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Lieutenant George Patrick Ahern
and Glacier National Park


The Ahern Glacier can be seen from the Ptarmigan Tunnel Trail in Glacier National Park in Montana. The glacier, as well as Ahern Pass and Ahern Peak, were named by Lieutenant George Patrick Ahern who led an 1890 expedition to explore the area.
"To the first visitors of the upper reaches of what is today known as the McDonald Valley, Heaven's Peak must have been an awesome, mysterious sight. It certainly was a surprise to the members of Lieutenant George Ahern's 1890 expedition.

Approaching from the west, the jagged, razor-edged wall, now known as the Garden Wall was the dominant feature. At the point where they must have thought that they would be stopped by the Divide, the landscape suddenly opened up, revealing a much different mountain. Where they had been surrounded by peaks with narrow bases and steep cliffs leading up to narrow razor-ridges, they suddenly found themselves looking back across an open (though heavily vegetated) valley at a peak with a broad base, crowned in snow. It was not until they had moved well past Heaven's Peak that they became aware of its broad, snow-capped form. It was so different from what they had been seeing.

These explorers were certainly not the first people to see the mountain, but one of the members of that expedition, a prospector named Dutch Louie Meyer is credited with giving the mountain its name. This same peak was called "Red Bird" by the Kootenai, and "Where God Lives" by the Blackfeet. The members of this expedition, shared a common feeling that there was a mystical, mysterious quality to the area.

To all of those earlier explorers, this was a place of magical beauty. One must be cautious in such situations. Where there is great beauty, there is also the potential for malevolence and desolation. The deeper the magic, the greater the potential for terror."

Firestorm! - The Story of the Heaven's Peak Fire of 1936 by Rolf L. Larson


Taken from Ahern Pass, the Ahern Glacier can be seen in the top left corner of this picture with Helen Lake below.


Everything wet (which was  . . .  everything) froze in the night. But, the morning brought clear skies. The sun was taking over, and slowly, it marched down our shaded mountain valley. I shivered as the heat got closer — 100 yards, 50 yards  . . .  I couldn't wait, and ran into the light. I stood on a rock and basked like a lizard. We spent the next few hours drying our possessions in the ever-warming sun.

Glacier was alive in the sun. The trail continued its mountainside traverse above the trees, snowy peaks rose from our feet to the horizon, and all places in-between. Giant waterfalls, hundreds of feet high, poured off mountainsides miles away - vertical white lines interrupting the green and grey carpet. We quickly arrived at the Ahern Drift.

Ahern Drift Area

“The Drift,” we had been warned, was one thing that could put a crimp on our blissful little romp through Glacier. The Drift was formed by snow that slid off a high north-facing slope. At the bottom, it formed an enormous pile of ice that rarely, if ever, melted. The trail was routed straight across it. There wasn't a good way to go around the drift either—it would mean miles of steep boulders and thick virgin forest. During the height of the summer, the park service actually shoveled out a path through the drift, but we were there before anyone that year, the drift was solid and untouched. We started across, at first able to sink our feet into the soft snow, then able to kick steps with a little more effort. As the slope got steep and icy, we had to chop steps with our ice-axes—chop out a level footprint, move your foot, chop out another, and so on... all the time keeping a good sense of balance and awareness. A slip would mean a steep slide down to some boulders hundreds of feet below. An ice axe might be able to brake a fall, but it was better not to fall in the first place. The last 15 yards of the drift were the stiffest and steepest—about a 60 degree slope. Then, we made it to solid ground. Looking back, we thought, that's it? Sure the drift was a little challenging, and we did need our ice axes, but, it didn't live up to the hype. As with so many things, the challenge was relative—compared to a walk to the K-mart, impossible—in the scope of a 2800 mile hike, it was a side-note.

Ahern Drift

Photos and Trail Journal of Jonathan Ley.



Cadet George Patrick Ahern, 1882
Place Names of Glacier/
Waterton National Parks

by Jack Halterman
Glacier Natural History Association
Ahern Creek, Glacier, Pass and Peak are named for Lt. George Ahern, who conducted what must have been the most extensive (and intensive) of the early explorations of the Glacier Park country. Born in 1859 of parents who had come from Ireland, he grew up in the rough-tough streets of East Side Manhattan, yet somehow he made it to both Yale and West Point. At the Academy he was admitted in 1878 and graduated in '82, the lowest in his class of 37. He had the typical Irish good looks, red hair and sprightly good humor, and his Army nickname was Patsy — a strange name for a slum kid.
He had some role in the Sioux wars and served as secretary for Sitting Bull. While he was stationed at Fort Shaw, Montana, he made two of three ventures toward and into the area of modern Glacier Park, leading black infantrymen in the quest for a pass over the Continental Divide in 1888, perhaps in 1889, and again in 1890. In these years he married Jean Gill (see Jean).

In August of '90 Ahern and a few black troopers of the 25th Infantry were accompanied by G. E. [Garry Eugene] Culver, a naturalist from the University of Wisconsin, and other civilians — a packer Indian guides and prospectors (with both Louis Meyer and Joe Cosley probably among them). They explored Cut Bank Creek, Milk River (or Hudson's Bay) Ridge, and Swiftcurrent Creek. With selected companions, Ahern made at least three side-trips to the Continental Divide. From the Canadian line they turned, came up Belly River, had a friendly meeting with some Stoney Indians, and finally crossed the forbidding Ahern Pass — a route fit only for "a crazy man". Then followed another side-trip into the Waterton country, then one to Lake McDonald, Camas Creek, the North Fork, and the Flathead Valley. Presumably, there was a rendezvouz at Demersville with another group of the 25th Infantry.

Although still in the Army, Ahern acquired a deep interest in forestry and conservation, made lecture tours through Montana, helped create the Fish, Game, and Forestry Commission, and taught pioneering classes in forestry at the College of Agriculture in Bozeman. With his friend Gifford Pinchot, he explored the Bitterroot and Clearwater wilderness in 1895, helping to form this area into a national forest. Though encouraged by Pinchot, he was checkmated by the powerful mining and timber corporations, particularly by Senator Carter (see Carter). He denounced the greed with which the corporations were "gutting the mountains".

In 1898 Ahern landed troops under fire at Tayabacao, Cuba, and for this exploit was eventually cited for gallantry in action. Transferred to the Philippines, he was appointed by Pinchot as head of the Philippine Bureau of Forestry, a post he held for fourteen years. On Bataan Peninsula he established the Philippine Forest School. From Manila he and Pinchot set out on a cruise of 2000 miles among the islands to make a study of forests, then extended their cruise to Nagasaki and Yokohama, Japan.

Retiring in 1906, Ahern returned to active duty in 1916, serving in the War College in Washington and at the Veteran's Bureau. He retired again as a Lt. Colonel in 1930, died in Washington, D. C. at the age of 82, and is interred at Arlington. A remarkably kind and courageous man, he left a record of service hardly equaled by anyone else mentioned in these pages.

Ahern Pass has long been known as one of the most dangerous in Glacier Park, but it was used by surveyor Sargent and packer Frank Valentine, and Joe Cosley made it a favorite escape route into his Belly River refuge. Once Joe's two horses slipped on the ice of the pass and hurtled a thousand feet into the abyss. The Blood Indian name for the pass is Saóix ozitamisohpi(iaw): The warriors where they go up (or West). The name for the glacier is Sisukkokutui: Spotted Ice. (See Old Sun, Caribou, Cosley, Dutch, Jean, Carter, Pinchot, Valentine.)

George Ahern's wife, Jean Gill Ahern, for whom he had once named the lake now called Elizabeth, survived her husband by several years. Since he was interred in Arlington Cemetery on 15 March 1942, she was interred there in 1948.

"Again, in 1890, another army detachment, under Lieutenant George P. Ahern, then stationed at Fort Shaw, was ordered to explore the mountains along the Canadian border. The party consisted of Ahern, a detachment of negro soldiers from the 25th Infantry, Professor G. E. [Garry Eugene] Culver of the University of Wisconsin, two experienced mountaineers (packer and guide respectively), two prospectors, two Indian guides, and the pack train. The party left Fort Shaw on August 5, crossed the prairies, and finally reached the foot of the mountains near Cut Bank Creek. From there they went north to the International Boundary, thence up the Belly River toward the pass that later was named for Lieutenant Ahern.

Upon reaching this pass, the entire party worked for two days making a trail from the foot of the talus slope to the summit, completing the first of two known successful trips with pack stock over present Ahern Pass. (The second trip was by R. H. Sargent of the U. S. Geological Survey, in 1913.) Because the western slope of the pass was heavily timbered, they had difficulty cutting their way through; nor was this helped by the fact that most of the trip was accomplished in pouring rain.

Upon reaching McDonald Creek the Ahern party turned up the creek for some distance, then crossed over into Camas Creek Valley, probably in the vicinity of the present Heaven's Peak Lookout Trail. From there they traveled down Camas Creek (which he calls "Mud Creek" on his map) to the valley of the North Fork of the Flathead River, where they swung back toward Lake McDonald, presumably about the route of the present North Fork Truck Trail, and proceeded down the Flathead River to the Flathead Valley.

On this journey, side trips were made up Cut Bank Creek to the summit; up Swiftcurrent Valley or St. Mary Valley (the records are not clear on this), to the summit; and over the divide from McDonald Creek into the headwaters of the Waterton Valley. The complaints of some present-day "dude" parties about bad trail conditions seem silly in the face of the difficulties faced by these men who had to cut a route through a virgin forest and in many instances built trail to get their stock through. To fully appreciate this, one would have to attempt taking loaded pack stock cross-country from Ahern Pass to Camas Creek today — a feat that modern packers would term practically impossible!"

Montana: The Magazine of Western History July 1957

Retired Major Describes Military Exploration in Rocky Mountains
Vast Region South of Glacier Park Is Mapped in Eighties

