Through The Years In Glacier National Park
An Administrative History
NPS Logo



To appreciate fully the early political status of the area and the factors influencing early entry into it, one must know something of the peculiar geographical location of the park.

Sitting as it does astride the "Roof of the Continent" it is the one area in the United States that truly represents the dividing point between three major drainages—the Pacific Ocean, the Gulf of Mexico, and Hudson Bay. The early explorations into this part of the country also followed these same drainages, up the Mississippi-Missouri from American and French territories; up the Saskatchewan from British territory; and up the Columbia from British-American areas. As a result, the early ownership of the area now included in Glacier National Park was broken up into three divisions: that portion west of the Continental Divide, draining westward into the Columbia River; that east of the Divide, including the St. Mary, Belly River, and Waterton drainages, emptying into the Saskatchewan and Hudson Bay; and the remainder of the area, that laying south of St. Mary and east of the Divide, emptying into the the Missouri-Mississippi drainage.


The history of territorial ownership in early North America was one of claims and counter-claims, treaties and disputes, until such time as the claimants of some particular area could get together and agree upon definite boundaries and ownership. Such was the early history of Glacier National Park. In one respect the story was more complicated than most other disputed territories in the United States because it centered around the three major continental drainages, all of which were in different hands and were reached by different routes of travel. In the days when travel and exploration naturally followed the major watercourses, this constituted three natural geographical regions, each with its own peculiar political problems.

Hudson's Bay Company

The first records we have of definite territorial claim to any part of what is now the park are found in the Hudson's Bay Company Charter. "The charter of Hudson's Bay Company gave it title to all the land drained by waters flowing into Hudson's Bay and Hudson Strait. Thus, at a pen stroke by the dissolute Charles II, in 1670 the story of the Hudson's Bay Company is first distantly linked to the history of Glacier, for the northern streams of the Park flow into Hudson's Bay and are hence within the area granted to the company." [2]

"This company was formed for the purpose of exporting to England furs and skins from British North America. The charter describes the company as 'the governor and adventurers of England trading into Hudson's Bay,' and consisted of Prince Rupert and seventeen noblemen. It invested complete lordship, including executive, legislative, and judicial powers, as well as exclusive trading rights. Its territory was defined as all lands watered by streams flowing into Hudson's Bay. Thus by royal decree the territory northeast of Triple Divide Peak became the southwestern corner of the grant." [3]


The next claim to any part of the park area was in 1682, when LaSalle made his famous exploration down the Mississippi River. "At this time he laid claim in the name of France, to all the waters drained by the Mississippi River, not realizing at the time the vast territory that he was claiming." [4]

This area comprises the part of the park lying east of the Continental Divide and south of Hudson Bay Divide.

Spanish Ownership

This portion of the park, claimed by LaSalle remained in French hands until the Missouri-Mississippi territory was turned over to the Spanish, following the treaty of 1763 which ended the French and Indian War. This constitutes the second ownership of the southeastern corner of the park. However, this ownership did not remain long, for the land went back to France in 1800 at the secret treaty of San Ildefonso.

Louisiana Purchase

France did not retain her title to this territory very long, for on April 30, 1803, the Louisiana Purchase was consummated and the entire area west of the Mississippi and east of the Rocky Mountains, with the exception of the State of Texas and parts of Oklahoma, came into the possession of the United States. The area involved equaled approximately seven times the area of Great Britain and Ireland combined. The period of change, for this region, was by no means over because the ownership was still to change hands several times within the claims of new territories and states of the United States.

Louisiana Territory

The year following the Louisiana Purchase the area was divided into two parts, that lying south of the 33rd parallel being called the "Territory of Orleans," and that north of the parallel became little more than a geographical expression, known as the "District of Louisiana." This northern portion had no direct government, as such, until 1805 when it was raised to the rank of "territory," and was known as "Louisiana Territory," with its capitol at St. Louis.

Territory of Missouri

"In the year of 1812, the name 'Louisiana' passed to the state that now bears the name and the 'Territory of Louisiana' became the 'Territory of Missouri.' [5] The new Missouri Territory included all the lands between the British possessions on the north and the 33rd parallel on the south, and from the Rocky Mountains on the west to the Mississippi River on the east. Thus the territory remained until pressure for state government caused a break-up of the territory and the formation of the State of Missouri in 1821. The remainder of the territory north and west of the new state once again became unorganized Indian country and was without government until 1854.

Territory of Nebraska

By this time there was rapid settlement of the west and Congress was receiving increased pressure for the formation of new states and closer seats of government. Indians were becoming more and more careless about whose hair they helped themselves to, and troops and forts were requested. In 1854, this uncontrolled land was divided into two territories, Nebraska and Dakota, "the former embracing all lands north of the 40th parallel up to the 49th parallel and from the Missouri River to the Rocky Mountains, including what is now eastern Montana. This it remained until 1861." [6]

Dakota Territory

"On March 2, 1861, that part of the Nebraska Territory lying north of the 43rd parallel was made part of the Dakota Territory, thereby throwing the park area into still another political division. It was a vast territory, embracing all the area from the Red River to the Rockies, and from the Canadian Border to a line about the present boundary of South Dakota." [7]

Oregon Country

Now, for the sake of unity, let us leave the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains and find out what was happening across the mountains to the west. The treaty of 1818 between the United States and Canada established the International Boundary along the 49th parallel west to the summit of the Rocky Mountains. Until 1846, the so-called Oregon Country, embracing a vaguely defined area of the Pacific Northwest including what is now western Montana and the part of Glacier National Park west of the Continental Divide, was under the joint rule of the United States and Great Britain. In 1846, the division between United States and Canada was agreed upon at the 49th parallel, placing the Oregon Country under sole United States ownership. Then on August 14, 1848, Congress created the Oregon Territory, which included all of the area between the Rocky Mountains and the western sea, and between the 49th and 42nd parallels. Thus it remained until 1853 when this area was sub-divided, forming two territories, Oregon and Washington, the latter including the present states of Washington, northern Idaho, and most of western Montana.

Idaho Territory

Due to still further demand for closer government, Congress passed a bill on March 3, 1863, creating the "Idaho Territory." Both Washington and Dakota gave land to form this new territory, which included all of what is now Idaho and Montana, and most of Wyoming. "The first name suggested for this new territory was 'Montana,' meaning 'land of mountains,' but this was objected to and the name 'Idaho' was substituted." [8]

Montana Territory

The new Idaho Territory was short-lived, though, because the finding of minerals caused a demand for still further government, and Congress was petitioned to form a new territory out of the eastern portion of Idaho. On May 26, 1864, Congress formed the Territory of Montana, much as it is found today, leaving the remainder to Idaho. There was an attempt to include only that portion of Montana lying east of the Rocky Mountains, but the people in the Bitterroot Valley objected and through the efforts of Sidney Edgerton, who later became the first governor of the Montana Territory, the western portion was also included.

State of Montana

"On November 8, 1889, President Harrison signed the bill admitting the 'State of Montana' to the Union." [9] This brought to a close an interesting crazy-quilt pattern of ownership of this small patch of rocks and scenery in the northern Rocky Mountains. Only one more major change now remained, that of the setting aside of Glacier National Park.



"It is generally believed that the first human beings to reach North America came from Asia during the last great Ice Age, crossing the Bering Straits on the ice that covered it at that time. These people were probably nomadic tribes of Mongolian origin, looking for new lands over which to roam. It is also believed that these people first reached the plains country, where evidences are first found, by following down the eastern front of the Rocky Mountains, either over the ice or by way of an ice-free lane that existed at the same time that much of northern North America was covered by the last great ice sheet." [10]

By studying the ancient camp sites that have been found just south of the terminus of this last great glacier, archeologists can tell us much about the wanderings of these first citizens of this country. They also are able to trace to some extent, the migration of these people from this area to other parts of the country. If this is true, and we have no reason to disbelieve it, we can assume that the area immediately east of Glacier National Park, and possibly even parts of the park, was visited by some of the first men to inhabit North America. It is doubtful that these early men went into the mountains, but they most certainly entered the foothills along the eastern front of the range as the vegetation and wild game followed the retreating ice sheet northward.

An old Piegan chief tells an interesting Indian legend depicting the origin of the Old North Trail, an ancient Indian trail extending along the entire eastern front of the Rocky Mountains from northern Canada to Mexico. "This old Indian, Brings-Down-The-Sun, stated that no one knew how long this trail had been used by the Indians, but that his father told him it had originated, with the migration of a 'great tribe' of Indians from the distant north to the south, and all the tribes since that time had continued to use sections of it." [11]

When we stop to consider this legend, we realize how closely it ties in with the archeologists' findings, and it is not beyond the realm of possibility that this "great tribe" was the first migration of Mongolian peoples into the plains country of North America. If this is true, then Glacier National Park comes into still more prominence in the pre-history of the continent, for the remains of the Old North Trail can still be found in places, a very short distance east of the present park boundary, in the vicinity of East Glacier Park.

The present Blackfeet Indians that live on the reservation just east of the park, once controlled a vast area immediately east of the Rocky Mountains and were very jealous of any other tribe or white men entering this area. Unlike many of the other tribes of the west and the plains region, the Blackfeet have no clear-cut record of migration or origin. The only clue that we have to their probable origin is in their language, which is closely related to the Algonkian family language spoken only by the Indians of eastern North America. From this fact and certain legends, students of Indian culture have been led to believe that this once-great nation migrated from the east, probably through the Lake States, into southern Canada, and from there spread southward into Eastern Montana driving lesser tribes before them as they went.

"Culturally, the Blackfeet's closest kin are to the south, although he possesses many traits linking him with the Plateau area to the west and some linking him with the north. Linguistic and cultural comparisons, however, prove little as to origin of these people. for any or all of these may have come to them by diffusion and so imply nothing whatever as to tribal movements." [12]

Today the remnants of this great warrior nation reside on four reservations in southern Alberta and northern Montana, gradually losing the ways of their forefathers and taking on the dress, language, and ways of the white man.

The Coming of the White Man

The warlike Blackfeet Indians were a big factor in preventing the early trappers and traders from entering this area from the east. In addition, the great distances involved and the slow methods of transportation (mainly by canoe or other water craft) slowed the entry into eastern Montana and northern Wyoming. Yet, despite the hazards involved, the valuable furs to be found upon the upper reaches of the Missouri River brought adventuresome trappers and traders into the region early in the nineteenth century. They were quite successful in their efforts to push through the mountains south of the park, but attempts to penetrate into the country of the Blackfeet more often than not resulted in a "hair-raising" party, at which the Indians were more adept than the white man.

La Verendrye

It is believed that the first sighting of the Rocky Mountains was an outgrowth of an attempt by a party of French fur traders and adventurers under the leadership of Pierre Caultier de Varennes de la Verendrye, of Montreal, to reach the "western sea." La Verendrye spent several years, accompanied by his sons, pushing a line of trading posts westward from the Great Lakes, mainly in southern Saskatchewan plains. The elder Verendrye finally had to abandon his efforts and return to Montreal, but his two sons, Pierre and a younger brother, Francois de la Verendrye, continued the effort. Finally, on their last trip westward, they made a great swing to the southwest and, on the first day of January, 1743, obtained their first sight of the eastern reaches of the Rocky Mountains, from a point believed to be in the southeastern part of the state of Montana.

It was long believed that they actually saw the main range of the Rocky Mountains from a point about the site of the City of Helena, but the discovery of a lead plate, in 1913, by some high school students on a bluff on the east bank of the Missouri River, opposite the City of Pierre, S. D., leads us to believe that they did not get as far as the "Gates of the Mountains." They perhaps saw the Big Horn Mountains and may have crossed the southeastern part of the state. This lead plate, inscribed with their names and the date, was recorded in their journal, along with a description of the mountains which they saw. The fact that the mountains were probably covered with snow at this time of year led Pierre and Francois to refer to them as the "Shining Mountains."

