Centennial Series: A History of Glacier National Park’s Passes: Part I

Centennial Series: A History of Glacier National Park’s Passes: Part I

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In 2010 Glacier National Park will be celebrating its 100 year anniversary. I believe it is fitting to take a look back and celebrate the work of those who have made Glacier National Park the "Crown of the Continent".

The history of Glacier National Park is replete with the traces of Native American life from before the turn of the 20th century. Native Americans have occupied or used Glacier National Park since well before the 19th century. Oral histories date back past written history which mentions the Blackfeet as early as 1789.

The photo below illustrates how Native Americans kept track of their history. This particular illustration depicts their history dating from 1701 to 1727.
Winter CountThe Oral Tradition of the Great Plains, Please do not vote.

Many peaks bear the names of significant tribal leaders, such as Heavy Runner Mountain, Eagle’s Ribs Mountain and Lone Walker Mountain. The Two Medicine Valley is held in high esteem as a significant area where annual religious ceremonies were held. Old Man, Young Man and Beaver Woman lakes certainly show their influence as well.

Most of the Glacier National Park east of the Continental Divide was given to the Blackfeet Nation who later sold it in 1895 to the U.S. Government. This area is known as the “Ceded Strip.” Glacier National Park shares a common border with Waterton International Peace Park in Canada. Before the establishment of the parks there was not a lot of peace when opposing Indian nations met in Glacier National Park.

Life and death hinged on the ability to safely navigate through these passes. I submit to you that perhaps the mountain pass played a more significant role in developing Glacier into what it is today than we give them credit for.

Often overlooked and generally taken for granted are the mountain passes.

We walk over them and rarely think about the men and women that have passed this way before us. Sure we might read a summit log and find that Mike from Pallukaville, USA was there last month, but how many of us truly appreciate the role that these places played in the 18th and 19th century?

A Pass according to Wikipedia is:

“In a range of hills, or especially of mountains, a pass (also gap, notch, col, saddle, bwlch, brennig or bealach) is a saddle point in between two areas of higher elevation. If following the lowest possible route through a range, a pass is locally the highest point on that route.

Topographically, a pass has the general form of a saddle between two mountains (the elevation as a function of two position coordinates is mathematically a saddle point). They are often found just above the source of a river, constituting a sort of "bridge" over to the headwaters of a different river. Passes may be very short, consisting of steep slopes to the top of the pass, or valleys of many kilometers, whose highest point is only identifiable by surveying.

Since many of the world's mountain ranges have always presented formidable barriers to travel, passes have been important since before recorded history, and have played a key role in trade, war and migration.”


This article is about the local tribes, the relationships amongst the tribes and how these local tribes history contributed to the naming of Glacier National Park’s Passes. Contained on this page is Part I, additional information on white man's exploration and "discovery" of Glacier National Park's passes can be found at A History of Glacier National Park's Passes: Part II.

There are at least 28 named passes in present day Glacier National Park. To write this article I have used the sources listed at the end of this article in the Resources section. I certainly will not be able to present all of the information that is available. Instead I have focused on the areas that present the richest history as well as what I have determined would appeal to the broadest area of interest to you as a reader.

The Setting:

Garden Wall from Granite ParkA view along the Continental Divide

The Western Valley

In his book, The Golden Valley, H. G. Merriam wrote about the Flathead Valley in northwestern Montana:

"Since who knows when, Indians were in the valley fishing, hunting, fighting, living in it full as the winds, in cahoots with it, in harmony with nature, not upsetting its balance, using its lands, its abundance of good things, aware of the Great Spirit in the universe, imagining beautiful serious myths, sometime humorous ones, sometimes irreverent ones, as if the Great Spirit were a companion. The valley was a good place to be…."

And so it was during the late 1700’s and 1800’s in Northwestern Montana. Glacier National Park served as a by-way for Native Americans to travel from present day Flathead Valley, which lies around 25 miles west of Glacier National Park, to the Great Plains east of the Continental Divide.