Army Officer Tells of Hunter's Paradise as Found on His Several Trips;
Section a Rendezvous for Bandits, Indians
Wilderness Visited by Major Ahern; He Writes for Tribune
Jim Hannon, Rugged Mountaineer and Trapper, Guided Young Lieutenant,
Made Possible Success of Mission in Short Time
   Note — The following article is a vivid description of a vast unexplored wilderness in the Rocky mountains of Montana as found by Maj. George P. Ahern, U. S. A., retired, when he made trips into a territory of some 10,000 square miles to obtain data for military records on assignments of the adjutant general at St. Paul and the post commander at Fort Shaw in 1888, 1889, and 1890. Major Ahern, now a resident of Washington, D. C., was a second lieutenant with the 25th infantry at Fort Shaw. He has spent much time lately in writing on forestry conservation. “Deforested America,” by Major Ahern was printed in 1929, and a work that has required the last two years, “Forest Bankruptcy in America—Each State's Own Story,” has just been completed and, it is expected, will be printed soon. The following story on his explorations was sent to The Tribune for exclusive publication by Major Ahern and is entitled “Montana's Last Exploration.”
EIGHTY-ODD years after Lewis and Clark blazed a trail across the great northwest territory, the last large block of unmapped land was explored in Montana and it was my good fortune to have that adventurous task assigned to me. Some 10,000 square miles of the Rockies, extending from the Lewis and Clark trail to the Canadian boundary, were in 1888, terra incognita to authorities governing the country.
   Montana had been, even prior to the Lewis and Clark visit of 1805, the scene of many thrilling adventures. It was, indeed, the greatest of all hunting grounds, drawing Indians and trappers from the Pacific coast, from the Dakotas and territory to the south. The most picturesque figures playing in this great drama were the “couriers de bois,” “men of the north,” who were gallant French voyagers, trappers and explorers, who penetrated the country as early as 1743, when Chevalier de la Verendrye reached Montana while looking for an available route to the Pacific. He had come from a Canadian headquarters as Lake of the Woods. These brave men hailed the Indians as brothers, were well received and, in some cases, joined the tribes. The American trapper or prospector from the south and east was more aloof and independent, with a lack of cordiality—an attitude that was not understood by the Indians.
   The Blackfeet, the great Indian warriors of western Montana, undertook to maintain their hunting grounds for themselves and in doing so had clashes with the Nez Perces and Flathead Indians from west of the main divide, as well as with Indians and whites from the east and south.
Much Wild Game
   Buffaloes in the dense herds roamed the plains, and antelopes, deer, wolves and coyotes added to the hunter's bag. In the Rockies the mighty grizzly reigned supreme, and with him were the cinnamon, brown and black bears, as well as elk and moose, big-horned sheep and goats, mountain lions and huge timber wolves, not to mention beavers and otters, mountain grouse, salmon and trout—a hunters paradise.
   The period from Verendrye's time to long after the Lewis and Clark visit was one of romance and adventure. A typical episode, in fact an epic tale, is the story of a band of Iroquois Indians journeying from the lower St. Lawrence to western Montana, arriving early in the 19th century. It took this small band a couple of years to cross several thousand miles of unknown territory, and they were opposed by hostile Indians, blizzards and raging torrents, finally reaching the land of the Flatheads, where they settled in peace and harmony. What tales of heroism, loyalty, privation and endurance a Fenimore Cooper could have gleaned from such a band!
   Another thrilling epic is the story of efforts of the leader of this small band to get missionaries for the Flathead Indians. He had told them of the “black robes” on the lower St. Lawrence and fired the western Indians with the desire for their services. The story of three expeditions on this quest to St. Louis and the success only after years of hardship on the trail and loss of life is intensely dramatic.
   In the eighties, when I was stationed at Fort Shaw on Sun river, the Indians still hunted, fished and roamed, more or less under supervision, over the country. Raiding other Indian tribes and white settlements was just going out of fashion.
Urges Exploration
   Early settlers, prospectors and trappers had seen an empire rise out of the wilderness. Gold, discovered but 25 years earlier, had given a great impetus to the country's development. The snow line covering the Rockies, some 50-odd miles distant, could be seen from our little frontier fort even at night, so clear was the air, and it was hard to realize that at that time about 10,000 square miles of these mountains were indicated by a blank space on the map.
   Discussing this matter during the summer of 1888 with the adjutant general of the military department at St. Paul, he informed me that concern was felt at headquarters that such a large area was still unknown. Unquestionably it formed the perfect hiding place for bandits, deserters, Indians and others evading justice, for nothing was known at headquarters of trails and passes over the mountains. One trail over Cut Bank pass had been mapped in 1885 by Lieutenant (now brigadier general, retired) Biddle and Lieut. R. G. Hill, 20th infantry, who made a reconnaissance from Fort Shaw to Jocko agency, but the rest of the region from Lewis and Clark pass to the Canadian boundary was unknown.
   The unexplored area mentioned began near Lewis and Clark pass, some 50 miles southwest of Fort Shaw, and extended about 150 miles to the north. The average width of the area was from 60 to 70 miles. Approximately 30 miles south of the Canadian boundary the main range of the Rockies bears a few more degrees to the west from its general trend of north, slightly west through the state, and here in the extreme north is where there are, especially on slopes with northern exposures, a number of glaciers, two or more miles in width at the base, with milk-white streams flowing from them. This last mentioned region now forms the northern part of Glacier park and is sometimes called the “Switzerland of America.” For seven or eight years preceding my visit, this section had been visited by George Bird Grinnell of New York.
90 Percent Forested
   The Mission range, in the southwestern part of the country explored, extends from just east of Flathead lake to the south, parallel to the main range and 30-odd miles west. The Blackfoot ridge, at the southern end of the newly mapped territory, extends from the Mission range to the main range of the Rockies.
   Forests covered more than 90 percent of the entire area, the agricultural land being confined to comparatively small sections of bottom land. The country as a whole is more valuable for forest than for agricultural purposes, and it is, therefore, fortunate that a large part of it is covered by a national forest and a national park. Principal tree species found were western yellow pine, larch, western white pine, fir hemlock, lodgepole pine and cedar. Cottonwoods were confined to bottom lands. Stands of timber averaged from 10,000 to 20,000 feet an acre. Forest fires and lumbermen, even at that time, were causing enough destruction to awaken my interest in forestry matters, which has been retained to the present day.
   I asked the adjutant general at St. Paul to take up with the commanding officer at Fort Shaw the matter of having the region explored. I explained to him that exploring trips would be discouraged by the post commander, due to his solicitude for the few government mules, our sole means of transportation. In fact, all travel, all deliveries of supplies, even to water for domestic use, depended upon the post's mules, a serious matter for a small garrison many miles from the nearest railroad station.
Order Is Received
   The letter of instructions from department headquarters to the post commander, however, was sufficiently explicit to pry loose for field work four mules. These post pets, which fed bountifully and regularly each day on oats and timothy hay, found life quite different in the rough, pathless Rockies, where the only forage at times consisted of shrubs and bark. Oats and hay were but a memory. On emerging from the mountains after some 700 miles of hard mountain work on one trip, we camped in a field of the finest buffalo grass, but to our surprise and amusement the mules scorned this fodder and ran bawling to a nearby haystack protected by a barbed wire fence and demanded hay.
   Shortly after returning to my post the following order was issued:

“Orders No. 99
Fort Shaw, M. T.,          
Sept. 20. 1888.      
   “In compliance with letter of instructions from department headquarters, Lieut. George P. Ahern, 25th infantry, with four enlisted men as escort, will proceed tomorrow, the 21st inst., to the headwaters of the North Fork of Sun River to ascertain of there is a practicable pass through the mountain range at or near this point. Upon completion of this duty, Lieutenant Ahern will make a written report to this office, accompanied by a topographical map of the country passed over. The quartermaster department will furnish the necessary transportation, etc.
   “By order of Lieut. Col. Van Horn.
EDWIN F. GLENN,          
“1st Lieut. 25th Inf., Post Adjutant.”

