WHITEFISH – It’s the incredible tale of a rogue ranger and his whiskey-running wife, an opium-addicted moonshiner named Josephine Doody who tangled with mountain lions and is rumored to have murdered a man in Colorado before lamming it on the banks of the Middle Fork Flathead River.
Wanted by federal agents, Josephine was kidnapped by husband Dan Doody while in an opium haze and spirited away to Montana, where she took refuge on a postage stamp of wild and untamed land tucked inside the boundary of what would become Glacier National Park.
On Monday, both the legend – most of it confirmed true – and the land were preserved in the region’s cultural and natural history.
The National Park Service did its part to reel in the colorful yarn and its colony of believe-it-or-not characters by purchasing the 120-acre homestead, a patch of treasured land located entirely within the Glacier Park boundary, on a designated Wild and Scenic River corridor. In doing so, advocates and park managers say the Park Service improved its rich outdoor heritage by filling in a missing link in the historical and natural continuity of Glacier Park.
“This is a classic win-win,” said Alex Diekmann, project manager for the Trust for Public Land. “It protects the Middle Fork of the Flathead for all the people who enjoy it, and it also protects a part of the park’s more colorful history.”
Recently, the current owner of the property proposed transferring the title to the park, and the Trust for Public Land and National Parks Conservation Association helped broker the million-dollar deal by including the project in the Obama administration’s signature environmental program, America’s Great Outdoors.
“Ownership of this parcel really means shared ownership of our past, and it represents a down payment on our future, as well,” said NPCA Glacier Program Manager Michael Jamison. “Glacier National Park is not just our inheritance, but also our legacy to future generations.”
Elk, bears and mountain lions that track through the corridor will rest undisturbed now that the private inholding has fallen under the protections of the National Park Service.
Peace of mind is also afforded to those who have tracked the legacy of Dan and Josephine Doody through the decades, like John Fraley, who covered their story in his 2008 book, “Wild River Pioneers.”
“It’s a wonderful thing because now everyone can continue to enjoy it,” Fraley said. “My hope is that they leave it as it is. Who knows what fate it could have met otherwise?”
She was a woman of her time. She lived off the land.
According to Fraley’s research, which he began around 1988, Dan Doody was a prospector, outfitter and one of the park’s first rangers between 1910 and 1916, when he was fired for excessive poaching of the park’s wildlife.
After he died in 1921, Josephine lived in the two-story log hunting lodge, tucked into the confluence where Harrison Creek spills into the Middle Fork.
Josephine’s hooch was so well-known that passing trains on the Great Northern Railroad would stop and blow their whistles to signal the number of quarts the engineers wanted delivered.
“As far as the bootlegging was concerned, the train would give one, two, three, four toots and that would mean four quarts of moonshine that she would transport across the river,” Fraley said.
Her migration to Montana was prompted by a relative rough patch in Josephine’s life in 1890, when she was working as a “dance-hall girl” in Colorado. She reportedly shot a man in self-defense, was jailed and busted out, and high-tailed it to McCarthyville, the notorious boomtown on Marias Pass.
“She was on the run, on the lam, and she fled north to McCarthyville,” Fraley said.
That’s where Dan Doody met her, fell in love, tied her to a mule, and hauled her to his Montana homestead.
As Josephine became known for her backwoods stills, Dan became known for poaching in the park he was charged with protecting, and was soon fired. He died in 1919, but Josephine stayed on, where she often clashed with the park service but continued running whiskey and firing her stills with park-poached wood.
She lived on the property until 1931. Before she died of pneumonia in 1936, she signed the deed over to a companion named Charlie Holland, a degenerate gambler.
“Charlie Holland took up with Josephine as a matter of convenience,” Fraley said. “He didn’t go to her funeral because he was registering the deed, and he had the homestead less than a year before he lost it to a gambling debt.”
The Doody Homestead has since passed through several hands, with the Park Service buying up bits and pieces along the way.
Monday’s acquisition of the property drew praise from U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., who pushed the Interior Department to use existing funds to purchase it.
“This transaction makes one of Montana’s most treasured places whole by securing better access to public land and water. This is a smart investment in the future of Glacier National Park and our outdoor heritage, and it will pay dividends for generations to come,” Tester stated in a news release.
The property is the second-largest private in-holding left in Glacier National Park, and numerous trails connect it to the park.
The exchange was made possible through the Land Water and Conservation Fund, an account supported by royalties collected from off-shore drilling contracts.
Reporter Tristan Scott can be reached at (406) 730-1067 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.