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Long before Glacier National Park was created it was used by American Indians and then, in the nineteenth century and the early twentieth century, by a few non-Indians who can be classified as “mountain men,” trappers, social rejects, hermits, prospectors, fortune hunters, and rugged individualists.

Aboriginal Use:

Glacier National Park, according to archaeological data and Native American oral tradition, has been used by American Indians for more than 10,000 years. Among the Indian nations which utilized the area now encompassed within Glacier National Park were the Cree, Gros Ventre (Atsina), Nakota (Assiniboine), Pend d’Oreille, Bitterroot Salish (Flathead), Blackfoot, and Kootenai.

When the first Euroamerican explorers began entering the region about two hundred years ago, the Blackfoot controlled the prairies to the east of the Park and used the mountains in the park for hunting, for ceremonies, and for gathering plants. During the winter they often camped on the eastern slopes of the mountains, along the shores of St. Mary Lake, at the foot of Two Medicine Lake, along Cut Bank Creek, and on Apikuni Flats.

They guarded the passes across the Rocky Mountains in an attempt to keep the Plateau tribes, such as the Pend d’Oreille and Kootenai, from crossing the mountains to hunt buffalo on the Great Plains.

The Salish-speaking tribes (Pend d’Oreille, Kalispel, Flathead) and the Kootenai lived in the valleys to the west. The Kootenai often occupied the western slopes of the mountains within today’s Park. The Kootenai often camped along the shores of Waterton Lake and Lake McDonald.

For at least a thousand years, the Kootenai would travel through the Park in order to hunt buffalo on the Great Plains. During the winter they would cross the mountains on snowshoes over South Kootenay Pass (the Buffalo Cow Trail), Logan Pass (Packs-Pulled-Up), and Swiftcurrent Pass.

Aboriginal  Sacred Sites:

For the Blackfoot, the Rocky Mountains (which they called the Backbone) are viewed as a sacred place. The mountains are a place of power for gathering sacred plants as well as for carrying out ceremonies. Important ceremonies, such as the vision quest and the medicine lodge, were often conducted in the Two Medicine area.

The foot of Lake McDonald had traditionally been used by the Kootenai as a ceremonial site and thus the Kootenai name for the lake and the area around it seems to have been “good place to dance” or “where people dance.” This is sometimes indicated as “sacred dancing.”

A Lake 418 photo DSCN0418.jpg

The area around Avalanche Creek and Avalanche Lake (shown above) is mentioned in the Kootenai creation stories and was an area in which they conducted some of their ceremonies.

Fur Traders:

We don’t really know the name of the first non-Indian to enter the region which would become Glacier National Park. In all likelihood it was probably a fur trader, someone who was working independently or for one of the major companies (Hudson’s Bay Company or the North West Company). Some of the “famous” fur traders such as the Nor’wester David Thompson and Peter Fidler of the Hudson’s Bay Company were in the area, but probably did not enter the park.

Hugh Monroe is generally credited as being the first non-Indian to explore and live in Glacier Park. Monroe joined the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1815 and in 1823 was sent to live among the Small Robes band of Blackfoot. He married Mink Woman, raided with the Blackfoot against the Crow, and was given the name Rising Wolf. After leaving Hudson’s Bay Company, he worked for the American Fur Company and then as a free trader. He camped in the St. Mary and Two Medicine valleys. He had a reputation as a great story teller and earned his place in written history by guiding James Willard Schultz through the park area in the 1870s. Shultz would write a book about him: Rising Wolf, The White Blackfeet.

Trappers, Scouts, Guides:

Many prominent and wealthy Americans began to discover the Glacier Park area—magazine editor and conservationist George Bird Grinnell, banker Cecil Baring, publisher Ralph Pulitzer, and politician Henry L. Stimson. The rugged area captured their imaginations and served as an area to demonstrate their rugged individualism. Their guides were often former fur trappers, mountain men, and Indian scouts. They knew the country, and they spoke the Blackfoot language.