   This is typical of some five other orders received during 1888, 1889, and 1890, varied by instructions as to the region to be visited and allowing me, at times at my urgent request, to go without soldier escort.
Engages Jim Hannon
   In my first exploration I met Jim Hannon, a prospector and trapper who roamed the mountains drained by the various upper waters of Sun river and the Flathead. Hannon prospected for gold and maintained himself by hunting. Every few months he would return to the settlements with his five pack horses loaded with furs of beaver, otter, mountain lion, bear, elk, moose and goats. He would exchange pelts for food and other supplies.
   We arranged a partnership for exploration. I offered to supply the food and pack mules and he would assist in supplying game and in finding practicable routes over the unknown mountains. Hannon liked the idea of prospecting in new territory. The trails found were those made by game, as the few Indians and white men entering the country were not, as a rule, sufficient to leave lasting traces of their presence. Game trails were utilized where possible, but it was when none were available that Jim Hannon's woodcraft and uncanny knowledge of mountain travel helped us to cut through to the next game or Indian trail.
   For such hazardous travel in very rough country, light and compact packs were necessary. The Arapejo pack saddle was considered too wide and the sawbuck saddle was preferable, especially in working through dense lodgepole pine. Each pack was light in weight and very compact to enable the pack mule to negotiate steep and dangerous rock slides and ledges. The mule is surprisingly agile and clever in getting through difficulty country, losing his head only on swampy ground. At one point our progress was halted; it was either take the back track or descend for 1,000 feet an exceedingly steep slope that would make an Alpine expert hesitate if he had no rope or other equipment. Jim Hannon looked the ground over and said:
   “We might make it, but how about the mules?”
   I replied:
   “Jim, you are going to learn something about mules. Take a short hold on your riding mule's halter and follow me.”
   My riding mule, registered in the quartermaster's record as Stonewall Jackson, 19 ¾ years old, wise, cautious and surefooted, looked long and seriously at the slope. I patted him and in a tone of confidence said:
   “It's all right, come on.”
   He bunched his four feet together and, sitting on his haunches, edged his way behind me. It was slow work, as I had to steady myself by clinging to shrubs, bunchgrass and projecting rocks with one hand and guiding Stonewall with the other. The two pack mules followed. We reached the bottom safely. When so far from home and in a wild country nothing can separate the oldtime pals of a quartermaster's corral. Dan, my lead pack mule, was at that time 24 years of age, having had 20 years of army service.
   At this point, it may be interesting to state why so few signs of Indian travel in the high mountains were in evidence. Some say Indians are afraid of “bad spirits” in the mountains but I believe the fierce grizzly bear furnishes the bad spirit. I had traveled and hunted with Cross Gun, son of the Blackfeet chief, but could not prevail upon him to enter the high mountains. He said he was afraid of the big bear, meaning the grizzly. Investigation will find that the Indians use, as a rule, the broad, well traveled mountain passes. The Stony Indians of the far north in Canada, are an exception—more of them later.
   Our packs contained only essentials, the minimum of cooking utensils. There was a frying pan, coffee pot and one kettle and the army tin cup, knife, fork and spoon and the meat ration can. No such luxury as a pillow was carried; a saddle sufficed. We had tea, coffee, flour and a little bacon, but no canned goods. As a rule we traveled without tent. No forage was taken for the animals. When we decided to stop for the night, packs were unloaded and mules hobbled and turned loose.
   Hannon and I divided the work. I looked after the mules and the water. Hannon took charge of the supplies and the cooking. Not having a tent, we spread blankets near the fire and when snow fell we tucked our rifles and other precious belongings under our blankets, as a heavy fall might hide articles not in the packs. At crack of dawn and often before I brought in the mules and soon breakfast was served. When packing I had my place on the mules' offside and it took but a few moments to fasten our small compact packs by the diamond hitch.
Goat's Desperate Leap
   Instrument equipment consisted of a prismatic compass, a cylindrical thermometer, three aneroid barometers and a watch. Distances were reckoned by pacing man or horse. Barometers were read every few miles.
   We usually traveled until a fair stopping place appeared about 3 or 4 p.m. It was not deemed wise to take a chance on finding a suitable place to stop for the night after that hour because we might get caught on a rock slide or other inhospitable place.
   Game was abundant. Elk, moose, deer and mountain grouse were ever at hand, not to mention bears, mountain lions, timber wolves, beavers and otters. Rivers abounded in trout and whitefish. It was not necessary to take time off for hunting or fishing. The time taken to kill and prepare the game was ample for rest and change of interest during a day's march. Pages could be filled with such stories. Jim Hannon got 11 bear on the last trip; my bag included 5. He made moccasins from moose hide. One season we specialized in yearling elk for meat.
   Never shall I forget the desperate leap of a Rocky Mountain goat facing me on a narrow rocky ledge as I was crossing the main divide. His only escape was to plunge to a rock slide 40 feet below. An instant's hesitation and he jumped, landing successfully on his rubber cushioned feet. It was, for him, liberty or death. The shock of the fall required a second or two for him to recover before he could make the next jump. It was just long enough for me to get a good aim, but as my finger pressed on the trigger a flash of appreciation of the goat's grit forced me to put down my rifle and watch his getaway with keen enjoyment.
   On one exploring trip over Cut Bank pass, with my horse as sole companion, several mountain lions, evidently attracted by my little fire, came close to us in the night and gave forth a few unearthly howls. I awoke to find my horse standing over me and trembling. As I made no move to get up, he took my sleeping blanket in his teeth and shook it, evidently anxious to move camp. I sat up, patted him and said:
   “It's all right, old boy; I'll take care of you.”
Horse Crushes Leg
   His dependence on me in this situation was quite touching. He became quiet but remained close to me for the rest of the night. Owing to the deep snow, I had made my bed on the trail where passing game had made some depression. I was probably interfering with traffic and thus aroused howls of protest. Even in civilized centers similar protests arise, but not quite as bloodcurdling.
   The same horse during an exploration earlier in the year fell on me while crossing a stream filled with large boulders. My leg was so crushed in the fall that it was all I could do to cling to the saddle until the crossing was made. I then fell to the ground and remained disabled almost 24 hours. I had sent the train and party ahead. The party found me the next morning and took me to their stopping place. The horse remained close to me during the entire time. It was near the main divide and big game was abundant, but I was not disturbed.
   Two of the three expeditions in 1889 covered the territory drained by the upper waters of the North and South Forks of Sun river and the various branches of upper Flathead river. New Moon and Lewis and Clark passes were covered on these two trips. During the last exploration in 1889 Jim Hannon and I were caught in two blizzards and were reported in the newspapers as lost. We simply sought a protected spot and waited for the storm to blow over. This happened during the second week in November of 1889.
   Snow begins to fall in the northern Rockies early in September and by November traveling in the mountains is slow and hazardous. Fortunately, I had anticipated such difficulties and had copied and taken with me notes describing Lewis and Clark pass. The description of the country was sufficiently detailed and accurate to enable me to travel safely.
   Upon my return to the post the commanding officer informed me that hereafter a soldier escort would accompany me. He did not realize how much that added to difficulties. At this point may I add the following note?
   Marias pass, southeast of Cut Bank pass had been used by Flathead and Blackfeet Indians for many years. Lewis and Clark had heard of the pass, but its location was not definitely known at military headquarters in 1888. I heard of the pass from various sources in 1889 and 1890. I had been in the vicinity of the pass during my work along branches of Flathead river, but as I can find but one of my six exploration reports, I am unable to state anything more definite.
   Jim Hannon and I crossed the main divide south of Marias pass about Nov. 15, 1889. My report on this trip, dated Dec. 8, 1889, was just three days before John F. Stevens, employed by the Great Northern railway, stood at the summit of Marias pass. He brought back topographical notes and was the first person to definitely locate that pass.
   A third trip in this year was made alone over Cut Bank pass. Our garrison had made a march of more than 100 miles from Fort Shaw to the entrance to the pass. The commanding officer had promised me that I could use the period to be spent in camp at this place for a trip over the pass and that the civilian scout with the command could accompany me. When we were ready to start over the pass, the colonel said we both could not go, as a heavy snow had fallen, we were 40 miles from the nearest road and we were the only men who knew the way back. If anything happened to us, the command might meet difficulties in locating the homeward trail.
   He offered me a soldier escort but I declined, as the heavy snow had added much to difficulties of the trip and I did not wish to be hampered by soldiers who were not experienced in mountain work. This trip, a strenuous and hazardous one, due to deep snow, took me over the pass to Middle Fork of Flathead river. At the summit of the pass, although it was a bright, sunny day in August, my fingers were so stiff from the cold wind that I was unable to make a note until I had dropped down the trail a few thousand feet. While standing at the summit one foot rested in snow that drains into the Atlantic, the other foot rested on the Pacific slope, and just ahead of me was the head of St. Mary's river that flows into the Hudson bay.
Sent to Flathead
   Due to the deep snow and my lack of knowledge of the country, it was difficult at times to follow the trail. Along a particularly difficent [sic] place I was aided by fresh bear tracks. It was evident to me that the bear was proceeding leisurely, as we met large fallen trees lying across the trail and footprints of the bear's forefeet were evenly outlined and not another bit of snow was disturbed as he vaulted over the logs. We did not meet the bear. If we had, the chances are he would have taken one look and moved away. All big game are wont to leave if not menaced or wounded.
   The summer field work with the troops detained us from further exploration work until early in August of 1890. Aug. 6 orders directed me to examine the country in the Flathead river region. Three enlisted men were sent as an escort. An escort wagon accompanied me as far as Cut Bank creek. Transportation for mountain work consisted of three riding horses, three riding mules and four pack mules. The escort wagon gave our supplies a lift of more than 100 miles and enabled our party to reach the St. Mary's lake country and begin our mountain work in a few days.
   We visited the upper St. Mary's region, the pass at Upper Swift Current creek, and then moved to the Canadian boundary, where, from a boundary monument, a sight was taken due west so as to make certain that our party would keep within United States territory. Belly river, flowing due north, was struck a short distance to the west. That was followed to its headwaters, some 10 or 12 miles south.
Ahern Pass Discovered
   At this point packs were unloaded and mules turned out for two days, during which time approaches to the main divide were looked over for a possible crossing. A small band of Stony Indians from the far north in Canada were hunting in the region. I made friends with their leader and loaned him my Winchester rifle, which he admired. In discussing possibility of crossing the main divide, he pointed to a glacier west some 2,000 feet above our camp, and said he had crossed the divide south of the glacier.
   Hannon and I accompanied the Indians to the point designated and found the pass practicable if about a dozen steps could be cut on an inclined rocky ledge close to the glacier. We cut the steps and on the third day of our stay at this place crossed the pass. The ledge was too narrow to permit animals to turn back and a drop of almost 2,000 feet on the lower side made the passage one of anxiety, fearing that one of our animals would become frightened, stop in the trail and in the jam endanger the pack train. The trip was made safely. We camped that night, Aug. 22, 1890, by headwaters of a branch of McDonald creek on the Pacific slope.
   From this point we traveled to the foot of MacDonald lake and then to the vicinity of Swan lake. Our route continued up Big Fork of the Flathead and over the Blackfoot divide to the head of the Clearwater branch of the Big Blackfoot river. We visited the Jocko Indian agency to confer with the agent and Indian hunters concerning the country over which we proposed traveling. We then struck east and found a practicable route over Priest pass to a branch of South Fork of Sun river and finally arrived at Fort Shaw, completing an itinerary of 705 miles in 57 days of travel, with men and animals in good condition.
   The reconnaissance maps made during the trips were compiled by me at St. Paul in the winter of 1890-91 and later incorporated in the Department of Dakota map of 1891, thus completing another of the many tasks assigned to the army as an advance guard in settlement and development of the western frontier.
Great Falls Tribune 26 April 1931


Notes on a Little Known Region of Northwestern Montana

by Garry Eugene Culver

INTRODUCTORY.

