Glacier Centennial: The first ranger

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Hikers in the Northern Lewis Range area of Glacier National Park following the trail above Lake Elizabeth northeast along the Belly River are walking in a world once favored by the park’s first ranger Joe Cosley (1870-1944). To the west of Lake Elizabeth is Cosley Ridge (shown as Crossley on some maps), one of several landforms Cosley named after himself.

He wrote poetry and short stories, often wore a red sash, named nearby lakes after his lady friends, and carved initials and hearts on the sides of trees. Some say he was more poacher than ranger. As a trapper and guide, he knew the country well and was easily the last of the park’s true mountain men.

Appointed in 1910 by the park’s first administrator Major William R. Logan, Cosley served in the Belly River District. As C. W. Buchholtz writes in Man in Glacier, rangers were stationed around the periphery of the park: “These early rangers were directed to prevent poaching, illegal grazing, fires, ‘defacing of natural features,’ ‘obnoxious persons entering,’ and any other incongruous activities which might endanger the park.”

Of French, Spanish and Indian ancestry, the Ontario-born Cosley was known by the Indians Paeaushka for his long flowing hair. He served with distinction as a sharpshooter in France during World War I with the 13th Canadian Mounted Rifles.

When he returned to the Belly River area after the war, he no longer worked as a ranger, though it’s said that rangers on both sides of the US/Canadian border constantly sought him out on suspicion of smuggling. Where, many asked, was his cache of furs? He was ultimately caught and arrested when he was 60 years old by Glacier Ranger Joseph Heimes.

He was tried, fined and then escaped, purportedly heading on snowshoes through the mountains for the border. In 1944, he was found by the RCMP in his trapping cabin near Isle de la Crosse, Alberta, where he had died of scurvy.

Joe Cosley Collection

On July 24, a collection celebrating the life and legends of Joe Cosley will open in Glacier Discovery Square in Columbia Falls, Montana. The Hungry Horse News said in “Cosley collection bound for Columbia Falls,” Cosley was a true renaissance man of the late 1800s. He was both a lawman and an outlaw. The story of Cosley’s Great Escape — when he snowshoed over the top of Ahern Pass to escape capture by the law — is truly an astounding tale of intrigue, athleticism and adventure. Cosley represents an era in the West that was rough, rustic and ever-changing.

Re-dedication of Glacier National Park

The public is invited to the re-dedication ceremony for Glacier National Park at the Community Building, Glacier National Park, MT, on May 11 between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.

Set in Glacier, including Lake Elizabeth and the Belly River

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