Native Americans regularly made journeys into and through the mountains for food gathering and for other reasons such as safety and religious reasons. The Native Americans in northwestern Montana learned to live off the land and use its bountiful resources to benefit their peoples. Conflicts certainly arose when differing tribes vied for the same resources and the same mountain passes. To control the passes meant both protection as well as survival.

The Great Plains

The Great Plains contained vast amounts of feed, water and buffalo. In addition to the buffalo the plains also provided the Native Americans with the necessary roots and materials to survive on the plains. Generally, the Native Americans of the plains claimed areas as homelands and defended them against their enemies and had regular contacts with their allies. In Montana the main tribes of the Great Plains included the Sioux, Cheyenne, Crow, Blackfeet, Comanche, and Pawnee.

The Northern Great Plains stretch across present day eastern Montana as well as North and South Dakota as well as Minnesota as well as above across the U.S.-Canadian Border. Conflicts arose when other tribes infringed on their territorial hunting grounds. When the white man arrived in the form of trappers conflicts increased as they sought pelts from beavers as well as spurred on the demise of the buffalo by needless slaughter of buffalo for their hides.

At the beginning of the 19th century American explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark passed through the Great Plains and their journey started to usher in a era of transition from an area utilized by Native Americans to one brought into submission by an Anglo-American culture.

Tribes West of the Continental Divide: The Residents

Three major tribes called the Flathead Valley home and others passed through with enough frequency to lead familiarity, bad blood and conflict between rival tribes.

The resident tribes of the Flathead Valley included: The Kootenai, The Salish frequently referred to as Flathead, and the Kalispel.

KootenaiKootenai, Please do not vote

Kootenai (pronounced as koot-nae-hae)

To their neighbors they are known as Skalzi, "lake, or water, people", and to the French as Arez-à-plats, Anglicized Flatbows. They are also refered to as the Kootenay.

They have a distinct tradition of having formerly lived in the plains east of the Rockies where they were probably driven out by the more powerful Blackfeet, their age-old enemies. Up to a recent period, they were in the habit of making annual descents to the Plains, in company with the Flatheads and Kalispel for the purpose of hunting buffalo.

According to their oral tradition when the Kootenai came to the plains east of Glacier National Park the Piegan (Blackfeet) had not yet arrived and the only other tribe they met en-route from their home land were the Shosoni near present day Dillon, Montana in the late 1700’s. They captured their first horses from the Shoshoni during this same time. It was when the Piegan arrived in the area that the bad blood developed when the Piegan stole the Kootenai’s horses.

Another influential event occurred when a small tribe, the Tunaha, was nearly wiped out by small pox. Eight warriors left the tribe and came into contact with the Flatheads near present day Butte, Montana and seven of them married women from the Flathead Tribe. The remaining warrior took a bride from the Kootenai tribe. As a result of this unusual event lasting peace was formed between the Kootenai and Flathead Indian Nations.

The Kootenai and Flathead still have peace and in fact they share a reservation on the south end of Flathead Lake.

FlatheadFlathead, Please do not vote

The Flathead (pronounced as Flat-head)

The Flatheads call themselves Salish meaning "the people". They originated in the Pacific Northwest and were called the Flathead Indians by the first white men who came to the Columbia River.

The name is often said to derive from the flat skull produced by binding infants' skulls with boards. However, this is mistaken folk etymology, as the tribe never practiced head flattening. In fact, the Salish were called "flat head" because the tops of their heads were not pointed like those of neighboring tribes people who practiced vertical head-binding. The sign language used by neighboring tribes to distinguish the Flatheads consisted of "pressing each side of the head" with the hands.

Although never a large tribe, the Salish had a reputation for bravery, honesty, and general high character and for their friendly disposition towards the whites. When first known, about the beginning of the last century, they subsisted chiefly by hunting and the gathering of wild roots, particularly camas, dwelt in skin tipis or mat-covered lodges, and were at peace with all tribes excepting their hereditary enemies, the powerful Blackfeet.