    The party.—In August, 1890, a small party of soldiers under the command of Lieut. George P. Ahern, of the Twenty-fifth infantry, was sent to explore the mountainous region in northwestern Montana. The party as finally made up consisted of two mountaineers, packer and guide respectively, two prospectors eager to take advantage of a new route to possible gold fields, two Indian guides, a squad of soldiers, black as ebony, the commanding officer, and the writer. All were mounted and well armed. Thirty days' rations were carried. It was supposed we would reach an outpost on the west side of the range in a month, to which point another thirty day's supply was sent. Owing to the assistance of various hungry natives and the keenness of mountain appetites our rations lasted but twenty days. Game of all kind was abundant, but the noise; made by the passage of such a party prevented very frequent additions to our larder from this source. A few ducks, grouse, and ptarmigan paid our "cook-house" a visit, as did numerous fine trout. Of large game, we secured one bighorn, and sixteen mountain goats. The young of the latter are very fine eating; the old bucks taste of musk.
    The region covered by the route lies between the 49th parallel on the north and the 47th on the south, and between 112° 30' and 114° 30' west. It is divided naturally into the following regions: 1. The western border of the plains, a strip 40 by 130 miles. 2. The narrow belt of foot-hills, four to twenty miles wide skirting the range. 3. The main range of the Rocky mountains, and 4. The Great Flathead valley with its tributaries. In the eastern portion of this region, well toward the national boundary, the Piegan and Blackfeet Indian reservations are located. In the southwestern portion is the Flathead Indian reservation, extending from Flathead lake down to the Northern Pacific railroad. With the exception of these agencies lying on the outer border of the region it is wholly uninhabited, and, so far as could be learned, almost wholly unexplored.
    Object of the journey.—The object of the expedition was to find, if possible, a pass over the main range farther north than any then known, to map the course of the streams and the principal Indian trails. As such a trip might offer some opportunity for geological observation I accepted Lieut. Ahern's invitation to join him.
    Region traversed.—We left Fort Shaw, Montana, on the morning of August 5th. Our route for the first ninety miles was over a rolling prairie, somewhat west of north, but gradually swinging more to the west, until at the end of the fourth day we went into camp in the foot-hills close up to the base of the main range on the Cut Bank Creek, thirty-five miles from the boundary. A fairly good wagon trail leads to this point, and our supplies had been so far transported by wagon. They were now transferred to the pack-mules, who entered a vigorous protest against this return to more primitive methods.
   Our course from the Cut Bank was nearly north to the national boundary, which we touched first in longitude 113° 30' west. From this point we moved westerly to the valley of the Belly River, crossing the main range at the head of that stream about fifteen miles south of the boundary, in longitude 113° 40'. From the new pass we descended by the way of Mud Creek into the valley of the North Fork of Flathead river, our course being very crooked, but averaging about southwest by south. Our farthest west, 114° 45', was reached near the 48th parallel, at which point I left the party, returning home by the way of Flathead lake and south to the Northern Pacific railroad; We were eight days on the plains and twenty-two days in the mountains. Side trips were made as follows: Up the Cut Bank to the summit of the main range, where there is an easy pass at an elevation of 7,800 feet; up the Swift Current from the foot of St. Mary's lakes also to the summit, but a vertical descent on the western side, of many hundred feet barred further progress there. Another trip was made over the divide between MacDonald's Creek and the head waters of the East Kootanie to Glacier Creek. The whole distance traveled in saddle or on foot was estimated at 370 miles.
PREVIOUS EXPLORATIONS.
   So far as I know, the only explorations in this region previous to our visit were by members of the Boundary Commission along the 49th parallel, and by Dawson, McConnell, and others of the Canadian Survey on the north side of the line. None of these, so far as I can find, traveled far south from the line in the mountains.
GEOGRAPHY AND GENERAL DESCRIPTION.
   The plains.—The region lying east of the mountains from Fort Shaw to the boundary is a high prairie, sloping rapidly from west to east and traversed by occasional swift streams from the mountains. The elevations range from 5,000 feet at the base of the mountains to 3,500 at a distance of forty miles east. The Milk River Ridge, where we crossed it, rises several hundred feet above the streams that unite to form the South Fork of Milk River and over a thousand feet above the surface of St. Mary's Lake. This ridge has a nearly north and south trend near the boundary, but bears a little west of south and joins the main range on the upper waters of the Cut Bank. It is the water-shed between the Hudson Bay basin and the Gulf of Mexico. It was followed by Lieut. Ahern and myself to its junction with the main divide of the Rocky Mountains, and the separation was found to be so sharp that from the summit on the north side of the pass one might without moving from his tracks cast three snow-balls so that one would fall on the Pacific slope, another on the Gulf slope, and a third on that of Hudson's Bay.
   The foot-hills.—The high prairie is separated from the mountains by a narrow belt, consisting of a somewhat confused mass of ridges and hills. The ridges constituting the foot-hills run in all directions, but the highest are approximately at right angles to the trend of the mountains. The strata are considerably disturbed being usually tilted more, and much more irregularly than the beds in the adjacent mountains. The elevation of these hills is usually under 1,000 feet above the plains, but sometimes runs up to 1,500 feet or more. The line separating the foot-hills from the mountains is quite as sharply drawn in this region as that between the plains and the foot-hills. The latter are usually wooded and somewhat rounded. The mountains, on the other hand, present a frowning battlement of bare and almost vertical walls facing the plain and rising 3,000 to 4,000 above it.
   The mountains.—On entering the mountains by way of the valley of the Belly River we found that the range makes a sharp bend to the west about twenty miles from the boundary, so that, although we were now traveling nearly south, we were approaching the main divide nearly at right angles to it. The valley is over a mile wide near the boundary, but a short distance up the stream it becomes quite canyon-like. The walls are very steep and rarely less than 2,000 feet high. We went into camp just at the lower end of the canyon, in a dense fog which shut out from view all objects a hundred yards away. In the morning when we looked out of our tents the fog was slowly drifting away and glimpses of the lofty peaks could be had through rifts in the fog. The effect was quite striking. The foot of the mountains was entirely concealed, but at our camp some two miles away the air was clear. Now and then a projecting portion of a mountain side perhaps 2,000 feet above us would be clearly revealed, while above and below the white fleecy veil hid all and seemed to have taken the mountain up bodily and to be about to remove it from our pathway. In other places the upper peaks alone rose clear and distinct above the sea of cloud and seemingly almost over our heads. Altogether it was a picture long to be remembered by those who saw it.
   Scenery.—The scenery even along the foot-hills is strikingly beautiful. The lower ridges, rounded and tree-covered, rise abruptly from the plains, while as a background the bare rocky walls of the mountains cut by transverse valleys rise in stately grandeur. A single glance takes in a view of level plain, tumbled foot-hills, and lofty mountains, the latter softened somewhat in their outline by distance. As the summit of the main range is neared plains and foot-hills disappear and the landscape is made up only of rocky mountains lifting their jagged summits above deep narrow valleys down which swift torrents, from the snow-fields and small glaciers above, roar and tumble over their rocky beds, or plunge from ledge to ledge in beautiful cataracts. At intervals in these valleys the falling debris from the canyon walls has dammed the stream and beautiful lakes are formed. The river we ascended takes its rise in one of these lakes, lying in a beautiful amphitheatre at the very foot of the continental divide. The lake is about two miles long and a mile wide. It is supplied wholly by three small glaciers which cling to the side of the mountain 2,000 feet above it. The amphitheatre contains about eight square miles. It is the result of a loop-like bend in the dividing ridge. Its walls are almost vertical, save one portion on the southeast side, and are from 2,000 to 3,500 feet high. The new pass is at the head of this amphitheatre, 7,250 feet above sea.[It was here that the services of our Indian guide came in play. One of the prospectors with us had three years before camped at this very spot with three other men and had tried for a week to find some means of scaling the rocky wall which barred their way. They were used to the mountains, but were obliged to give up and retrace their steps.] The dividing ridge itself the backbone of the continent, is surprisingly narrow and quite sinuous It is terminated at the summit by a thin wall varying from 50 to 300 feet in thickness and surmounted by pinnacles and chimneys which emphasize its wall-like appearance. It is in many places so narrow and rugged that it would be impossible to travel along it without the use of ropes and ladders. It preserves this peculiar mural character for at least 50 miles.
   Ahern Pass.—Ahern Pass is 2,000 feet above the lake at its foot, and the summit wall on either side of the pass was estimated to be at least 1,500 feet more. The entire force had worked two days in making a trail from the foot of the talus slope to the summit of the pass. The assent is very steep and was made with difficulty. ["Aug. 22. As I led the pack-train out this morning I felt extremely anxious as there were several places on the trail where a misstep meant certain death. At the north end of the lake the trail zig-zags up a very steep grassy slope for 800 feet and then over loose slide-rock—talus—for 1,100 feet higher to the cut-walls, which loom up 2,000 feet above the slide-rock. The trail now follows narrow ledges straight for the gap, which is on the same level and 500 yards west. At one place we climbed a narrow and very steep rock fifteen feet high, in which we had to cut steps. We led our most troublesome animals over this. My feelings were indescribable when I started up this rock, not knowing what the horse would do. The ledge was about eighteen inches wide, the upside wall sloping back. On the lower side was a fall of 1,900 feet."—From Lieut. Ahern's official report.]
   The Western Slope.—The western slope is in strong contrast with the eastern. A gentle grassy declivity, down which we could indulge in the rare luxury of riding, stretched away for a couple of miles, after which it rapidly became steeper, following the changing dip of the strata, until we were obliged to dismount and lead our horses through the thick tangle of brush with which the steeper slopes were covered. We passed the summit in a biting wind accompanied by rain and sleet, with a temperature of 39°. As we descended the rain increased. We marched in single file through the dripping beech brush, halting every few yards for the axemen to cut a trail. Sometimes we could travel for a few rods in the bed of the stream. Then obstructions in the form of cascades or huge rocks would compel us to cut a path up the steep banks and pursue our course along the sloping sides of the valley. The descent grew constantly steeper and our progress correspondingly difficult and slow. For four hours we toiled along in this fashion, every hundred yards in advance bringing us to greater difficulties. At last, wet to the skin, our teeth chattering with cold, and thoroughly worn out, we cleared a place large enough to put up our tents and went into camp. What a luxury a fire is under such circumstances! We had eaten an early breakfast at the foot of the lake on the other side. Since that time we had been working incessantly, most of the time in a pouring rain, until five o'clock in the afternoon found us in the condition described, two and a half miles down the Pacific slope in a dense tangle of fallen logs, thickly overgrown with brush. We had our supper, warmed ourselves, and were fairly comfortable in a couple of hours, but there was nothing for the horses to eat and we were obliged to tie them to the trees for the night. The next morning they were taken back a mile on the trail to the last grass we passed, where they were pastured for a couple of days while the men cut a trail two miles to the more open country in the valley below.
   A side trip.—Leaving the main party here to rest for a few days, Lieut. Ahern and myself with the prospector, Lewis Meyer, made a four days' trip up MacDonald's Creek and over the divide to the headwaters of a branch of the East Kootanie. Our purpose was to examine the large glacier described in another portion of this paper. The route lay across a succession of ridges, ranging in elevation from 500 to 2,700 feet above their respective valleys. The lower slopes are densley [sic] wooded and fallen timber added to the work of climbing. The summits of all except the highest ridges were quite level grassy parks, with borders and patches of pines. From any of these summits a magnificent view was to be had of the great backbone over which we had climbed. Fifty miles of it could be seen at once owing to the great bend it makes to the westward.
   On our return trip we endeavored to shorten our route by taking a short cut over the summit of a spur of the main range. This took us up 8,000 feet. A rapid descent of 2,000 feet was then made, and the first part of the cut off had been successfully accomplished. After a couple of miles of easy going we started on another descent of 2,000 feet into the valley of MacDonald's Creek. We found the descent extremely difficult. It was so steep that we kept our feet with difficulty. Impassible ledges were frequently in our way and multitudes of fallen trees encumbered the less precipitous slopes. We were three hours making the first half mile. Darkness came on while we were still three miles from camp and we spread our blankets on the stony banks of the stream and lay down to wait for daylight. We had eaten the last of our rations at noon, expecting to reach camp that evening. We started on at 6 A. M., and at 10:30 rode into camp and ordered dinner.
   We were now not more than eight miles from the large glacier elsewhere mentioned, and I was eager to visit it. But travel in this region is indescribably difficult; we had spent four days in the side trip I have just described, our rations were nearly gone, and we had yet nearly a hundred miles to go before we could reach our base of supplies. It was therefore plainly evident that we must move on and leave this most attractive region, in the hope that at some future time fortune may be more kind.
   Mud Creek.—Our route now was down the valley of Mud Creek to the north fork of the Flathead. This stream, Mud Creek, flows between steep rocky walls from 1,500 to 2,000 feet high. They gradually grow less precipitous and the valley widens as we descend. The lower portion of the valley has been covered with a thick growth of pines. In the winter avalanches sweep down the steep slopes on either side and towards the bottom carry everything before them; not a stick or a stone is left. The debris thus accumulated is hurled into the bed of the stream and in some cases permanent dams have been thus made and lakes formed. Some of these have in the lapse of time become marshes stretching clear across the valley. These marshes are soft and miry for pack animals, hence the name Mud Creek. The existing lakes are half full of the slowly decaying trunks of the pines swept into them. A great mass of trees, earth, stones and snow, the remains of an avalanche of the previous winter still lay at the foot of one of the many wide swaths cut through the pines, a silent but eloquent witness of the destroying work of the snow.
   Flathead Valley.—The great Flathead valley, although deeply eroded, is not a valley of erosion, but is a good example of a synclinal valley. It is a deep trough between the Rocky Mountain range on the east and the high ranges to the west. Its character will be seen when it is stated that if a line be measured from the summit of the Rockies to the Flathead valley, and another an equal distance out to the plains eastward, the elevation of the point on the plains will be found to be from 1,000 to 2,500 feet higher than the corresponding point in the Flathead valley. The same is true of the great Columbia-Kootanie valley of British Columbia. Dense forests of pine, spruce, hemlock, etc., crowd the valley of the Flathead and those of its tributaries on the east down nearly to Flathead lake. Here on the prairie-like openings a few ranches have been established. . . . [The article continues with several pages of notes on the geology of the region.]

Notes on a Little Known Region in North-Western Montana by Garry Eugene Culver, published in Transactions of the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts, and Letters (1892).


"The ROTC program started at Montana State University in 1896 with a parade of 40 cadets participating in a ceremony during which the Governor of Montana laid the cornerstone of Montana Hall. Professor William M. Cobleigh was the first Professor of Military Science, in addition to his primary job of college professor. Army Lieutenant George P. Ahern arrived shortly thereafter, and served as the PMS during 1897 and 1898. During this period the ROTC Department received the Model Springfield rifles and two artillery pieces. Lt. Ahern taught courses in basic Military Science and Tactics and insured that all cadets fired all military weapons available.

At the outbreak of the Spanish-American War in 1889, Captain (newly promoted) Ahern was called back to Regular Army service, leaving a void in ROTC instructors at MSU for 18 years."

History of the ROTC at Montana State University

"Officers did not have to find themselves stationed at universities to partake of the educational opportunities available in many urban areas, and the ways officers became involved in civilian communities were as varied as the personalities of the individuals concerned. Pershing's friend and classmate, Avery D. Andrews, attended law school in Washington, D.C., while on assignment with the War Department, and George P. Ahern, on recruiting duty in the East, enrolled in the senior class of the Yale Law School, completing a thesis on "The Necessity for Forestry Legislation" before returning to his regiment in Montana, where he used whatever spare time he could muster to spread the gospel of conservation before representatives of mining and lumbering interests. Even isolation in Montana did not prevent Ahern from maintaining contact with influential foresters in the East such as Gifford Pinchot and Bernard Fernow."

The U.S. Army and Irregular Warfare: Progressives in Uniform by John M. Gates


Said Takes-Gun-Ahead to me this afternoon: "Who are these white men for whom the mountains were named? Were they great warriors, or presidents, or wise men?" I had to confess that I had never heard of them. "Huh!" he exclaimed. And "Huh!" all the others, even the women echoed.

Blackfeet Tales of Glacier National Park by James Willard Schultz


Capt. Charles Bentzoni of the 25th Infantry 
with his wife and child visiting Sitting Bull and his family at Fort Randall, 1882
Sitting Bull and his family at Fort Randall
[Major] George P. Ahern, 25th Infantry, in charge of Sitting Bull's mail, describes him as "a very remarkable man — such a vivid personality . . . square-shouldered, deep-chested, fine head, and the manner of a man who knew his ground. He looked squarely into your eyes, and spoke deliberately and forcefully. . . . For several months I was in daily contact with Sitting Bull, and learned to admire him for his many fine qualities.
He would visit me in my quarters when I failed to show up in camp. He would enjoy leaving his card; in fact it was my card which I had purposely left in his tipi, and he would return it with his own name written on the reverse side. The nearest he came to being jovial was when he dropped the card on my table with a smile and a twinkle in his eye. . . . Even then I had become acquainted through older officers with some of the great wrongs done the Indian, and I marveled at the Indian's patience and forbearance!"

