A Brief History of the East Side of Glacier National Park

The Blackfeet called the Rocky Mountains "The Backbone of the World." This range makes up the western boundary of their home. The Saskatchewan and Yellowstone Rivers made up the northern and southern boundaries. The Blackfeet maintain that this has been their home for thousands of years, and recent archaeological evidence may support this belief.

It is uncertain who was the first white man to see the area. Because of the harsh nature of the land, the unforgiving winters and the fierce nature of the native people, most Anglos got only fleeting glimpses of the area. But, in 1817, a young man by the name of Hugh Monroe, came out of Edmonton House (a place to trade furs in Canada) with the assignment of learning the Blackfeet language and assuring future trades at Edmonton House. Hugh was about seventeen years old when he was adopted by the Blackfeet people. Later, he married a Blackfeet woman, Sinopah, and together they raised a family. It was through Monroe's good reputation that the way was paved for other whites to come into the area.

James Willard Schultz, the famous Western writer, came to this area in the early 1880s. Many of the current place names within Glacier National Park were chronicled by Schultz. But Schultz was never one to let the truth get in the way of a good story and told various versions of naming. Schultz wrote articles about the area for a newly established magazine called Forest and Stream. Its editor, George Bird Grinnell, was so taken by Schultz's description of the land that he came out to the mountains in 1885. An avid outdoorsman, Grinnell also had powerful friends such as Teddy Roosevelt. Through the lobbying efforts of Grinnell and others, Glacier National Park was signed into existence by President William Howard Taft on May 11, 1910.

The towns of St. Mary and Altyn were originally established as mining towns during the same Montana copper boom that also firmly established such towns as Butte and Anaconda. When interest in prospecting here first arose, President Grover Cleveland appointed Grinnell to work with the Blackfeet to fix a fair price for the land that lies between the Continental Divide and the present western border of the reservation. The government made the purchase in 1895, but the land yielded no minerals. Discouraged by their poor mineral prospects and the harsh topography of the land, mining was all but over in less than a decade.

The mining town of Altyn was active from 1898 to 1902 with a peak population of 600-800 people. It provided a store, post office, hotel, cabins, tents, a newspaper, numerous saloons, and other establishments usually found in a boomtown. Much of the former townsite now lies under the west end of Sherburne Reservoir.

Oil Exploration
Montana's first attempt at oil drilling began at Kintla Lake in 1901 but went bust after several years. Speculation turned to the Swiftcurrent Valley where drilling began in 1902. Over the next four years, 12 wells were lost to water penetration and the field was abandoned.

Last updated: February 24, 2015

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West Glacier, MT 59936



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