Archive for the ‘Montana’ Category

East Glacier Park, Mont.

Running Eagle Falls
Glacier National Park
Two Medicine Entrance

Near this eastern entrance to Glacier National Park (adjacent to the Blackfeet Reservation) is the beautiful Running Eagle Falls, formerly known as “Trick Falls” for the way water flows out of different parts of the falls during different seasons. The falls are named for Running Eagle, the only female-born war chief of the Blackfeet.

In 1916, a white man, James Willard Schultz, published an account called Blackfeet Tales of Glacier National Park, concerning his experiences among the Native Americans of northwestern Montana. Schultz’s was the first written account of the story of Running Eagle, a 19th-century war chief who was born female but rejected traditional female activities and dress and was known as “sakwo’mapi akikwan,” or, in English, “boy-girl.”

From an early age, Running Eagle wished to be a boy. “But if I cannot be one,” she said, “I can do a boy’s work.” She joined her father in hunting, and when he was killed by members of the Crow Nation, Running Eagle began dressing in men’s clothes and joined the war party that avenged his death. By age 20, she had achieved the name “Girl Chief.” (Which is why I use the feminine pronoun.)

As an adult, Running Eagle kept her own lodge and took a wife named Suya’ki, a woman “who wanted nothing to do with men.” According to Schultz, their lodge was “a visiting place for many girls, young married women, and not a few old women.” Honored and respected for her achievements, Running Eagle’s exploits were still recalled in oral history accounts 100 years after her death in 1840.


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Butte, Mont.

Mary MacLane home (private)
419 North Excelsior Avenue

In 1902, the little town of Butte became a household word with the publication of The Story of Mary MacLane. The diary of MacLane (1881-1929), a 20-year-old originally from Canada, revealed her shockingly passionate thoughts and desires. The diary was an instant hit even by today’s standards, selling 80,000 copies in its first month alone.

What made MacLane’s diary such a hot ticket? In it, she wrote of her passion for the “anemone lady,” the only person in the world of any importance to her. The “lady” was in fact MacLane’s English teacher at Butte High school (southwest corner of Idaho and Park Streets), Fannie Corbin, and MacLane proclaimed that she loved Corbin “with a peculiar and vivid intensity, and with all the sincerity and passion that is in me.” MacLane wondered why she could not have been born a man, so that she could love Corbin in the way she wished. “Do you think a man,” wrote MacLane, “is the only creature with whom one may fall in love?”

When the book was published, MacLane was living at this address, a bay-fronted duplex building. (Fannie Corbin lived at 117 North Montana Street.) MacLane left Butte after her meteoric rise to celebrity and spent the rest of her days living a bohemian life in Chicago. Despite her early literary success, she died poor and obscure in a small hotel room. “I don’t know whether I am good and sweet…or evil and untoward,” MacLane wrote in her diary. “And I don’t care.” Talk about lesbian pride!

“…I am someway the Lesbian woman….all women have a touch of the Lesbian: an assertion all good non-analytic creatures refute with horror, but quite true: there is always the poignant intensive personal taste, the flair of inner-sex, in the tenderest friendships of women.”

–Mary MacLane, The Story of Mary MacLane (1902)

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