Books

Morton J. Elrod: Montana’s Pioneer Naturalist

MONTANA'S PIONEER NATURALIST: MORTON J. ELROD 
by Dr. George M. Dennison
University of Oklahoma Press, 2016

A naturalist on Montana’s academic frontier, passionate conservationist Morton J. Elrod was instrumental in establishing the Department of Biology at the University of Montana, as well as Glacier National Park and the National Bison Range. In Montana’s Pioneer Naturalist, the first in-depth assessment of Elrod’s career, George M. Dennison reveals how one man helped to shape the scholarly study of nature and its institutionalization in the West at the turn of the century.

Elrod moved to Missoula in 1897, just four years after the state university’s founding, and participated in virtually every aspect of university life for almost forty years. To reveal the depths of this pioneer scientist’s influence on the growth of his university, his state, and the academic fields he worked in, author George M. Dennison delves into state and university archives, including Elrod’s personal papers. Although Elrod was an active participant in bison conservation and the growth of the National Park Naturalist Service, much of his work focused on Flathead Lake, where he surveyed local life forms and initiated the university’s biological station—one of the first of its kind in the United States. Yet at heart Elrod was an educator who desired to foster in his students a “love of nature,” which, he said, “should give health to any one, and supply knowledge of greatest value, either to the individual or to society, or to both.”

In this biography of a prominent scientist now almost forgotten, Dennison—longtime president of the University of Montana—demonstrates how Elrod’s scholarship and philosophy regarding science and nature made him one of Montana’s most distinguished naturalists, conservationists, and educators.


BLACKFOOT REDEMPTION: A BLOOD INDIAN'S STORY OF MURDER, CONFINEMENT, AND IMPERFECT JUSTICE
by William Farr University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, 2013

In 1879, a Canadian Blackfoot known as Spopee, or Turtle, shot and killed a white man. Captured as a fugitive, Spopee narrowly escaped execution, instead landing in an insane asylum in Washington, D.C., where he fell silent. Spopee thus “disappeared” for more than thirty years, until a delegation of American Blackfeet discovered him and, aided by the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, exacted a pardon from President Woodrow Wilson. After re-emerging into society like a modern-day Rip Van Winkle, Spopee spent the final year of his life on the Blackfeet Reservation in Montana, in a world that had changed irrevocably from the one he had known before his confinement.

Blackfoot Redemption is the riveting account of Spopee’s unusual and haunting story. To reconstruct the events of Spopee’s life—at first traceable only through bits and pieces of information—William E. Farr conducted exhaustive archival research, digging deeply into government documents and institutional reports to build a coherent and accurate narrative and, through this reconstruction, win back one Indian’s life and identity.

In revealing both certainties and ambiguities in Spopee’s story, Farr relates a larger story about racial dynamics and prejudice, while poignantly evoking the turbulent final days of the buffalo-hunting Indians before their confinement, loss of freedom, and confusion that came with the wrenching transition to reservation life.

Blackfoot Redemption
 
Julius Syler and the Blackfeet

JULIUS SEYLER AND THE BLACKFEET: AN IMPRESSIONIST AT GLACIER NATIONAL PARK
by William Farr University of Oklahoma Press, 2009

German Impressionist artist Julius Seyler had already made a name for himself in Europe when America beckoned. While in St. Paul, Minnesota, he encountered Louis Hill, head of the Great Northern Railroad, who wanted to encourage travel to Montana’s newly created Glacier National Park. To that end, Hill enticed the adventuresome Seyler to visit this majestic landscape and to see the Blackfeet Indians who lived there. This book marks both an appreciation of Seyler’s unique art and a fascinating glimpse into the promotion of a national park in its early years.

William E. Farr has written the first biographical portrait of Seyler, focusing on his two summers at Glacier in 1913 and 1914, his special relationship with the Blackfeet, and the magnificent art he created in the Northern Rockies. The book features more than one hundred images—many in color—including Seyler’s major works from Glacier, other paintings from his European years, and historic photographs from the park.

Seyler enjoyed wide recognition in Europe in his day, but the wartime destruction of his European works has since relegated him to obscurity. This lavish volume shows the stunning visual impact of his art and secures his place as one of the paramount portrayers of a place we still call the Crown of the Continent.