Through The Years In Glacier National Park
An Administrative History
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We are more or less familiar with the history of forest conservation in the United States—how the forests were stripped from one region after another, until a few far-sighted men began to wonder what was to happen when all these areas were denuded, and decided to do something about it. The result was a demand for withdrawal of certain forested areas from unregulated public entry and the wholesale cutting of timber. This movement, indirectly, led to the establishment of Glacier National Park.

The first effort towards withdrawal of the lands included in the park occurred in 1885, when a bill was introduced into the Senate of the United States "To establish a Forest Reservation on the headwaters of the Missouri River and headwaters of the Clark's Fork of the Columbia River." The bill evidently did not go far, but it did start a movement ending in the setting aside of the forested areas in the northern Rocky Mountains; for on March 3, 1891, Congress passed an act authorizing the president to set aside forest reserves in the forested lands of the nation, to be administered by the Department of the Interior. This area in western Montana was designated as a forest reserve but little was done with it until 1897.

On February 22 of that year, largely through the initiative of the United States Forest Commission, of which Charles S. Sargent was chairman, the Lewis and Clark Forest Reserve was formed. This reserve included all of what is now Glacier National Park, the Kootenai, Blackfeet, Flathead, and Lewis and Clark National Forests, that portion north of the Great Northern Railroad being called the North Division and that south of the railroad, the South Division.

With the formation of the Forest Reserves also came the demand for personnel to administer and protect them, and in 1900 President Theodore Roosevelt appointed one of his former "Rough Riders," Frank Herrig, as forest ranger to patrol the country drained by the North Fork of the Flathead River. As far as the records show, Herrig was the first Federal officer to be placed in change of any area included in the park. Those who knew Herrig described him as an imposing figure who generally rode a big bay horse, decked out with a silver-mounted bridle and martinigale. He wore high-topped boots, a big "44" strapped on his belt and a 45-70 rifle in a scabbard on his saddle. He always wore his large ranger's badge in plain sight, and his constant companion was a large Russian wolfhound.

Frank Liebig

Frank Liebig

ranger station
Lake McDonald Ranger Station—1905

The next forest ranger to be appointed to the park area was Frank Liebig who was appointed on June 1, 1902, for the district that included what is now all of the north end of Glacier National Park. He was assigned to "look for fires, timber thieves, which were plentiful along the Great Northern Railway, and to look for squatters and game violators." [27] When given his badge by the Forest Supervisor, along with a double-bitted axe, a crosscut saw and a box of ammunition for his rifle, he was told to "Go to it and good luck. The whole country is yours, from Belton to Canada and across the Rockies to the prairie or Waterton Lake and the foot of St. Mary Lake." [28] Operating out of his ranger station at the head of Lake McDonald, Liebig remained in sole charge of the entire area, until the time it was made a park in 1910. His hobby was bird taxidermy and the best of his work during that time is now a part of the Glacier National Park collection.

Lake McDonald Ranger Station — 1905

In 1905 the Forest Reserves were taken out of the Department of the Interior and the Forest Service was set up under the Department of Agriculture. With the establishment in 1910, of Glacier National Park the Forest Service again turned this area of some 1,500 square miles back to the Department of the Interior in whose hands it has since remained.


When we think about the origin of areas such as this and other National Parks, we naturally ask the question, "When did this park idea originate, and who was responsible for it?" Often this question is hard to answer because we do not know the thoughts that may have run through the minds of the early explorers and travelers, but we do have written records of the ideas of these men.

Action toward Establishment of the Park

Contrary to the general belief that George Bird Grinnell first thought of this as a national park, we have the record in the Fort Benton "River Press" in 1883 of a letter from Lieutenant John T. Van Orsdale in which he makes the following statement: "I sincerely hope that publicity now being given to that portion of Montana will result in drawing attention to the scenery which surpasses anything in Montana or adjacent territories. A great benefit would result to Montana if this section could be set aside as a national park. . ." In this letter he was referring to the area that is now included in the park and through which he and Lieutenant Woodruff traveled some ten years before.

George Bird Grinnell, at that time editor of the magazine "Forest and Stream," first came to the area of the park in 1885 and again in 1887, and thereafter almost yearly as long as he was able. To Grinnell goes the credit, and justly so, for swinging public opinion in favor of making this area into a national park, and also for promoting the legislation that made it possible. During his visits in 1885 and 1887 he explored the St. Mary and Swiftcurrent Valleys and named many of the features within them. It must have been during these trips that he began to formulate his own ideas of what should become of the area, for it was while on one of his trips into the upper reaches of the St. Mary Valley in 1891 that he made an entry in his notebook to the effect that this area should become a national park. And what is more, he immediately set about to do something about it.

Grinnell's first public attempt to do this was through an article in the "Century Magazine" of September, 1901, entitled, "The Crown of the Continent," in which he described in glowing terms the beauties of the area and suggested that a movement be started to set aside the area around St. Mary Lake as a National Park.

