Nature News from GYE #34

Happy Birthday Yellowstone Park; celebrating the legacy of diversity

Fringed Gentian, The Yellowstone Park Flower

Legislation was signed by congress to create Yellowstone as the World’s first National Park
March 1, 1872. Happy 150th birtday Yellowstone National Park!

For today, I’ll share stories of women in Yellowstone that were groundbreaking with positions in the ranks of ranger-ing, science, educators and entrepreneurs.  
This begins with 2 women who were some of the first to work directly for National Park Service.  They faced great challenges in a time when the role of ranger was considered to be a man’s job.

From the album Benjamin Jones Fitt’s photos

Marguerite or “Peg” Lindsley Arnold

was one of the first 3 women to be appointed by the first NPS superintendent, Horace Albright, as a ranger.  June 14, 1921, newspapers around the country printed the headline Miss Peg Lindsley had been chosen to teach tourists about Yellowstone.  Most importantly, she was given the title “National Park Ranger”.  Historically, women were not considered to fit into a park ranger position.  She was born and grew up in Mammoth.  Her father, Chester Lindsley worked as a civilian clerk for the Army when she was child.  He also served as the interim Superintendent during the transition from the Army to the National Park Service. She was, to visitors, a true native of Yellowstone, someone who lived and breathed the park.   Her days were 7 am to 10 pm the park, kept up a herbarium and wildflower display, gave lectures, gathered data and wrote articles for a Yellowstone Park journal called “Yellowstone nature Notes”
Marguerite was given some interesting nicknames like, “Geyser Peg” “Paint Pot Peg.”  Not only did Geyser Peg love Yellowstone and sharing this with visitors, she was somewhat of a wild child.    On a three-week horseback park tour with 125 guests and 200 horses, she was leading a group of visitors through a thermal area when she fell through the crust into boiling mud. She suffered burns on her leg up to her knee, and used this as an opportunity to teach the visitors about the dangers of thermal features.

Peg Lindsey on her Harley Davidson NPS Courier

After her first summers at college and then Grad school in Philadelphia, she would come right back to the park to start her summer job.  The first year she realized the challenge was not having a way to get home quickly enough. She and a friend decided to ride their (almost paid for) Harley Davidson motorcycles with side cars 2600 miles. Weather and roads were challenging, but after 16 days they arrived back to her parent’s home and surprised them one evening while they were hosting a formal dinner with NPS dignitaries.  She finished school (bacteriology) after being part of research showing that L. acidophilus is a bacterium that lives and is important in the human gut.
Soon she achieved another great dream adventure, a 143 mile ski circuit with 3 others. The 2 women on this adventure were the first women to ski that kind of route.     In  1925, she became the first permanent NPS park ranger. This happened just in time. Following her permanent assignment, Yellowstone had a visit from 2 employees of the Department of Interior. After, a report went back to Washington saying that they ”do not believe women are physically suited for the arduous duties of a ranger.  That service, which is already undermanned, suffers by the loss of what a qualified man could perform.”  It was recommended that women not be employed in the role of “ Rangers”. Concerned, Superintendent Horace Albright wrote a 17 page letter to then Director of the Dept. of Interior, Stephen Mather, defending his employment of women as rangers.  This debate continued for years.  Although Peg kept her job until 1928 when she married another Ranger and returned to seasonal Ranger employment. Although she no longer worked as a Ranger during the winter, she and her husband lived in the park all year round and she routinely joined her husband on ski patrols and back country trips.

Herma Albertson Baggley

Upon completion of her undergraduate degree from University of Idaho in 1926, Herma went to work in Yellowstone National Park as a naturalist for the summer. To earn her room and board, she also worked as a “pillow puncher” at the Old Faithful Lodge for the Yellowstone Park Company. She helped create the first nature trail at Old Faithful and was the only guide on the trail for three years. As her hikes became more well known , numbers on her tours grew from three to three hundred. Also during this period, she served as a relief lecturer and lectured in the open air amphitheater on the banks of the Firehole River and in the Old Faithful Lodge. She kept a display of wild flowers in both the Lodge and Old Faithful Inn lobbies. For three summers Herma lectured and guided in the Old Faithful area and began her work writing a book that ultimately was published as “The Flowers of Yellowstone National Park” 
Following an injury, she was assigned to work in the Mammoth Museum and Information Office. Since the Park was only open in the summer, Herma taught high school science and was offered a graduate fellowship in the botany department at the University of Idaho. Herma received her master’s degree in the spring of 1929 and that fall began teaching as a full-time instructor in the botany department at the University of Idaho. After one year, Herma resigned from the university and applied to be an Assistant Park Naturalist with the National Park Service. This was followed by 3 years of difficulty because of the NPS sentiment that women were best as park “guides” not full time employees.    Again Horace Albright lobbied for her appointment and in May 1931. She finally received her permanent assignment as Junior Park Naturalist, but with a lower pay rate.

