Craighead papers available for public viewing
By Moosetrack Megan

Posted: May 20, 2021

BOZEMAN — A collection of materials of the noted wildlife researcher and conservationist Frank Cooper Craighead Jr. is now available for the public to view at Montana State University’s Library.

The collection, which is available for the public to view and use for research in the MSU Library’s Archives and Special Collections, includes original research notes, field data, manuscripts, published reports and books. In all, it contains approximately 40 boxes of material. The MSU Library acquired the collection from Craighead’s sons, Lance and Charlie Craighead, in 2019.

The bulk of the collection is related to Craighead’s work on grizzly bears and Yellowstone National Park. Spanning from the early 1930s up until Craighead’s death in 2001, the papers detail Frank and his twin brother John’s work in creating radio-tracking techniques to learn about the movement and behavior of Yellowstone grizzlies, which contributed to a deeper understanding of the bears and how they behaved in the park. Their work led to the widespread use of radio-tracking in all sorts of animals all over the world.

The papers also include drafts of a survival manual written for troops during World War II, manuscripts for animal science books and research in support of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. Other items document the Craigheads’ contributions to survival training, raptor studies and environmental conservation.

According to Frank Craighead’s New York Times obituary, he and John Craighead were both prolific wildlife researchers and conservationists who grew up near Washington, D.C., but later moved to Moose, Wyoming. In 1959, Yellowstone National Park officials asked the twins to study grizzly bears. They agreed, and, using collars and transmitters that they built themselves, the Craigheads were the first to use radio telemetry to track the movements and behavior of grizzly bears and elk in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.

They joined the Navy in World War II and were assigned to design and implement a survival training program. They also conducted research on birds of prey and broader ecosystems and helped write the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, which was created by Congress in 1968 to preserve certain rivers with outstanding natural, cultural and recreational values in a free-flowing condition.

After an attempt at a career in federal agencies, in 1965 Craighead founded the Craighead Institute, an applied science and research organization that designs and manages research projects in support of conservation in the Northern Rockies and around the world. The institute is now located in Bozeman.

Kenning Arlitsch, dean of the MSU Library, said the Craighead papers will pique the curiosity of individuals interested in environmental science and wildlife biology, but they will also be of more general interest.

“Frank and John Craighead developed new methods for studying bears and other wildlife that are still relevant to researchers today, but you don’t have to be a wildlife researcher to enjoy this collection and the adventurous and impactful lives of the brothers,” Arlitsch said.

Archivist Sophia Phillips and the department’s student assistants prepared the collection for research. Along the way, they found items in the collection that surprised them, including letters from an Indian prince and what they called “alarming” photographs of grizzlies charging researchers in the field.

Other library staff who have worked with the collection have been surprised by what the Craighead papers contain.

“I went in just looking to find some nice pictures from overseas but was absorbed by all the manuscripts the brothers created about survival in exotic environments from so long ago,” said Anthony Worman, a graduate student in history and Learning and Research Services staff member. “It was neat and surprising to see how they were challenging themselves and discovering survival methods in various places in the past.”

A description of the papers is available online at archiveswest.orbiscascade.org/ark:/80444/xv546636/. After a successful MSU Giving Day fundraiser, some portions of the papers will be digitized this summer.

The MSU Library’s Archives and Special Collections has more than 800 active collections. It specializes in collections related to Montana agriculture and ranching, Montana engineering and architecture, Montana history, MSU history, Native Americans in Montana, prominent Montanans, trout and salmonids, regional writers like Ivan Doig, U.S. Sen. Burton K. Wheeler, and Yellowstone National Park and the Yellowstone ecosystem.

Archives and Special Collections is open to the public. Individuals who wish to visit may schedule a reading room appointment, and staff are available to answer questions through a contact form at lib.montana.edu/archives/contact-form/. More information is available online at lib.montana.edu/archives/.