KalispelKalispel, Please do not vote

The Kalispel (pronounced as Kal-i-spel)

The Kalispel were also called the Upper Pend Oreille (Pon-der-ay). The word Pend Oreille means "ear pendants". The Kalispel Indians came to the area from present day Northeastern Washington. Edward Curtis notes in his excellent treatise on North American Indians, that Kalispel were not a warlike nation but were reckless when their anger was stirred. In addition to frequent clashes on the northeastern plains with more hostile tribes they also stole horses from their more distant neighbors to the west the Coeur da’Alenes, the Nez Perces and the Yakima.

They are mentioned under the name of Coospellar by the explorers Lewis and Clark, in 1805, at which time they were in the habit of crossing the mountains annually to hunt buffalo on the Missouri.

According to R. C. “Chuck” Robbin, the “Kalispel Indians were a peaceful, highly religious people and honest in their trade.” Their friendliness and their need for weapons led them to welcome the white man. They could not compete with their nearest neighbors to the east, the Blackfeet, without assistance from the new coming white man. The need for plentiful game populations had lead to conflicts with the Blackfeet, Sioux and Absoroke as the legendary buffalo herds of the 1800’s diminished in size. The Flathead Valley offered plentiful game in the valley and in the surrounding mountains as well as lakes for fishing and areas to gather the other food items that Native Americans were so adept to using.

Kalispell, Montana was named by Charles Conrad it's founder. He added the double "L" to distinguish it from the Kalispel tribe.

The Kalispel Reservation is located in western Washington near Spokane.

Tribes East of the Continental Divide: The Interlopers

The interlopers were the tribes that made their home on the prairies of Montana to the east of the Continental Divide as well as in what are now Alberta and British Columbia, Canada.

Their journeys into the mountains were meant to accomplish a few goals. Perhaps the biggest goal was revenge. Other goals included gathering of food that was less available on the Great Plains such as fish as well as gathering material such a rock for making ceremonial pipes. They also visited the mountains for Vision Quests.

Piegan CampBlackfeet, Please do not vote

The Blackfeet Nation

The Blackfeet nation was a perhaps the most dominant culture during the 1800’s. With three main branches of tribes, the Bloods, Piegan and Siksika their territory stretched from northern Saskatchewan to the southernmost waters of the Missouri river. They aggressively defended their territory from both neighboring tribes as well as white men. They were the strongest and most aggressive military power on the northwestern plains for most of the 19th century.

Edward S. Curtis wrote that the Piegan tribe of the Blackfeet at first traded horses with the Kootenai in the late 1700’s and later when the other two branches of the tribe arrived open hostility ensued from that time on. The also traded horses with the Flatheads (Salish). The Blackfeet tribe had numerous warrior societies and a highly evolved religious society.

At one time or another it seems that the Blackfeet were allies and enemies with just about all of the surrounding tribes. Such is the life of the nation at the top of the ladder.

AssiniboineStoney Indians, Please do not vote

The Stoney Indians

Also known as the Assiniboin pronounced as ah-SIN-uh-boin. The Stoney Indians came from the north to hunt in present day Glacier National Park as well. This tribe is part of the Dakota tribe and Assiniboin, in Chippewa means "one who cooks by the use of stones." The Stoney Indians were most prominently associated historically with the valleys of the Saskatchewan and Assiniboin Rivers, Canada. In the United States they occupied the territory north of the Milk and Missouri Rivers.

The Assiniboin encountered the Kootenai tribes on the plains hunting buffalo and would make forays into the lands of the Salish to make war against the Salish.

A witness of these events, Alexander Henry stated that “the Assiniboin thought that the Salish who they called Snare Indians, were “a most wretched defenseless, who never war upon any of their neighbors. But so blood-thirsty is the nature of the savages that they (i.e. the Assiniboin Tribe) frequently make long excursions in quest of them, during which the suffer very much with hunger, and very often narrowly escape starvation to death, as that part of the mountains that the Snare Indians inhabit seems destitute of animals. But when the latter are discovered, generally in small camps of two or three, they become an easy prey, as these helpless people have no fire-arms, the bow and arrow being their only weapon of defense.”

The Assiniboin were both rivals and allies to the Blackfeet and Gros Ventres throughout their history.