Herma Baggley/ NPS photo

In the winter of 1931, Herma married George Baggley, who was the Chief Ranger of Yellowstone. Herma and George Baggley had one daughter, Ruth Ann.    

During her seven years as a park naturalist, Herma authored and illustrated more than twenty-two articles for NPS publications, including Yellowstone Nature Notes. Herma became a leader with the National Park Women’s Organization, which worked with the NPS in accordance with the Mission 66 program to upgrade park facilities throughout the NPS system.

Herma A. Baggley died in 1981. The Flowers of Yellowstone National Park has been edited and revised many times since its first publication. It is still a guide to the flowers within the Park. Her alma mater, the University of Idaho, offers the Herma Albertson Botany Scholarship on an annual basis for undergraduates majoring in biological sciences. Colorado State University, where George began his degree in forestry, offers The George F. and Herma A. Baggley Graduate Scholarship on an annual basis to professionals who desire to return to graduate school with a major in forestry, wildlife or natural resources

Caroline McGill

Caroline McGill MT historical photos

Caroline did not work directly in Yellowstone park, but had a huge influence in the Gallatin Canyon of Greater Yellowstone. She the first female pathologist in Montana when she came to work with miners in Butte, MT in 1910. She returned to John Hopkins in 1913 to finish her medical degree and graduated first in her class.  After additional work at the Mayo Clinic she returned to Butte in 1916 to set up private practice.  Butte was a wild mining town at that time and she had her share of challenging calls.  She was a woman of smaller stature but big character.   She thrived in the outdoors and after a couple decades was able to get away to the Gallatin and Madison river valleys for some hunting and recreation.  Eventually she found herself making an offer to the Wilson family for the current day 320 Ranch.  She felt the best therapy for overworked and ill people was time in nature and hoped this would be a good retreat for some of her patients. 
Her legacy lives on in the Gallatin River Canyon of the Yellowstone region as she collected histories of many of the early and colorful characters of the area.  She also collected antiques from old home sales around Montana. 
After her retirement in 1956 she moved to the 320 ranch full time.  It had been operating with a manager and other caretakers who welcomed her and she became part of the everyday operations of the ranch.  Both raising cattle and entertaining “dudes”, she made many improvements and became very involved in the local community. She started the Gallatin Canyon Women’s club. Carolyn also donated many of her antique collectables to MSU. Two years later, she and Merrill Burlingame founded the campus’ Historical Museum, the forerunner of today’s Museum of the Rockies.  (Some still call it the McGill museum).  Carolyn continued to get outdoors on pack trips, hunting trips or any kind of outdoor experience she could enjoy. 

Mary Meagher

“Bison are gregarious, agile and observant. But they are not cattle.”

— Dr. Mary Meagher, expert on Yellowstone’s bison and overall park ecology,
who blazed a path for women scientists in the park service

“Yellowstone National Park contains more than 1,100 miles of trail and among the most impressive is the one blazed by Dr. Mary Meagher”.  I love this quotation from an NPS website.

A first-year SCA alumna (Olympic NP, ‘57), Mary is widely credited with paving the way for women scientists in the park service.  “Agencies did not hire women at that time, at least with my training and interests,” she says.  “That’s just how things were.”  She ultimately worked with a wildlife project in Grand Teton.  She found that being a woman in the natural resource field was a difficult path as it was a male dominated career.  She finally took a job in Yellowstone as a museum curator and became the 3rd woman to obtain a permanent employee with NPS. She entered graduate school at UC Berkley with Dr Starker Leopold as her advisor.   Mary soon developed an unrivaled expertise that led to her landmark 1973 dissertation “The Bison of Yellowstone National Park.” She later authored a second book (with Dr. Douglas Houston), “Yellowstone and the Biology of Time,” which chronicles the evolution of the park’s ecology, highlighted by photos from the 1870s, the 1970s and the 1990s, as well as numerous leading-edge studies and papers.