"Some historians believe that Pierre and Francois did not come closer than one hundred miles to these mountains, but other accounts record that, upon sighting the mountains, they turned west and traveled for twelve days, reaching the foot of the mountains, 'well wooded and very high.' This could also have been the Wind River Range, in Wyoming. In any event, we do know that this was the first recorded sight of the Rocky Mountains from the east." [13]

Peter Fidler

The next evidence of approach to the park area is found in the records of the Hudson's Bay Company, telling of a young surveyor, Peter Fidler, who was employed by them to map the area for their fur enterprises. In 1792 Peter Fidler left the Company's Buckingham House, in Canada, to winter with the Piegans, just east of the Rocky Mountains. While there he compiled considerable information about the mountains in the main range, which later appeared in the Arrowsmith maps of 1795. On these maps appeared "King Mountain," now known as Chief Mountain, and the Belly River. From these records we know that Fidler was acquainted with the eastern slopes of the park and we may conjecture that he may even have set foot within what we now call Glacier National Park. If so, he was the first white man to have done so.

Lewis and Clark

The next recorded approach to this area is found in the journals of Lewis and Clark, who passed to the south of the park on their way through the mountains to the mouth of the Columbia River. "On their westward journey, in 1805, Captain Meriwether Lewis ascended the Marias River some distance in order to determine which was the correct branch to follow, this or the Missouri proper. After ascertaining that this river followed too northerly a direction for their purposes, he returned to their camp at the forks of the rivers. Recognizing it as a major drainage in the area and a possible future route of trade, he named it the "Maria's River," in honor of his cousin, Miss Maria Wood." [14]

In July, 1806, upon their return from the coast, Captain Lewis and three men traveled upstream on the Marias River in an attempt to locate its source. On July 22, they reached a point where the course of the river turned south westward, about twenty-five miles from the mountains. Here they remained for two days to make observations, but the weather was overcast and nasty, making astronomical observations impossible, and they were finally forced to the Missouri, after labeling this camp "Camp Disappointment." From here Lewis was able to look into what we know to be Marias Pass, and if he had continued undoubtedly he would have been the first white man to set foot in the pass. He makes no mention of the pass in his journals, though, which indicates that he did not realize what he had observed.

The location of Camp Disappointment is marked by a sandstone monument just off highway number 2, about two miles west of the station of Meriwether on the Great Northern Railroad near Cut Bank, Montana.

Marias Pass

Marias Pass, around the south end of the park, figures prominently in the early explorations of the area, along with Cut Bank (Pitamakan) Pass. It was due mainly to the search for easy passes through the mountains that much of the later exploration was conducted. Marias Pass was one of the principal early passes through which the Indians from west of the mountains, mainly the Selish, (Flatheads) and Kootenais, came across the mountains to the buffalo hunting grounds in the country of the Blackfeet. Many early fur traders and prospectors also used this and other passes in the area, but, unfortunately, because too few left any record of their passing we know little of who they were, where they went, or when they passed. Indian warfare and ambushes eventually caused the western Indians to abandon general use of this pass forcing them to swing farther north to Cut Bank, Red Eagle, and other more difficult but safer routes of travel. Except for an occasional unrecorded crossing by trappers, miners, or others who left little record of their passing, Marias Pass did not again come into general use until its re-discovery in 1889 by John L. Stevens of the Great Northern Railway.

The first known use of Marias Pass by white men occurred in the year 1810 when David Thompson reported in his journals that a band of 150 Flathead Indians, accompanied by the white traders Finan McDonald, Michael Bourdeaux, and Baptiste Buch, crossed the mountains by a "wide defile of easy passage eastward of Selish (Flathead) Lake," [15] to hunt buffalo and make dried provisions. As this was an early Indian pass and the most easily traversed, undoubtedly it was Marias Pass. Later accounts seem to bear this fact out, as does the description of the trip and the following battle accounts. "At a spot believed to be just below the old railroad siding of Skyland, on Bear Creek, the party was attacked by 170 Piegans (Blackfeet) and a furious battle ensued. The Flatheads were forewarned, however, and had time to consolidate their positions, so that the Piegans were unable to inflict any damage and were finally driven off. Ambushes of this type were one of the reasons why this pass was not in general use at this time, and, although the Flatheads were quite jubilant over their decisive victory over the Piegans they did not again use this route for some time." [16]

The defeat of the Piegans by the Flatheads in Marias Pass angered the Blackfeet nation against the white man, possibly because there were white men along, but more probably because the western Indians were friendly to the white man and blamed him for furnishing the Flatheads and Kootenais with arms and ammunition to make war upon them. The Blackfeet served notice that any white men found east of the mountains would be considered as enemies and treated as such. The Flatheads did not help this situation any by boasting of their victory at Marias Pass.

In August of 1812, following an unsuccessful attempt at peace with the Piegans, the Flatheads went to their hunting grounds east of the mountains accompanied this time by two free trappers, Michael Bourdeaux and Michael Kinville, both Frenchmen. On this trip they used the Cut Bank Pass, also one of their main routes of travel; but because the Piegans were guarding the eastern approaches to the pass a terrific battle ensued. Many white men and Indians on both sides were killed and the Flatheads were forced to withdraw to do their hunting elsewhere. On Cut Bank Creek there is reported to be a great pile of stones covering the bones of a party of Flathead Indians who met defeat at the hands of the Piegans long ago, but no one knows where or when. Perhaps this is the site of the 1812 battle, and, if so, perhaps the bones of Bourdeaux, who fought so successfully against the Piegans in 1810, and of Kinville, rest there too.

Following the defeat of the Flatheads in Cut Bank Pass, the Piegans became even more warlike and set about relentlessly to wipe out any small bands of Indians that they could find. They set sentries at high points to watch over the eastern approaches to the passes, particularly Marias Pass, and every band that came through was ambushed and killed. Because of this, Marias Pass was, in effect, completely closed to all travel, necessitating still further use of the better protected passes farther north and south. This situation explains to some extent the failure of later expeditions to locate the pass, either because of the hostility of the Blackfeet nation or because of the natural reluctance of the western Indian guides to take parties through it. Thus, we find the one easy route to the Flathead Valley from the east effectively blocked to travel for the next seventy-five years, until even the trail was over grown with grass and blocked by fallen timber. Only the more adventuresome attempted this route, and few left any record of their passing.

Hugh Monroe

Hugh Monroe was one of the earliest, if not the earliest, white man to see much of the area contained in the eastern portion of what is now Glacier National Park. There are many stories and legends concerning him and his doings, and many different dates are given for his birth and other events concerning his life in this part of the country.

Hugh Monroe was born in Quebec in 1798 (Canadian Archives), and came west at the age of sixteen to Fort Bow, on the Saskatchewan River as an apprentice to the Hudson's Bay Company. When he arrived at the fort he expressed a keen interest in the Indians and a desire to learn their language. The Factor at Fort Bow, sensing his value to the company, and wishing to learn more of the inroads of the American fur companies to the south, sent Hugh to live for one year with the Piegans and learn their language. He was also told to scout for beaver trapping areas and to learn if there were any competing fur companies working in the Blackfeet country.

On the trip, which started in the fall of 1814, he was put under the care of Chief Lone Walker—who later was to become his father-in-law—of the Small Robes band of Piegans, and left with them for the south. Some historians state that it was while on this trip that Monroe first saw the St. Mary Lakes, although others state that it was not until 1836 or even 1846. It is highly probable that, living as he did with the nomadic Piegans in the years to follow, he saw St. Mary Lakes long before 1836, and very likely in the years 1814 or 1815. If so, he was undoubtedly the first white man to set foot upon their shores.

Following his return from this first trip, he was sent again with them and this time apparently married his wife, Sinopah, daughter of Lone Walker. For the rest of his life he was to remain with the Blackfeet, a respected member of the tribe. Many descendants of Hugh still live on the plains of eastern Montana.

After Monroe went to live permanently with the Indians, he continued to serve the Hudson's Bay Company for some time, but later changed over to the employ of the American Fur Company. Still later, he left the American Fur Company to become a free trapper and trader, which status he held until his death. His friendly manner with the Indians made him an important factor in keeping peace between the white men and many bands of Piegans. He was also of considerable help to Governor Isaac I. Stevens of Washington Territory on the latter's survey trip of 1853, and is reported to have traveled extensively in the countries of the Flathead and Kootenai Indians.

Hugh Monroe died in December, 1892, and was buried at the Holy Family Mission of the Two Medicine River. Although his age, as reported on the burial records, was 109 years, a mathematical calculation from the records of the Canadian Archives indicated that he could not have been over 94 years old when he died.

The American Fur Companies

Following the entrance of the Hudson's Bay Company into the Blackfeet country, largely through the efforts of Hugh Monroe, there were many attempts by the American Fur Companies to establish trading posts at the headwaters of the Missouri River. A few free traders undoubtedly did meet with some success, but this area to the east of Glacier National Park was, for all practical purposes, a dead spot as far as the American companies were concerned. It was not until 1831 that Captain James Kipp was able to establish the first successful post on the mouth of the Marias River. This post, called Fort Piegan, was burned down the following year, but was rebuilt that fall and the name changed to Fort McKenzie. This post was soon followed by others, and marked the beginning of the end of the reign of the Blackfeet. Indian wars and strife followed, but the irresistible push of the fur traders, followed by the prospectors, could not be stopped.

Smallpox Epidemics

The dreaded disease, smallpox, was another decisive factor in breaking the strength of the Blackfeet Nation. "In the years of 1837 and 1838, this disease ran rampant among the plains Indians of eastern Montana, and adjacent territories, brought into the country by one of the steamers on the Missouri, possibly the 'St. Peter' or the 'Assiniboine.' The epidemic appeared on the steamer on its way up river, and in passing one of the Mandan villages, an Indian is reported to have stolen a blanket from one of the sufferers. The disease immediately took hold in the village, and spread like wildfire, almost exterminating the tribe. From there it spread throughout the other tribes in the region, wiping them out like flies.

The accounts from the Blackfeet country, regarding the spread of this disease, were almost unbelievable. According to reports the number of Indians that died on the plains from this epidemic was between 60,000 and 150,000 victims. The wrath of the Indians toward the white man for bringing the disease into the country was understandable." [17]

Robert Greenhow

With the reports that began to filter back to the eastern states of these northern Rocky Mountains, with their furs and minerals came a demand for more knowledge of the area. Fur companies and individuals wanted maps and reports of what conditions were like in this far-away land. As a result, maps were compiled from time to time, some from actual reconnaissance, some from the tales of early day adventurers, and some "just compiled." One of the earliest maps and records of this area, after the Arrowsmith maps of 1795, was compiled by Robert Greenhow, an adventurous explorer who mapped the region in 1840 for the benefit of the fur companies. His map, published in 1850, as part of his "Memoir Historical and Political of the Northwest Coast of North America" was remarkably complete and accurate, and showed the territories occupied by the various Indian tribes, the lakes, streams, and trading posts. On almost the exact location of the present Marias Pass he marked "Route across the mountains." This is probably the earliest published record of this pass. Greenhow's information most likely came from accounts of the Indians that had used it, but nevertheless was astonishingly accurate.