William “Billy” Jackson had been raised in the Two Medicine area of Glacier Park. He was the grandson of Hugh Monroe, who was supposedly the first non-Indian to explore the park. Jackson served as a scout for Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer and was fortunate to have been assigned to Major Reno at the Battle of the Little Bighorn. In the Glacier area, Jackson served as a guide for James William Shultz, Gifford Pinchot (first chief of the Forest Service), George Bird Grinnell, and writer Emerson Hough. Jackson Glacier and Mount Jackson are named for him.

Joe Kipp was the son of American Fur Company trader James Kipp and Earth Woman, the granddaughter of the Mandan chief Mato-tope. He was married to Double Strike Woman, the daughter of Blackfoot chief Heavy Runner. In 1878, Kipp bought Fort Conrad on the Marias River and hired James Willard Schultz to work for him. In 1886, he sold the fort and turned to guiding rich easterners who came to fish, hunt, and explore the mountains. Kipp Creek and Mount Kipp are named for him.

Tom Dawson was the son of Andrew Dawn, the chief fur trader for Choteau and Company, and Pipe Woman (Gros Ventre). His father had wanted him to attend Oxford University in England, but they could not afford it. He worked a variety of jobs before working for Joe Kipp. He married Isabel Clarke, the daughter of Malcolm Clarke and Cutting Off Head Woman (Blackfoot). Clarke’s murder resulted in the Massacre on the Marias in which Heavy Runner’s band was attacked. Tom and Isabel built a house near present-day East Glacier where he did some ranching and worked as a guide. He pioneered trails into the Two Medicine Valley and guided hunting parties into the area until 1910. Dawson Pass is named for Tom Dawson and Isabel Lake is named for his wife Isabel.

The Writers:

During the nineteenth century, a number of writers discovered the beauty and serenity of Glacier Park. These included the Western adventure writer James Willard Schultz; Field and Stream editor George Bird Grinnell; and photographer Walter McClintock.

Schultz first visited the Glacier area in 1877 where he became friends with Hugh Monroe, Joe Kipp, and Tail Feathers Coming Over The Hill. He learned the Blackfoot language and joined in on Blackfoot hunts. He married the Blackfoot woman Fine Shield. In 1907, he wrote his first book, My Life as an Indian and in 1916 he published Blackfeet Tales of Glacier National Park.

Grinnell first discovered Glacier Park through the writings of Schultz. He was so captivated by a story that Schultz had submitted to Field and Stream that he immediately came to Montana to meet him. The two men then explored Glacier and hunted in the area.

Dr Grinnel photo George-Grinnell_2_zps3f1e021b.jpg

Dr. and Mrs. Grinnell on Grinnell Glacier (NPS photo).  

Grinnell Glacier 1910 photo grinnell1910_zpse2066044.jpg

Grinnell Glacier in 1910 is shown above (NPS photo).

McClintock worked as a photographer for Gifford Pinchot and became friends with the scout Billy Jackson. He lived with the Blackfoot and took about 2,000 photographs of them. In 1910, he published The Old North Trail: Life, Legends, and Religion of the Blackfeet Indians.


By 1893, Milo Apgar and his Métis companion Charlie Howe were living at the foot of Lake McDonald. Before long, they were joined by a number of other people. The nearby railroad stop known as Belton (today known as West Glacier) was growing into a small town, so Apgar and the others built some rental cabins to accommodate tourists who were seeking the scenery, fishing, and hunting in the area. This grew into the village of Apgar.

George Snyder, who had settled at the head of the lake, built a hotel that would later become the site of the Lake McDonald Lodge. Initially, guests would arrive by train in Belton and then be taken by horse on a trail around the lake. In 1895, Snyder purchased a forty-foot steamboat to ferry the tourists from Apgar to his hotel.


In 1889, there was a report that gold, silver, copper, and lead had been found in the area near what would become Glacier National Park. Soon, hundreds of miners invaded the area and staked out more than 2,000 placer and lode mining claims.

In 1892, oil seepages were discovered near Kintla Lake. This discovery set off Montana’s first oil boom and resulted in the creation of what is today the Inside North Fork Road within the park. The boom lasted about a year and was abandoned because the cost of obtaining the oil was too expensive.

