East Glacier Park – A History

By Joyce Clarke Turvey 1984

The historical background of East Glacier Park revolved around the Blackfeet Indians, plus the western advance of white civilization, the railroad and Glacier National Park. Nomadic bands of Piegan Indians roamed the plains east of the mountains some 300 years before.

Along with the westward movement of the white civilizations into the Great Lakes region and Washington Territory came the railroad. Simultaneously with these events, the Government was negotiating treaties to contain the Blackfeet Indians within a reservation and laying plans to create Glacier National Park.

Very much dependent on these events were the people and the place that came to be known as East Glacier Park. The search for a mountain pass by the railroads was to determine the present location of this town. The important Marias Pass was to become the northern railway passage through the mountains.

By 1887, the Great Northern Railroad had already reached Great Falls and Helena from St. Paul. James J. Hill, General manager for the railroad, decided that a route to the north would be the best and shortest route to the coast of Washington. He hired John F. Stevens to locate and survey Marias Pass, which was completed by 1890. Within two years, a railroad had been built through Marias Pass to Kalispell.

Midvale was so named because it was right in a valley. It was changed to Glacier Park in 1913 because of the confusion with the mail service for another town in the southern part of the state by the same name. And it changed again later to East Glacier Park when Belton was changed to West Glacier in the late forties.

The first family to settle in Midvale was Horace Clarke in about 1888. Tom Dawson and his wife of two years moved to Midvale in 1893. Dawson thought it was an ideal place to come as there was lots of timber, good cattle range, plenty of water and the railroad was already there. The depot was a boxcar at that time. Clarke was ranching on his homestead property west of the railroad track and Dawson homesteaded on the south and east side. According to Tom Dawson, it wasn’t surveyed, but he and Horace Clarke had an agreement to keep “hands off” of his side of the railroad.

The second home in Midvale was the Dawson house located on Midvale River, known as the 4X Ranch and was one of the first homes in the area to contain a piano, and the first to hold church services for both Indians and non-Indians. The first Post Office at Midvale was an apple crate in the Dawson home and Bill Meade was the first Postmaster, who was appointed in March 1891. With only a few families settled at that time, it didn’t take long to sort mail!

Helene Dawson Edkins (adopted daughter of Tom and Isabel Dawson) was the first Deputy Clerk & Recorder for the newly established County of Glacier in 1919. Her husband, George Edkins, was one of the early Postmasters at Glacier Park, working for twelve years under the Republican Administration.

There were many, many pioneers who made up the history of Midvale and later Glacier Park. They are too numerous to name, some are forgotten, and many were just passing through. However, long time residents of the area remember the redheaded, red-bearded man who talked with a lisp, Charles Shy – better known as Montana Red.

He passed away in 1962 at the age of 83 in Alaska where he had lived since 1942, but was in Glacier country during the twenties and thirties. Children would follow the whiskered gentlemen down the street, eager to hear his stories of bears, trapping, bronco busting and the Wild West. Their favorite storyteller would provide them with sweets. He was the son of one of the Younger brothers and left no known survivors.

Another old-timer was Slippery Bill Morrison who was a well-known trapper in Glacier and Flathead counties. There was a small roadside monument dedicated to him at Summit on the boundary of the two counties.

The first ranger station was built in 1909 at Lubec, a small community west of Midvale, which began in the 1890s. The Smileys, the Hydes, the Pikes and the Fountaines founded it. Tom Fountaine wrote stories and books depicting the area and the times. The 1916 election precinct at Lubec is full of names of the people who were part of this area’s history. Included were Frank Busch, Sadie and Claud Dowen, Joseph F. Erickson, Charles Foss, George F. Fowler, Sherman W. & Charles B. Gleason, John Galligan, Floyd A. Grace, Roberta and James C. Graves, John Hyde, Beryl and Tom Hockersmith, Eliza Hyde, John F. Lindhe, Ray G. Lutz, William H.Meade, Ralf McLain, Frank Pike, Glen C. Smiley, Kay and Frank Sherburne, Otto Thompson, Robert Tracy, Guy Wilsey, and Margaret and Ernest Woodruff. In 1980, the historic Ranger Station was deteriorating and had outlived its usefulness so was burned down by the Park Service.

The majority of the people who settled in Midvale and Glacier Park made their livelihood as ranchers, business owners, dude ranchers, railroad workers, trappers, bootleggers, wood hawkers and ice cutters. During the winter months, ice was cut at Two Medicine Lake and shipped east by rail.