Father DeSmet

At the same time that Greenhow was doing his exploration, another man who had a tremendous influence on the Indians of that day, although he never recorded setting foot in what is now Glacier National Park, started out from St. Louis for the west. The Jesuit priest, Father Pierre DeSmet, left St. Louis in April, 1840, to begin his missionary work among the Indians of the Northwest. He met an advance party of Flatheads on the Jefferson River and went with them into their country, the Bitterroot Valley. He spent many years with the Flatheads and other tribes of western Montana, Idaho, and Washington, and also worked some with the Blackfeet; his works were largely responsible for the acceptance of the white man by the western Montana tribes. DeSmet knew Hugh Monroe and evidently traveled with him to some extent. James Willard Schutlz states in his writings that Monroe took DeSmet to St. Mary Lakes and that the priest erected a cross there and gave them their name. However, various historians who have studied Father DeSmet's diaries and journals state that nowhere does he make mention of having entered what is now the park, nor does he make any mention of the St. Mary Lakes, which he most assuredly would have done had he seen and named them.

Our principal interest in DeSmet's work, though, concerns the influence that he had on the Indians, although when a question of war arose, many of the young bloods were often more than ready for the warpath, and the peaceful influence of the missionary was forgotten for the moment. Eventual settlement of the Indian's trouble was aided immeasurably by the early missionary teachings, but the history of white man-Indian relationships throughout the west is blackened by deeds on both sides that often tended to nullify the best efforts of those who worked so constantly for a peaceable solution.


The period from 1850 to 1900 might well be called the period of discovery of Glacier National Park. Although, as has been previously shown, a few persons did set foot in the park prior to 1850, most of the effort of that time was spent in establishing a solid line of approach to these mountains. Now, for the first time, organized parties actually began to enter the mountains and to explore them. The railroad surveys, boundary survey parties, the United States Army, and various others interested in the region for one reason or another, pushed farther and farther into the area, finding new routes across the mountains and new wonders to record in their journals.

Boundary Surveys

One of the earliest penetrations of the park area was by the international boundary survey parties. With the settlement of the boundary disputes between the United States and Great Britain, plans were made to survey and mark the boundary dividing the two countries along the 49th parallel. In 1861 a survey party of the Northwest Boundary Commission, led by Archibald Campbell, and a corresponding British party, reached the Continental Divide and established a station on the northern end of the park, completing the first survey of the 49th parallel from the Pacific Ocean to the summit of the Rocky Mountains.

In March, 1872, President Grant signed the bill authorizing the remainder of the survey between the Lake-of the Woods, Minnesota, and the summit of the Rocky Mountains, completing the boundary survey between the United States and Canada. In 1874, a survey party of the Northwest Boundary Commission completed the boundary survey from the east to the Continental Divide, connecting with the survey of 1861. The survey crew from Poplar River to the Divide was under the leadership of Captain Ames of the Sixth Infantry, who was accompanied by Dr. Elliott Cones and George Dawson, both of whom made botanical collections in the regions through which they passed. They camped on Waterton Lake for some time, and mapped the peaks and drainages in the area, but due to an error in the cartography of the Pacific Railroad Survey, they called the Waterton Lake, "Chief Mountain Lake," a name which correctly belonged to the Lower St. Mary Lake.

Baker Massacre

Just prior to the survey of the second section of the international boundary, there occurred a series of incidents that effectively put an end to the Indian troubles east of the mountains and paved the way for a steadily increasing number of exploration parties in the area. Malcolm Clark was one of the early Factors for the fur companies on the Missouri, who later located near Helena and kept a stage station on Prickly Pear Creek. In 1869, some Piegans arrived at the station and asked for Clark. When he appeared at the door, they shot him down and wounded his wife and one son. With the murder of Major Clark, friction arose between the whites and the Piegans, resulting in the so-called "Piegan War" which culminated in the Baker Massacre of 1870. There had been much friction and hard feeling, as well as bloodshed between the two factions for some time. Major Clark's murder, on the one hand, and the cold-blooded killing of Mountain Chief's brother and a young Blood Indian in the streets of Fort Benton, on the other hand, led to open warfare with the Piegans.

On January 19, 1870, following numerous Indian raids and agitation for action by Clark's two sons, Horace and Nathan, a column of cavalry and infantry under Brevet Colonel Eugene M. Baker, accompanied by the two Clark boys, left Fort Shaw to find Mountain Chief and his band of some fifteen hundred Blackfeet and settle this trouble once and for all. On the night of January 23, they came upon an Indian village in the dark and surrounded it, presumably thinking it was the camp of Mountain Chief, who was camped farther down the river. The camp was, in reality, a smallpox camp headed by Heavy Runner, an Indian who had been unswervedly friendly to the whites. Heavy Runner went out to meet the men and was shot down. The troops then descended upon the camp and massacred nearly everyone in it, which resulted, from official records, in 173 dead and 20 wounded, nearly all of whom were women and children or men too ill to defend themselves. Some reports state that Baker was informed when the shooting started that this was the wrong camp. Whether it be true or not, the fact remains that it was one of the blackest deeds perpetrated upon the Indians by the white men of this region.

The Baker Massacre, horrible though it was, marked the end of organized Indian uprising and opened the way for a period of safer access to the area now included in the park. This incident in a way, may be referred to as the instrument that opened the way for the mining and oil exploration period on the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains and that also gave free access to exploration of the area. Previous to this time, any explorers or other persons entering the Blackfeet Country were forced to keep their horses saddled and their powder dry. Any wandering bands of Blackfeet were eyed with suspicion and given a wide berth, if possible, for one did not know if they were friendly or not and chances were, they were not.

Woodruff and Van Orsdale

In the year 1873, Lt. Charles A. Woodruff and Lt. John T. Van Orsdale were ordered out from Fort Shaw with a small party of troops to make a reconnaissance to Fort Colville, in Washington Territory. On this trip, they followed Lewis and Clark's route on the way over, but on their return trip they decided to cross the mountains farther north. They followed up the Clark's Fork of the Columbia, passed near Flathead Lake, and thence up the Flathead River to the mouth of what is now Nyack Creek, presumably crossing by way of Cut Bank (Pitamakin) Pass.

The official files of the War Department record a report of Lt. Woodruff's of a trip by him and Lt. Van Orsdale into the Nyack Valley in 1863 and discovery of the glacier that was later located by Raphael Pumpelly and named for him (1873). Lt. Woodruff graduated from West Point in 1871, joined the 7th Cavalry, was wounded in the Battle of the Big Hole (1876) and promoted to Captain for his bravery there. He was also one of the first men to reach Custer's command after the massacre. [18]

John Kennedy

"In 1874 one John Kennedy, for whom Kennedy Creek is named, built a trading post at the junction of what is now Kennedy Creek and the St. Mary River, and did a good business for several years, after which he abandoned it and moved to the Sweetgrass Hills and later to Fort Benton and Great Falls." [19] This trading post is thought to be the first of its kind in the immediate vicinity of the park.

Duncan McDonald

Duncan McDonald
Duncan McDonald

In about the year 1878, Duncan McDonald, half-breed son of Angus McDonald, visited Lake McDonald, then known as Terry Lake. Duncan, who had the job of freighting a large amount of supplies to Canada, had intended to go up the North Fork of the Flathead, probably over the old Graves Creek Trail route but, upon finding the route blocked by a band of unfriendly Indians, he swung eastward, traveling the adjacent parallel valley, or McDonald. At the close of the day, accompanied by his companions, a group of Selish Indians, he came upon this lake and camped there overnight. While in camp he carved his name upon the bark of a birch tree. The next day he continued his journey, reaching Canada safely.

The tree bearing his name remained for many years near the present village of Apgar. People who saw the name on the tree gradually began to call the lake "McDonald's Lake," and as such the name became fixed.

Just previous to this, in the same year, a famous Canadian Statesman Sir John McDonald (no relation) is reported to have blazed a trail from the Canadian boundary to Terry Lake.

A few years prior to his discovery of Lake McDonald, Duncan was in charge of the Hudson's Bay Trading Post south of Flathead Lake. In 1874 he made his first trip through Marias Pass, in company with several Pend Oreille Indians. They traveled on snowshoes and chose this as the shortest route for McDonald from their camp on the Marias to his post on the Flathead. At the summit the Indians turned back, leaving McDonald and his Indian guide to continue alone. This trip showed that the pass could still be used and that it was still known and possibly used by the Indians at times. Later McDonald was to cross this pass several times, but, like so many before him, he left no record of his passing and several years were yet to come before the pass was located and put into general use by the Great Northern Railroad.

George Bird Grinnell

The year 1885 seems to have started a steady stream of explorers, hunters, miners, and the like into the mountains of Glacier. It was in that year that George Bird Grinnell, popularly known as the father of the movement to establish Glacier National Park, first came to the area. Inspired by articles written by James Willard Schultz for "Forest and Stream," a popular outdoor magazine of which he was editor, Grinnell made his first trip to the area. From Helena where he arrived via the Northern Pacific Railroad, he took the stage to Fort Benton, and a wagon from there to the Blackfeet Agency at Badger Creek. From there he and Schultz traveled by saddle horse and duffel wagon to the St. Mary Lakes, presumably along the Old North Trail. Here the men hunted and explored for some time, but did not get any farther than the Upper St. Mary Lake. Grinnell left that fall with the vow to come again and see more of the region.

George Bird Grinnell

Grinnell returned to the area in 1887, this time traveling up the Swiftcurrent valley to what is now known as Swiftcurrent Lake. While encamped in this valley, he discovered the glaciers at the heads of Swiftcurrent and Grinnell Valleys. Accompanied by Lt. Beacon and James Willard Schultz, he climbed to the glacier that now bears his name to explore and photograph it. There is some difference of opinion regarding the person that named the glacier after Grinnell, both Schultz and Beacon claiming the honors, but Beacon's diary and correspondence between himself and Grinnell seem to throw the honors toward Beacon.

Grinnell returned annually to the area for many years and recorded the abundance of game animals that were to be found there. Many of the names of features on the eastern slopes of the park were given as the result of some incident or person involved in the big game hunts in the vicinity.

Being interested in the natives of the western plains, Grinnell studied the Blackfeet Indians and became an authority on them. He was adopted as a member of the tribe, and was given the name of Pinut-u-ye-is-tism-o-kan (the Fisher Cap). At the petition of these people, he was appointed to negotiate with them concerning the governmental acquisition of the area east of the Continental Divide. This region was purchased in 1891 and was thrown open to prospectors. However, as soon as the mining excitement subsided, Grinnell pointed out the prudence of setting aside this mountainous country as a national preserve. An article by him, "The Crown of the Continent" published in "Century Magazine" in 1901 became a milestone on the way to the establishment of the park. After nineteen years of endeavor, the act establishing Glacier National Park was passed by Congress in 1910, and the park became a reality. It will always be regarded as symbolic of the resourcefulness, foresight and untiring effort of this man. To George Bird Grinnell the people of Montana and the entire nation owe a debt of gratitude.

Lt. Robertson

"In the summer of 1886, Lt. S. R. Robertson made a reconnaissance trip from Fort Assiniboine, on the Milk River, to the St. Mary area, traveling as far as the head of Lower St. Mary Lake." [20] On this trip he mapped the area along the eastern face of the mountains, showing many of the peaks and rivers with the names that they carry to this day.

George Bird Grinnell's Map

Lt. Ahern

In August of 1890, Lt. George P. Ahern, then stationed at Fort Shaw on the Sun River, was ordered to take a detachment of soldiers and explore the mountains north of Marias Pass. The party consisted of Ahern, a detachment of Negro soldiers from the 25th Infantry, Professor G. E. Culver of the University of Wisconsin, two mountaineers, packer and guide respectively, two prospectors, and two Indian guides and the pack train. The party left Fort Shaw on August 5, crossed the prairies, and finally reached the foot of the mountains near Cut Bank Creek. From there they went north to the International Boundary, thence up the Belly River to the pass that was later named for Lt. Ahern.

