Book of classic Glacier Park, North Fork tales is back on shelves

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A book of classic tales from William J. Yenne has been re-released with twice and many photos and more tales of adventure in the North Fork, Glacier National Park and other parts of the American West.

“Switchback, Fifty Years in Glacier and the West” has been re-worked by W.J.’s son, author William P. Yenne.

William J. Yenne was a legendary packer and storyteller, known for his quit wit and wry sense of humor.

Yenne knew Glacier inside and out — he was supervisor of trails (and later, roads as well) from 1948 to his retirement from the Park Service in 1969.

He grew up in Creston on a spread near Jessup Mill Pond. His family sold the property to the government on what is now the Creston Fish Hatchery.

An avid horseman growing up, Yenne started his career as a packer on what was then the Blackfeet National Forest in the North Fork of the Flathead.

The Blackfeet would be split in two forests — the Flathead and the Kootenai.

The book is tale after tale of adventure, mishap and pure fun along the way. You don’t ride thousands of miles of trails every year without seeing something, and Yenne’s adventures don’t disappoint.

For example, there was a grizzly bear that was feeding on a horse that died in the Red Eagle pastures in St. Mary.

The bear had buried the horse, save for one haunch, which it would gnaw on every once in awhile.

But this was no ordinary bear. It was, Yenne figured, a good 9 feet tall. He knew this because everytime he got close to the bear while on his trusty packhorse, the bear would stand up, lean on an aspen tree and give him the bad eye.

He went back to park headquarters and told his tale, but no one believed him — so Yenne took his naysayer colleagues over there and sure enough, the bear was still feeding on the horse. When they approached, the bear stood up.

Yep. Nine feet tall, they figured.

Perhaps the most humorous tale in the book is the one of a woman who took a rock from Glacier and then returned it after she found out it was illegal to remove items from the Park. We won’t ruin the story, but suffice it to say, it has a pleasant ending.

William P. Yenne grew up in park headquarters and recalled that his father was a master storyteller in person as well.

“He practiced them,” the younger Yenne, an accomplished author in his own right, said.

William P. Yenne is an award-winning author and has written more than three dozen titles.

He also accompanied his father on many trips in Glacier, often with Hungry Horse News editor and founder Mel Ruder.

The two men were good friends and the younger Yenne was often in pictures in the newspaper, perhaps most famously sitting next to Atlantic Falls in the Cut Bank drainage — a photo that would be tough to take today, as a large tree has fallen in the falls and promises to be there until it rots or is swept away — which could take decades.

In this edition, William P. Yenne has added more stories to the end of the book, transcribed from talks his father gave later in life. William J. Yenne worked in the woods for years after his retirement, packing for outfitters and guide in the Bob Marshall Wilderness and elsewhere.

He was saddling his own horse well into his 80s. He died in 1994.

The latest edition includes a great forward by George Ostrom from the 2010 edition, plus all the stories from the 1983 edition.

Published by Arcadia Publishing and History Press, the book should be available online and in bookstores in early June.

You can see more of William P. Yenne’s work at his website:

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