For 47 years, local author John Fraley has been escaping into the Bob Marshall Wilderness Area to enjoy the 1.5 million acres of wilderness while remembering those who traveled into the untamed mountains before him.
Drawn from Fraley’s love of outdoor adventures combined with history, his latest book, “Heroes of the Bob Marshall Wilderness,” preserves the stories of its outfitters, U.S. Forest Service employees and wilderness enthusiasts over the past century.
“I wanted to just try to keep the stories to the forefront before they disappear … they turned out to start way back, not long after 1900,” Fraley said.
With stories ranging from the earliest outfitter to Bob Marshall’s conservationism to present day families, “Heroes of the Bob Marshall Wilderness” dives deep into its rich history, highlighting Ovando-based packer Joe Murphy in his chapter, “Wilderness Cowboy.”
Fraley begins the book comparing Marshall, “the academic,” and Murphy, “the cowboy.”
“They both are very evangelical about wilderness,” Fraley said. “Joe has this way about taking all the guests in, convincing everyone about the importance of wilderness. Bob Marshall called wilderness a ‘minority right.’ He argued that most people in the United States won’t ever enter the wilderness but the minority of people find it important and should still be able to have the opportunity. He was an academic, Joe was the cowboy.”
Fraley says Murphy’s family, who still live in the Ovando and Missoula areas, worked with him extensively on detailing his life in the Bob. Murphy’s grandson Ted was still packing out of White Tail Ranch near Ovando until he died last year.
Pat McVay, a Flathead Valley hunting legend also has his own chapter in “Heroes of the Bob.” McVay was still alive while Fraley was gathering research for his story, but he died shortly after his 100th birthday in May. McVay attributes his long life to a shot of whiskey a day and two trips in the Bob a year.
McVay was Montana’s first certified hunter education instructor, which began in 1957. As the former information and education manager for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks’ Region 1, Fraley considered McVay a mentor and feels honored to have told his story before he died.
With nearly half a century of time in the Bob, Fraley ends the book with his own personal experience, which he says has left him with a spiritual impression of the wilderness. From an “odd” elk hunt in 1973 to his more recent time volunteering as a station guard at the Big Prairie Range Station, Fraley has logged many miles in the Bob.
In the Bob’s 80th anniversary this year, Fraley collaborated with the Bob Marshall Wilderness Foundation (BMWF) and will contribute a portion of the book’s proceeds to the nonprofit. The foundation’s executive director, Bill Hodge, even wrote the forward in Fraley’s book.
“Since a lot of the heroes in there were foundation board members, it only made sense for the Bob Marshall Wilderness Foundation to be involved with a book about the Bob Marshall Wilderness Foundation,” Fraley said.
On Oct. 15, the BMWF will host a virtual event featuring Fraley and other speakers.
“I’m just really happy to preserve history,” Fraley said. “I’ve spent so much of my own time in there in the past 47 years.”
“Heroes of the Bob Marshall Wilderness” can be found at The Bookshelf in Kalispell, Bookworks in Whitefish and the Montana House in Apgar.