Upon reaching this pass the entire party worked for two days making a trail from the foot of the talus slope to the summit, completing the first of two known successful trips with pack stock over Ahern Pass. (The second trip was by R. H. Sargent of the U. S. Geological Survey, in 1913). Because the western slope of the pass was heavily timbered they had difficulty cutting their way through. They were not helped by the fact that most of the trip was accomplished in pouring rain.

Upon reaching McDonald Creek they turned up the creek for some distance, then crossed over into the Camas Creek Valley, probably in the vicinity of the present Heaven's Peak Lookout Trail. From there they traveled down Camas Creek (which he calls Mud Creek on his map) to the valley of the North Fork of the Flathead River, where they swung back toward Lake McDonald, presumably about the route of the present North Fork Truck Trail, and proceeded down the Flathead River to the Flathead Valley.

Side trips were made on this journey up the Cut Bank Creek to the summit, up the Swiftcurrent Valley or St. Mary Valley—the records are not clear on this—to the summit, and over the Continental Divide from McDonald Creek into the headwaters of the Waterton Valley. The complaints of present day "dude" parties about trail conditions seem silly in the face of the difficulties faced by these men who had to cut a route through a virgin forest and in many instances to build a trail in order to get their stock through. To appreciate this fully, one would have to attempt taking loaded pack stock cross-country from Ahern Pass to Camas Creek today—a feat that modern packers would term practically impossible.

Henry L. Stimson

As a young man Henry L. Stimson, who was later to become the Secretary of War, and one of the nation's important personages, made several trips into what is now Glacier National Park on hunting and exploration expeditions. In 1891 he was a member of the party that discovered the mountain that was later to bear his name. Also, in 1892 he and Dr. Walter B. James of New York, accompanied by an Indian guide named "Indian Billy," ascended the east face of Chief Mountain. Upon reaching the summit they found the remains of an old bison skull, practically all decayed except for the frontal bone and the horn stubs, securely anchored on the highest point and protected from the wind by rocks.

The Piegan Indians tell of one of their young men who, while on a hunting party bragged that he could climb this peak. He started up from the west side, and when last seen by his friends was still climbing. He was never seen again, and the Blackfeet thereafter avoided very close contact with the mountain.

Chief Mountain
Chief Mountain

The Flathead Indians tell of one of their braves who, when it came time to take his warrior's sleep and make himself ready for his "medicine vision," went across the mountains taking a sacred bison skull for a pillow. There he climbed to the top of the large mountain overlooking the plains and stayed for days, fasting and praying until he had received his vision that was to govern his later life. Then he returned, leaving the skull on the mountain top. Could not this be the true explanation of the skull found by Stimson on Chief Mountain? For how else could the skull have been carried there when no white man had previously set foot on this peak and most certainly no bull bison had climbed it? And we must marvel at the spirit and courage that motivated this brave to ascend this peak and stay there when we know of the awe with which these primitive people regarded these high, silent, and even more savage peaks.

Early Settlement of Western Slopes

We now drop back a few years to start at the beginning of the white man's entry into the western side of the park. Even though the Indians were more friendly on the west, there seemed to be little incentive for the white man to enter the western valleys that led toward the summit of the Rocky Mountains. Occasionally a party passed through the area on its way across the mountains, but few made any extensive stay in the area.

Lt. A. W. Tinkham led an exploration party for Governor Stevens up the Nyack Valley and over the Cut Bank Pass in 1853, and others crossed various passes from time to time, leaving little or no record. Lts. Ahern and Woodruff took parties through the area and Duncan McDonald most certainly spent some time in the Lake McDonald area on his expeditions through the mountain passes. But it was not until the coming of the Great Northern Railroad in 1892 that people began to enter the region around Lake McDonald and settle there. From that time on, settlement of the region was rapid and exploration and development of the park area were carried on with enthusiasm.

Apgar cabin
Original Apgar Cabin

Among the first to arrive in the Lake McDonald area was Milo B. Apgar, who reportedly came over Marias Pass with his belongings in a two-wheeled cart and settled at the foot of Lake McDonald on the spot that was later to bear his name, the present village of Apgar. With him came Charles Howe, for whom Howe Ridge is named. These two men homesteaded at the foot of the lake and very shortly were in the "dude" business. Apgar immediately began to build cabins on the site of the present Village Inn at the little village of Apgar and furnished overnight accommodations for the visitors who were to come through on their way up Lake McDonald and into the park.

Charles Howe is reported to have been the first person to sight Avalanche Lake and Sperry Glacier from near the summit of Mt. Brown in August of 1894. Upon spotting the lake, he retraced his steps and reached the lake by skirting the western and northern slopes of the mountain. Howe was so enthusiastic about his find that he reported it to Dr. Sperry on his trip into the area the next year. It was from his description that Dr. Lyman B. Sperry, the "Gentleman Explorer," came to explore the Avalanche Lake Basin and actually to reach and set foot upon Sperry Glacier.

Dr. Lyman B. Sperry

Dr. Sperry, a professor from the University of Minnesota, arrived in the park in 1895, about the time that Howe had discovered the best route to Avalanche Lake. Upon hearing about the lake and glacier, he became interested and organized a party to explore the area. "On the third of June, 1895, a party consisting of Professor J. Paul Goode, Messrs E. R. Shepard (photographer), W. O. Jones, and W. A. Wittick, of Minnesota, and the writer (Dr. Sperry)—all under the guidance of Frank Geduhn, one of the early settlers at Lake McDonald—penetrated the thick and tangled forests between Brown's Peak and Goat Mountain (Mt. Brown and the present Mt. Cannon), entered the deep valley and camped on the lake shore. Our party carefully noted the most striking features of the locality, photographed its more conspicuous points, and because of the number of avalanches seen and heard during our stay, agreed that Avalanche Basin would be a most appropriate name for the place.

Dr. Lyman B. Sperry

"Finding that a single day in this remarkable place could give but a taste of its delights, some of our party determined to visit again as soon as practicable. During the latter part of July a passable saddle and pack trail was cut from the head of Lake McDonald to the foot of Avalanche Lake, and on the first day of August, accompanied by Professor L. W. Chaney of Carleton College, and Mr. A. L. Sperry of Owatonna, Minnesota, I, (Dr. Sperry) made a second visit to the region."

"We had expected to be the first to pass over the trail on horseback into this wild retreat, but Mr. J. H. Edward, of Kalispell, with his wife and brother, reached the lake a few hours ahead of us, having followed immediately upon the heels of the trail-makers. Mrs. Edwards, therefore, enjoys the distinction of being the first woman to visit Avalanche Basin." [21]

Sperry party
Sperry Party at Avalanche Lake

According to Alfred L. Sperry, in his book, "Avalanche," the party did continue on up the McDonald Valley and eventually reached the area now known as Granite Park and Ahern Pass. While there they climbed the Garden Wall and looked down upon Grinnell Glacier, and also walked out upon a glacier near Ahern Pass which they named for Dr. Chaney.

It was not until the year 1896 that Dr. Sperry was able actually to set foot upon his glacier, reaching it the first time by the Avalanche Lake route, but later by way of Snyder and Sprague Creeks, much as it is reached today.

It was at this time that the good Doctor also saw the possibilities of a trail to the glacier and mountainous region east of Lake McDonald. With this in mind, he conferred with James J. Hill, president of the Great Northern Railroad, to work out a plan whereby he could bring college students in to the area to build this trail.

Sperry party
Sperry Party on Sperry Glacier

By 1902 he had reached an agreement with the railroad whereby the Great Northern would furnish transportation to and from the park, tents, food and supplies, and Dr. Sperry would recruit students from the University of Minnesota to do the work, without wages, for the opportunity of spending a summer in the mountains. The summer of 1902 saw some 15 students hard at work on the project, and by the end of 1903 the trail was completed to the east side of Gunsight Pass, with a side trail to the headwall below Sperry Glacier. Dr. Sperry laid out the trail and supervised the job in general, but E. E. (Billy) Ellsworth acted as trail foreman, with J. E. (Eddie) Cruger and his stepfather, Danny Comeau, packing supplies to them from Lake McDonald. Although this trail was rebuilt in later years by the National Park Service, it is a monument to Dr. Sperry's engineering ability that even today varies little from the original trail.

With the coming of the railroad the days of true exploration were practically over, and few major areas remained where someone had not already set foot. The railroad and later the automobile roads brought explorers of another sort, those seeking benefits and experiences other than those achieved solely by being first in an area. To these people we are indebted for the support which they gave and which is still needed to maintain these primitive areas in their natural condition.


With the settlement of the western coast of North America and the organization of local and territorial governments in the area, came an almost frantic rush by railroad companies to push their rails to the western sea and tap the growing amount of trade in the newly opened regions. The Union Pacific and others following the more southerly routes were soon traveling to the west coast but for one reason or another the territories farther north were unable to obtain this mode of transportation for some time.

Much of the early history of Glacier National Park centers around the search for easy railroad passes through these northern mountains and particularly for the elusive "route through the mountains" which we know now as Marias Pass. For over thirty-five years various persons in an official capacity searched for this pass, while at the same time other people—trappers, traders, and prospectors—were aware of the pass and often using it without the knowledge of the former.

Stevens Expedition — 1853-54

When the Washington Territory was formed in 1853 and Isaac I. Stevens was appointed governor of this new territory, the first job assigned to him was to make a survey of possible railroad routes into the northwest, along the northern border of the country. He immediately formed his party for the survey and set out for the west, arriving at Fort Benton, on the upper reaches of the Missouri in the late summer of 1853.

Because of the lack of guides at Fort Benton who were acquainted with the mountains to the north, and also because of their reluctance to venture into the Blackfeet Country with such a party, Stevens' men were forced to use Indian guides or the few white men who knew the plains country east of the mountains. Among those hired for this work was Hugh Monroe, who acted both as guide and interpreter for A. W. Tinkham, one of the party's chiefs of survey. Tinkham's party scouted north from Fort Benton toward the Canadian line but was not successful in locating any pass through the mountains. Why his guides did not lead him to Marias Pass will probably never be known, for surely Monroe at least knew of its existence. But here again the warlike attitude of the Blackfeet entered into the picture. It is reported that throughout the entire trip Monroe seemed uneasy and was constantly on the lookout for war parties. Despite the fact that he lived with them and married into the tribe, he seemed to be aware of the danger surrounding a lone party of white men invading Blackfeet territory. Possibly that is one of the reasons why the party did not locate the pass from the east.

While at Fort Benton, Governor Stevens was told of the existence of an easy pass between the Blackfeet country and the land of the Flatheads by one of the friendly Blackfeet chieftains, Little Dog. This fired Stevens to continue the search for the pass but, as winter was fast approaching, he was forced to continue to his winter camp that was being established by Lt. Saxton in the Bitterroot Valley.

Upon reaching his winter camp in the early fall of 1853, Stevens found that the winters were not so severe as he had been led to believe, so he decided to send Tinkham up from the west side of the mountains to look again for this lost pass. Tinkham requested Monroe and another white guide, Dauphin, to accompany him, but they refused. Perhaps it was because of the rumors of several bands of Blackfeet raiding on both sides of the mountains that they would not venture into the area, but returned to Fort Benton by a southern route.

Tinkham was not to be deterred by the refusal of the guides nor by the reports of war parties; he secured the services of a lone Flathead guide and set out, traveling up the Flathead Lake and the Middle Fork of the Flathead River to what is now known as Nyack Creek. Here the guide, for reasons known only to himself, turned off up Nyack Creek and led the party over Cut Bank (Pitamakin) Pass. Possibly, at this time, the lower route over the Marias was impassable for horses because of lack of use, or maybe he was a little afraid of the Blackfeet raiding parties east of the pass. At any rate it was not until October 19 in bitter cold and flying snow that they reached the vicinity of Cut Bank Pass, having covered over two hundred miles in twelve days, the last eight miles of which took seven days. On the following day, they crossed the pass and proceeded down toward Fort Benton. From there Tinkham traveled back to the winter camp and reported to Stevens that the pass was impractical for locating a railroad. His is the first accurately recorded journal of a trip through what is now the park.

