Wednesday, July 17, 2024

Two Medicine Redux

| June 26, 2024 6:30 AM

Driver, why is this place we’re going to called Two Medicine? As a Glacier Park Lodge shuttle driver I am asked that question about once a day during the summer season, which means that over a summer  I get it asked a minimum of 120 times.

 It is not an unreasonable question as the name Two Medicine is all over the east side of Glacier ... lakes, river, valley, a former ranger station, etc. In all honesty I wonder if a definite answer can be given for that question.  

According to “Place Names of Glacier National Park” there were two Blackfeet medicine lodges located in the area either on the bank of the river or on the shore of one of the named lakes. However, I can state that there once was a Two Medicine ranger station and I know this because I lived in it for four wonderful summers from 1966-1969. 

Like my boyhood home in Oklahoma one would be hard pressed to know it was even there, but more about that later.  I first saw the Two Medicine area in the early fall of 1964 when I stopped there briefly while on my way to the East Glacier train station. As can be in that valley it was windy and storming that day and my views were pretty much obstructed by the weather. Even covered with clouds and rain and embraced by a howling wind I could still see that it was beautiful beyond words. Little did I know that I would return two summers later to begin my four-year residency as a summer park ranger there.

  In 1965 at the end of my first summer as a seasonal ranger I was asked what type of ranger work did I want to do the coming year and where did I want to do it? I quickly spoke up and said I wished to do something other than fee collection, but that I wished to remain working out of the St. Mary area. Over the winter the NPS reviewed my past employment and assigned me the coming year to be the fee collection supervisor at Two Medicine…so much for adhering to my wishes. However, I would work as the NPS wished and go where they sent me and Two Medicine it would be. Unlike West Glacier and Many Glacier the Two Medicine area was relatively undeveloped. There was no lodging, no restaurants and only an eight mile road in and out of the place. However, it did have a ranger station, a very old ranger station and one with no electricity, cold running water, and Coleman gas lanterns for light. It was also four miles from the lake and camp store. It was quite primitive to say the least. Fortunately I was not alone, but had the company of a couple of other rangers and a pack of rowdy trail crew members. I quickly realized that being a Boy Scout in my younger days might come in handy as this was going to be a summer of rough living. 

At least the ranger station had indoor plumbing…to a point. Back in those days the NPS had very strict grooming and dressing standards…Class A uniforms with ties, shiny shoes, and no beards or any kind of facial hair. Regardless of the circumstances one had to look sharp…or else. 

At least I knew how to use an iron, assuming I could find electricity to power it. I eventually ended up ironing my clothes using the generator power for the entrance station. Where there is a will there is a way. So for the next four summers I toiled away as a seasonal ranger in the Two Medicine valley and grew to love just about every minute of it. Back in the 1960s Two Medicine was a hidden gem in the Park and not nearly as busy as the more developed Park areas, and certainly not as busy as it is now.

 It was fun to be a ranger in an area with not too many visitors and virtually no crime to speak of. One could freely mingle with the visitors and only mildly correct their errant behaviors if they picked the flowers and left food containers out. In four seasons I can only remember issuing a handful of citations. This was a time before bear fatalities and real crime came to the Park. Two Medicine was truly a hidden gem of the Park. In 1966 and 1967 I was a single male having the time of my life, at least in the summer, and getting paid to do it.

 The last two summers 1968-1969 I came back to work with a newly acquired bride and had to mellow out a bit…not totally, mind you, but a little bit. My bride and I had two wonderful summers living quite rustically and cooking on a six burner cast iron cook stove. Well, nothing lasts forever and the Two Medicine ranger station was no exception. It seems the NPS had decided to do away with the old place and relocate me and the trail crew to more “modern” living quarters in East Glacier. My primitive living days were over…with one exception. My wife and I ended up joining the Peace Corps in Ecuador and once again got to live a little primitively. The four summers at Two Medicine helped prepare us for that. The Two Medicine ranger station was eventually torn down in the summer of 1970, as were all the structures around it. I managed to go through the rubble and pick out a few mementoes: namely some spikes used to hold the logs together and an old entrance pass dated 1926. Strangely enough the NPS built a replica of a similar ranger station at St. Mary around the time of the 1976 bicentennial. I felt that they should have used the one that they had. Well, 50-plus years later it is virtually impossible to even know there was even a ranger station in the area as the site has pretty much returned to nature. I have a few faded pictures of the site and of course my memories. For the curious one might be able to find more information about the old ranger station in the Park archives at West Glacier… and in the Glacier-themed movie, Dangerous Assignment, one can catch a glimpse of the old ranger station where it makes a brief appearance as a schoolhouse.

Chris Ashby

East Glacier