Sitting Bull; Champion of the Sioux by Stanley Vestal

"Ever since 1882 there has been gross and continuous mismanagement of Indian affairs. . . . This able, brilliant people was crushed, held down, moved from place to place, cheated, lied to, given the lowest types of schools and teachers, and kept always under the heel of a tyrannical Bureau." — Lieutenant Colonel George P. Ahern, U. S. A., Retired

Sitting Bull; Champion of the Sioux by Stanley Vestal

NATIONAL COUNCIL OF AMERICAN INDIANS
Washington, D.C.
December 29, 1934.    
Dear Col. Ahern:
         We congratulate you on this, the seventy-fifth anniversary of your birthday.
         Among the masterly works and heroic achievements of your life, one particularly great incident treasured in the hearts of the Sioux, is your friendship for our tribal grandfather Sitting Bull while he was held at Ft. Randall, South Dakota, and you had charge of his huge mail from all parts of the globe, written in various languages which you had translated and interpreted to him. His replies, written from his dictations faithfully and sent to his hosts of correspondents was kindness itself. So seldom does an Indian have the privilege of expressing his own ideas.
         This humanitarian labor of yours would have easily filled a book, rare and full of interest, had these letters been published. That they have not been published does not lessen your great deed.
         Were Sitting Bull here he would join in our hearty appreciation of your staunch and loyal friendship to us all. Capt. Bonnin and I both cherish your friendship.
         Wishing you many happy returns of this happy day.
                                                       Your friends,
                                                       GERTRUDE BONNIN (Zitkala - Sa)
                                                       L. F. BONNIN
                                                       [Granddaughter of Sitting Bull (in pencil)]
400 Chestnut St.
Lyon Park, Va.
Via Clarendon.
— Manuscript from the personal papers of George Patrick Ahern.

Company B, 25th Infantry at Fort Shaw, Montana 1888
Company B, 25th Infantry at Fort Shaw, Montana 1888

"In April, 1880, the regiment was ordered to the Department of Dakota, exchanging with the 1st Infantry. Headquarters and four companies took station at Fort Randall, S. D., in June and remained there until the arrival of the 15th Infantry in November, 1882, when they were transferred to Fort Snelling, Minn., relieving the 7th Infantry. During this period four companies were stationed at Fort Meade, S. D., and two at Fort Hale, S. D. The latter post was abandoned in May, 1884, and the garrison transferred to Fort Sisseton, N. D.

In May, 1888, the regiment was transferred to Montana, exchanging stations with the 3rd Infantry. Headquarters and four companies were located at Fort Missoula, while four companies went to Fort Shaw and two to Fort Custer.

In September, 1890, companies I and K were skeletonized pursuant to orders from the War Department. Lieutenant-Colonel Van Horn, with companies C, E, F and H, arrived at Fort Keogh the last of November, 1890, and remained there in camp until February 5, 1891, when they returned to their stations, nothing further having been required of them during that short but eventful campaign against the hostile Sioux.

Twenty-Fifth Regiment of Infantry by Lieut. George Andrews


"Complaints by the men of the black infantry regiments that certain officers mistreated them did occur, and it is difficult to determine by the evidence available whether actual mistreatment existed in each case. One example was an anonymous letter sent to the Secretary of War in 1888 alleging that officers at Fort Shaw, Montana Territory, were prejudiced against black soldiers. The anonymous letter, written a few days after the lynching of Private Robert Robinson [by a mob who took him from a civilian jail where he was being held for shooting a local citizen], stated that the commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel J. J. VanHorn, had released Private Robinson to civilian authorities knowing there was a good chance he would be lynched. The unknown author also stated that the commanding officer had openly declared his dislike for blacks and treated them as if they were still slaves. Whether this complaint was based on fact or frustration over the event to which it was related cannot be determined. But at least one officer at Fort Shaw who was directly involved in turning Private Robinson over to civil authorities did at a later time exhibit a condescending attitude towards blacks. While on bivouac with the Twenty-Fifth Infantry near Fort Keogh, Montana, during the Pine Ridge Campaign, Lieutenant G. P. Ahern wrote a local newspaper:
We have a strong force of infantry and cavalry here on the northwest corner of the war. Our 'cullud' battalion here is under canvas and in fine shape for a winter campaign, and when Jack Frost freezes the mercury out of sight the gay and festive coon will be found ready to dance the 'Virginia essence' and sing as joyfully as ever."Stock Growers Journal (Miles City, Montana) December 17, 1890
The Black Infantry in the West, 1869-1891 by Arlen L. Fowler


PALO ALTO, Puerto Principe Province, Cuba, July 8, 1898.
ADJUTANT-GENERAL U. S. ARMY, In the field.

SIR: In compliance with instructions from the commanding general, I proceeded from Port Tampa, Fla., June 21, 1898, with 50 men of M Troop, Tenth Cavalry (mounted), and Daly's pack train of 65 animals aboard the steamship Florida and with the steamship Fanita. both loaded heavily with cargo of ammunition, provisions, and clothing, General Nunez and staff, and 375 armed Cubans to the south coast of Cuba and attempted a landing at San Juan River, June 29, the point first chosen by General Nunez. The point was guarded by Spaniards, who fired upon landing party without effect. I spent the night in small boats in futile attempts to land. the difficulty being due to a coral reef which lined the entire coast and prevented the boats from touching shore. Hence we were unable to engage the land forces and decided to seek another landing place. This would have been an ideal point to land had the coast been of sand and the cargo less bulky.

June 30. sailed down the coast to Tunas, and in afternoon attacked the block house at Tayabacoa, which was defended by about 100 regular soldiers, intrenched. The blockhouse was shelled by my convoy, the gunboat Peoria, under Captain Ryan, while a small force of Cubans and Rough Riders, under Mr. Winthrop

Chandler, attacked by land. I can not speak too highly of the gallantry of Mr. Chandler's men, who fought overwhelming numbers until dark, when they with drew under cover of darkness with the loss of 1 killed (General Nunez's, brother) and 7 wounded out of a party of 28 men. The Florida, while moving nearer land with reenforcements [sic], ran aground and for twenty hours was completely at the mercy of a land battery of even small caliber.

July 1 the situation had not changed for the better. The Spaniards were being rapidly reenforced [sic], a regiment of cavalry and over 500 infantry and several batteries of artillery arrived in plain sight and began to throw up heavy intrenchments on shore. Our gunboat was too small to hope to cope with the land forces, and after making every effort to haul the Florida afloat I was compelled to lighten cargo by transferring to Fanita and throwing overboard some of the heaviest articles. About noon, however, the gunboat Helena came unexpectedly to our assistance, shelled the blockhouse, and hauled the Florida afloat.

Captain Swinburne deserved and received my sincere thanks for his timely assistance. The Spaniards were completely deceived by the formidable display, and a waterman, captured by the Peoria during the night, having informed me that the nature of the expedition was unknown on shore, and that the belief existed that United States troops intended landing in force at Tunas, I decided to adopt a ruse in order to concentrate all the Spaniards in and around Tunas while I effected a landing elsewhere. I therefore called upon Captain Swinburne early on the morning of the 2d, and laid my plans before him. He readily consented to aid me, and at 9 a.m., in company with the Peoria, opened a terrible fire upon the Spanish blockhouse and intrenchments in and around the town of Tunas. The Spanish replied with great spirit and kept up their fire until their guns were all completely silenced by the fire from the gunboats. The fort and adjacent houses and some shipping were destroyed, and report says many men killed and the railroad depot destroyed. The effect of this bombardment was as was calculated. The troops were rapidly concentrated at Tunas, while we steamed 40 miles down the coast to Palo Alto, leaving, the Helena to keep up the deception.

Arriving at Palo Alto, I found a good landing in a swampy and unfrequented district; made connection with General Gomez, and since July 3 have been steadily unloading; within 12 miles of the trocha and of the strongly garrisoned town of Jucaro. The Spaniards are concentrating within a few leagues, and at this writing it is difficult to say whether I shall be able to get the entire cargo off before the attack. I have placed my troop in the camp of Gomez, and will remain in the island, sending the ships back by First Lieut. G. P. Ahearn, Twenty-fifth Infantry, who came with me as a volunteer. and who has been very useful and efficient during the entire trip. In this connection I wish to call attention to a very gallant act of his, displayed the night of the attack upon the blockhouse at Tayabacoa. Several wounded men were left ashore under the guns of the fort, and Lieutenant Ahearn volunteered to go after them. The night was a bright moonlight one, and several boats sent out had returned, not daring to go close to land, when Lieutenant Ahearn took a water-logged boat and crew of regulars, landed, and brought away the wounded men. It was considered, and deservedly so, a very gallant deed. I have placed Lieutenant Ahearn in charge of the next expedition, which I hope will be approved by the commanding general. I can do more good here in securing the landing for him. There are 500 horses yet to come and some ammunition. I have instructed Lieutenant Ahearn to report in person to the commanding general, in order to give him information of importance, which I think can be done better by him than through written report. I shall hang around the coast and await the next expedition.

I would request that the balance of my troop, M. Tenth Cavalry, be sent to me by Lieutenant Ahearn upon his return trip. The Cubans are greatly encouraged by the timely assistance, as they were in a starving condition. The suffering is fearful, they tell me, throughout the land. It is very necessary to have a good naval escort. Captain Ryan, of the Peoria. has done splendid work for the success of the present trip, and, if possible, I should like to see him detailed for the next trip.

Very respectfully.
                              C. P. JOHNSON.
                              First Lieutenant, Tenth Cavalry, Commanding Cuban Expedition.

                              from U. S. Army Center of Military History.



On the night of June 30th, the Rough Riders began preparations for the long-awaited assault to take Santiago that would commence the following morning. The men of the Tenth Cavalry had already distinguished themselves in the battle at Las Guasimas, and would further add to their glowing traditions on the following day. But in the day preceding the assaults on San Juan Hill and El Caney, four members of the 10th Cavalry were making history miles away on the small island of Cuba.

A few members of the 10th Cavalry had been left behind when the bulk of the regiment sailed out of Tampa for Daiquiri on June 14th. Most were members of M Troop, along with a few members of A and H Troops. In all these were close to 50 Buffalo Soldiers who would not depart the American coast until June 21st, the day before the rest of their regiment began landing at Daiquiri.

When these soldiers did finally set sail for Cuba, theirs would be a different and dangerous mission. Together with their horses, 65 mules laden with ammunitions and supplies, and 375 Cuban soldiers, they were assigned the task of landing further north on the underside of the island. From there they would move through the enemy infested jungle to deliver the needed supplies and rations to the Cuban rebels fighting for their independence. On June 29th the small fleet carrying the force attempted to land them at Cienfuegos. The enemy shore batteries were too much for the single gunboat accompanying the two transports, and the convoy moved southeast to Tayacoba. On the following day, several Cubans and 28 Americans went ashore at Tayacoba to make a reconnaissance of the enemy fortifications.

The advance party slowly rowed to the shoreline in their small boats launched from the transports Florida and Funita. As soon as they reached the shoreline they hid their boats in the heavy jungle around the horse-shoe shaped bay, and began creeping inland. Suddenly enemy fire raked their midst from a Spanish blockhouse. The enemy fire was overpowering, and the party began moving back to the water, several Americans falling wounded and five or six Cubans killed in the action. When they reached the waters of the bay, they found their boats destroyed by enemy artillery.