A few even tried businesses which were more unique for the area such as Royal Arbogast’s fox farm (open 1930 to 1942), which was located on the Horace Clarke homestead property by the golf course. Floyd Lutz and Ves Hughes ran a dairy to supply milk for the community in the early days. Tom and Julia Magee lived about a mile north of town below the cemetery now known as Kitson Hill, named after the family who lived there after the Magees.

Tom Magee was the first clerk of the Court for Glacier County. The William Monroe family lived approximately six miles north of Glacier Park near the Two Medicine Dam. Joseph and Elizabeth Whitford Monroe moved to a ranch three miles north of town with their eleven children during the 1890s.
Big Spring and his wife, Bessie, ranched south of the town in the early days. In 1916, when Joe Sherburne of Browning opened the first bank, he chose Big Spring for the picture on the check blanks.

In another well-known portrait, Tom Dawson was honored in a painting by Winold Reiss that was reproduced on a Great Northern calendar in 1950. Helene Dawson Edkins owned the original painting, before donating it to The Montana historical Society. Winold and his brother Hans were from the Black Forest country of Germany, the sons of an internationally known artist named Fritz Reiss.

Winold established himself as an important artist and decorator in New York and conducted an art school there before coming to Browning in 1919-20 for the first time to paint the Indians. He and Hans later conducted a summer art school in Glacier National Park during the twenties and thirties. Winold created a series of paintings of the Blackfeet that were reproduced on the calendars of Great Northern Railway between 1928 and 1953, which are now collectors’ items.

A prolific artist, he executed some 75 Indian portraits during the summer of 1943. Over sixty of these portraits were displayed in Vienna, Budapest, Prague and Berlin during 1936-37. Since the death of Winold Reiss in 1953, exhibitions of his Indian portraits have been presented in several European countries in cooperation with the United States Information Agency. More recently, the Burlington-Northern had a traveling exhibit of several of his original works.

Beginning in 1910, when Glacier Park became a national park, the community grew by leaps and bounds. Several businesses, which prospered in the early years no longer exist. Prior to 1911, the summer months featured tent camps for the tourists. First in Glacier Park was the Monteath Hotel built in 1911. Major James H. Monteath, who was also an Agent at the Blackfeet Agency, was proprietor. The hotel changed ownership throughout the years and the last, Red Harper, changed the name to the Palomino. Fire destroyed this landmark in 1976 and another building of log was built in 1976-77 at the same site, which features a lounge and restaurant.

The first restaurant in Midvale was known as the Log Cabin Inn and was operated by Dan Boyington. It featured lodging and food. During the 20s, the Inn was humorously referred to as the “Frozen Dog” because the sleeping rooms were so cold. The railroad employees, loggers, and other workers in the community boarded at the “Frozen Dog”. It is presently the residence of Robbyn and Bill Sipes.

The Glacier Park Trading Post, still in operation today, was built in 1914 and operated by John F. Lindhe and Ed Tenner. Lindhe also operated a lumberyard for a time, which was located behind the store. Lindhe had another partner, Billy Meade, and later John Morley was a partner until 1945. Helene and George Edkins were owners for seventeen years, and then Georgia and Frank Krshka had the store for a number of years. Winnie and Dick Greenshields have owned and operated the Trading Post since 1972. [2015 update: Mark Howser and wife, Colleen O’Brien have been the current owners since circa 2002]

During the boom years of Glacier Park, next to the Trading Post was a combination butcher shop and Post Office. Diagonally across from the present Post Office was Smiley’s Bakery and Grocery Store. [2015 update: ‘present’ Post Office will be confusing. The one referred to in this article is now the Glacier Park Trading Co bakery and Outdoor Store]

Perhaps the major contributor to the growth and beauty of the town was the Glacier Park Lodge, which was constructed by the Great Northern Railway. The section housing the lobby and dining room (with 61 guest rooms) was erected in 1912-13. The annex (with 111 rooms) was built the winter of 1913-14. The immense timbers that support the Lodge were estimated at 300 to 800 years old when they were cut. Sixty of them, 36 to 42 inches in diameter and 40 feet long, were brought in from Oregon and Washington.

Much of the lumber was transported by railroad to Glacier Park from Somer’s Sawmill on Flathead Lake. In the lobby, the gigantic timbers are Douglas Fir and supporting the verandas they are cedar. In every case, the trees retain their original bark. The Lodge had running water and electricity supplied by a 30 kilowatt water wheel generator located behind the Lodge on Midvale Creek. A swimming pool and golf courses were added in 1930.