She was instrumental in developing NPS ecology based wildlife management policies and helped institute science as essential in park management.  Even when I first arrived as an intern with Young Adult Conservation Corps/YACC, only 3 biologists and 2 geologists along with a Fish and Wildlife Service staff were the core of research in Yellowstone.   Mary was the chief scientist at that time and she still had so much resistance as a woman in this male dominated field.  Even as she took on the role as chief scientist, she received a lower pay than the previous chief.  She often times felt as though she was wasting so much time just surviving. My supervisor, who was a Mormon bishop at the time, questioned why I was there as a young woman rather than married having a family. When I was with YACC in the research office, she always stood up for us interns.  Once when we were giggling together, which was known to happen, a comment came from one of the scientists that we should be moved to another room. Mary came out and proclaimed “we need a little levity in this office!” Score one for the interns.

Another memory I have is when Mary brought the reserach “secretary” (at the time), Margaret and I riding one weekend. Pulling an empty horse trailer, we rode in her truck to the gravel road that went up to her cabin. Before we hit the gravel she stopped and told us to “get out of the truck”. We looked at each other, puzzled, but did as we were told. The trailer door was opened by Mary and she instructed us to “get in”. As she dashed up the road and we were bounced around (laughing and bewildered) she stopped at the cabin. Opening the door she said, “get the point? If you are going to ride, you have to know how to trailer the horses. And if you are trailering the horses, you have to know how they feel in that trailer.” THAT is a lesson I will never forget.

Photo of Mary from NPS

In retirement, Mary lives just north of Yellowstone in a modest cabin and still remembers her internship fondly. “SCA offered a summer in a park,” she says, “and the opportunity to pursue field work that was in ‘my line.’ ”.

Mary has impacted many other “Women in Yellowstone” such as scientists like Bear biologist Kate Kendall, who I worked with in Glacier, fisheries biologist Pat Bigelow, who is instrumental in the lake trout removal program on Yellowstone Lake and climate Scientist Cathy Whitlock who has taken leadership in directing climate change studies in Montana and the Yellowstone Ecosystem. And many more…..

Molly Beattie

Molly Beattie was in Vermont state government in the 80s and early 90s. There she got her schooling in how to handle raging testosterone . The most powerful person in the Vermont Legislature in those days was the Speaker of the House, Ralph Wright. Now Ralph was basically a good guy and he pushed a lot of strong environmental laws through the legislature, but he did have a well-deserved reputation as someone to fear. You didn’t cross Ralph, period. But that didn’t scare Mollie. Once, when the Speaker wanted what amounted to a political favor, something having to do with use of state lands for commercial activity, Mollie balked. This is the people’s land, she said. Yes, yes, but it’s just a little favor”, Ralph said. No, Mollie said. After turning purple and ranting for a while, Ralph threw in the towel: “Mollie just didn’t take any crap from me. She stood up to me when I tried to push her around. She gave it right back. I didn’t mess with Mollie anymore.” Story by Patrick Parenteau Vermont School of Law

 From 1993 to 1996, she served as the first female director of the Fish and Wildlife service. While there, she was integral in landmark environmental laws such as the Endangered Species Act and the Clean Water Act. During her brief tenure with the Service, 15 national wildlife refuges were added, more than 100 habitat conservation plans were signed with private landowners, and the gray wolf was reintroduced into the northern Rocky Mountains.

Mollie Beattie said, “When we see the snails and the mussels and the lichen in trouble it is a signal that the ecosystems upon which we, too, depend are unravelling,” Mollie said. “I believe there is only one conflict and that is between the short term and the long term thinking. In the long term, the economy and the environment are the same thing. If it’s un-environmental it’s uneconomical. That is a rule of nature.

Not surprisingly, Mollie was one of the biggest supporters of wolf reintroduction in Yellowstone.  She was there from day one and carried some of the first few wolves to Yellowstone herself along with Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt.

Mollie Beattie and Bruce Babbit carrying a Candaidian wolf into a new Yellowstone Home NPS photo

 She is tied to the reintroduction of wolves. Millie died in 1996 resluting from a brain tumor. Her legacy is vast and she has both a Yellowstone wolf pack and a wilderness area in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge named in her honor, The Mollie Beattie Wilderness.