Gros ventreGros Ventre, Please do not vote

Gros Ventres (pronounced as grow-VAHN-truh)

The Gros Ventres lived on the north central plains of Montana. The Gros Ventres refer to themselves as the A’nai’, meaning “White Clay People.” Other people groups call them Rapid Indians, Willow Indians, Atsinas, Big Bellies, and Waterfall Indians.

Until 1866 the Gros Ventre were allied with the Blackfeet against the Assiniboine and this is when things went terribly wrong. Sometime in 1866, the Gros Ventre killed the powerful Piegan-Blackfeet chief Many Horses. Outraged, the Piegan rode against a village of Crow and Gros Ventre in a battle that left over 300 dead. The killing stopped when the Piegan tired of it, and decided that they had killed enough. This was the most people ever lost in the history of the Gros Ventre.

To retaliate the Gros Ventre allied with the Crow against the Blackfoot. After significant losses to the Blackfoot, the Gros Ventre left their alliance with the Crow in 1867. They re-grouped and allied with the Assiniboin along a branch of the Missouri River called Milk River.

The Use of Mountain Passes:

The HorseThe Horse, Please Do Not Vote

During the 18th and 19th centuries mountain passes played a critical role in the survival and movement of the Native Americans. Passes were used by the plains Indians to steal horses, gather food and exact revenge on the tribes living in the Flathead Valley. Conversely, these passes were also used by the peoples of the Flathead Valley to go into central Montana to hunt and gather food.

Naturally conflicts ensued as the Native Americans passed through enemy territory. Conflicts arose as well armed tribes collided in the quest for food and provisions. Plains tribes would even post scouts to “guard” the passes when the numbers of buffalo began to decrease.

The single most influential factor for a tribe’s strength and therefore ability to survive was the horse. Horses enabled the Native Americans to cover more ground and thus increased opportunity for harvesting food. As with all things when two dominant cultures collide something had to give.

Glacier National Park’s Passes:

Much of this early park history is woven around the use of or search for routes across the mountain range.

The old Indian trails were not much as we think of park trails today; but they did follow well-defined routes and were often deeply worn by heavy use. Because of the nature of the terrain and the heavily timbered valleys, trails were almost always a prime necessity if one were to travel from one place to another through these mountain passes.

Although just a few of the passes are featured in this article. Each pass has a unique history dating back to the eras before white man "discovered" these passes.

Cut Bank Pass:

Cut Bank PassCut Bank Pass, willithewanderer photo

Named for the cutbanks of white clay along the creek east of Browning. The old Indian name means "Cuts-into-the-white-clay-bank-river."

Cut Bank Pass is located on the eastern side of the park near the Two Medicine Valley. J. Gordon Edwards describes a glorious circular route from Two Medicine Lake to Cut Bank Pass and then along the Continental Divide to Dawson Pass and then returning to the beginning trailhead at Two Medicine campground on page 313 of A Climber’s Guide to Glacier National Park.

When walking along these trails imagine a hunting party returning from the plains laden with enough buffalo meat to feed the people of the Kootenai tribe or a Piegan war party intent on exacting revenge upon their enemy. You are walking through history when you walk to Cut Bank Pass.

This was a favorite pass for both the Blackfeet and the Kootenai Tribes. According to Jack Holterman, the name of the pass is Ponakixi. The Gros Ventres called the stream running out of Cut Bank Pass, Inohpisi which means “to dangle down”. It was here that the Gros Ventre used ropes to lower themselves into a Piegan camp unaware. Although not indicated this must have been a significant victory in the clash between the Gros Ventres and the Blackfeet.

The Glacier National Park History website states that. “In August of 1812, following an unsuccessful attempt at peace with the Piegans, the Flatheads went to their hunting grounds east of the mountains accompanied this time by two free trappers, Michael Bourdeaux and Michael Kinville, both Frenchmen.

On this trip they used the Cut Bank Pass, also one of their main routes of travel; but because the Piegans were guarding the eastern approaches to the pass a terrific battle ensued. Many white men and Indians on both sides were killed and the Flatheads were forced to withdraw to do their hunting elsewhere.

On Cut Bank Creek there is reported to be a great pile of stones covering the bones of a party of Flathead Indians who met defeat at the hands of the Piegans long ago, but no one knows where or when. Perhaps this is the site of the 1812 battle, and, if so, perhaps the bones of Bourdeaux, who fought so successfully against the Piegans in 1810, and of Kinville, rest there too.