When Governor Stevens returned from his expedition in the spring of 1854, he evidently felt that Tinkham's findings were not complete or that the pass mentioned by Little Dog was still undiscovered, so he left another of his lieutenants, James R. Doty, at Fort Benton to continue the search. Doty and his party immediately set out for the eastern front of the range, from there then turned north along the immediate foothills toward the Canadian boundary, following the Old North Trail as far as Bow (St. Mary) and Chief Mountain (Lower St. Mary) Lakes. Upon his return he turned west and followed the upper Marias River (now the South Fork of the Two Medicine) almost to its source. There he is reported to have climbed a hill where he could look into a low pass through the mountains (Marias). As he was under orders to be back to Fort Benton by June, he did not go any farther. Upon his return to Fort Benton, maps were made of the trip showing the pass, and plans were laid to return and continue the survey. Unfortunately, however, these plans were cancelled by Jefferson Davis, then Secretary of War, who felt that enough money had been wasted in this very long-drawn-out search for a mythical pass through the mountains. Doty was very disappointed at this turn of events. Had he been allowed to continue the survey, the history of the area might again have taken a vastly different turn. By such minor events is the history of our country often governed.

Blackfeet Treaty

In October 1855, after many conferences with different Indian tribes of the northwest, Governor Isaac Stevens held a great council at the mouth of the Judith River and established the Blackfeet Reservation. This treaty included many tribes both east and west of the Rocky Mountains. The purpose of this and the other treaties signed with the other tribes was to promote peace and establish common hunting grounds among the tribes. The Blackfeet Treaty, which established a hunting ground on the Blackfeet Territory for eastern Indians but prevented the Indians west of the mountains from using the passes in or near what is now the park, really touched off the fireworks. The treaty was immediately condemned by the western Indians and was never kept by them. The result was a period of almost continual strife and warfare between the tribes between 1855 and 1870.

The prime significance of this treaty is the fact that it stopped, for the next fifteen years, further attempts to enter the part of the Rocky Mountains now occupied by the park until after the quieting of Indian troubles following the Baker Massacre.

Palliser Expedition

About this same time the British Government north of the Canadian Boundary was also becoming interested in the possibility of rail routes across the mountains. In the year 1857 they sent John W. Palliser with an expedition to explore the western part of Canada and to look for possible railroad passes through the mountains. The southern division of this party under the command of Lt. T. W. Blakiston was directed to operate along the boundary. In the year 1858 it entered the area now encompassed by Waterton Lakes National Park, immediately north of Glacier National Park. There they camped on Waterton Lakes and so named them for Charles Waterton, an eminent naturalist. Members of this party may have been the first white people to see these lakes or at least to leave any record of having been there.

From the Waterton Valley the party crossed the Continental Divide by one of the passes north of the boundary, possibly South Kootenai Pass, and continued westward to the Tobacco Plains Country, near the present site of Eureka, Montana. This trail, used extensively in later years by both Indians and white men, extended from the Old North Trail near the foot of Waterton Lake over the South Kootenai Pass, across the northwestern corner of the park, thence over the Whitefish Divide by way of Yak-in-i-kak and Graves Creeks, to the Tobacco Plains country. From there trails continued to Fort Colville and Walla Walla in the Washington Territory. In the early days this was one of the main routes between the eastern Washington region and the plains of southern Alberta.

The survey maps of both Doty and Blakiston were very complete and surprisingly accurate when compared with modern maps. Much of Doty's route can be retraced from his narrative description of the geographic features he encountered. Blakiston's map showed for the first time many of the old Indian trails across the mountains, as well as the streams, peaks and rivers in considerable detail. These maps and reports were to furnish the basis for further and more detailed exploration in the following years.

Old North Trail

An interesting sidelight to the study of this area is the existence of the different trails that reached from one place to another. Without the aid of the well-traveled Indian trails much of the exploration of this area would have been impossible or at least much more difficult. From time to time mention is made of trails through the mountains. The longest and most heavily used of them all was the "Old North Trail." This was one of the longest, if not the longest, continuous trail in the west. Blackfeet Indian legends tell of a group of Blackfeet that once decided to visit the people in the south and started out along the trail, traveling for twelve months, until they reached the country of the "people with dark skins and hair falling over their face" (Mexico). They were gone, in all, four years on this trip.

This Old North Trail, into which all of the east-west trails led, evidently extended from Mexico, or near there, north to the vicinity of the present city of Calgary, along the eastern face of the Rocky Mountains. At Calgary it branched, one trail continuing along the mountains and the other leading northeast into the Barren Lands as far as people lived. Evidences of this trail could be found until recent years, and probably might still be located if searched for diligently. And it was this network of trails throughout the nation that led the early explorers into these areas, crossing and re-crossing, much as our highways and railroads do now.

Hamilton and McKay

In 1858, Governor Stevens was concerned about the Indian trouble that resulted from the Judith Basin Treaty of 1855. Because no further reconnaissance could be made into the area until this was quelled, he sent two men, William T. Hamilton and Alex McKay, disguised as trappers and traders, into the Blackfeet country to learn the attitude of the Blackfeet toward the trouble. The two men managed to reach the camp of Little Dog, who was still friendly toward the white men, although his people were not. From there they went on and, upon reaching the second camp of Indians, found a very unfriendly welcome awaiting them. In attempting to leave this camp, a fuss was stirred up, a few of the Indians were killed, and Hamilton and McKay left as fast as they could go.

When they reached the vicinity of St. Mary Lake, they fell in with a band of Kootenai Indians from west of the mountains. As soon as the whites arrived, the Kootenais, knowing full well what was to happen, broke camp and retreated as rapidly as possible toward Red Eagle Pass and the safety of the western slopes of the mountains but were overtaken by the Blackfeet just below the main pass where a furious battle resulted. The Blackfeet were repulsed with heavy losses. Undoubtedly Hamilton and McKay had plenty to report to Stevens upon their return.

Fort Benton and Kootenai Wagon Road

Despite later search for the pass, the existence of Marias Pass was known by this time from the reports of traders and others, as well as from the maps and reports of Doty. As further concrete evidence of this, "the first legislative assembly of the newly created territory of Montana convened at Bannock, the territorial capital on December 12, 1864. Here they passed an act to incorporate the 'Fort Benton and Kootenai Road Company,' empowering the company to build a wagon road from Fort Benton through Marias Pass, to intersect with the 'Hell Gate and Kootenai Wagon Road,' about thirty miles above the head of Flathead Lake (probably in the vicinity of Columbia Falls or Whitefish). The road was to be paid for by a levy of toll charges for the different amounts and types of traffic that used the road. The act was signed by the first territorial governor, Sydney Edgerton, on February 2, 1865, but Indian trouble, including a massacre on the Marias River, broke up the plans for the road and it was abandoned before it was started.

Provisions of the act empowered the company to erect a toll gate at Marias Pass and collect tolls as follows: For each wagon, four horses or more, $8.00; for each wagon drawn by less than four animals, $5.00; for pack animals and horsemen, $1.00 each; for loose animals, mules, etc., fifty cents. The act further provided that the road be built within two years, and after completion, be kept in good repair for travel." [22]

Northern Transcontinental Railroad Survey

" In the year 1881 one Henry Villard, backed by the Northern Pacific Railroad and the Oregon Railway and Navigation Company organized what he called the Northern Transcontinental Railway Survey, to make a complete survey of the northwestern country, with the view of development by these railroads and others. To head this survey, he called upon the eminent geologist Raphael Pumpelly. As a crew to carry out this survey, he selected the following men, most of whom were then or later, big names in their respective fields:

A. D. Wilson, topographer
Bailey Willis, geologist
Boyard Putnam, geologist
J. E. Wolff, geologist
George Eldridge, geologist
Waldeman Lindgren, geologist
F. A. Gooch, chemist
Prof. Charles Sargent, forester
Prof. E. W. Hilgard, soils
W. B. Canby, plants and range conditions

W. R. Logan was hired as head packer. This survey carried on through 1882 and 1883, resulting in Mr. Pumpelly's crossing of Cut Bank Pass in 1883." [23]

In the spring of 1882, Professor Pumpelly and his crew headed west and started their survey. In the early summer the professor and his party, including W. A. Stiles, a newspaper man, and Major Logan, who later was to become the first Superintendent of Glacier National Park, attempted to cross Cut Bank (Pitamakin) Pass from the east, but upon reaching the pass were turned back by the tremendous snow banks still remaining from the previous winter's snowfall. Upon their return they continued their survey and reached the western side of the Rocky Mountains in 1883. Again the party attempted the pass, this time in August, from the western side, and were successful.

On this latter attempt they traveled cross-country from the Bitterroot Valley, up the Flathead River to Lake McDonald, where they struck an old Indian trail leading over the pass. On this trip they located what was later named Pumpelly Glacier from a place called Mud (Nyack) Creek. It was also on this trip that they climbed Mt. Stimson. "Professor Canby's diary records visits to 'Van Orsdale's Flume' and 'Woodruff's Falls' on Nyack Creek, near Mt. Stimson, while Pumpelly and others were climbing to the glacier. This record verifies Woodruff's and Van Orsdale's prior discovery (1873) of the glacier. This pass was called 'Marias' Pass in newspaper accounts of the day." [24]

Great Northern Railway

Up to this time the interest of the railroads in the area was confined to searching for passes and surveying possible routes. Roads farther south were rapidly pushing their rails westward, but so far there had been no sign of rails reaching the area of Glacier National Park. In the year 1878 James J. Hill and several associates bought out a bankrupt "streak of rust" in Minnesota, a land grant railroad known as "St. Paul and Pacific." The new management, which included George Stephens, president of the Bank of Montreal, and Donald A. Smith, chief commissioner of the Hudson's Bay Company, reorganized and renamed it the "St. Paul, Minneapolis, and Manitoba Railway Co.," later renamed the "Great Northern Railway Co." By 1883 Hill, as general manager, had started pushing the rails of this budding giant westward toward the Pacific Ocean. In the year 1887 the road reached Great Falls and Helena. Hill had hoped for a pass through the Rockies in the region near the Canadian border, but his locating engineers had failed to find the elusive passage known as Marias Pass. The lack of accurate maps of the pass probably prevented him from building directly toward it in the first place, from Pacific Junction (just west of Havre). Hill employed a young engineer, John F. Stevens (no relation to Governor Isaac Stevens) to locate this elusive pass and decide upon the feasibility of constructing the line through it, thereby reducing the rail distance between St. Paul and the coast, and at a much lower grade than in the Butte region of the Rocky Mountains.

