When John Fraley met his wife’s great aunt Doris 40 years ago, he didn’t realize he would develop a friendship and connection so strong that he would write her biography years later.
Fraley recently finished the 20th anniversary edition of A Woman’s Way West, which he originally published in 1998 after eight years of writing.
The new edition shows a new preface and a more finely tuned and edited version with additional photos. The 174 photos in the book include places in Glacier National Park and its outskirts, many of which no longer exist.
“It’s bringing it back and showing her story to a whole new generation,” Fraley said.
A Woman’s Way West tracks the life of Doris Huffine, who left Iowa in 1925 to start a life around Glacier National Park. She stayed in the area until her death in 1990 at age 89.
After starting as a maid in the park, she later ventured to the Cut Bank Ranger Station with her husband, Dan. She went on to work as the camp cook for the Going-to-the-Sun Road survey crew and she and her husband eventually had a tourist camp in East Glacier. She later lived in Essex with Dan where she wrote a column for the Hungry Horse News called “Essex News.” Fraley says she was part of the effort to bring electricity to the area.
“I hope a lot of young women read it because it kind of carves a path to show how even back then, she was convincing all these guys about how competent women were,” he said.
Although Fraley developed a strong relationship with Huffine, their personalities clashed at first and he says his wife’s great aunt wasn’t thoroughly impressed with him.
But after warming up to each other and listening to her stories, Fraley became intrigued with Huffine. Following her death, Fraley sat down to write her story when Huffine’s sister gave Fraley all of her old journals. He even got to read about himself on the first day he and Huffine met.
“He sure doesn’t appeal to me. Little guy. So blowy like a banty rooster,” she wrote.
Fraley began retracing every step of Huffine’s life, conducting research from her relatives in Iowa and remembering old stories she would tell him in her remaining years.
“When I was done with that eight years of writing, I literally felt like I had lived her life because I knew everything there was to know about her from the time she was born to the time she died,” Fraley said.
Fraley admits he will probably never write another biography after A Woman’s Way West because of the privacy invasion. He learned about past personal tragedies like the deaths of her family members in Iowa that he wouldn’t have otherwise known.
“One thing about a biography is you have to pry and peer into somebody else’s life … you can’t write a biography without getting into a lot of personal details,” Fraley said.
Fraley is also the author of Wild River Pioneers and, which was published in 2008, and Rangers, Trappers and Trailblazers, published in 2018.
For more information, visit www.johnfraleyauthor.com.