Following the defeat of the Flatheads in Cut Bank Pass, the Piegans became even more warlike and set about relentlessly to wipe out any small bands of Indians that they could find. They set sentries at high points to watch over the eastern approaches to the passes, particularly Marias Pass, and every band that came through was ambushed and killed.”

Gunsight Pass:

Gunsight MountainGunsight Pass, Bob Sihler photo

Gunsight Pass is located on the northern side of Mount Jackson. It is reach from the Jackson Overlook off of the Going-to-the-Sun Highway on the eastside of Logan Pass as well as just beyond Lincoln Peak from the Sperry Chalet Trail which begins near Lake McDonald Lodge on the southern shore of Lake McDonald near Apgar. Other peaks in this area featured in SummitPost include Gunsight, Edwards and Brown.

According to the Glacier National Park history page, Gunsight Pass was named in 1891 by G. B. Grinnell for its resemblance to the rear sight of a rifle, with the peak of a distant mountain showing through it like the front sight.

Logan Pass:

Logan PassLogan Pass, FlatheadNative photo

Logan Pass is on The Going-to-the-Sun Highway and is the location of the Visitor Center at Logan Pass. Access to Hidden Lake Pass and Oberlin, Clements, Cannon, Bearhat, Reynolds and Heavy Runner Mountain are gained from Logan Pass.

Logan Pass is also the start off point for traveling along the Highline Trail below the Garden Wall to Granite Park Chalet. Peaks accessed along this route include a difficult route to the Bishops Cap, Mount Gould, Haystack Butte, Mount Grinnell and Swiftcurrent Mountain.

In the 19th and 20th centuries Native Americans also used Logan Pass to access the valleys that spread out below it.

Holterman suggested that the Kootenais used this pass in the winters climbing with snowshoes traveling from west to east. They called it “where packs are pulled in a line” referring to the great cliff just below the pass where they had to pull themselves up with their hands on a rope and pull their packs behind them on a line. This was not possible for horses in the winter time. For their return to the Flathead Valley the Kootenais choose an alternate route that was further to the south. Perhaps this was Marias Pass or a pass that lies in the Swan Range or the Great Bear Wilderness to the north of the Bob Marshall Wilderness.

Marias Pass

Continental Divide above Marias Pass Marias Pass Area

Marias Pass is located on U.S. Highway 2 just a few miles west of East Glacier, Montana. Peaks featured in SummitPost near Marias Pass include: Dancing Lady Mountain, Calf Robe Mountain, Red Crow Mountain and Elk Mountain. Along with the highway a main northern line of the railroad passes through Marias Pass as well. There is a nice campground there as well as a statue and obelisk in honor of John F. Stevens who engineered the pass. Construction of the railway route through the pass was completed before 1900. This pass is incredible as Glacier National Park mountains tower above the valley and incredible timbered forests line the opposite side of the road.

This pass derived its name from the Marias River, one branch of which heads in the pass. The river, in turn, was so-named in 1805 by Captain Meriwether Lewis of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, in honor of Miss Maria Wood, cousin of Captain Clark. The Flathead Indians called it "Eneas Pass," for Chief Eneas, but the Blackfeet called it the "Big Gap."

This pass was used extensively for a number of years by most of the Native American tribes while traveling to and from their homelands. It is believed though that the pass lost significance as the numbers of buffalos decreased and the Blackfeet became more warlike. The tribes would have the option of following the Middle Fork of Flathead River to Bad Rock Canyon in the northern section of the Flathead Valley or they could choose to cut through the present day Great Bear Wilderness to the South Fork of the Flathead River and then across the Swan Range at either Aeneas Pass in the Jewel Basin or perhaps the Tongue Mountain Pass to the middle section of the Flathead Valley near present day Bigfork, Montana. From there it was easy access to Flathead Lake.