To John F. Stevens is often given the credit for "discovering" Marias Pass. Perhaps we should better say, he explored it for the Great Northern Railway. Since Finan McDonald crossed it in 1810, there were numerous white men and hundreds of Indians known to have crossed it at one time or another. Knowing this but not having an accurate map of it, is probably what led James J. Hill to send Stevens in search of the pass, with the establishment of the railroad in mind. From various reports it seems evident that Hill's orders to Stevens were based upon reports by Major Marcus D. Baldwin. Baldwin stated that when he first arrived in the Flathead he had entered Marias Pass from the west, explored it thoroughly, and then he reported his findings to Mr. Hill. His report, perhaps coupled with the old maps of Doty and Robertson undoubtedly were the deciding factors in sending Stevens to locate the pass and determine its feasibility as a railroad pass. In any event, in December of 1889 Stevens accompanied by a Flathead Indian by the name of Coonsah, started out to locate the pass. It was bitterly cold and Coonsah finally played out and had to be left behind. Stevens proceeded alone in a blizzard and by evening had reached the pass and crossed it far enough to be certain that it was the true pass and that it was useable. It being too late to return that night to the camp where he had left Coonsah, he remained in the pass until morning, tramping back and forth in a runway beaten out of the snow to keep from freezing. The next morning, upon returning to the camp where he had left the Indian, he found that Coonsah had allowed the fire to go out and was almost frozen to death. After Stevens revived the Indian they returned to the Blackfeet Agency on Badger Creek from which they had started. A statue at Summit in Marias Pass commemorates Stevens' exploration of this pass.

statue of Stevens
Statue of Stevens at Marias Pass

The following spring, survey crews headed for the pass and the last lap in the construction of the Great Northern Railway to the coast was under way. A tote road was built through the mountains and construction camps were set up. The tote road itself was a major undertaking, and following the path of least resistance and steepness of grade was no obstacle. Many of the trees along the old road for many years showed the marks where ropes were snubbed around them to lower heavily loaded wagons down the grades. The Flathead River had to be forded in two places; this was a hazardous venture during high water.

Following the survey and grading crews, which were now well on their way to the coast, the track-laying crews on the Great Northern started out from the town of Cut Bank on April 24, 1891. The summit of the Rocky Mountains at Marias Pass was reached on September 14 and Kalispell on the last day of the year, 1891. By April, 1892, the road had reached the western border of the state, and in 1893 the first transcontinental trains started rumbling across the pass.

The building of this road was accompanied by the inevitable line of wild construction towns, the wildest of which was McCarthyville, located about five miles west of Summit, and at one time considered the toughest town in the state of Montana. "Slippery Bill" Morrison, a noted character of those times, earned his nickname from the fact that he was able to spend one entire winter in McCarthyville and come out in the spring with a whole skin, despite his good luck at poker playing. "Slippery" is reported to have stated that when the snow went off that spring nine bodies were discovered, as mute evidence of the moral code of the town.

Old McCarthyville

With the completion of the railroad through Marias Pass, development of the area was rapid. Shortly after reports reached the outside regarding the beauty of the area, the first "dudes" began to arrive in ever-increasing numbers and started this mountain region along its path of catering to summer visitors, a business that is still increasing.

Railroad Surveys on the North Fork of the Flathead

The story of the railroads would not be complete without a mention of the railroad surveys that were made on the North Fork of the Flathead River in 1909. The park was about to be created, and there was a possibility of finding in the area, coal and oil in sufficient quantities to make the need for a road imperative. What probably precipitated the surveys was the appearance of a rival railway company upon the scene. At any rate, in the year 1909, the Great Northern Railway and the Milwaukee Railroad ran surveys for the right-of-way of the North Fork of the Flathead to the Canadian line. Each company rushed to complete the survey first, file its plats of the survey, and thereby get the franchise for a road.

These surveys, were a hard-fought battle between the two rival crews. When one crew got behind, they would drop over onto the survey of the other and use it until they caught up and then take to the woods again. If a road had been built up there, one wonders how much good these surveys would have been.

As the work extended through most of the following winter, the crews had to be supplied by pack trains, both up the west side of the river and through the park. Some of the packers had to use snowshoes on their horses and others travois, in order to get the supplies through. Undoubtedly the men had hard going at times and occasionally they were a little hungry, but they carried on until recalled by their respective companies.

And so another era in the development of the park comes to a close. The appearance of the steam engines with their long strings of passenger and freight cars take the mountains a long way from the unexplored wilderness that it had been such a short time before. And the hordes of visitors that poured into the mountains in the years to come, now that modern transportation was available, marked the beginning of a demand for preservation of the area and the creation of a National Park.


Early Mining Ventures

The quieting of the Indian troubles in 1870 resulted in renewed interest in the northern mountains. By this time a considerable number of prospectors and miners were arriving in Montana. Many of them were seeking new fields, apart from the gold and copper mining regions of Butte and Anaconda. The first recorded party of miners to enter the area was one headed by Frank Lehman who in 1870 came up the Flathead over Marias Pass and onto the prairies into what is now Alberta, on an unsuccessful mining venture. About the same time a minor gold stampede, also doomed to failure, brought other miners through Marias Pass and sent them back disappointed.

The next account of miners entering the region was in 1876 when a party of Texans was reported to have entered the park on a prospecting trip. This account related in a letter by one of the participants many years later, had not been verified by any other source, so the dates may or may not be exactly correct. This letter, written by one William Veach, concerns a prospecting trip taken by himself, Emerson Brown, Thomas Molenieux, a man known as Crow, and one other. They drifted north through Colorado, Wyoming and eastern Montana. After spending several days in the vicinity of St. Mary Lake, they crossed Logan Pass, dropped down past Lake McDonald and went on to Belton where they picked up some supplies. This is believed to be the first recorded trip of white men over Logan Pass.

From Belton the party went up the North Fork of the Flathead and eventually reached Quartz Lake, where they built a cabin on the northeast corner of the lake and are reported to have found a 30-ounce nugget of gold in the creek flowing into the lake. In September, Veach and one other left for California and did not return, so we have no further record of what happened to the remainder of the party or their 30-ounce nugget.

In the late 1880's there occurred a short-lived mining boom at the headwaters of Mineral Creek. Mrs. Nat Collins, popularly known as the "Cattle Queen of Montana," hired a crew of men and set up a camp on a small stream feeding Mineral Creek, in the upper McDonald Valley, to develop a supposedly rich prospect there. With Mrs. Collins acting as both foreman and cook, they worked the mine for three summers and one winter. After finding no rich mineral deposits, she finally sent to St. Paul for a mining engineer to look the mine over and he advised her to drop the venture and stop wasting her money. The crew then shifted to Columbia Falls to cut ties for the Great Northern Railway, and Mrs. Collins returned to her ranch at Choteau, Montana. The stream upon which the mine was located is still known as "Cattle Queen Creek."

Until 1890 prospecting in the area was somewhat aimless and spasmodic. Then, from 1890 to 1893 reports began to sift out and circulate in the mining areas of Butte and Anaconda that there were rich veins of copper ore to be found in these mountains. As a result, prospectors began to flock to them. One such report that appeared in the Fort Benton "River Press" stated that a prospector named "Dutch Lui" had struck a vein at the head of Copper and Quartz Creeks carrying gold, silver, copper and lead, assaying from $80 to $500 per ton.

Ceded Strips

Although prospecting was carried on quite feverishly through the mountains, the area east of the Continental Divide was Indian Reservation and as such was legally closed to all entry for prospecting purposes. The fact that the area was closed was enough to fire the imagination of miners throughout the state, and tales of great wealth in these hills began to circulate through the country. The cry soon arose that the government had "locked up" the area to prevent the taking of these minerals. This, in turn, interested more miners, and pressure was put upon Congress to throw the region open to mining. In the meantime, the more adventurous prospectors were sneaking into the area and bringing out stories that tended to further feed the fire.

As the pressure increased, Congress could no longer ignore it. In 1895 William C. Pollock, George Bird Grinnell and Walter M. Clements were appointed as a commission of three to negotiate with the Blackfeet for the purchase of the strip of land lying between the Continental Divide and the prairies, from Canada south some fifty or sixty miles. After long negotiations, they finally agreed on a purchase price of $1,500,000, which they recommended to Congress. The Indians retained the right to hunt, fish and cut timber on this area, soon to be known as the "Ceded Strip," unless the State of Montana should at some time deem it unlawful. The area of the strip included the eastern part of what is now Glacier National Park and portions of the Lewis and Clark National Forest immediately south of the park. That portion now included within Glacier National Park was withdrawn from hunting and timber cutting provisions of the treaty with the establishment of the park in 1910.

On June 10, 1896, Congress confirmed the purchase of the Ceded Strip from the Blackfeet for the price agreed upon by the commissioners, but the land was still not legally opened for mining until 1898. In the meantime, miners and prospectors, often called "sooners," began to sneak in and locate claims in preparation for the day when they could come in legally and occupy them.

Swiftcurrent Mining Boom

The years of 1898 to 1900 constituted the hey-day of the short-lived mining excitement in the park. On April 15, 1898, the "Ceded Strip" was thrown open to miners and settlers. Great tales of mineral wealth had come out of the area and small veins of mineral ore had actually been discovered in the Swiftcurrent Valley and other localities throughout the park area. Throughout the entire period however, the Swiftcurrent Valley constituted the major attraction for the miners and contained the bulk of the claims and activity. Frank Stevenson, an early prospector and settler in the valley, tells of guiding the soldiers into the Swiftcurrent area to control the opening of the Strip. On the appointed day and hour, a volley of shots rang out and the rush was on—a wild stampede of miners on horses, in wagons, and even on foot. Within a matter of hours hundreds of claims were staked in the Swiftcurrent Valley and adjacent mountains. Stevenson himself staked several claims, some of which later yielded showings of oil and a mill site and water rights at Swiftcurrent Falls.

The mining boom in the Swiftcurrent Valley was very active for several years, but as little or no minerals were found where there was thought to have been a bonanza, interest died and the flurry of activity gradually ceased. By 1903 most of the claims were abandoned except for the more persistent miners, many of whom held on until the time of their deaths. This short-lived boom though, did produce several interesting developments, principally in the field of finance and promotion. The size and scope of the promotional activity was some times startling. Companies were formed and capitalized at hundreds of thousands of shares; a town sprang up in the area almost overnight and as rapidly disappeared; an entire stamp mill and reduction plant was transported into the far reaches of Canyon Creek. These and many similar items make this one of the most interesting periods in Glacier's history.

A good example of the lengths men will go to in the hopes of realizing a fortune from the elusive mineral leads is evident in the story of the Cracker Lake Mine. "On April 12, 1898, just three days before the official opening of the Ceded Strip, a mine was located on the so-called Cracker Lead, on the shore of Cracker Lake at the extreme head of the steep, narrow Canyon Creek Valley. Following the official opening of the area, work commenced on the lead and soon samples of ore were taken out to show prospective investors. Many theories have been advanced as to where these rich samples originated, as the mine never did produce paying ore in any quantity and not one pound was ever taken out of it commercially. Yet the investors were interested and sufficient capital was raised to develop the mine properly. The area soon became a beehive of activity as the shaft was driven farther and farther into the mountain, finally reaching a length of well over 1,300 feet. In the meantime work was started on a 100-ton concentrator to be located on the shore of Cracker Lake. The mill was hauled in and installed but never turned a wheel, and its remains can still be seen near the old mine entrance." []25

Charles Nielson, of East Glacier Park, recalls the difficulties involved in transporting the 16,000 pound concentrator from Fort Browning to the mine. He used a large freight wagon and twelve head of husky mules on the 29-day trip to the mine. There was very little road on the way and none after leaving the Swiftcurrent Valley. Often the load was hauled with block and tackle up the bed of Canyon Creek. Upon looking at this valley today, one can but wonder at the work and perseverance exhibited by Nielson as he toiled up this narrow gorge with his staggering load—and at the contracted rate of twenty five dollars per day.

In March of 1901, the Cracker Jack and Bulls Head mines, the latter on the slopes of Mt. Wilbur, were consolidated into the "Michigan and Montana Company," which was capitalized at $300,000. In spite of this backing though, by 1902 the mining activity dropped off, along with that of many other mines in the area. Some interest was kept alive in the mine for a number of years, but little or no work was done and all that remains today is a caved in tunnel and a pile of steel and old lumber on the site of the mill.

The land containing the Cracker Lake and Bulls Head mines changed hands several time in the years to follow and was finally picked up on a tax deed from Glacier County on September 22, 1953 by the Glacier Natural History Association. In October of 1953, the land was turned over to the Federal Government for $123.96, the cost of acquiring it and clearing title. Thus ended the story of the largest and perhaps the most famous of the mining ventures in Glacier National Park.