In front of the lodge stood a large wooded archway at the head of a long and beautifully flowered walk. Great Northern had constructed a new station house, Glacier Park Station, in place of the old Midvale boxcar stop. To attract visitors, The Brewster Motor Company operated horse drawn stagecoach rides to show off the new park’s scenic beauty. The Brewsters ranched north of town, which later was owned by George Mollander who raised cattle on the property. The Marion Wolstad family bought the ranch a number of years ago and currently owns it.

Business boomed for the Great Northern lodges throughout Glacier National Park and for the community of Glacier Park. The property occupied by the Lodge was originally purchased from Horace Clarke, including all of the golf course land. Lodge construction provided many jobs and employment for the community already growing from the influence of the railroad.

The influx of lodge employees combined with the increasing tourist business brought about the first official town site, Glacier Park Station, recorded in 1919. The Greyhound Company bought all the lodges in Glacier National Park known as Glacier Park, Inc. from John Hummel in 1980.

It was during those early years that the lodge provided tipi-lodging and food to Blackfeet families in return for entertainment with their costumes, dancing and storytelling. Of the more notable Blackfeet summering in Glacier Park under this arrangement were George Bull Child, Wallace Night Gun, Theodore Last Star, Dan Lone Chief, John Ground, Sr., Mike Short Man, and Julia and Wades In The Water. The children of the families loved it as well as the adults and lodge guests. Tips from the more wealthy guests ran high and at times the lodge limit of 25 Indians was exceeded by 200, all living on or around hotel grounds.

Clark Gable & Theodore-Last-Star 1938

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Gertrude Heavy Runner remembers her father, John Ground Sr.’s story of the visit of one important guest. They were told to be at the station at 5:00am, dressed in full regalia and ready to entertain a very important celebrity. This celebrity was the famed movie star, Clark Gable, who visited the area in 1937. Gable stayed at the George Jennings ranch south of town and Trenkle’s rising Wolf Ranch west of town on several occasions, which were bases for the actor’s hunting and fishing trips. The Jennings Ranch could boast of having Count Bernadotte from Sweden among their guests, which included many well-to-do easterners. George Jenning’s brother, Talbot, was a screenplay writer who worked with Gable in the movie that launched his career and established him as a star: Mutiny on the Bounty.

With the demand for tourist accommodations, popular dude ranches were built to cater to wealthy tourists. Visitors at these ranches included such affluent families as the Roosevelts, the Vanderbilts and the Rockefellers along with their staff of governesses, tutors and servants. The families came and spent their entire summer at these ranches. However, in the 1930s this practice died out. Glacier Park had become too common and there were other more attractive places for the wealthy.

One cannot mention dude ranches without thinking of Joe McGregor, a well-known and colorful personality who owned the Bison Creek Dude Ranch just west of town (now owned by Edna Schauf who offers family dining at its best) plus a house and barn in town. Joe was always whistling a tune, wore plaid shirts and rode a pinto horse. He was a famous cook, rider, and guide whose breakfast specialty was his “Circles of Torture.”

During the winter of 1940, the Glacier Park Women’s Club sponsored a cookbook, which included the famous recipe for hot cakes using cowboy lingo. Rex Stout, a famous western author, gave him the nickname of “McGregor’s son Joe” after Joe guided Stout on a party and the name stuck. The Grit Magazine wrote up McGregor’s life on December 25, 1966.

Circa 1921 to 1923, there were actually two schools in Midvale that went to the eighth grade. One was located at the old Clarke Dance Hall next to John Clarke’s house and studio, and the other at the Lindhe Cabins that later became Yuhl’s Motel. Cleola Ralston was one of the first teachers; she also taught out at Lubec. Some of the other early teachers included Gertrude Brintenal, Charley Makenberg and Bob Kindshy.

After the building of the Monteath Hotel and the Glacier Park Lodge, the town attracted more families and thus there became a need for a school. A larger and more modern school was constructed in 1923, the Glacier Park Elementary Grade School, and is still in operation today. Isabelle Olson was one of the first teachers at the new school.

Mrs. Ralston later became the postmaster for a number of years, retiring in 1955, followed by Irma Hughes, then Elizabeth “Betsy” Jennings. Mrs. Jennings was a postmaster for seventeen years and recently retired in December of 1983. Bob Trinder from Poplar was appointed on August 3, 1984.