Piegan Pass:

Cataract from the trailPiegan Pass, FlatheadNative photo

In the modern day Glacier Piegan Pass is located above Siyeh Bend. More than likely the Native American route followed the west fork of Siyeh Creek below the massive east face of Piegan Mountain. Walking below the tremendous Piegan Falls must have been incredible. The modern trail skirts along the eastern side of the valley and eventually forks at Preston Park where the Siyeh Pass Tail intersects with the Piegan Pass Trail. Peaks accessed from the trail to Piegan Pass include Going-to-the Sun, Matahpi, Mount Siyeh, Cataract, Piegan, Pollock and Bishops Cap.

Piegan Pass was named by James Willard Schultz in 1885 for the Piegan tribe of the Blackfeet Indian Nation.

Pitamakan Pass:

Cut Bank Pass and McClintock PeakPitamakan Pass, Bob Sihler photo

Pitamakan Pass is located above the Two Medicine Valley above Old Man Lake. Mountains accessed from this pass include: Mount Morgan and Cut Bank Pass. It is included in the trail to Cut Bank Pass and can be part of a great scenic loop that also includes Dawson Pass.

Pitamakan Pass was originally named Cut Bank Pass, but the latter name was given to the pass between Mt. Morgan and McClintock Peak.

Pitamakan Pass was named for Running Eagle (Pitamakan), the Blackfeet Joan of Arc. Running Eagle was a warrior girl that led war parties on many highly successful raids and was the only woman in the Blackfeet tribe ever to do so or to be given a man's name.

Red Eagle Pass:

RED EAGLE MOUNTAIN & SPLIT MOUNTAIN OVER ST. MARY S LAKE-GLACIER NP-MTLooking up the Red Eagle Valley, Bernard I. Negrin photo

Red Eagle Pass is located at the top of the Red Eagle Valley just to the north of Triple Divide Pass along the Continental Divide.

By studying a topo map of Glacier National Park Red Eagle Pass appears to be a low pass with access from the Nyack valley and would have provided easy access for Native Americans as they traveled to and from the Great Plains.

James Willard Schultz states that the name was given to the mountain by his Indian wife in 1887, for her uncle, Red Eagle, who had saved their son's life with his prayers to the Sun.

Holterman writes that the Kootenai used this pass and called it “where the red eagle went up”. This pass was a main route for Native Americans and the Kootenais used it to escape from a band of Bloods along with a man named William T. Hamilton.

Siyeh Pass:

Summit View SoutheastSiyeh Pass, gjagiels photo

Siyeh Pass is located on the trail from Siyeh Bend and Sun Rift Gorge. Mountains accessed from near Siyeh Pass are Matahpi and Mount Siyeh. The South Slope Route for Siyeh departs from the Siyeh Pass Trail in Preston Park which lies below Siyeh Pass. There is no route description from Siyeh Pass to the Matahpi Peak summit.

Siyeh Pass is at an elevation of 7,750 feet high and J. Gordon Edwards wrote that it is one of the highest passes in Glacier National Park.

Named by G. B. Grinnell for a Blackfeet Indian, "Sai-yeh," in Blackfeet means Crazy Dog, or Mad Wolf.

Stoney Indian Pass:

First View of the TraverseStoney Indian Pass Country, saintgrizzly photo

Stoney Indian Pass was named for the Stoney Indians who used this pass.

Stoney Indian Pass is located near Mount Cleveland and many climber’s camp at this pass prior to embarking for their Cleveland summit bid. It is reached through the Belly River from the east as well as from Waterton Lake to the northwest. A Climber’s Guide to Glacier National Park features an interesting off trail route from Fifty Mountain Camp to Stoney Indian Pass on pages 110-112. The amazing route described by Edwards reduces time between those places dramatically. Saintgrizzly wrote a fantastic trip report about the area around Stoney Indian Pass. Many mountaineers use Stony Indian Pass to access Mount Cleveland on the the Stoney Indian Route.

The Stoney Indians or Assiniboin used this pass to access the game rich hunting grounds of present day Glacier National Park after the buffalo started to diminish on the plains.