Former Town of Altyn

Coincident with and mainly due to the development of the Cracker Lake Mine, a small boom town sprang up at the mouth of Canyon Creek near the head of Sherburne Lake. This town, named Altyn, after Dave Greenwood Altyn, one of the backers of the Cracker Jack, continued as the center of activity for the valley as long as the mining activity existed. At its height this busy little "metropolis" contained a dozen or so buildings, including a post office, a store, several saloons and dance halls, a two-story hotel building, and a few tent-houses and cabins that served as residences. The years of 1899 and 1900 saw the height of this town, after which it dropped rapidly into obscurity; all that remains today are a few excavations along the shore of Sherburne Lake on what is known as "Cracker Flats."

Most of the mining claims were soon abandoned, but several were worked quite extensively and patented, granting permanent ownership to the claimant. Although few are still in private hands within the park, most have been bought by the Federal Government or are in the process of being acquired.

The Search for Oil

The other phase of the mineral activity in the park was that of the oil boom, at about the same time as the mining boom or shortly thereafter. Coincident with the opening of the eastern slopes of the mountains to mining was the discovery of oil seepage at the head of Kintla Lake on the western slopes. Here prospectors discovered oil seeping out in the water of a spring at the foot of what was then known as Forum Peak. This discovery led to considerable excitement around Butte; a man by the name of Bender formed an oil company and set out to locate a road to Kintla Lake in order that he might haul drilling equipment to the lake. In the summer of 1901, the newly formed Butte Oil Company put crews to work cutting out a road from the foot of Lake McDonald to the site of their oil well at the upper end of Kintla Lake. The resultant stretch of road, about forty miles in length, could hardly be called a road by present standards, since it consisted merely of a route cut through the timber, with corduroy laid over the swampy areas. No grading was done nor were there any bridges built. But in spite of this, most of the heavy machinery and supplies were hauled in before snow fell that fall. After the lake froze that winter, and when the machinery was hauled to the head of the lake over the ice, drilling was started and continued for several years. When no traces of oil were found, however, the well was abandoned and the Butte Oil Well joined the ranks of those forgotten mines and wells of which little remains today except a hole in the ground and a few bits of rotted timber and rusted iron.

Kintla Lake Oil Well

About the same time the Kintla Well was drilled on the North Fork. This well was located near the river, not far from the mouth of Kintla Creek and, like the Butte Well, did not produce and was finally abandoned.

oil well
Kintla Lake Oil Well

The biggest oil boom in the park area, oddly enough, occurred in the same valley as did the largest mining boom—Swiftcurrent Valley. Credit for the discovery of oil in this valley seems to go to Sam Somes who ran the hotel at the town of Altyn. Sam evidently had some claims in the lower valley, near the site of the present Sherburne Dam, and one day in 1901, while he was doing assessment work in his tunnel following a dynamite charge, he discovered small pools of oil on the floor of the tunnel. As he worked on into the tunnel he continued to find traces of this oil seepage. This interested him and he collected some samples of the oil and headed for Great Falls where he talked to some friends about it. As a result, the Montana Swiftcurrent Oil Company was organized, with Somes as general manager, and was capitalized at $1,500,000.00

Equipment and men were soon organized and moved to the drilling site. Drilling operations were started and continued through the spring and summer of 1903, at which time Somes, to create more interest in the venture, took a bottle of oil to Great Falls and persisted in pouring it on the floors and desks in the banks and offices around town. The result of this little performance was the formation of several oil companies and the resultant grabbing up of practically all the land on the floor of Swiftcurrent Valley, along with some in adjacent valleys, for "oil-placer" claims.

Somes' well never did produce either gas or oil, although a few of the others produced gas in varying quantities and some even showed traces of oil, none of it in commercial quantities. The only claim this company has to fame is the fact that it was the discovery well and the first oil well drilled on the eastern side of the park.

By the fall of 1903, most of the miners were gone from the valley, and many of the oil-placer claims were abandoned, but during the summer Mike Cassidy, one of the prospectors, had observed bubbles arising from the waters of a small creek emptying into Sherburne Lake. This, coupled with Somes' discovery in 1901 made him suspicious of the possibility of oil there. He immediately got busy and before long another oil company, one that was to make its mark on the history of the valley, sprang into existence. The Cassidy Swiftcurrent Oil Company, under manager and driller Matt Dunn, started drilling on what was known as St. Louis Placer No. 1. In 1905 and 1906 gas was struck; drilling continued intermittently until 1909, when tools were lost in the hole. Cassidy spent the next three summers in an unsuccessful attempt to retrieve them. No oil was struck in this well although gas was found on three levels. In 1907, Cassidy piped the gas from the well to his house and used it until 1914 for heating and lighting.

When plans were made to construct the Sherburne Reservoir, condemnation proceedings were directed against the portion of this claim that was below the flowage level of the proposed reservoir. On August 28, 1920, this claim was settled with the Federal Government paying Cassidy the sum of $7,675.00 for that part of the claim below the flow line, which included the gas well. Later Cassidy exchanged the remaining acreage for lands outside the park.

The largest and probably the most controversial of all the oil companies to arise at this time was the Swift Current Oil Land and Power Company, incorporated on April 30, 1904. The original incorporators were J. H. Sherburne of Browning, Dave Greenwood Altyn, for whom the town of Altyn had been named, F. M. Stevenson who had a cabin and a claim nearby, A. J. Gibson of Missoula, Otto J. Hartwig of Chicago and Sherburne Morse of Browning. Many of the claim-holders up and down the valley soon assigned their claims to the new company in return for shares; and through this the company acquired twenty-nine claims totaling approximately four thousand acres of land, and was capitalized at two million shares.

A professional driller was imported from West Virginia and paid $80 per month and board. Drilling was intermittent and slow, and continued until 1907, after which the machinery was loaned to another company and all work on the well ceased. Two wells were drilled by the company, only one of which produced any oil, and that in very small quantities. This well went down to a depth of 1,500 feet and cost, in cash, $19,900, plus what was paid out in shares.

The most interesting thing about this well was the fact that in 1905 a diploma was awarded to the Swift Current Oil Land and Power Company, reading in part: "Awarded to Swift Current Oil Land and Power Company for the first producing oil well in the State of Montana, and the best display of crude and refined oil from the Swift Current District, Teton County, Montana, at the State Fair, Helena, Montana, 1905." As very little oil was ever produced from this well, there persisted the ever-present rumor that the company imported barrels of crude oil and poured them into the well to "grease" the investors, while others maintained that the well was an actual, bonafide producer. In any event, it received the fame and the certificate, and must have produced some oil in order to have done so.

The oil boom died out almost completely after 1907, except for a few oil men, like the few remaining miners, who could not give up the idea of finding a million dollars that all the others had overlooked. A few more holes were drilled, but nothing except a trace here and there was ever found. Frank Stevenson, who remained to make his home in the valley, gradually came into possession of some of the more promising claims, including some that he had staked himself; he built his home on nine of them, where he lived for many years, spending some time as a park ranger when the area was first included in Glacier National Park.

Galbraith's map of June 1923, shows that the entire valley floor from the vicinity of the Sherburne Damn to Swiftcurrent Falls was taken up at one time by these oil placer claims. In all, between eight and ten wells were drilled in the valley, mostly near the valley floor and within two miles of the present Sherburne Dam. The waters of the Sherburne Reservoir now cover most of the old well sites.

Mapping of the Park

Concurrent with the mining activity in the park, came a desire for more accurate maps of the area, and the Geological Survey sent crews into the area, starting in 1900, to map the park and the adjacent mountains. This project was carried on through the years 1900 to 1904, and the maps that resulted were so well done and accurate that they are still used today as the official maps of the area. F. E. Matthes, R. H. Chapman, and other old topographers who worked on this project did a job of mapping that is still talked about by topographers the world over. During the summer of 1901, the Survey also sent in geologists Bailey Willis and George Finlay, along with paleontologist Stuart Weller, to make a geological study of the area and Dr. Willis at this time described and named the famous Lewis Overthrust.

Before we leave the mining days mention should be made of the ill-fated voyage of the steamer "Oakes" up the North Fork of the Flathead River in an attempt to haul coal from deposits near the mouth of Logging Creek. About the time that the Great Northern Railway came through the area, coal was discovered along the western bank of the North Fork, not far from Logging Creek.


"Rusting away on a gravel bed under the west end of the bridge a quarter mile below the southwest corner of Glacier National Park lies an old steam boiler. For almost half a century it has lain there, abandoned, isolated and almost forgotten. The building of the new bridge across the Flathead at that point last summer has broken its long isolation. It is not much to see, but it is a relic of an enterprise, probably the most romantic and adventurous in the development of northwestern Montana, the ill-starred voyage of the steamer 'Oakes.'

Some time previous to 1890 important coal deposits had been discovered far up the North Fork of the Flathead River. Near the same time James A. Talbott, an enterprising character who had prospered in the rush days of the Butte mining development came into the Flathead country. With others he acquired the townsite of Columbia Falls ahead of the railroad and built a palatial home on the bank of the river nearby.

Talbott was a man of considerable vision, and in those days was able to back his dreams with tangible substance. He learned of the coal deposits on the North Fork and conceived the idea of using this coal to induce the construction of a railroad into that region, which would bless his town of Columbia Falls and would greatly stimulate the development of the whole region.

But many miles of the most difficult terrain in the state covered with an almost impenetrable jungle of virgin forest lay between the townsite and the prospective mines. When the Great Northern, building westward, reached Columbia Falls, Talbott decided on a desperate effort to bring out a carload sample of that North Fork coal. He recognized the practical impossibility of over-land transportation and knowing full well the hazardous nature of the enterprise, had a steamboat built at a cost of above five thousand dollars to attempt the navigation of the swift and turbulent river.

This steamer, named The Oakes, was a stern wheeler about seventy-five feet long and fairly broad of beam, carried a power winch on the forward deck in anticipation of the need of extra power in the swift and almost continuous rapids up-stream.

The Oakes was captained and piloted by two experienced river men, Steve Lereau and Christian Prestbye, supported by a crew of a dozen or so hardy and resourceful men. The engine was operated by a man named Doyle; the boiler was fired by a husky youth, Claude Slemmer. Riggers for handling tow-lines and shore gear included Mike Shannon, Bob Hunter, Tom MacDonald, and a tall and wiry youngster remembered only as Slim. An old man of sixty-five years, probably a crony of Talbott's earlier days at Butte, was one of the crew, and Talbott himself, never asking any man to do what he would not try himself, was a useful man on board.

Any casual fisherman who has fished on the Flathead through and above Bad Rock Canyon and along the tortuous, rockribbed channel of the North Fork with its rapids, shoals and whirling pools at low water, would marvel that the attempt at navigation was ever made. Looking down now from the North Fork Road high above the narrow, crooked ribbon of black, green and white water which zig-zags between boulders and projecting rocks at mid-summer, it is appalling to think of the hazards threatening a ship like the Oakes which must make the attempt in the swift, gray, swirling flood of snow water of the spring thaws.

But early in May, 1892, The Oakes and its daring crew steamed away from its moorings at Columbia Falls and headed up the swollen flood of the Flathead River. Hopes were high and the start was auspicious. Talbott's enthusiasm inspired the crew and all were in a holiday humor. Their whistle blasts awoke the echoes as they steamed up through Bad Rock Canyon, passed the mouth of the South Fork, carefully threaded the narrower swifter waters of the Baby Canyon, and swung away to the north. Fortune still smiled as the stern-wheel threshed the swift gray waters and they moved slowly but stubbornly up stream. They passed beneath the high bridge of the Great Northern at the site of the present town of Coram and onward, without incident, to the foot of the Red Lick rapids some three miles beyond.