Grinnell then went a step further and was instrumental in getting the noted writer, Emerson Hough, to come to the area and write a series of articles for "Forest and Stream" magazine. Hough made two trips to the area in 1902, one in February and one in August, both times guided into the back country by James Willard Schultz, who was also sending articles to Grinnell.

These articles created considerable interest in the area, and the local, and some national, newspapers began to take it up. Finally, through pressure exerted by Grinnell and others, the necessary legislation was drawn up and the Congressional mill began to grind.

Legislative History of Establishment

The actual start of legislative action to form Glacier National Park took place on December 11, 1907, when United States Senator T. H. Carter of Montana introduced a bill into the Senate to set aside the area as a national park. The bill being considered by the Senate was found to have several undesirable clauses in it and the bill was sent back to Carter for rewriting.

Senator Carter immediately revised the bill as suggested and again presented it to the Senate on February 24, 1908. The Committee on Public Lands approved the bill, with amendments, and it was sent to the floor of the Senate where it was approved and passed. On May 16, it was then sent to the House of Representatives, where Congressman Charles N. Pray, Montana's only member of the House, took it under his wing and guided it through the Committee on Public Lands, of which he was a member. Although this committee reported it back to the House with the recommendation that it be passed as amended by the Senate, no action was taken on it and the bill died.

On June 26, 1909, Carter introduced the bill to the Senate for the third time. This time it lay in the Public Lands Committee until January 25, 1910, when it was reported out by Senator Dixon of Montana. It was brought up on the floor of the Senate and agreed to on February 9. From there it again went to the House of Representatives, where it was finally agreed to with further amendments. Taking the lead, Congressman Pray, along with several other members, fought very strongly to get the bill through the House.

The Senate then objected to the amendments written in by the House, and a Conference Committee was appointed to iron out the differences. The committee reached a compromise and the bill was again presented to the House and agreed to without a record vote. On the same day it was presented to the Senate, who also agreed to it. From there the bill went to President Taft who affixed his signature to it on May 11, 1910, bringing Glacier National Park into existence.

Ten days after the approval of the bill, on May 21, 1910, the first appropriation for Glacier National Park was presented to the Senate, and approved as part of the Sundry Civil Appropriations Act for the fiscal year 1911, approved on June 25. This Act carried an item, "For improvement of Glacier National Park, Montana, for construction of trails and roads, $50,000." Glacier National Park was on its own.

It is interesting to note the opposition to the bill to establish the park. Grazing and lumber interests, the ones that would seem most likely to object, showed little interest in it. Mining activity had almost completely died out, so there was little objection there. But certain local groups, mainly from Kalispell, cried out loud and long that it was a scheme of the Great Northern Railway to prevent other roads from entering the region. Their contention was that the railroad had persuaded Senator Carter to put up the bill so that no other railroads could use the passes to the north of them not realizing, of course, that there were no passes to the north that were suitable for a railroad to use. The truth of the matter was that the late Louis W. Hill, Sr., then president of the Great Northern, was foremost among the sponsors of the bill, hoping with Senator Carter, Congressman Pray, George Bird Grinnell and others to create a public recreational area for Montana which would attract tourists and subsequently a source of passenger traffic and new income dollars for the state. Opposition also came from legislators who contended that it was not the function of the government to dabble in recreation.

After passage of the bill seemed certain the opposition interests began to back track and explain their reasons for it. The following excerpt from an editorial in the Kalispell Daily Inter Lake attempted to clarify their stand on the matter: "The establishment of the park is not a calamity. The original opposition was due mainly to personal interests, such as a loss of hunting grounds, locking up of the area, no settling on the North Fork, etc." There was much 'to do' about it until the bill was changed to suit the people. One principal fear was of military control.

Regarding the final passage of this bill in the House of Representatives, Congressman Pray is reported to have made the statement that one of the biggest helps he had in getting the bill through was the weather. It was so extremely hot that day that many of the Congressmen were not present and Pray, who was instrumental in guiding it through the house, was able to muster enough supporters to pass it on the floor, or at least bring the remainder around to his way of thinking.

On March 10, 1909, the eleventh assembly of the Montana Legislature passed a resolution favoring the establishment of Glacier National Park, but no record has been found that this resolution was ever presented to or placed in the records of either House of Congress of the United States. By an Act of February 11, 1911, the twelfth assembly of the Legislature of the State of Montana ceded exclusive jurisdiction over Glacier National Park to the United States, reserving to themselves only the right of taxation and the right to serve criminal process for acts committed outside the boundaries of the park. A few days later Senator Carter introduced a bill in the Senate of the United States to accept the cession of the park, but the bill was not reported out of committee and died there. It was not until 1914, by an act approved on August 22, that the Congress accepted from the State of Montana exclusive jurisdiction over the park, as specified by the state.

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Last Updated: 15-Jan-2004