At noon on April 15, 1898, a musket was fired opening up the Glacier Park area for mining. About 100 miners braved ten feet of snow to stake their claims. A boomtown soon sprang up in the area that would later become the Many Glacier Hotel. The new town was named Altyn in honor of Dave Greenwood Altyn, one of the financial backers of the Cracker Lake Mine. By 1902, the miners were discouraged by failure and the booming town was abandoned.

Forest Rangers:

In 1897, President Grover Cleveland issued a proclamation creating the Flathead Forest Reserve which included the area which would become Glacier National Park. Forest range riders were designated to patrol the area. Many of those who served as range riders worked only part-time, keeping their “day jobs” while patrolling the forests.

One of the most colorful of the range riders was Fred  Herrig who had been a wrangler and hunting guide for Theodore Roosevelt in North Dakota and who had served with Roosevelt’s Rough Riders in the Spanish-American War. Herrig’s personal association with Roosevelt got him the job as a range rider. Herrig was a big man who wore a .44 caliber pistol on his waist and carried a 45-70 rifle in the scabbard on his saddle. Bruno, a big Russian wolfhound, was usually with him.

In 1902, the range riders officially became forest rangers whose duties included enforcing the laws, fighting forest fires, keeping trails open, and surveying, estimating, and scaling timber. At this time, Frank Liebig who was living at the foot of Lake McDonald, was hired as the new forest ranger for the region. His instructions:

“The whole country is yours, from Belton to Canada and across the Rockies to the prairie between Waterton Lake and the foot of St. Mary Lake. You’re to look for fires, timber thieves, squatters, and game violators. Go to it and good luck.”

The first suggestion for the creation of a national park came in 1883, a time before the United States held title to the land. U.S. Army Lt. John T. Van Orsdale sent a letter to the Fort Benton River Press in Montana suggesting that it would be beneficial to set the area aside as a national park. When George Bird Grinnell, the editor of Field and Stream magazine began visiting the area in 1895, he coined the term “Crown of the Continent” and began advocating for the preservation of the area.

There were many people who looked at the eastern slope of the Rocky Mountains and assumed that it must contain great mineral wealth. Since non-Indians had always assumed that mineral wealth must be separated from Indian reservations so that Indians would not be able to benefit from it, they began a campaign for the United States to somehow acquire the land from the Blackfoot Indians. In 1895 representatives from the United States government met with 35 handpicked Blackfoot leaders. The United States wanted to purchase the western mountains, but the Blackfoot were reluctant to sell. Under much pressure, the handpicked leaders agreed to the sale and asked for $3 million, but the government paid them only $1.5 million.

The mountainous area involved in the sale was an area in which the Blackfoot traditionally hunted, fished, gathered plants, cut timber, and conducted religious ceremonies. Indian religions were illegal at this time so the Blackfoot were quiet about the spiritual use of the mountains. However, since the government seemed concerned about minerals, the Blackfoot insisted that they must maintain all non-mineral rights to the area. White Calf told the Americans:

“I would like to have the right to hunt game and fish in the mountains. We will sell you the mountain lands from Birch Creek to the boundary, reserving the timber and grazing land.”
One of the American negotiators was George Bird Grinnell who felt that there would be few minerals found in the area. Grinnell, however, felt that it was important to destroy Indian cultures by breaking up the communal ownership of land. Grinnell also felt that the area had great scenic potential and could be a tourist destination.

In 1907, a bill was introduced in the Senate to create the park. It failed. It was re-introduced in 1908 and passed. While the House Committee on Public Lands recommended approval, no action was taken. Once again the bill died. In 1909, the bill was introduced for the third time, passed the Senate, and then sat dormant in the House Committee on Public Lands. Louis Hill, president of the Great Northern Railway, began to lobby Congress for passage of the bill. In 1910, Congress passed the bill and President William Howard Taft signed the bill creating Glacier National Park.

Originally posted to History for Kossacks on Wed Apr 24, 2013 at 07:10 AM PDT.

Also republished by DK GreenRoots, Native American Netroots, National Parks and Wildlife Refuges, and Street Prophets .

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