Stranded and hopelessly outnumbered, the advance party seemed doomed to annihilation. Aboard the Florida, Lieutenant C. P. Johnson had heard the sounds of battle, anxiously awaiting the return of his reconnaissance patrol. When they did not materialize, he began to realize the worst. Quickly he organized four detachments of Cuban soldiers to go ashore and rescue the stranded soldiers. Each attempt was met with heavy enemy fire, all four rescue attempts failing miserably as the Cubans were turned back to their transports. It appeared that the American and Cuban soldiers who had landed at Tayacoba were hopelessly lost.

. . . darkness was falling as the surrounded Americans on shore hid along the lagoon to hope and pray for a miracle. Aboard the Florida, Lieutenant Johnson met with Lieutenant George Ahern of the Tenth Cavalry to discuss the tragic situation and the failure of the previous rescue attempts. "My only hope," he told the officer, "is to try your colored boys."

Lieutenant Ahern went below to the hold where his young cavalry soldiers had spent most of their long trip from Florida to Cuba. He appraised them of the fate of the landing party, explained the danger of any rescue effort while citing the previous four failures, and then asked for volunteers to make a fifth effort under the cover of darkness. Quickly, four of them: Privates Dennis Bell, Fitz Lee, William Thompkins and George Wanton volunteered.

The four men along with Lieutenant Ahern lowered their small boat from the Florida, quickly rowing towards the shore under cover of darkness. As quickly as they reached the beach and began securing their boat, the Spaniards opened fire, streaks of deadly fireballs flying over their heads and smacking dully into the surrounding sand. Ignoring the enemy fire, the five volunteers slowly worked their way through the jungle growth along the beach, searching for the stranded shore party. Eventually the enemy fire ended, and an eerie silence fell over the lagoon.

Lieutenant Ahern's men continued their quiet search until the silence was interrupted by a whispered, "Hey, over here."

Peering into the near total darkness, Private Thompkins started moving towards the sound of the voice while his comrades kept their weapons poised to open fire if it turned out to be a Spanish trick. "Who's there?" Thompkins whispered back into the darkness when he neared the area from which he had heard the initial sounds.

"Chandler," the voice replied. "I'm over here."

Thompkins knew that Winthrop Chandler was one of the missing men from the shore party, but still continued slowly and alertly forward in case it was an enemy ruse to draw him in. In the darkness he stumbled over a body on the ground, but ignored it to continue forward. His heart pounding, the sudden appearance of two white faces in the dark shadows may have startled him. Then he heard one of the apparitions say, "I'm Chandler. Thank God, you found us."

As Thompkins moved to greet the Americans, the Spaniards opened fire from the nearby jungle, a torrent of leaden death reaching out across the beach. While two of the Buffalo Soldiers remained behind to provide cover fire, the rescued Americans were helped to the boats. Lieutenant Ahern's valiant men worked swiftly to locate and rescue all surviving members of the shore party. Then they joined the group in launching their boat into the lagoon, rowing anxiously towards their transport ship. Enemy fire continued to rain about the Americans, both the rescued and the rescuers, bullets smacking like stones into the calm waters of the lagoon. Heedless of the danger, the small boat continued to move forward. Finally, by three o'clock in the morning, the rescued shore party was safely aboard the transport ship.

Despite the danger the men had endured, Private Wanton volunteered to return to retrieve the bodies of their dead comrades. Lieutenant Johnson deemed the effort too risky however, and denied permission. For their heroism, Privates Bell, Lee, Thompkins and Wanton were awarded Medals of Honor.

On that dark night of June 30th, miles away near Santiago de Cuba, the remainder of the Tenth Cavalry knew nothing of the historic heroism of their four comrades at Tayacoba. They, along with the other soldiers of General Shafter's Fifth Corps were preoccupied with preparations and thoughts for tomorrow. The long awaited assault on Santiago was about to begin, and with daylight the Tenth Cavalry would join Theodore Roosevelt's Rough Riders in an assault on the heights over the city. Their attack would take place near the village of San Juan.

A Splendid Little War

CUBAN RELIEF LANDED AFTER A FIGHT
The Report of Lieutenant Johnson
Giving the Details of the Fight With Spaniards on the Cuban Coast.

——————
Special to The News.
   WASHINGTON, D. C., July 26—Lieutenant George P. Ahern of the Twenty-fifth infantry, who has just arrived here from General Gomez's camp in Cuba, brings the official report of Lieutenant Johnson of the Tenth cavalry, who commanded the expedition. He also brought to President McKinley direct personal messages from General Gomez. Lieutenant Ahern is greatly pleased with the Cuban insurgent leader and his men and says that they will give a good account of themselves when they actually get into the fighting.
   The report of Lieutenant Johnson, not heretofore printed by any paper, was given to The news this afternoon. It reads as follows:
   PALO ALTO, Puerto Principe Province, Cuba, July 8, 1898.—Adjutant General United States Army, in the Field. Sir: In compliance with instructions from the commanding general I proceeded from Port Tampa, Fla., June 21, 1898, with fifty of our troop, Tenth Cavalry, mounted, and Daly's pack train of sixty-five animals aboard the steamship Florida, and with the steamship Fanita, both loaded heavily with a cargo of ammunition, provisions and clothing; General Nunez and staff, and 375 armed Cubans, to the South coast of Cuba, and attempted a landing at San Juan river June 24, the point first chosen by General Nunez. The point was guarded by Spaniards, who fired upon landing party without effect. I spent the night in small boats in futile attempts to land, the difficulty being due to a coral reef, which lined the entire coast and prevented the boats from touching shore. Hence we were unable to engage the forces and decided to seek another landing place. This would have been an ideal point to land had the coast been of sand and the cargo less bulky. June 30 we sailed down the coast to Tunas, and in the afternoon attacked the blockhouse at Tayabacoa, which was defended by about 100 regular soldiers intrenched. The blockhouse was shelled by my convoy, the gunboat Peoria, under Captain Ryan, while a small force of Cubans and rough riders under Mr. Winthrop Chanler attacked by land.
Chanler's Men in a Fight.
   I cannot speak too highly of the gallantry of Mr. Chanler's men, who fought overwhelming numbers until dark, when they withdrew under cover of darkness with the loss of one killed (General Nunez's brother) and seven wounded out of a party of twenty-eight men.
   The Florida, while moving nearer land with reinforcements, ran aground, and for twenty hours was completely at the mercy of a land battery of small caliber [sic]. July 1 the situation had not been changed for the better. The Spaniards were being rapidly reinforced, a regiment of cavalry and over 500 infantry arrived in plain sight, and began to throw up heavy intrenchments on shore.
   Our gunboat was too small to hope to cope with the land forces, and after making every effort to haul the Florida afloat, I was compelled to lighten cargo by transferring to the Fanita and throwing overboard some of the heaviest articles.
Helena Brings Relief.
   About noon, however, the gunboat Helena came unexpectedly to our assistance, shelled the blockhouse and hauled the Florida afloat. Captain Swinburne deserved and received my sincere thanks for his timely assistance. The Spaniards were completely deceived by the formidable display, and a waterman captured by the Peoria during the night informed me that the nature of the expedition was unknown on shore and that the belief existed that United States troops intended landing in force at Tunas.
   I decided to adopt a ruse in order to concentrate all the Spaniards in and around Tunas while I affected [sic] a landing elsewhere. I therefore called upon Captain Swinburne early in the morning of the 2d and laid my plans before him. He readily consented to aid me, and at 9 a.m. in company with the Peoria opened a terrible fire upon the Spanish blockhouse and intrenchments in and around the town of Tunas. The Spanish replied with great spirit and kept up their fire until their guns were all completely silenced by the fire from the gunboats. The fort and adjacent houses and some shipping were destroyed, and report says many men were killed and the railroad depot destroyed. The effect of this bombardment was as was calculated. The troops were rapidly concentrated on Tunas, while we steamed forty miles down the coast to Palo Alto, leaving the Helena to keep up the deception.
Supplies Landed.
   Arriving at Palo Alto I found a good landing in a swampy, unfrequented district; made connections with General Gomez, and since July 3 have been steadily unloading within twelve miles of the trocha and of the strongly garrisoned town of Jucaro. The Spaniards are concentrating within a few leagues, and at this writing it is difficult to say whether I shall be able to get the entire cargo off before the attack.
   I have placed my troops in the camp of Gomez, and will remain in the island, sending the ships back by First Lieutenant G. P. Ahren [sic], Twenty-fifth infantry, who came with me as a volunteer and who has been very useful and efficient during the entire trip.
   In this connection I wish to call attention to a very gallant act of his displayed the night of the attack upon the blockhouse at Tayabacoa. Several wounded men were left ashore under the guns of the fort, and Lieutenant Ahern volunteered to go after them. The night was a bright moonlit one, and several boats sent out had returned, not daring to go close to land, when Lieutenant Ahern took a waterlogged boat and crew of regulars, landed, and brought away the wounded men. It was considered, and deservedly so, a very gallant deed.
Relief Supplies Needed.
   I have placed Lieutenant Ahern in charge of the next expedition, which I hope will be approved by the commanding general. I can do more good here in securing the landing for him. There are 500 horses yet to come and some ammunition. I have instructed Lieutenant Ahern to report in person to the commanding general in order to give him information of importance which I think can be done better by him than through written report. I shall hang around the coast and await the next expedition. I would request that the balance of my troop (M, Tenth cavalry) be sent to me by Lieutenant Ahern upon his return trip.
   The Cubans are greatly encouraged by the timely assistance, as they were in a starving condition. The suffering is fearful, they tell me, throughout the land. It is very necessary to have a good escort. Captain Ryan of the Peoria has done splendid work for the success of the present trip, and, if possible, I should like to see him detailed for the next trip. Very respectfully, C. P. JOHNSON, First Lieutenant, Tenth Cavalry Commanding Cuban Expedition.
Denver News 27 July 1898

LIEUTENANT AHEARN'S CUBAN ADVENTURES.
————
Routed Spaniards With a Handful of Americans and Cubans.
A NIGHT ATTACK ON HIBRO