Swiftcurrent Pass:

Swiftcurrent ValleySwiftcurrent Pass, FlatheadNative photo

J. Gordon Edwards mentioned Swiftcurrent Pass in A Climber’s Guide To Glacier National Park as a thoroughfare from the McDonald Creek Valley via Granite Park Chalet to the Many Glacier Valley. Stoney Indian Pass can also be reached by walking past Swiftcurrent Pass on the west side of the Continental Divide.

Peaks access from this pass include Mount Grinnell and Swiftcurrent Mountain. Extending further to the north is access to Iceberg Peak on the Highline Trail Route.

Swiftcurrent Pass was once known as "Horsethief Pass", for the Blackfeet horses that were reported to have been driven over it after horse-stealing raids.

The Kootenai used this pass in the winter while traveling to hunt buffalo on the prairies. Holterman also suggests that “Grinnell found evidence of many signs of the “Kaina” (Blackfeet Blood Clan) campsites in Apikuni Flats along the route to Swiftcurrent Pass.”

This name was originally applied to the stream by G. B. Grinnell in 1885 or 1886 after the Indian name, "Swift Flowing River."

Very little actual trail construction was undertaken prior to the establishment of the park. We have a record of Mrs. Nat Collins (The Cattle Queen) working the Indian trail over Swiftcurrent Pass in 1883, to make it possible for her pack animals to reach her prospect site on Cattle Queen Creek.

Triple Divide Pass:

Looking toward Triple Divide Pass from below Split MtnTriple Divide Pass, Jimegan photo

Triple Divide Pass sits just below Triple Divide Peak. Saintgrizzly has an excellent description of this mountain and the routes to Triple Divide Pass on his Triple Divide Peak page. Other peaks accessed near this pass include Mount James as well as Split Mountain.

Triple Divide Pass is usually for climbing from the Cut bank Campground on the eastern side of Glacier National Park. It is also found on a trail that begins at St. Mary’s, Montana and passes by Red Eagle Lake. J. Gordon Edwards describes the “Norris Traverse” which includes a high mountaineers trail from Triple Divide Pass to Red Eagle Pass. He also mentions a route that is no longer maintained that extends from Red Eagle Pass to the Nyack Valley. This certainly would be an interesting trip to report on in SummitPost.

The Blackfeet called this pass Niuoxkai-itahtai or “three streams”. This unique pass funnels water into the Hudson Bay, The Pacific Ocean and The Atlantic Ocean. The streams flowing from the peak are called Pacific, Atlantic and Hudson Bay Creek.

Two Medicine Pass:

Two Medicine PassTwo Medicine Pass

Two Medicine Pass is located to the south of Two Medicine Lake in the Two Medicine Valley. It provides access into the Nyack region of Glacier National Park. A Climber’s Guide To Glacier National Park suggests that there is access to Lone Walker Mountain, the head of Upper Two Medicine Lake, Aurice Lake or Caper Peak. Edwards called the ridge walk to from Two Medicine Pass the “tightrope in the sky” when the clouds are boiling out of the valleys. Peaks featured on SummitPost accessed from near Two Medicine Pass include Painted Tepee Peak and Sinopah, which is on the way to the pass.

Holterman suggests that the Blackfeet called this pass, Natoki-okas or “to sleep” and it refers to a dream or vision. Two Medicine refers to a native story which suggested that two medicine lodges were set up on opposite sides of a creek during the Sun Dance.

Holterman also writes that the Kootenai used to use the Two Medicine Valley for medicine quests. According to Chief David Paul, Kootenais came from far and wide to seek visions in the Two Medicine Valley.

Just imagine young Native Americans seeking to unite with their Creator. The Two Medicine Valley certainly evokes that same power in modern day visitors as well.

References and Links:

Below is a list of the sources that were used in writing this article.

Edward S. Curtis Writings

Place Names of Glacier National Park by Jack Holterman

A Climber’s Guide to Glacier National Park by J. Gordon Edwards

Catholic Encyclopedia

Gros Ventre

Gros Ventre, Writing of Julia White

Histroy of Glacier National Park

Montana Native American Geneology

Flathead Lake, From Glacier to Cherries, by R. C. "Churck" Robbins, 1985


Post a Comment
Viewing: 1-20 of 20
Aaron Johnson

Aaron Johnson - Nov 21, 2008 6:10 pm - Voted 10/10


article and background on one of the nation's most beautiful places. Thanks.

