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In a man's world, women made their mark in Glacier Park

In a man's world, women made their mark in Glacier Park

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WEST GLACIER – Part of the history of Glacier National Park is written on maps, where place names aren’t the exclusive territory of men, but they dominate the landscape.

Grinnell Glacier? That was named for naturalist George Bird Grinnell, one of the chief proponents of the 1910 establishment of the park.

Logan Pass? That’s for Glacier’s first superintendent, William R. Logan. Sperry Glacier is for Dr. L.B. Sperry, who spent 13 summers exploring the future park in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

Mount Reynolds honors Albert “Death on the Trail” Reynolds, an early ranger whose friendship with the first superintendent of Canada’s Waterton Lakes National Park led to the establishment of the world’s first international Peace Park.

Deirdre Shaw, Glacier National Park’s archivist, can tell you all about men like Grinnell, Logan, Sperry and Reynolds.

But last week Shaw did something different.

At a Crown of the Continent Research Learning Center brown-bag luncheon, she let the largest crowd of the year in on a little secret:

It may have been a man’s world in these parts more than a century ago, but Glacier’s history is also populated by some adventuresome and fascinating females.

Bootlegger Josephine Doody may be the best known to locals, but the moonshine maker was hardly alone.


Take Mary Roberts Rinehart, an East Coast author, playwright and journalist who fell in love with Glacier Park in the early 1900s.

Rinehart was known for her mysteries – she was often called “the American Agatha Christie” – and she definitely left her mark.

The phrase “the butler did it” stems from Rinehart’s 1930 murder mystery “The Door,” where the phrase itself never appears, but where – 84-year-old spoiler alert – the butler did it.

Her 1908 novel “The Circular Staircase” broke ground for a new mystery genre that became known as the “Had I But Known” school of mystery writing. Her 1920 play “The Bat,” which featured a costumed super criminal, was cited as one of his inspirations by the cartoonist who created Batman.

Rinehart, also a World War I correspondent for The Saturday Evening Post, wrote more than 70 novels, plays and short-story collections.

But it’s three nonfiction works by Rinehart that most interest Shaw, and had the nearly 100 people at the presentation at the West Glacier Community Building chuckling over and over.

The Easterner spent one of her birthdays on the North Fork of the Flathead River, and described it as “riotous, debauched, and highly erratic.”

“That,” Shaw notes, “was her description of the river – not the birthday party.”


Here are some of the things Mary Roberts Rinehart wrote from her travels in Glacier, that Shaw read to the crowd:

• “No woman ever really knows a man until she has camped with him.”

• “I have paid for my experience with a square yard of blisters, and a mile or so of scratches. I have eaten a ton of flapjacks and more bacon than is ladylike to remember.”

• “Had I commenced to rough it with men early in life, I might have been a different sort of camper. But I commenced in full maturity, and after considerable thought. Contrary to the popular belief that I am a muscular and rather hard-bitten woman, who sails into a campsite and puts up the tents with one hand while unsaddling horses and cooking supper with the other, my part of any expedition ends when I accompany it and take care of myself.

“This rule, carefully impressed on the males of the party, enables me to make hard marches and to be a calm and admiring audience at the end of the day. I know women who have been less foresighted, who have made the initial error of learning how to put up a tent and how to cook over a sheet-iron stove eight inches high. I knew one who made delectable biscuits in a reflector oven, and for months on end her life was just one biscuit after another. She became entirely bent over from the camp stove and, from the wood smoke, at the end of the season her skin resembled that of a well-cured ham.

“I, too, can make biscuits in a reflector oven, but no member of my outfit has ever suspected it – nor ever shall.”

• In “Through Glacier Park: Seeing America First with Howard Eaton” (1916), “Tenting Tonight: A Chronicle of Sport and Adventure in Glacier Park and the Cascade Mountains” (1918) and “The Out Trail” (1923), Rinehart offered her take on the outdoor life, including her theory on why the males of the human species seek the wilderness.

“About one in a thousand does so because of an overwhelming love of nature,” Rinehart wrote.

One in 10 does, she decided, to either prove he’s as good as he ever was, or to make himself as good as he once was.

Every other man in the wilderness, Rinehart said, was there “for one of two reasons: to get away from women, or to take them along as an admiring audience.”


The first women to see what would become Glacier National Park were many, and their travels here covered thousands of years.

When Indian tribes’ journeys took them through the future park, Shaw notes, Native American women walked – or rode horseback – step by step with the men.

Running Eagle Falls in the park is named for a legendary Blackfeet warrior woman. Bird Woman Falls is also named for a Native woman, though whether it’s for Sacagawea, who never ventured this far north with Lewis and Clark, or someone else, is subject to debate.

George Bird Grinnell’s wife Elizabeth liked to claim she was the first white woman ever to lay eyes on Glacier, but Shaw says that distinction more likely falls to someone like Elizabeth “Nattie” Collins.

Collins, known as “the Montana Cattle Queen,” came from Choteau to prospect for gold in the area starting in the 1880s – and in 1894 or ’95 became the stuff of Glacier folklore.

Collins and one of her mining partners, Frank McPartland, were either drinking or they weren’t, and either arguing or they weren’t, when they shoved off in a rowboat to cross Lake McDonald.

Collins made it. McPartland drowned. McPartland had a mountain in Glacier named for him. Collins has Cattle Queen Creek.

Shaw says other early female visitors to Glacier included a renowned British mountain climber, Dorothy Pilley Richards, and best-selling author Cornelia Cannon, who was not a climber, but still scaled a peak in Glacier with her husband, Harvard Medical School professor Walter Cannon, in 1901 on their honeymoon.