The original Mike’s Place was built and operated by two Italians known as the Lucas brothers. The building was constructed of board slabs and went up in flames one night when the cook, who was hot tempered, poured gas on the floor and set it on fire. The Lucas’ rebuilt and sold the place to Mike Shannon. Mike’s Place burned again in 1922 and was rebuilt shortly after.

The popular gathering spot featured dancing, bootlegging (during Prohibition), gambling and roller-skating. People from all walks of life frequented Mike’s. In 1942, Mike’s was sold to Harry Dunn and it was sold again in 1954 to Ray “Buzz” Lutz. The establishment was converted to the Villager Cafeteria and Dining Room that it is today and featuring fine food, a salad bar and homemade desserts.

The present Brownie’s Store was first the Barrett Hotel. It had a dance hall and rooms upstairs. This building was purchased by the Hockersmiths who operated it as a grocery store. Since 1938, it was owned by Leona and Robert “Brownie” Brown for 35 years, until it was sold in 1983 to Linda and Jerry Hauser from Burbank, California. [2015 update: currently owned by Linda Chase and Family]

East Glacier Park as it is known today has a year-round population of about five hundred people. Situated at the eastern entrance to Glacier National Park, it is busy during the summer months with tourism as the main source of income. During the winter months, the residents are made up of mostly retired people, the business people of the community, park and railroad employees, teachers and professional people employed in Browning who prefer to live in East Glacier Park. Not many changes have been made since the early days of Midvale-Glacier Park, and the landscape and scenery remain the same.

The economy of Glacier Park prospered after World War II with the advent of more businesses such as motels, cabins, gift shops and restaurants. The Conner Motel that used to be run by Buck and Millie is now Lowry’s, as in Lowry’s Diner, both owned by Gladys and Alan. The Smiley corner where Mrs. Smiley had a vegetable garden, grocery store and bakery, and raised chickens, is renamed the Brown House with the original building still standing, and is operated by Susan and Terry McMaster, potter and artist.

Porter’s Motel changed hands after many years when the Bud Iszlers sold to Carol and Bill Stewart who also own and operate The Whistling Swan Motel, which used to be owned by Esther and Shorty Waring. Helene Edkins owned and operated Helene’s Gift Shop since her husband passed away in 1970 and finally, at 85, this fabulous lady sold the shop to retire. It is now The Driftwood Shop, and is managed by Pat and Alton Lee who also manage the Beaded Spear next to it.

Marlowe Rink’s Y RV Park, laundromat and showers sit on the south edge of the town, overlooking Midvale River, as does the old 4X where Midvale got its beginning, and the new Catholic Church just to the east. The Chapel of the Ascension was dedicated October 3, 1982 and was built in an octagon shape by Tom St. John. On the north side of town, past the Lodge, and on Highway 49, the Mountain Pine Motel still flourishes after being in operation lovingly by Doris and Fred Sherburne since 1948.

Clarke Homestead circa 1950s

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Fred’s grandfather, Joe H. Sherburne settled at Many Glacier in the early days and thus Sherburne Lake was named. Across the street from the motel, is the John L. Clarke Western Art Gallery & Memorial Museum owned and operated since 1977 by Joyce Clarke Turvey. The gallery is at the same site of the home and studio of the artist for whom it is named and who lived there for most of his 89 years. Just behind the gallery is the Red Geranium Antiques located at the former home of Clyde Fauley, Sr., now owned and operated by one of his sons, Carlyle and daughter-in-law, Theresa Fauley.
[another update: The Red Geranium is now located next to the Gallery, directly on Hwy 49]

Continuing northward on the highway is Sears Motel and Gift Shop, originally Staley’s and formerly owned by John Sears of Great Falls. Since 1983, Troy Jones and his daughter, Judy of Ft. Myers, Florida, now own it. The Restaurant Thimbleberry is owned and operated each summer by Shirley Welch as well as the Glacier Motel across the street from the restaurant.

The cabins were originally owned by J.C. Graves and later by Chuck and Dolly Mendenhall. The Thimbleberry was built by Pat Ryan, single-handedly, in 1960 and was named the Tepee Café. Since 1966, Thelma and John King, who retired this year from teaching in Cut Bank, have owned and managed Jacobson’s Cottages, which were originally built by Jim Chase. [Jacobsen’s Cottages are owned now by King’s daughter and son-in-law, Suzanne & Jeff Anderson]