Administrative History
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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.

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Last Updated: 15-Jan-2004