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Tales of Bob Marshall pioneers offer fascination, and astonishment

Posted at 6:47 AM, Feb 21, 2019
and last updated 2019-02-21 13:14:47-05
John Fraley Book
Retired wildlife biologist John Fraley is back with a new book that’s chocked full of adventure stories, (MTN News photo)

MISSOULA – Even today venturing into the Bob Marshall Wilderness and the very upper reaches of the Flathead Basin still isn’t an adventure to be taken lightly.

But imagine doing it in the days before satellite navigation, when your best protection against sudden winter weather was heavy wool.

Outdoorsman and retired wildlife biologist John Fraley is back with a new book that’s chocked full of those adventure stories, many of them related first hand from rangers and others who are now in their 90s,

“Well, those old time rangers doing the game surveys, they would start at Coram, before the road went any father than Coram. They would come out at Ovando. They’d be in there for two or three weeks, maybe sometimes even four weeks,” Fraley said.

“It was just kind of a different definition of tough, as we consider it today. Because they had very primitive, they had an ax, they had a tarp. They didn’t really have high tech tents. They’re covering a lot of distance in a lot of cold weather, really doing some of the first game surveys that were done in the area,” he added.

“Rangers, Trappers and Trailblazers” is Fraley’s latest look at the colorful characters and epic adventures that mark the history of the Northwest corner of Montana.

While his two previous books focused on the pioneers who settled in the Upper Flathead and Glacier National Park, this latest volume focuses on the early Forest Service rangers, guides and others, who didn’t let the vast wilderness deter their assignments.

A prime example is Henry Thol, who could “out walk” and “out tough” anybody on his patrols on the South Fork, covering hundreds of miles in temperatures as cold as 40-below.

“He’s a very famous ranger back then in the 20s. But most of the people today have never heard of him. He did some incredible things. I’m going to be talking about what I call Henry Thol’s insane patrol. It’s just amazing what some of those old timers could do.,” Fraley told MTN News.

Fraley will present stories from his latest book, and sign copies, during a presentation set to start at 6 p.m. on Thursday night at Smoke Elser’s historic barn which is located at 3800 Rattlesnake Drive in Missoula.