20 years later, ‘A Woman’s Way West’ is still a great read

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Doris Huffine with her pet beaver, Willie. (Photo provided)

The story of Doris and Dan Huffine lives on as Farcountry Press recently released a new 20th anniversary edition of “A Woman’s Way West.”

Author John Fraley’s book traces the real-life story of The Huffines in the Flathead Valley, from Dan’s work as a Glacier National Park ranger in the 1920s to the Huffine Montana Museum between Columbia Falls and Kalispell in the 1980s.

Doris and Dan were Fraley’s wife Dana’s great aunt and uncle. Fraley was the public information officer for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Region 1 office when he wrote the book in 1998, putting it together from interviews he did with Doris over the course of several years as well as from journals Doris and Dan kept.

This new edition features more photos from the Huffine archives and a new preface by Fraley, who is now retired.

The book had previously gone out of general circulation. Fraley would print off a little more than 100 copies a year just to sell locally.

“I wanted to do a new edition,” he said recently. “Farcountry Press picked it up and did a super good job on it.”

The book is full of interesting tales of Glacier National Park and the Flathead Valley from the mid-20th century. Doris came to Montana to work in the lodges of Glacier National Park from Iowa in 1925 as a young widow. She lied about her age, as most of her workmates were much younger.

She would meet Dan Huffine, remarry and they spent their lives working in and around Glacier National Park and the Flathead Valley.

In 1928, for example, Dan was a ranger in Glacier Park and Doris lived with him in the Park.

Doris was such a fast hiker, that a local poet penned a verse on her.

“Oh Doris, Oh Doris, you’re a terror in speed,” he wrote.

She was a good cook, too. She used to cook for the survey crews working on the construction of the Going-to-the-Sun Road.

The black and white photos in the book are very good. One favorite is a picture of Doris with a pet beaver the couple raised called Willie.

Doris, wearing a dress, is cradling Willie in her arms, all 50-plus pounds of him. Willie often sunned himself on the back porch, but called the bathtub his home.

A host of wildlife came under the Huffine’s care over the years. They operated a store in Essex across the river from the Walton Ranger Station.

It was washed away in the flood of 1964. The Forest Service has a river access site there today.

The Huffines also had a museum and store across the road from what is now the Silver Bullet Bar on Highway 206.

Fraley and Doris were close.

“She was kind of a mother figure to me,” he said.

The softcover book is on sale both online and in local bookstores. It retails for $16.95.

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