by Mike Thompson
Seeley Swan Pathfinder
November 26, 1998
There's a tiny cabin hidden behind a grassy knoll at the far upper end of the old Boyd haymeadows.
I like old stuff, so I thought it was interesting enough when I first poked my head through the small doorway in 1987 while exploring the resources within my newly assigned responsibilities on the Blackfoot-Clearwater Game Range.
It became a lot more interesting last summer when Merle Rognrud told me the story that goes with the cabin.
Seems the cabin was built by a skinny settler named Bradshaw, who married a robust woman. My brother would say that Bradshaw's choice in marriage was a good one. He would be assured of shade in the summer and warmth in the winter.
Apparently, Bradshaw owned a wide brimmed hat and blankets.
The story goes that he built two cabins on that site. One was of standard size, but the doorway of the other was too small for his large wife to negotiate.
I'm quite sure it's his bachelor pad that survives to this day.
The gift of the Bradshaw story was given by someone who is himself gifted. Merle Rognrud is one of the first professional wildlife biologists in Montana. He began his career in 1941, and I'm convinced that he remembers every person and event in his experience thereafter. Merle's powers of memory recall are truly remarkable, and he is a valuable part of our efforts to better understand and commemorate what our forbearers accomplished 50 years ago Friday (November 27), with the purchase of the Game Range.
Merle's first job in the wildlife profession was as a summer student in Wildlife Technology at the University of Montana. He conducted what I imagine was the first upland game bird survey in Montana, along with Bill Bergerson, Faye Couey, Hector LeCache and James Beer. With only five guys and no reliable mechanized means of travel, they were limited in how much ground they could cover.
So, they started at the North Dakota border and stopped when they got to the Continental Divide!
Two guys covered the country south of the Yellowstone, two worked between the Yellowstone and Missouri, and one worked the High Line. I don't have notes on how many birds they counted, but I'll wager they missed one or two, even if their deeds were larger than life.
His education was interrupted by World War II, and when he got back from the war, he took a job as biologist in charge of big game management across all of Montana west of the Continental Divide. And, for good measure, he was also assigned the Sun River country along the Rocky Mountain Front.
It was about that tine, in 1946, that Montana's program of big game trapping and transplanting began in earnest, with the assignment of Jim McLucas. Animals were captured in areas of relative abundance and released to reestablish populations in other areas of Montana, and elsewhere in the western United States, where numbers had been depleted.
During that time period, Merle and Frank Lancaster captured mountain goats at a salt lick near Big Salmon Lake, in the Bob Marshall Wilderness. They would catch a goat, hog-tie it, then transport it by raft about 10 miles on the swollen spring runoff down the South Fork of the Flathead River to Black Bear, then haul the goat by cart to a nearby airstrip from which the animal would be airlifted to a holding facility at the Helena fairgrounds.
Those of us who didn't live through the early part of this century talk about market hunting and unregulated harvests that depleted wildlife populations in the west, but many of us don't really have any true understanding of the circumstances. Merle says that the 1930s were really tough times, and people just shot whatever they needed for food. The concept of "sport" hunting came gradually with the easing of the depression, and a greater emphasis on the regulation of hunting harvests, and enforcement of those regulations, followed along as well.
Last summer, Merle accepted our invitation to meet with Bob Henderson, Jamie Jonkel and myself to tell us about the way things were. Bob and Jamie kept the conversation flowing so I could concentrate on taking notes. The preceding excerpts are only a small portion of that collection, which I will share in bits and pieces over the next few months.
This Thanksgiving, I'm thankful to look back at those furiously scribbled notes and find the story of the old Bradshaw cabin. And, I'm especially thankful for Merle Rognrud and the role he played back in 1948 to preserve the Game Range where that cabin still stands.