Cornelia reached the summit first and, Shaw says, perhaps jokingly declared it Mount Cannon, but the name stuck. A note the Cannons left at the peak was discovered 84 years later.


Shaw had many stories of Glacier’s earliest female residents.

There was Columbia Falls boarding house owner Lydia Comeau, whose husband had staked out a homestead claim on Lake McDonald before the park was founded, and where the family spent summers.

Lydia’s youngest daughter described her mother as “only about as big as a pint of milk, but she was tough.” On her 90th birthday, Lydia remembered back to the Lake McDonald days and the variety of foods the homesteaders enjoyed, which she described as “jerked venison, salt venison, canned venison and smoked venison.”

The Comeaus' nearest neighbors were the well-to-do John and Olive Lewis, who owned the Snyder Hotel, a forerunner to Lake McDonald Lodge. When Lydia discovered Olive had climbed – and, in the process, broken – the Comeaus' fence to pick cherries in the family's garden, she ordered Olive out.

And when Olive headed for the gate, Shaw says, tiny Lydia stopped her in her tracks, ordered her to leave the way she had come, and “to fix the fence before she left.”

When Olive protested that she did not have a hammer, Lydia handed her a rock and stood watch until Olive had hammered the fence rail back into place.

Glacier Park was a bit of a playground for the rich in its earliest days, and by 1918 Lydia couldn’t take it for much more than a day.

“The freedom up there is gone and there are so many changes, but I love the place,” she wrote. “I go up for a day or so and that is enough. It is not like it used to be, and so much dress and style spoil anything for me. I care very little for fuss and feathers.”


Shaw says she had been in Glacier a good year before learning that a name she kept hearing – “Bud” Henderson – belonged to a woman.

The Norway-born Henderson arrived in Belton, now known as West Glacier, in 1914. Her father worked as a stone mason in the new national park; Bud eventually worked as a dispatcher and telephone operator for the Great Northern Railway. Shaw says she got her nickname because other railroad employees had trouble pronouncing her given name, Gunhild.

The Norwegian woman antagonized her superiors one night.

Shaw told how Bud received a call from the Lake McDonald Lodge winter caretaker in 1924. Three men had ventured out in the icy waters to fish, but their boat had sunk and only two had returned.

Bud alerted rangers. Then she decided to shut down the Belton Depot, went home, grabbed her skis – and passed the all-male rescue party on snowshoes that had departed earlier. Henderson found the man along the shoreline. She and a nearby homesteader, Mr. Chadbourne, built a fire and worked feverishly to revive him.

Bud was quite disgusted when the rescue party arrived, decided the man was dead and refused to relieve her.

“I went down there and worked with him, and poured whiskey into him, and massaged him,” Henderson said. “And I said, get a fire started. … I had matches and all that. ‘Cause I was a woman, I had a mackinaw and I put that over him. He was still alive when I was there, but Mr. Chadbourne didn’t want to touch him. He says, ‘He’s dead.’ I said no, he’s not dead.”

When Henderson asked the rescue party for more whiskey to give to the man once it arrived, “They said they drank it on the way,” she said. “I froze my knees by the way, leaning over him trying to massage him. He died and it was too bad because he wasn’t dead … he wasn’t dead even when those fellows arrived. ‘You go massage him,’ I said, ‘I’m all in,’ and they wouldn’t touch him, and so he died.”


Many more women made their way into Shaw’s talk – Mary Ellen Miller, Rosemary “Rum” Cashman and Kay Luding, to name three.

But none of the women of Glacier’s early days were employed by the National Park Service. The bias against women – and the fact that the world would eventually begin to change – are both evident in a 1924 letter from Yellowstone National Park’s superintendent to his chief ranger.

“In general, I agree with you about girl rangers,” Horace Albright, who would serve as NPS deputy director, wrote. “In fact, I took an attitude against them long before you did.”

But Albright went on to say he intended to appoint two women to jobs in the park’s information office.

“Up to the present time, we have not had a ranger – male or female – who is one-tenth as good at this sort of work as Miss Githmann,” Albright wrote. “If I could get a girl of Miss Githmann’s caliber, I would be willing to give her a day a week off and make many other exceptions in her case just to get the results of the hours she puts in in the information office. Unless you can wire me the name of some prospective male ranger, I shall (also) certainly appoint Miss Thome, because I think she possesses the qualifications I am after.”

Shaw says Mary Sullivan became the first female to work at a job other than clerk-typist in Glacier in the 1930s, when she manned the Polebridge entrance station. Mary Dast became the park’s first seasonal female naturalist in 1964, women began to work the trails of Glacier in the early 1970s, and Judy Kuncl was named Glacier’s first permanent female law enforcement ranger in 1979.


Which is why so many of Shaw’s stories last week about the early women in Glacier involved authors, boarding house owners, telephone operators and a bootlegger.

People who know Glacier may be most familiar with the tales of the latter, Josephine Doody, an opium-addicted moonshine maker who famously supplied locals with homemade whiskey, including Great Northern Railroad employees, who stopped trains on the tracks near her cabin and blew their whistle to indicate how many quarts they wanted to buy.

Some park rangers may have been customers too, Shaw notes with a smile, and at least two made the arduous-at-the-time journey to attend her funeral in Kalispell in 1936.

From Doody to Rinehart to Bud Henderson, the women who knew Glacier in its earliest days were not always, Shaw notes, the demure “admiring audience” Rinehart believed men wanted them to be.

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