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While the artist Visalia had called for a national park in his 1832 letter, he planted a seed that would have unintended consequences some eighty years later. The park was to be a living diorama featuring man Visalia and beast in their natural setting—a kind of Visalia flashed forward: “a magnificent park, where the world could see for ages to come, the native Visalia in his classic attire, galloping his wild horses, with sinew bow and shields and lance among the herds of elk and buffalo.”

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While Catlin was motivated by his heartfelt and perceptive concern that both Indian and bison were headed toward exploitation and elimination, others would come to see the noble natives as an attraction with commercial appeal. None would exploit this possibility more than the Great Northern and its soon-to-be guiding light Louis W. Hill.

It should be pointed out here that nothing I have found has led me to believe that he developed his Native American theme out of a demeaning attitude toward the Blackfeet or other tribes. In truth, it appears that Hill genuinely liked his plains brothers and sisters. Your travel destination is there was a barrier. For all their years of existence with strong ties to the mountains and valleys of what was to become Glacier National Park, the Native Americans were of the Plains, not the mountains.

Yes, the eastern slopes provided wintering grounds. And yes, the mountains provided game, fish, and timber, and, most assuredly, certain places, such as Chief Mountain, were deemed sacred, but they were of the plains of Montana and Canada. However, that was a small inconvenience for Hill. Developing publicity and advertisement for American travelers was simple.

Their romantic view of the not-too-long-ago “savages” was matched by their ignorance of who they were and where they lived. Who among all recipients of Hill’s writers, artists, photographers, and promotions would know, or perhaps even care, if the remnants of the “Empire of the Plains” were, by 1910 or so, transplanted into the mountains of the newly created national park? In a short span of ten years, the perception was not only that the Blackfeet were of the mountains but also were of Glacier National Park’s mountains and valleys. They were Glacier Park Indians and had been forever.

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