well as copper and quartz veins located during the early 1890s. Immediately prospectors and speculators filed oil and mineral claims, but during the following year most locations were abandoned because of the capital required to exploit these resources.

(Courtesy of Western History Department, Denver Public Library)

One of the earliest and best-known speculators of Glacier's west side was "Aunty Collins" (Mrs. Elizabeth Collins, the "Cattle Queen of Montana"), wife of rancher Nathaniel Collins of Choteau, Montana. According to rather unreliable records, Mrs. Collins's brother had prospected on upper Mineral Creek and located a quartz vein which appeared promising. Mrs. Collins, along with a partner, Frank McPartland, and several other investors, determined to extract copper from the mine, and they worked for three summers and one winter at their site on present-day Cattle Queen Creek. Aunty Collins "promoted a company of St. Paul men" to supply capital for the venture, hired eighteen men, and she acted as "cook and foreman." In 1894 or 1895, Frank McPartland drowned while crossing Lake McDonald with Mrs. Collins when their rowboat capsized. Some contemporaries indicated suspicious circumstances were involved, and a few felt that Collins and McPartland had been drinking heavily and were pursuing an argument. Regardless, the Cattle Queen mining area proved of little value when "the mining expert who came from St. Paul and examined the working declared that the vein was lost and the best thing to do was to abandon everything." Mrs. Collins went back to ranching, but a couple of years later got "gold fever" and headed for the Klondike. Eventually she returned to Choteau where she tended her sick husband until he died. Finally, the "Cattle Queen" sold her ranch and moved to California.

Mrs. Elizabeth Collins
Mrs. Elizabeth Collins, the "Cattle Queen of Montana," could never, resist the excitement of a mining rush. From Cripple Creek to the Yukon, Mrs. Collins tried her best to strike it rich. Her marriage to Nat Collins, a Choteau, Montana rancher, gave her a transitory interest in the cattle business, but mining was in her blood. For several years she worked and invested in the Cattle Queen Mine along the headwaters of Glacier's Mineral Creek, hoping that copper could be extracted. After considerable effort, the mine proved fruitless. Mrs. Collins took her twenty-man crew and cut ties for the railroad and then joined the rush to the Yukon in the late 1890s. Eventually she returned to nurse her dying husband, and later moved onto California. (Courtesy of Western History Department, Denver Public Library)

Prospectors roaming the mountains strayed across the Continental Divide on to the Blackfeet Indian Reservation during the early 1890s and discovered similar mineral outcroppings which appeared promising. Pressure upon Congress came from Montana residents who expected to have another major mining center. In 1895, George Bird Grinnell, William C. Pollock, and Walter M. Clements were appointed commissioners to negotiate with the Blackfeet over the sale of their mountain land. Initially the tribal leaders asked three million dollars for it, but after conceding that they had no use for the mountainous region and deciding that they might lose it anyway, the Ceded Strip (including all of Glacier Park east of the Continental Divide) was sold for $1,500,000. According to some interpretations, the Blackfeet retained rights of free entry, hunting, and forest exploitation. On April 15, 1898, the area was declared open and a "rush" to stake claims took place.

Without any question the "sooners" staked their claims at previously located outcroppings. Locations on Rose Creek, on Boulder Creek, at Cracker Lake, in the Swiftcurrent Valley, and above Slide Lake appeared especially valuable in this flurry of mining exploration. During this rush the boom town of Altyn near present-day Many Glacier flourished as a center of mining activity. With an estimated population ranging from 300 to over one thousand people in 1899, Altyn provided a center for the solitary prospectors and miners, with stores, a post office, a hotel, a newspaper, numerous saloons, cabins, and tents. While "copper, silver, and gold" kept a few digging furiously at their claims, most of the speculators soon left for other strikes, especially the Klondike in 1899 and 1900.