Deb Haaland

Deb is our current Secretary of the Interior Department. The National Park Service, and hence, Yellowstone, is administed under the Department of Interior. She made history when she became the first Native American to serve as a cabinet secretary. She is a member of the Pueblo of Laguna and a 35th generation New Mexican. 

As a military child, she attended 13 public schools before graduating from Highland High School in Albuquerque.  As a single mother, Secretary Haaland volunteered at her child’s pre-school to afford early childhood education. Like many parents, she had to rely on food stamps at times as a single parent, lived paycheck-to-paycheck, and struggled to put herself through college. At the age of 28, Deb enrolled at the University of New Mexico (UNM) where she earned a Bachelor’s degree in English and later earned her J.D. from UNM Law School. Secretary Haaland and her child, who also graduated from the University of New Mexico, are still paying off student loans. 

U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland visits the Grand Junction Air Center Complex in summer 2021 to discuss her agency’s response to wildfires and the Bureau of Land Management headquarters. Denver Post

Secretary Haaland ran her own small business producing and canning Pueblo Salsa, served as a tribal administrator at San Felipe Pueblo, and became the first woman elected to the Laguna Development Corporation Board of Directors, overseeing business operations of the second largest tribal gaming enterprise in New Mexico. She successfully advocated for the Laguna Development Corporation to create policies and commitments to environmentally friendly business practices. Throughout her career in public service, Secretary Haaland has broken barriers and opened the doors of opportunity for future generations.  

As the new representative from New Mexico, Deb Haaland, participates in a ceremonial swearing-in photograph with Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Jan. 3.Erik S. Lesser / EPA

After running for New Mexico Lieutenant Governor in 2014, Secretary Haaland became the first Native American woman to be elected to lead a State Party. She is one of the first Native American women to serve in Congress. In Congress, she focused on environmental justice, climate change, missing and murdered indigenous women, and family-friendly policies.  

Along with the women I’ve mentioned above are many who make their living and lives in this ecosystem.

I’ll finish with the mention of 2 women owned busineses that currently make a big difference in Yellowstone communities.

Kelli Hart and Melissa Alder built a business in West Yellowstone, MT.

As co-owners of Freeheel & Wheel, a Nordic ski/backroads mountain bike shop in the town of West Yellowstone, these two offer visitors all the necessary equipment, information, and even lessons, if needed, to discover their own backcounty time on the snow-covered and mountain trails of Big Sky Country.  In 1996 these two opened Free Heel and Wheel and West Yellowstone has never been the same.  By 1980, West Yellowstone had become a mecca forcross country skiers.     Melissa and Kelli’s passion for the outdoors helped fuel the ski foundation and grow a huge culture of quiet recreation that had not existed in West. For many years, snowmobiling was the primary recreation.  Sadly, this was impacting sound and air quality.  Melissa and Kelli led a movement to change the way people visited Yellowstone in winter.   

Melissa Alder and Kelli Hart/ Free Heel and Wheel founders

They have had this business for 25 years and are becoming much more aware of how they have influenced the youth in our community.  They started an after school ski program and have grown the interest in both skiing and biking as well as learning more about Yellowstone National park.    They are both proponents of the “rails to trails” movement. Locally this will formally become the Yellowstone Shortline Trail.  The trail follows the historic path of the railroad line for approximately 9 miles from West Yellowstone to Reas Pass at the Montana-Idaho border. This was once the route taken by travelers aboard the Yellowstone Special and the Yellowstone Express, seasonal passenger trains offered by Union Pacific’s Oregon Short Line. Stop in at Free Heel and Wheel for a great cup of your favorite hot drink and a gateway to the local trails.

Denise Dralle Wade and Andrea Saari are Big Sky Adventures and Tours, along with their crew of knowledgable and passionate local guides. Their lives crossed in Big Sky and with the experiences gained here, decided to make a living by sharing what they love with visitors to this fragile ecosystem. Their mission is to combine learning and fun into every day guests spend with them visiting this Yellowstone area, no matter what activity they are sharing. One of the finest ways to experience Yellowstone is a day with the company these 2 have built together.

Denise Dralle Wade, BSAT

Andrea Saari, BSAT

As always, wishing you the very best where ever you can spend time outside. We are in unsettled times and may you find “the peace of the wild things”. ( Wendell Berry)



  1. Sue Kartman

    Love the information on the women of Yellowstone! Thanks Leslie😁


    Hi Leslie, thank for the article . Suc brave women. Great article Love ❤️ Dorothea

    Sent from my iPhone


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