————
The Expedition Was Landed in Cuba by the Steamer Florida and Made Its Way to General Garcia at Santiago, After a Series of Fights With Guerrillas
—Fourteen Deserters From the Cuban Army Summarily Shot
—How the Town of Hibro Was Stormed and Taken
————
Eagle Headquarters,        
Camp Wikoff.        
   Montauk, L. I., September 23—The second chapter of the failure of the Florida expedition to Cuba unfolded with the arrival of the City of Mexico here on Wednesday. A small party of Americans and Cubans came on the transport. They were picked up off Cape Cabrere on the south coast of Cuba. The party is composed of Lieutenant Ahearn [sic] and his aids, Thomas Johnson, Madden and White, Edward Carbonell and half a dozen Cubans.
   The failure of the Florida expedition has already been told. The steamer, loaded with provisions, arms, ammunition and reinforcements for the Cuban army, left Key West during July. Her destination was not known until she returned three weeks later with her supplies on board and the crew disheartened. The attempted landing of the steamer had been repulsed along the north coast of the island, though a part of the expedition had succeeded in escaping the Spaniards and started inland. The party was composed of those mentioned above.
   Lieutenant Ahearn was the leader of the expedition. They started from Porto Alta and beat their way through the woods in the direction of Santiago, intending to join Gomez or Garcia. They met and routed several small bands of the enemy on the way and the dynamite gun was used with good effect by Lieutenant Colonel Stramp of the Cuban army. Lieutenant Stramp is now with Garcia. Through the heavy woods and dense underbrush they ploughed towards Santiago, fighting guerrillas daily and nightly.
   They approached the Town of Hibro, some distance from Santiago, near where the American army was encamped, where the Spanish soldiers were holding high carnival. They were feasting with the natives and their minds were far away from fighting. Lieutenant Ahearn, leading the party, entered the town at night. When they emerged from the woods they were confronted by the enemy, who swarmed out from every house and barrack to overwhelming numbers.
   The lieutenant grouped the party and planted the dynamite gun and the intrepid Lieutenant Colonel Stramp in the van. The snapping of the gun and the sputtering of the powder produced the desired effect. The little band kept up a steady fire, and the enemy, thinking there was a force of large proportions close by, retreated to the block house in the rear of the town. The little party advanced, firing incessantly. They stormed the town, captured the blockhouse and fired it without the loss of a single man. The Spaniards fled and were not pursued. Besides capturing the town the party took fourteen Cuban deserters prisoners. They were tried and summarily shot by the Cubans of the party, who passed the death sentence. The Americans took no part in the proceeding.
   Just before the town was captured, the Tenth Cavalry, composed of negro troops, came to the support of the attacking party. The troopers were, however, a little too late to capture the Spaniards, who ran in an opposite direction.
   Under the protection of the colored troopers the little band made its way toward Garcia's command and arrived just about the time the protocol was signed. They then proceeded to Cape Cabrera and were taken on board by the transport.
   Lieutenant Ahearn is in the hospital. He has swamp fever and his condition is serious. The men were short of food during the entire trip across the island and they got little sleep. The Cubans were with the Chandler expedition and acted as guides for the Florida expedition. Edward Carbonell is a son of Isaac Carbonell, a banker with an office at 59 Cedar street, Manhattan.
   The entire party is somewhat emaciated and their clothes were almost in shreds when they boarded the transport. They were given new clothing and good food and most of them have recovered considerably from the effects of their hard campaign. They say the condition of the Cuban army is terrible. A dozen Cubans are dying daily. They say the men can scarcely shoulder their muskets and only a small percentage of them are fit for service. They had very little food and were eating the herbs that grow in the woods.
Brooklyn Daily Eagle 23 September 1898


October 8, 1904 Teddy Roosevelt
Capt. G. P. Ahern
care Philippine Exhibit
World's Fair, St. Louis, Missouri
My Dear Captain Ahern:
Permit me through you to thank Senor Flaviano Abreu on behalf of Mrs. Roosevelt for the beautiful piece of Filipino embroidery, which I assure you she greatly appreciates. With many thanks

Sincerely Yours
Theodore Roosevelt
— Theodore Roosevelt Papers

October 11th, 1918
Lt. Col. George P. Ahern
War Plans Division
Washington, D.C.
My dear Col. Ahern,

I was much put-out that I was away when you came. Do let me know the next time you are coming this way. I should like to see you out at Oyster Bay, always!

Faithfully yours,
Theodore Roosevelt
— Theodore Roosevelt Papers

(Born N. Y.) GEORGE P. AHERN (Ap'd N. Y.)
Military History. — Cadet at the Military Academy, July 1, 1878, to June 13, 1892, when he was graduated and promoted in the Army to
Second Lieut., 25th Infantry, June 13, 1882
Served: on frontier duty at Ft. Randall, Dak., Sep. 30, 1882, to Nov. 17, 1882; in garrison at Ft. Snelling, Min., to May 18, 1888; and on frontier duty at Ft. Shaw, Mon., to —
Served: In the field, Aug. 5-Sept. 30, 1890, and Nov. 5, 1890 to Feb. 7, 1891; Fort Shaw, Mont., Feb. 7, 1891;
(First Lieut. of Infantry, 4th Infantry, Feb. 20, 1891)
(Transferred to 25th Infantry, July 20, 1891)
Fort Missoula, Mont., Sept. 20, 1891; at St. Paul, Min., compiling reconnaissance maps, N. W. Montana, Nov. 15 - Dec. 5, 1891. — College duty, College of Montana, Deer Lodge, Mont., Dec. 13, 1891 - May 14, 1894, — Recruiting service, Columbus Barracks, O., May 18, 1894 - Sept. 21, 1894. — New Haven, Ct., Sept. 21, 1894 - Sept. 30, 1895. — Joined regiment at Fort Missoula, Mont., Nov. 1, 1895. — Transferred to Fort Custer, Mont., April 1, 1897. — College duty, Bozeman, Mont., Agricultural College, Oct. 5, 1897 - May 5, 1898. — Mustering in Montana Volunteers, May 5 - June 10, 1898. — Tampa, Fla., June 21 - Sept. 21, 1898. — On duty carrying supplies to Cuban insurgents, June 21 - Sept. 21, 1898. — At Montauk Point, L. I., Sept. 21 -26, 1898. — On sick leave to Nov. 30, 1898. — Mustering out New York Volunteers to Dec. 1, 1898.
(Captain of Infantry, 9th Infantry, June 30, 1898)
Served: Mustering out New York Volunteers to March 14, 1899; joined 9th Infantry at Madison Barracks, March 15, 1899; left with regiment, March 17, 1899 for the Philippine Islands; with regiment in the Philippine Islands, from April 25 to June 12, 1899; detailed in Manila with the Military Government in the Islands, June 12, 1899, as member of the Board of Claims; organized and directed the Office of Patents, Copyrights and Trademarks, P. I., June 26, 1899 to April 1, 1903; organized and directed the Bureau of Forestry, from April 14, 1900 to —.
Major U. S. A., Retired May 26, 1906, Disability in line of duty.
Civil History — Director of Forestry, Philippine Islands — Residence, Manila, P. I.
Biographical Register of the Officers and Graduates of the U. S. Military Academy at West Point by Cullum, G. W.

Lt. Colonel George Patrick Ahern

Forestry Missionary
George Patrick Ahern
1894-1899
by Lawrence Rakestraw
George Patrick Ahern, whose early efforts in the field of forestry in Montana are recounted in this article, is pictured here at the age of 76. Although he is better known nationally for his work as the first American tropical forester in the Philippines, his idealism and industry contributed much to establishing systematic forestry in Montana.

American Forests Magazine photo


In his memoirs, Gifford Pinchot states that in 1896 he met George Patrick Ahern, then giving at Montana Agricultural College at Bozeman "the first systematic instruction in Forestry given in America." Pinchot wrote long after the event and was incorrect, both as to the priority in time of Ahern's course, and as to its professional quality; but it is significant that such an interest in forestry existed in Montana at that time.

. . . One of the officers who became interested in the forestry movement was Lieut. George Patrick Ahern. Ahern was born in 1859. He attended Yale University for some time, then went to West Point. After graduation he served in the military posts of the west, where his first assignment was as secretary to Sitting Bull. He took part in campaigns and patrols against the Sioux and Blackfeet, and traveled over much of the country between the Rockies and the Pacific Coast. While stationed at these posts he studied forests of the Rockies, observed the devastating effects of deforestation, and became concerned with the problems of forest conservation in the state.

His active career in forestry began in 1894. The previous year a group of residents of the Bitterroot Valley, led by W. B. Harlan, the postmaster at Como, petitioned the General Land Office to create a forest reserve in the region. Their aim on doing so was to preserve the Lake Como recreational area from extensive, and in part illegal, cutting of timber. Petitions for and against the proposed reserve came into the Land Office, and special agents were sent out to inspect the area. Ahern knew the area well. He went east in 1894 on a recruiting trip, and was called to Washington to give his opinion as to the desirability of the reserve. There he conferred with Edward Bowers, Assistant Commissioner of the General Land Office, and with Bernard Eduard Fernow of the Bureau of Forestry, giving them a favorable report on the proposed reserve and suggesting that further reserves be created in the region.

Fernow was the recognized leader of the forestry movement in the United States. . . . A man of shrewdness and horsesense, fabian rather than aggressive in his methods, he was able to inspire in his followers much of his own spirit and idealism. Ahern became one of his disciples.

Ahern's duties in the east were so light that he enrolled in the senior class of the Yale Law School. While there he read all he could find on the subject of forestry, "from the proceedings of Irrigation Congresses to Professor Sargent's theory," and borrowed pamphlets, books and maps from Fernow for "missionary work" among the law students. Through his acquaintenances [sic] in Montana he kept Fernow informed about sentiment regarding proposed reserves in Deer Lodge county. His graduation thesis in the law school was on "The necessity for Forestry Legislation." Some of his ideas expressed in this foreshadowed his later educational activities. Since the army was in the business of forest management, he suggested that they be given forestry education; but that this education be offered at military posts, rather than at West Point.

In November, 1895, Ahern was transferred to Ft. Sam Houston, Texas, where he continued to engage in "missionary work"; and from there later in the same month he returned to Missoula. There he continued his crusade, making speaking tours to Deer Lodge, Bozeman and Helena to talk about forestry. The task was not easy. He wrote:

"It is indeed hard work doing missionary work in the camp of the enemy. The mining and lumber interests dominate every line of business in this state, and as these miners and lumbermen oppose the slightest interference with their present methods of cutting timber, the subservient & nearsighted Montanians follow their lead." — letter to Fernow March 5, 1896
However, he did organize the Montana Forestry Association as a branch of the American Forestry Association, in 1896, and by year's end had got three additional men to join: John Steven Murdock of Fort Assinaboine, S. M. Emery of the Agricultural Experiment Station at Bozeman, and James Reid, President of the Agricultural College there.

Through his relations with Reid and Emery he became interested in plans for management of state lands. On hearing from President Reid that the college needed funds for improvements, Ahern suggested getting authority from the state legislature to cut some of the mature timber on state lands selected for the college. This would be a sanitation cut, of the cull and defective trees, and would serve the dual purpose of getting revenue from timber sold and improving the stand. Ahern interested the State Land Agent in cutting on the 70, 000 acres patented to the agricultural college, and getting future grants to the college in blocks for easy management. On Fernow's advice, he also suggested that the office of Fish, Game and Forestry Commissioner be created for management of the lands. This plan was intended to apply at first only to agricultural college lands, but might afterward be extended to all forested state school lands.

Ahern presented his plan to the State Board of Education in March, 1896, and there it met a favorable reception. He made a tour of the state in November, giving Arbor Day talks to schools, and meeting with Boards of Trade and other civic organizations, in hopes of getting public support for his plans. However, when the legislature met in 1897 the bill failed to get out of committee, though both the Governor and the Land Board asked for its passage.

Ahern had more success, however, in regard to national rather than state forests. In the period from 1891 to 1896, bill after bill for management of the national timberlands bogged down in Congress or died in Committee. In 1896 Hoke Smith, Secretary of the Interior, asked the National Academy of Sciences to report on and recommend a plan for forest management. Ahern sent the Academy information about the proposed Bitterroot reserve, on which action had stalled due to hostility by the Montana members of Congress and the Marcus Daly copper interests. In the summer of 1896 Ahern met at Missoula with Gifford Pinchot, a member of the Academy commission, and Henry Graves, and spent three weeks with them inspecting the forests in the Bitterroot mountains of Idaho and Montana. As a result of these investigations the Bitterroot Forest Reserve was proclaimed February 22, 1897.

On March 15, 1897, Ahern wrote to Fernow:

The Montana Agricultural College has asked me to take charge of a military Dept. & join the faculty — The President hinted on my taking the Chair of Forestry also & then I had a good laugh ...

Ahern asked that Fernow give him some suggestions on organizing a course in forestry. Fernow expressed some amusement at the ease with which a professor of forestry is made, and referred him to his own Wisconsin and Amherst lectures. The request of the Agricultural College was at first turned down by the War Department. Fernow, however, was wise in the ways of bureaucrats, and intervened personally with the Secretary of War, drafting a letter for Reid that had the desired effect.

