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Glacier National Park - The Backbone of the World

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Known to Native Americans as the "Shining Mountains" and the "Backbone of the World", Glacier National Park preserves more than a million acres of forests, alpine meadows, lakes, rugged peaks and glacial-carved valleys in the Northern Rocky Mountains. Throughout time, people have sought out Glacier National Park's rugged peaks, clear waters, and glacial-carved valleys; its landscape giving both desired resources and inspiration to those persistent enough to venture through it.

Evidence of human use in this area dates back to over 10,000 years. In prehistoric times, the Glacier National Park area was one of many travel routes used by American Indians to cross the mountains and access resources, such as bison, were found on the east side. The Kootenai Indians call Lake McDonald “The Place Where They Dance.”


Lake McDonald at Glacier National Park, Montana

Lake McDonald at Glacier National Park.

This image available for photo prints & downloads HERE.



Blackfoot Indian and TeepeeSince time immemorial, the Kootenai had returned to the foot of the lake to dance and sing songs. Here, they received help and guidance from different spirits. The ancient tradition ended with the arrival of homesteader Milo Apgar and other white settlers in the early 1890s.


By the time the first European explorers came into this region, several different tribes inhabited the area. The Blackfoot Indians controlled the vast prairies east of the mountains, while the Salish and Kootenai Indians lived in the western valleys, traveling over the mountains in search of game and to hunt the great herds of buffalo on the eastern plains.

The majority of early European explorers came to this area in search of beaver and other pelts. The name “Lake McDonald” most likely derives from that of a Hudson's Bay Company fur trader, Duncan McDonald. On one occasion, McDonald was on an expedition to the east side of the mountains when his scouts warned him of a Blackfoot war party waiting in ambush in the mountain pass. The party turned back and camped at a beautiful lake, and McDonald carved his name on one of the big cedar trees there. When his name was later found, the lake was named after him. The fur traders were soon followed by miners and, eventually, settlers looking for land.


In 1891, the Great Northern Railway extended its transcontinental line from Marias Pass, on the Continental Divide, down the Middle Fork of the Flathead River, to the Flathead Valley. As the new railroad line spurred settlement and agricultural development in the Flathead Valley, the Lake McDonald area soon emerged as a recreational hinterland for the region. While the area around the lake was not hospitable for farming or grazing, it nonetheless attracted a trickle of homesteaders who envisioned making their living through a combination of hunting, trapping, and providing tourist accommodations. The first homesteaders to enter the area actually arrived a few months prior to the completion of the railroad, traveling over a railroad road that was constructed in the process of building the line.


Crossing to the north side of the Middle Fork, the homesteaders passed through or nearby the future headquarters area of the park on their way to Lake McDonald. The first homestead claimant was German immigrant Frank C. Geduhn. Sent by Frank Miles, of the Butte and Montana Commercial Company, to locate a water claim, Geduhn reached Lake McDonald in February, 1891. Impressed by the scenic beauty of the place, he duly filed the water claim in the county courthouse and then returned to the area to stake a homestead claim for himself at the foot of the lake. John “Scotty” Findlay was the second homesteader, making his claim in the spring, and John Elsner was possibly the third, staking a claim that summer. About the same time, partners Milo Apgar and Charles Howes left their homes on the east side of the mountains and followed the Great Northern Railway route over Marias Pass, arriving in the area in June. While Findlay and Elsner made claims at the head of the lake, Apgar and Howes established homesteads at the foot of the lake on either side of the outlet, McDonald Creek. At the end of 1892, Findlay drowned in McDonald Creek and Geduhn took over Findlay’s claim at the head of the lake, vacating his own at the foot.


Glacier National Park

A creek or narrow river runs through Glacier National Park.

This image available for photo prints & downloads HERE.


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