There was the first stern crisis of the voyage. Slemmer fired the boiler to the limit of its capacity and Doyle nursed the engine with the available steam while Prestbye steered to keep an open channel and to meet the merciless current from the most favorable angles. They almost reached the comparatively quiet waters above the rapids when, short of steam, the plucky engine faltered and The Oakes lost headway and drifted almost helpless in the racing water.

It was their first moment of extreme peril. A small boat was carried for a tender. Mike Shannon and Bob Hunter quickly launched this boat and rowed ashore in desperate haste with a tow line. A single turn of the line around the nearest tree, a half-formed knot, and a quick haul by the power winch and The Oakes and her crew were first saved from going broadside down the rocky channel.

Their predicament now demonstrated the necessity of more rope. A single tow-line was not enough. There were many such rapids ahead and on most of them a cross-haul would be required to hold The Oakes in mid-stream while the winch and the main tow-line furnished the forward power. The Oakes and her crew were forced to remain moored at the Red Licks while the husky and boatwise young Slemmer took the small boat and went back down stream to Columbia Falls for more rope.

Slemmer narrowly missed death when a veritable maelstrom opened before him as he rounded a projecting rock in the canyon on the way to town and he decided it was folly to return upstream with the heavy rope in the small boat; so he got aboard a freight train with his rope and with the magic of Talbott's name induced the crew to let him off at the nearest point to the tethered Oakes and her impatiently waiting crew.

There was now no small boat for a tender and from this point on there was almost constant need for a shore crew on the other shore to rig the cross-haul which, in the absence of a second winch, was operated by a hasty improvisation they referred to as a Spanish windlass crudely constructed when and where needed on shore. Shannon and Hunter usually manned the main tow-line while Slemmer and Slim rigged the cross-haul and the rest did their share of the strenuous work on board.

They passed the mouth of the Middle Fork and by slow and difficult stages worked on northward into the ever narrowing and quickening current of the North Fork. They were now shut in on all sides by absolutely primitive wilderness. To their right lay the wild and frequently perpendicular jungle which would one day be Glacier National Park, while on the left lay the almost equally rugged foothills of the Whitefish Mountains. Nature has seldom locked more securely her treasure-house than she locked the gate to her North Fork coal.

It was good game country and frequently deer and moose appeared on the river banks and once seven deer were seen swimming across the river up stream. The animals had a hard struggle and were excited by the strange monster snorting in the river below them. They reached the bank at a precipitous spot and, well spent from their effort, again and again they scrambled madly to scale the rocks and fell back splashing into the water. Young Slemmer seized his rifle to try for some venison but Talbott shouted, "They've earned their lives," and dissuaded him.

Just below the mouth of Canyon Creek, The Oakes was swept out of the main channel and caught in a broad whirling pool where she milled round and round with a mass of logs and brush in a situation which bid fair to be the end of her. After much hazardous maneuvering the two lines were rigged and the boat was again worked into the stream. When she finally swung into the channel and started forward, Slemmer's hold on the Spanish windlass slipped and it spun like a deadly pin-wheel over his head as he ducked and the line and windlass were dragged away into the river.

Many days had passed and they were less than fifteen miles from their starting point. The current was growing more turbulent and the channel more dangerous every mile. It had been a precarious venture from the start. But these men were pioneers and had the crazy persistence of their kind. By this time they must have realized the futility of the enterprise but they did not turn back.

Two or three miles above Canyon Creek the last line was put ashore. Shannon and Hunter snubbed it to the only tree strategically located and the winch began to haul. The Oakes rolled and yawed from side to side of the channel and rocked dangerously as the turbulent water struck it from different angles. From the rigorous strains of the voyage The Oakes was taking some water in the hold, and this, set in motion, added to the instability of the craft. Now on a particularly violent yaw she finally capsized near the east bank and began slowly to turn over. The added pull of the capsized boat was too much for the tree which held the line. It was pulled out by the roots and both boat and tree drifted down the stream.

Most of the crew scrambled ashore on the east shore in this final catastrophe, Christian Prestbye climbed through the window of the pilot house as the water rushed in at the door. Talbott and two other men were not so fortunate. They had, however, been able to scramble up the side as she turned over and were still on top when she floated into midstream and finally grounded nearly bottom up on a gravel bar some distance below.

The situation of these three men was now critical. The boat might roll at any moment. No man could swim that icy flood. Those on shore were without tools. They had a length of rope but too short to reach the wreck. In this emergency they seized a dead, half-rotted fir tree and by strength of many hands broke it in many pieces. They stranded the rope and constructed a crude raft which they let float down towards the wreck at the end of the spliced strands. After many unsuccessful efforts they maneuvered this raft near enough to The Oakes for one of the men to get aboard and he was hauled ashore. Three times the operation was repeated and all were finally on firm land.

The steamer Oakes had made her first and last voyage and in this effort it became the only steam driven boat ever operated on the Flathead or its branches above Kalispell.

But the crew of The Oakes was in a sorry plight; not a single axe, not an ounce of food, not a single match in all the company. Talbott alone had been able to salvage a single wet blanket. All were soaked to the skin. The snows of winter still lingered in the deep woods and the temperature at night dropped well below the freezing point. From the other bank a blazed trail was known to Columbia Falls while many miles of unmarked and well-nigh impassable wilderness intervened on any other avenue of escape.

In this dilemma Claude Slemmer suggested crossing the river on crude rafts such as they had used to rescue the three men from the wreck. Only Slim would agree to such a venture. So Slemmer and Slim, on the raft of rotten fir, with only a rough pole and a piece of broken board from the wreck to work with, set out to cross the swift gray flood while the rest of the hungry, shivering crew stood on the shore and watched them drift out of sight. To traverse the difficult terrain which lay between the larger group and their nearest contact with civilization, the railroad station at Belton, would have been sufficiently strenuous in their condition if the hills had been bare and the visibility good, but with those tumbled hills and ravines deep clad in a tangled jungle of primeval forest the task was formidable indeed.

One man of the party professed to know of a short cut across country and most of the men, including Talbott, chose to follow his lead. Tom MacDonald, who had injured an ankle in the mad scramble ashore, and the old gentleman from Butte, preferred to keep the river in sight, work down the North Fork to its confluence with the Middle Fork and then up that stream towards Belton. Mike Shannon, feeling that these men needed an able companion, accompanied them on their longer but more reliable course.

The two groups separated. The dreary chilly day was passing. A few hours later and a couple of miles down stream Shannon heard distant voices. After some hallooing back and forth the two parties were together again. The overland party had become confused in the maze of hills and tangled forest, lost its bearing, and blindly circled to the river again.

Night came, cold and cheerless. They bedded themselves the best they could and all lay down to sleep except the old fellow from Butte. He paced a beat all night, stamping his feet and threshing his arms to keep the blood in circulation and occasionally kicking the others awake lest they die of chill in their sleep. But they had huddled well together and all were able to chatter their teeth in the morning.

There was no breakfast to get and no dishes to wash so they were on their way early, separated as before. The larger group was still hopeful of finding a short way through but in a few hours bewilderment and blind circling brought them again to the river bank and reunion with Shannon and his companions. Together they tramped on, up hill and down over rocks and through quagmire, drenched and switched by the dripping brush and branches, tripped by lopping brambles and creeping vines and clawed and scratched by devil's clubs till it seemed that the old demon himself was belaboring them. And while these tortures beset from without, hunger was boring from within.

Eventually game and Indian trails brought them to a deserted Indian camp for another cold and cheerless night and early the next morning they came out on the bank of McDonald Creek.

The creek was bank full and cold enough to rattle. But there, a hundred feet away, tugging at its moorings on the other bank, was a small scow. 'How much is that boat worth, Jim,' someone asked of Talbott. 'Five thousand dollars,' shouted Talbott and probably meant it. But money was not an object now, only a word of jest. All hands combined to break down small trees and to weave them into a sort of matlike raft which when done was little more than a brush pile. On this floating brush pile Mike Shannon made a precarious crossing and secured that precious scow.

Shannon and Bob Hunter ferried the wretched party across McDonald Creek one at a time and not long after used the same small scow likewise in crossing the foaming waters of the Middle Fork a mile or so below Belton.

When the famished party had finally straggled into Belton Station and had secured some food, they missed Tom MacDonald and the old gentleman from Butte. Shannon and Hunter, the strongest of the weary group, took food and retraced their steps. They found the missing men, exhausted and bewildered, just off the trail on the last mile.

With a little aid, these men finally reached the station and with all accounted for Talbott telegraphed for a dead-head special which returned them to Columbia Falls.

In the meantime wreckage from The Oakes had floated away down the river and had been observed from the river bank near town. The catastrophe was confirmed when a board bearing the broad lettered name floated beneath the bridge and past the Talbott mansion on the bank nearby.

A rescue party was speedily organized and started on the woods trail north.

Returning to Slemmer and Slim adrift on the turbulent North Fork, poling and paddling frantically to cross the swift seething current on the rotten and waterlogged raft, their progress downstream was rapid but across channel was painfully slow. When they neared the west bank, Slim's pole was caught between submerged rocks and twisted from his grasp. Slemmer paddled furiously with his broken board while Slim made more or less futile grabs at the tops of submerged bushes in efforts to push towards shore. Below there loomed the broad whirl where The Oakes had milled around and their situation was growing more desperate second by second when Slim with long arm outstretched, at last gained a precious hold and they swung ashore.

Some distance farther down stream they were fortunate enough to find part of an abandoned lunch in very good condition, left by some hardy wanderer. They devoured it and went on. Soon after they found the dim trail which led to Columbia Falls and suffered no further hardship. A few miles from town they met the rescue party which on learning the whereabouts of the rest of the crew returned with them to town.

Such was the the story of a glorious adventure but to these men it was only a work-a-day affair. Not one of them thought it worth while to write any account of it. Jim Talbott is dead these many years. And of that lusty crew only two are known to be alive, Mike Shannon of Glacier Park Station and Claude Slemmer of Kalispell. To these two, now aged but still colorful oldtimers the writer of this tale is indebted for the facts of this romantic adventure.

The writer had heard fragmentary accounts of this ill-starred venture for years, and feeling that the account of such constructive exploits deserves a place in the history of our state as surely as the lawless forays of Henry Plummer and his gang, he has interviewed Shannon and Slemmer and the resultant story is as true as the memories of the two aged survivors.

When the flood waters of that season had subsided, blankets, tools and wreckage littered the stream bed and decorated the bushes and rocks for miles below the point of tragedy. Later Shannon salvaged the winch, added a gas engine for power and used it successfully as a stump puller for several years. Others salvaged the boiler from where it had dropped from the overturned wreck and attempted to bring it out on a raft, but the raft was wrecked and the boiler finally came to rest on a gravel bar just below the mouth of the Middle Fork where it has lain half buried in the gravel for nearly half a century. Fishermen have reported seeing the engine in the bottom of a deep pool near the mouth of Canyon Creek. Slemmer's rifle was never found, and the old hulk eventually drifted away to parts unknown. Thus The Steamer Oakes and this episode of daily life has become an epic of the pioneers.

A year later, again under the auspices of Talbott, Shannon and five men constructed a huge raft at the mine site and actually brought out half a car load of coal. In an effort to repeat the exploit the second raft was wrecked, the crew deserted, and Mike was compelled to give up the enterprise." [26]

Ironically, when a road was finally opened up to these coal banks and production started, the coal was found to be of such low grade that it was un economical to continue to work them and the mine was soon closed down.

<<< Previous <<< Contents >>> Next >>>

Last Updated: 15-Jan-2004