Fredd C Dobbs

Fredd C Dobbs - Nov 22, 2008 12:15 pm - Voted 10/10


First class article- Thanks for the great effort.


FlatheadNative - Nov 22, 2008 5:46 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Excellent

Thank you. Glad you enjoyed it.

vancouver islander

vancouver islander - Nov 22, 2008 4:35 pm - Hasn't voted

One of the very best....

...articles we have on SP. A fine and highly commendable piece of work.


FlatheadNative - Nov 22, 2008 5:40 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: One of the very best....

Thank you for your kind comments.


silversummit - Nov 23, 2008 1:22 am - Voted 10/10

Very well done!

Appreciate the history as well as the references to current hikes and access. Definitely well done!


FlatheadNative - Nov 23, 2008 1:31 am - Hasn't voted

Re: Very well done!

Thanks ss. It was an enjoyable article to write.


samh - Nov 23, 2008 10:11 pm - Voted 10/10

Particularly Interesting

Your article is well-researched and shed an interesting historical and sociological light on this beautiful place. I envision this article will grow as you learn more about other passes in the park.


FlatheadNative - Nov 23, 2008 10:45 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Particularly Interesting

there is actually a lot more I could write but had to be careful not to add too much information. A lot of the pass have information regarding whiteman's usage of the passes and I specifically focused on the Native American aspect. Perhaps another article will be in process with more information about that. great idea Sam. I am please that you enjoyed it. Blake


willithewanderer - Nov 24, 2008 12:55 am - Voted 10/10

Thank You

I had no idea on the extent of history we were walking through! Thank you for sharing. You have made my trip that much more memorable. Also I saw your great article on Jewel Basin. Hope to day hike or snowshoe the Basin area after Thanksgiving.


mvs - Nov 25, 2008 10:07 am - Voted 10/10


ever made me want to go to Glacier as much as this article. The pictures (particularly Maria Pass) are beautiful. To spend a summer wandering those passes would be amazing. Thanks for the inspiration!


FlatheadNative - Nov 25, 2008 6:03 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Nothing...

Perhaps Dr. Lyman B. Sperry said it best. He wrote:

"Finding that a single day in this remarkable place could give but a taste of its delights, some of our party determined to visit again as soon as practicable.”

Thanks for your kind comments. Blake


Luiso - Nov 25, 2008 11:50 am - Voted 10/10

Impressive work

and impressive place. And a very interesting history (here in Europe, we know really nothing about american natives). Thanks for your effort and for sharing.
Impressive, again.


FlatheadNative - Nov 25, 2008 6:01 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Impressive work

Thanks Luiso. I am working on Part II now so stay tuned for more information.


bfrench - Nov 25, 2008 12:05 pm - Hasn't voted

Marias Pass

Just a quick correction. The picture titled Marias pass is actually nowhere near Marias pass but near logan pass looking down the macdonald valley. I wish the terrain near Marias pass looked like that!


FlatheadNative - Nov 25, 2008 2:16 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Marias Pass

Corrected with a photo Little Dog Mountain from Marias Pass


Sarah Simon

Sarah Simon - Nov 26, 2008 4:08 pm - Voted 10/10

Amazing, very well done

Incredible work. Well researched, well laid-out. I have nothing but kudos for this fantastic contribution.

PS: I'm a closet history geek. ;)




FlatheadNative - Nov 26, 2008 7:05 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Amazing, very well done

Thanks Sarah. I appreciate your comments. I have been a history buff for a long time. I actually even have a Bachelor's Degree in History, so I too am guilty as charged.


distressbark - Oct 20, 2009 12:18 pm - Hasn't voted

firebrand pass?

any information on firebrand pass? i've had the pleasure of hiking there twice, and it truly is a hidden gem! would love to know more about the area. must be associated with "the backbone of the world" in some way?


FlatheadNative - Oct 20, 2009 6:12 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: firebrand pass?

I was thinking about adding it...but I am not sure where to put it. not a lot of information can be found. I have been in there twice this year. It is a great area.

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