Tuesday, March 12, 2013


“Growing Up in Glacier Park” by Floyd W. “Bud” Lutz is mostly about the first half of the twentieth century in the little railroad town that is one of three Blackfeet reservation resort towns (the other two are Babb & St. Mary) or one of three Glacier Park towns (the other two are West Glacier & Apgar), depending on how you look at it.  In the distant past the town has been a sort of headquarters anchored by both the Park ranger administration and the primary Louis Hill huge log resort hotel of an east slope Glacier Park complex.  As events unfolded, like the completion of the Logan Pass “Going to the Sun” Highway that diverted summer traffic away from town and the contracting out of the hotel management, the town shrank until some might say it was a little too small for the egos in residence.

Certainly the egos were legendary and historical.  The children of Malcolm Clarke, whose murder triggered the Baker Massacre, established a ranch uphill behind where the Big Hotel is now.  Nothing was there then but a choice spot.  No one was surprised since Helen Clarke, the daughter, was in charge of divvying out the Blackfeet tribal property into individual homesteads.  She did manage to delay it for a long time, but in the end she, Horace, and Malcolm Jr. came to stay.  Malcolm Jr.’s son, John Clarke, was a deaf-and-mute woodcarver of considerable renown.  His daughter, Joyce Clarke Turvey, has run a gallery on the location of his studio until this summer, when a bad fall has put opening in doubt.

The town expands each summer to accommodate tourists, then shutters and hibernates to survive the winters.  Attempts to develop winter resorts have failed, in part because of the severe weather, not just sub-zero temps but also hurricane force winds.  But in winter you needn’t worry about bears climbing on the roofs to lick smoky grease off the chimneys.  This book is domestic, family-centered, and mostly about boy-stuff:  fun, food and romance in about that order.  There’s an exciting robbery at the end.

Very little in this book is about Blackfeet.  There is a “glass wall” between Park people and Rez people, even now, but more so then.  Even the white kids in Browning are invisible.  Bob and Harold Scriver went to the same school about the same time as Bud and Buzz Lutz, and relations between the two families were cordial but entirely unmentioned here.  In fact, there’s not much about Park rangers.  The only Blackfeet are the tribal elders who made a living over the summer by wearing buckskin and eagle feather parade outfits to meet the train, putting on “rain dances” in the evening, and living in tipis on the lawn.  They made very little impression on Bud Lutz.  He did admire cowboys.

The category of white-run small businesses is not explored much in most books about this area.  This may be due to so many of them having their roots in boot-legging -- not the scurrilous rum-running that undermined the Indians, but the Prohibition moonshine supply for insatiable tourists.  Glacier Park was an out-of-the-way spot with confused jurisdictions and locals poor enough to wink. That soon developed into quiet connections to people like Al Capone.  The boys ran a brisk business in recycled bottles.

A big part of the story is the horses and dogs, their names, life-histories and exploits.  Horace Clarke loaned the boys a horse and finally gave it to them.  Much of what boys were good for in those days was finding and bringing in livestock, so they valued good animal helpers.  Because of their gender and their participation in the castration of calves, they took a lively interest in prairie oysters and their unknowing consumption by greenhorns.

Much of the family history revolves around the three incarnations of Mike’s Place, a huge barn of a building on Highway 2 that burned down twice.  At first the venue for dances and skating rinks, by the Sixties it was divvied up into shops and the versions of restaurant that Buzz ran: a short-order counter, a hot dish cafeteria, and an upscale restaurant, all sort of connected and interacting, but only in the summer.  These were hard-working and thoughtful people who chose their mates carefully and put their children to work early.  Even in the later years the summer work in East Glacier moved in winter over to the west side where ski resorts were thriving.  Maureen Little Dog, Buzz’s daughter, became a world-class patissiere (pastry chef) but that was later than this book.

For persons interested in the development and establishment of a rising middle class in an interstitial environment, part entrepreneurs and part opportunists, this book belongs on the shelf with Ray Djuff’s insider accounts of the Glacier-Waterton International complex, the constantly useful books of Jack Holterman (hard to come by as they are), and other accounts like John Fraley’s “A Woman’s Way West: In and Around Glacier National Park from 1925 to 1990.”   Murton McCluskeys’ book “The McCluskey Boys: Adventures in an Indian Boarding School” (reviewed here 5-28-12) is much like the lives of the Lutz boys.  Many layers and aspects remain: the engineering of Going to the Sun Highway, which is now failing; the grizzly stories (Do not read “Night of the Grizzlies” at bedtime!); adventurous women in the Park like Mary Roberts Rinehart or the “lady artists” attracted by the Reiss brothers; the many artists that were subsidized by the railroad to create advertising art (Sharp, Fery.  Not Russell who had a cabin on the west side where he was mostly a private citizen).  

Most published material is to make money, rarely this kind of naive self-published account of ordinary kids, a good corrective to outsider’s assumptions.  I read this book with a growing stack of other books at my elbow, picking up relationships that were mentioned other places but never tied together until Bud told about them.  It’s a little like reading old newspapers from one area: events thicken until a multi-dimensional picture develops.  Names come up that I recognize from stories but also still see in the phone book.  Old feuds and catastrophes, not very significant at the world history level, have a sort of “butterfly effect” on how things have turned out a century later.

The problem of how to find local books is helpfully addressed by the used book market and categories via Amazon et al.  But the problem remains of knowing what to put in search engines when you have no inkling that it exists in the first place.  I put in <"Glacier Park"  bibliographies> and got a lot of interesting stuff.  I put <“East Glacier, Montana”> into Google and then hit “images” which brought up page after page of images, both sublime and banal, but I don’t know what they would mean to an “outsider” without the stories about who built the businesses or named the mountains (and then renamed them for political reasons as well as giving the town itself at least three names, not counting railroad sidings).  In the end a person just has to go there and spend time sitting around listening to stories.  

This year the sequester means Logan Pass will be plowed out late and the campgrounds will have fewer amenities.  But the waterfalls will be turned on again and the trails will be unrolled.  The layout of local businesses is different every year -- some come, some go.  Locals follow the cooks rather than the cafes.  The restaurant in what was “Mike’s Place” is scheduled to open again.  I don’t know who’s cooking this summer.  Buzz and Bud will be supping elsewhere.

Scott Company Publishing
PO Box 9707
Kalispell, MT 59904
$15.95 plus s&h

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