When Running Eagle followed a war party one day, the men admonished her to go back, but the Blackfeet warrior refused.

"She ended up saving the day," said Beth Judy, author of a new book about Montana history.

"Bold Women in Montana History" features stories of 11 women, including Running Eagle, the namesake of a popular waterfall in Glacier National Park.

Running Eagle's father had taught her to hunt and shoot, and before saving the day for the war party, she saved her father after enemies shot his horse out from under him, Judy said.

The uncommon female warrior lived before written records, and Judy said her stories are evidence of the power and reliability of spoken storytelling.

"Oral history is what has kept her alive and made her beloved over decades," Judy said. 

In advance of a series of readings and signings in Montana, Judy talked last week about the research that went into the publication, her commitment to historical accuracy, and the inspiration she gained from the figures.

"I really loved them all, but Alma Smith Jacobs always does bowl me over with how much she got done with her life and what an amazing, strong and ethical person she was," Judy said of Montana's first African American state librarian.

And Elouise Cobell, the Blackfeet elder who took on the U.S. government in a class action lawsuit, is a favorite as well. "Her story always makes me cry or gives me chills."


In selecting the women to feature, Judy said she wanted to represent the entire state, so she considered a mixture of places, occupations, races and religions.

In her research, she was most interested in the factors that made the women strong. Their families contributed, as did their early experiences and choices as young people.

In some cases, such as with Jeannette Rankin, the figures who made historical marks on the state didn't always have firm plans about their futures. Rankin was clueless about her passion until she was in her 20s, and Judy suspects many young people can relate.

"A lot of them are asking, 'What am I going to do with my life? Who am I going to be?'" Judy said.

Of course, Rankin went on to become the first woman elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, making headlines across the country. She was also a pacifist who cast the only vote against the U.S. entering World War II, after voting to oppose entry into World War I as well, inspiring the Jeannette Rankin Peace Center in Missoula.

In her travels, Judy interviewed many people who personally knew the figures she features in the book, such as Cobell. She cites those encounters as one of her favorite aspects of the research.

"Because Montana history is so relatively short, I was able to meet so many people who knew these women," Judy said.


"Bold Women in Montana History" is part of a series of similar books by Mountain Press Publishing, and Judy edited the edition on Michigan women. She was asked to write the Montana publication because she loves history and women's stories.

"So it was right up my alley," Judy said.

Artist Stephanie Frostad designed the cover, and both author and artist will be talking April 1 at a launch party in Missoula for the book. (See related box for details on the launch party and other readings and signings.)

The book is geared toward young adults, or fifth graders and older, but it will likely have appeal beyond the target audience. Chris La Tray of Fact & Fiction said young adult literature remains popular far outside the age group for which it's written.

Montana itself is a draw, too. Classics such as Norman Maclean's "A River Runs Through It" come out of the Big Sky, and the state maintains an element of mystery to people who don't live here or haven't been here before, La Tray said.

History books also are popular with bookstore customers, especially tourists looking for reminders of their travels through Montana.

"If you're a book fan, it's a way to trigger your memory of what you experienced while you were here," La Tray said.


Judy toured the state to research the book, traveling to grave sites to confirm dates and reading journals. She said a lot of information that's presented online as historical isn't in fact accurate, and she wanted her book to reflect the truth.

"I was pretty devoted to trying to nail down correct facts," Judy said.

For instance, the records aren't clear about exactly when Running Eagle was born but they are clear that in order to appease her tribe, she went on a vision quest. The quest, near Running Eagle Falls, confirmed she was meant to be a warrior despite her gender, and the tribe supported her as a result, Judy said.

"She kept on encountering obstacles, but she didn't give up," Judy said.

Running Eagle became a war chief, leading successful raids and hundreds of men into battle, Judy said.

The women's stories inspired her, but the thing that's the most fun about the project is that she knows people in Montana will appreciate it.

 "Montanans love Montana history, and they're excited about this book," Judy said. "I think they're going to enjoy it."

You must be logged in to react.
Click any reaction to login.

Reporter for the Missoulian