January 10, 2014

A "Prime Garden Spot of Proportions Immense”

by Ashley Fejeran, Montana Digital Newspaper Project Assistant
The River Press, January 2, 1884
The practice of looking back at the past and making predictions for the new year is long-standing, and Montanans of 1884 were not exempt from this tradition. The Holiday “Reservation” Edition of the Fort Benton River Press paints 1884 as a particularly momentous year for Montanans. The edition is primarily taken up with speculation on the prospective opening of parts of the Blackfeet and Gros Ventre reservations. Reduction of the reservations would open up more land for ranchers, farmers, and prospectors—spelling increased prosperity and progress for white settlers in the area. The paper provides little acknowledgement of Native American perspectives on the events.
Colorful headlines from the New Year's
, The River Press, January 2, 1884

The New Year’s edition offers a rich look at life in Fort Benton at the time: detailed illustrations of buildings, meteorological data, a map of Fort Benton and prospective railroad lines, and historical statistics about the county. Articles on the profitability of raising cattle, the wool industry in Montana, and enthusiastic testimonials to the beauty and fertility of the land exemplify one role that early newspapers played: that of “booster” for their communities. They would print glowing reports of life in the area, with a view toward bolstering the confidence of the existing population and attracting new settlers.
A small article on page 11 mentions a proposal for the creation of a park in the mountains between the Flathead and Blackfeet reservations, in the region of what is now Glacier National Park. Although GNP wasn’t established until 1910, could this have been an inkling of what was to come?

You might also enjoy these New Year’s editions: Butte Inter Mountain, Jan 1, 1903 and The Daily Missoulian, Jan 2, 1910. Browse more historical Montana newspapers on the Chronicling America web site. 


  1. Well done Ashley! Two events in the early 1880s stirred debate about a future national park in the Glacier area. These events were 1880 when George Bird Grinnell became editor-in-chief of the nation’s preeminent conservation magazine, Forest and Stream and 1882-83 when Raphael Pumpelly conducted expeditions to "Glacier" area. The River Press was jumping on the bandwagon that built slowly until 1910's creation of the park.

  2. Ashley, the first direct suggestion of a national park was made in 1883 by Lt. John Van Orsdale in a letter to the Helena Herald 28 July 1883, reprinted in the River Press 5 Aug 1883. This became the first known public suggestion that the area of Glacier should become a national park. Van Orsdale wrote: "I sincerely hope that publicity now being given to that portion of Montana will result in drawing attention to the scenery which surpasses anything in Montana or adjacent territories. A great benefit would result to Montana if this section could be set aside as a National Park. The country included in such a park is not fit for agricultural or grazing purposes but by placing it under the protection of the Government the forests would be protected and consequently some of the sources of water of three great river systems, viz; the Missouri, the Columbia and the Saskatchewan." Historian James Scheire speculated that Van Orsdale based his suggestion upon the awareness of Yellowstone's preservation and upon conversations with his brother-in-law William R. Logan. Both men had traveled through the region while accompanying Raphael Pumpelly.