Ahern's new appointment began in September. Meantime he toured the state, showing stereopticon slides borrowed from Fernow to depict the effects of deforestation. As one admirer wrote:

Without fear or favor he handled this subject, showing up the criminal wasteful policy of the strong local corporations, who have been literally gutting the mountains for their private gain.

In September he was the Montana delegate to the National Irrigation Congress, and presented there his views on forest protection. Meantime he kept up his correspondence with Fernow, borrowing books, pamphlets and slides from him.

By October, Ahern had further plans for forest management. He was undoubtedly aware of the plans at Cornell and Biltmore to establish forest schools and run demonstration forests along with them; and desired to set up a similar model forest for Bozeman. The area he settled on was Middle Creek basin, a large branch of the East Galatin river. As he wrote to Fernow:

This M. cr. valley is surveyed to the canon (6000 ft. contour). The basin above canon has natural boundaries, takes in 50 sq. miles, 1/3 of which is well timbered, white Pine prevailing — the water of Middle cr. is used to the last drop, but one man cuts timber there. I want this basin to be given by act of Congress to the Dep't of Forestry of this college, to be managed under the supervision of your Forestry division, in cooperation with the Local Board governing the College. It could be looked after by myself and class; the whole mapped and reported on — investigations of timber, soil — waterflow etc.
He stated that the citizens of Bozeman used this trace as a recreational ground and would be glad to see it set aside. One man was doing illegal cutting on the land, and operating a sawmill. Ahern planned to buy him out and use the mill for making lumber for the college. He concluded:
Will you and Mr. Bowers draft a bill for me to present to our local board for their approval before sending it to our representative in Washington.
Fernow replied:
As regards your proposition to have the Middle Creek basin ceded to the College, I can only say it is a beautiful conception, but probably by no means as easily attained as thought out. There are a number of objections I can see right off, not the least of which would be the jealousy of the General Land Office to part with any of its holdings with a view to even a partial control by this Department. — B. F. Letterbooks, Nov. 10, 1897
Nevertheless, he promised to see Bowers about it.

Ahern used the area for his forestry classes, and mapped it; but leadership in presenting the plan fell into the hands of S. M. Emery. Ahern in his "missionary work" had made a number of enemies in the state by his forthright presentation of facts regarding forest waste and abuse of public land laws. His part in the creation of the Bitterroot Forest Reserve had added to this enmity. In particular, he was disliked by U. S. Senator Thomas Carter, the chief spokesman of the mining and timber interests. Emery had not antagonized these interests as had Ahern. Moreover, in 1898 he entered into a cooperative agreement with the Bureau of Forestry regarding tree planting experiments. Under Emery's sponsorship, the proposed forest would seem to be a logical extension of this activity, rather than related to the somewhat suspect activities of Ahern. Emery could logically stress the use of the forest for irrigation purposes, and relegate to a secondary place its primary purpose as a classroom for forestry students.

Emery and Ahern made their plans. Ahern mapped the area, used it for classroom demonstration, and continued his "missionary work" with lectures and slides at Helena, Bozeman, and Butte. Meantime, Emery and Fernow conferred on plans of action. Emery desired that the reservation be made by Congressional action, rather than by presidential proclamation. Many believed that the President had been arbitrary in the use of his power of withdrawal, he wrote; and Congressional action might create more public sentiment for the reservation. In line with this thinking, he had Congressman Hartman prepare a bill for withdrawal of the area, to be presented as a rider to the appropriation bill. Fernow, on the other hand, favored a presidential proclamation, feeling that the thing to do was to get the area reserved as soon as possible. Once the reserve was created, he said, and the boundaries laid out by executive order, the transfer to the College could be made. Fernow prevailed, and by July 1898, Emery approached the Secretary of the Interior on the subject of a Presidential withdrawal.

During the rest of the year, the men worked to get public and political opinion to favor the reserve. Emery lined up the Montana Congressional delegation. He also attended the American Forestry Association meeting at Omaha in September, and got that organization to pass a resolution endorsing the creation of the reserve, with management to be placed by congressional action in the hands of the college. The National Irrigation Association approved a similar resolution. Various public-spirited citizens of Bozeman threw their support to the effort, including Peter Koch, secretary of the College Executive Board, and A. K. Yerkes, editor of the Bozeman Chronicle. J. B. Colling, Forest Superintendent of the district, examined the area and turned in a favorable report, stating that public opinion in general favored creation of the reserve. The area was mapped and boundaries established, and finally, on February 10, 1899, the reserve was established by presidential action, as the Gallatin Forest Reserve.

Ahern was not long able to enjoy his demonstration forest. He took classes there in 1898, and collected specimens for display in the forest exhibit at Omaha. In 1899 a number of prominent Montanans requested his appointment as superintendent of Yellowstone National Park. The appointment was blocked by Senator Carter. In the summer of 1898 he studied forestry at the Division of Forestry headquarters. Early in 1899, however, his regiment was ordered to the Philippines. He was recovering from a broken leg at the time, and could not join immediately. Meantime, Pinchot (who had succeeded Fernow as head of the Division of Forestry) intervened. He persuaded government official that the forests of the Philippines needed management, and succeeded in getting Ahern named head of the Philippine Bureau of Forestry in April, 1900. In preparation, Ahern studied for a time under the brilliant German forestry expert, Carl A. Schenck, at Biltmore. Schenck has characterized him in the following words:

Here was a man with enthusiasm for a great task. He had had no education in forestry and almost none in botany, which is so important for the tropical forester; but he had devotion and he had the holy spirit of forestry. Nothing more was needed for success . . .

Ahern's chief claim to fame lies in his forestry work in the Philippines. He was the first American to make a career of tropical forestry, and there, as in Montana, his work was a pioneering nature. There he organized a Bureau of Forestry, set up a field organization, created the Philippine School of Forestry, and contributed significantly to tropical forest research. After he left the Philippines, in 1914, he continued to work and write in two fields; conservation and history of the Indian Wars.

Although his work in Montana was in the nature of an apprenticeship, it was far from insignificant. Also it was typical of the work of a great many men in the west, whose contribution has been largely overlooked in the history of conservation. The tangible monuments to his work are the Gallatin and Bitterroot National Forests. Although Ahern was not alone in working for these, he was easily primus inter pares. In Montana his work was much like that of Edgar Ensign and W. G. M. Stone in Colorado, W. G. Steel and J. B. Waldo in Oregon, and M. M. Parker in New Mexico; that of a local enthusiast implementing national policy. His missionary work, also, undoubtedly had a great deal to do with creating the favorable climate of opinion toward conservation noted by E. T. Allen in his inspection trip of 1903.

Ahern's course in forestry at the state college was of little significance in itself, as he could not, from the limitations of his own training, offer a professional course in forestry. At the time Ahern began teaching, in fact, such a professional course was not offered anywhere in the country. In most, if not all, of the western states, forestry education went through three stages. First, local enthusiasts in land grant colleges offered courses, varying a great deal in content, but most if not all carried on with advice from Fernow, and relying greatly on his Wisconsin and Amherst lectures. Such was the course offered by Ahern in Montana, Edmond Meany in Washington, Charles E. Bessey in Nebraska, and E. R. Lake in Oregon. Ahern's course apparently differed from most in his emphasis on local problems and field work rather than botany. From such a school one would emerge with some knowledge of forestry, but not a forester. The second stage came when, with an expanding federal forestry program, ranger schools were established in connection with the colleges, offering short courses for training Forest Service field men in mapping, surveying, cruising, public land laws, and other skills. Meantime as the supply of trained foresters increased, forestry schools on a professional level were established. Ahern initiated the first stage in Montana.

Finally, Ahern's work is further evidence of the influence exerted by the military frontier. Such writers as Paul Sharp and Merrill G. Burlingame have commented on the social and cultural effects of military groups. Ahern's work is a direct example of this influence.

Ahern, George Patrick, Lt. Col. U.S. Military Academy Class of 1882. Extract from Register of Graduates, U.S. Military Academy, 1980: Born in New York; Infantry; Frontier duty, 1882 to 1891; Professor, Military Sciences and Tactics, Montana College, 1891 to 1894, Montana Agricultural College, 1897 to 1898; Santiago de Cuba Campaign (Silver Star Citation); retired (with disability), 1906 as a Captain; Org Bu Forestry, PI, 1900 to 1914; Active Duty, 1916 to 1919; assistant in MID [Military Intelligence Department] in May 1917 as a retired major; retired in 1930 as a Lt. Col.; LLB Yale (Forestry); died in Washington, D.C., 13 May 1942, aged 83.
A Preliminary Who's Who of U. S. Army Military Intelligence

Lt. Col. George Ahern
Lt. Col. George Ahern - Forestry Expert Fought for Conservation of Woodland
WASHINGTON, May 13 (AP) - Lieut. Col. George P. Ahern, U. S. A., retired, died here today at the age of 82. He was graduated in 1882 from West Point.
   Colonel Ahern served in Cuba and the Philippines during the war with Spain, and remained in the Philippines to organize and direct the Office of Patents, Copyrights, and Trade-Marks and later the Bureau of Forestry for the Philippine Government. He was the author of several books on forestry.
   Retired with the rank of major in 1906, he held various active assignments later and was promoted to lieutenant colonel, retired, in 1930. Colonel Ahern leaves a widow, Jean Gill Ahern of Washington.
   Colonel Ahern explored the last block of unmapped territory in Montana in 1888. He was the explorer of Glacier National Park and his work is perpetuated on the maps that list Ahern Pass and Ahern Glacier.
   He fought for more than forty years for the conservation of our forest resources.
As a soldier he saw service in the Indian campaigns of the Northwest, the Spanish-American War, the Boxer Rebellion and the Philippine Insurrection. During the World War he was first assistant to the Chief of Military Intelligence and afterward Secretary of the War College. For gallantry in action in the Spanish War on June 30, 1898, he received the Silver Star decoration.
   He was born in New York on Dec. 29, 1859, the son of Patrick Henry Ahern and Ann Dwyer Ahern, who came to this country from Ireland. He was "a son of the Irish revolution," in his own words. His father, who was in the dry goods business, was a flag bearer in the Battle of Bull Run.
   His first active service was in the Indian campaigns in the Northwest. Chief Sitting Bull gave him the title of Chief Two Crows for his kindness in dealing with the Indians. He had a lasting empathy for the Indians and unceasingly endeavoured to obtain justice for them in Washington.
The New York Times 14 May 1942

Ahern, George Patrick
(1859-1942)
Born December 29 in New York City, Graduated from United States Military Academy, 1882; law degree from Yale University, 1895. Served with U.S. Infantry in Dakota Territory, Minnesota, and Montana, 1882-98. Became interested in forestry about 1885. In 1894 advised Edward Bowers of General Land Office regarding creation of forest reserves in Montana; in 1896 guided Gifford Pinchot and Henry S. Graves through Montana and Idaho in search of potential forest reserves; ihn 1897 introduced and taught forestry course at Montana Agricultural College, and obtained reservation of Gallatin Forest Reserve as a demonstration forest. Served in Cuba and the Philippines in Spanish-American War. In the Philippines, organized Philippine Bureau of Forestry in 1900 and headed it until 1914. Succeeded in establishing Philippine School of Forestry. In 1914 was instrumental in assisting Ngan Han to set up Chinese Forest Service, and assisted in establishing school of forestry at Nanking University. During 1920s was active in the work of Tropical Plant Research Foundation. Was elected a fellow of Society of American Foresters in 1929. Wrote many articles, particularly on tropical forestry. Was active in controversy over public regulation of private cutting, and published two major books, Deforested America and Forest Bankruptcy in America, in support of such regulation, Was major figure in development of forestry both at home and abroad. Died May 13, 1942.
National Leaders of American Conservation ed. by Richard H. Stroud, 1985


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