Briefly Noted: ‘Chief Mountain: Home of the Thunderbird’

Chief Mountain: Home of the Thunderbird – Physical, Historical, and Spiritual Perspectives, by Dave Shea, Thomas Printing, 2010, Second Edition, 42pp, photographs, maps, charts

ChiefMountainThunderBirdBackcountry ranger, wildlife biologist and botanist Dave Shea worked in Glacier National Park for almost four decades, spending many years at the Belly River Ranger station in the shadow of Chief Mountain. Shea writes that those who have seen that shadow in the valley in March and September call it “the sacred shadow.”

This tightly written, encyclopedic book shows that Shea has come to understand the rock, natural forces, legends and people behind that shadow very well. Without a doubt, Chief Mountain (Nináistuko) is the one of the most distinctive, visible and photographed peaks in Montana.

While Glacier specialists and friends of the park will have seen most of the geological information in the first part of the volume elsewhere, the book is an able summary of Chief’s setting within the Rocky Mountain Front as well as its importance and current status as a sacred site to the Blackfeet Nation. In addition to the spectacular cover photo by B. Riley McClelland, the author’s photographs are a beautiful addition to the book.

From the Publisher

For 36 years, Dave Shea prowled Glacier Park’s wilds as a backcountry ranger, patrolling trails, managing wildlife, leading search and rescue efforts. And for 11 of those years, he and his wife, Genevieve, lived, quite literally, in the shadow of Montana’s most sacred mountain. And so it’s appropriate, perhaps, that when Dave Shea set out to put the peak on the page, he did so in what could be described, in terms of size, as a booklet, but in scope is most decidedly a full-blown book.

Reviewer’s  Comments

“It’s clear Chief has become a character in Shea’s life, a fully animated wonder complete with presence and with moods and with attitude,” writes Michael Jamison in the Missoulian. “In a cave, near the summit, lives Thunderbird and the Thunder-Maker Pipe. The Wind Spirit resides here, as does Old Man Napi. The Sacred Shadow reaches far into the backbone, and each spring and autumn darkens other peaks with the outline of the Chief.”

Shea, described by the Missolian as “one of Glacier Park’s last old-school patrol rangers – a man competent and comfortable and completely content in the backcountry,” is also the author of the NPS field checklists “Mammals of Glacier National Park” and “Birds of Glacier National Park.”


Malcolm R. Campbell, a seasonal employee at Many Glacier Hotel in the park in 1960s, is the author of contemporary fantasy novels including “The Seeker.” “The Seeker” is partially set in Glacier during the historic flood of 1964.

A Glacier Park novel on Kindle
A Glacier Park novel on Kindle