By 1902, most activity in the region had ceased, with only a handful of "diehards" optimistically staying behind in their fruitless attempt to extract wealth from these mountainsides. By 1910, when Glacier National Park was finally formed, only a small number of these consolidated claims remained. Specifically, the major claims included the Bulls Head group operated by the Josephine Copper Mining and Smelting Company in the Swiftcurrent Valley; the Reid Mining, Milling and Smelting Co. (known as the Van Pelt claims) on the North Fork of Kennedy Creek (today's Slide Lake area); and the Michigan and Montana Copper Mining and Smelting Company at Cracker Lake. At the Cracker Lake mine, a tunnel had been driven some thirteen hundred feet into the mountain, including some four hundred feet along the vein. But even though a sawmill was built, a concentrator erected, and assays looked promising, a "well known mining expert of Helena, representing a mining syndicate" examined the various locations and apparently discouraged further development. The Cracker Lake concentrator never operated, but individuals like Frank Stevenson, Mike Cassidy, and a few others remained in the area, hoping eventually to prosper. Some of these mining claims still remain in private ownership within Glacier today.

At the same time mining interests were high, petroleum claims again brought widespread interest in Montana in 1900 and 1901. According to historian Don Dauma, some Butte businessmen revived interest in the Kintla Lake oil discovery, constructed a crude road from Lake McDonald northward to the discovery site, and transported some drilling equipment to the area. Montana's first attempt at oil drilling began at Kintla Lake in November of 1901. Local speculators formed other companies and an oil boom was initiated. Expectations were optimistic as a contemporary publication noted: "Perhaps there is no more beautiful region in the whole northwest than this virgin wilderness, which the enterprise of man will soon convert into a populous and busy territory, with all the industries of a great oil field in full blast."

By 1900, mining in the Swiftcurrent Valley produced the "boom" town of Altyn and also a single-issue newspaper, "The Swift Current Courier." Mining quickly proved a "bust" but the consequent oil strike briefly brought renewed interest; however, hope for quick profit soon vanished. With the optimism of a boom town deflated, the newspaper disappeared and Altyn's population scattered to more attractive mining districts. Only the rustic buildings and a handful of diehards remained a decade later. (Courtesy of Western History Department, Denver Public Library)

After drilling for several years, the Kintla oil speculation was a "bust" rather than a boom, and oil speculation turned back to the Swiftcurrent Valley. According to D. H. Robinson, Altyn hotel owner and miner Sam Somes was inspecting his claim after dynamiting some rock and found pools of oil seeping through the rock. Backed by some Great Falls businessmen, Somes organized the Montana Swiftcurrent Oil Company. By 1902, oil drilling was under way. Somes struck oil at the very shallow depth of five hundred feet. However, further development required greater capital, and Somes supposedly took a sample of the oil to Great Falls, where he proceeded to dramatize his success by pouring oil on the desks of his potential patrons. Somes's success brought a boom to the Swiftcurrent region between 1904 and 1906, with "every acre of a sixty-mile-long and fifteen-mile-wide field claimed by prospectors or speculators." Eventually twelve wells were lost to water penetration and the field was virtually abandoned. (Sherburne Lake reservoir presently covers most of the drilling sites). During the boom, Mike Cassidy had located natural gas with his oil rig and the Cassidy-Swiftcurrent Oil Company kept hopes alive for additional exploitation in the region for several decades. Even though Cassidy drilled to a depth of 2800 feet, only enough natural gas was produced to heat and light his cabin. His claim was continued during the 1920s, and finally, in 1958, the National Park Service obtained the land near the Many Glacier entrance station from the Cascadia Development and Production Company.

oil well
Sam Somes found oil while mining in the Swiftcurrent area. Hopes were high and small quantities of oil and gas were extracted, but the petroleum ventures all failed leaving some rusting rigs and broken-down cabins as evidence of that search. (Courtesy of Glenbow-Alberta Institute)


Man in Glacier
©1976, Glacier Natural History Association
buchholtz/chap3a.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.