T he several elderly ladies who were tossed about the coach screamed in terror until Blacky finally pulled the runaway horses to a stop. During the fiasco the tally-ho struck and damaged the wrangler boss’s new car. He didn’t take it very well, and poor Blacky was fired for the last time. Blacky Dillon left Glacier and lived out his remaining years performing as a stagecoach robber at Knott’s Berry Farm in California.
During Glacier National Park’s first decade, it became clear that boats were more convenient than stages or wagons for transporting tourists and supplies to the hotels and other scenic spots. In 1895 George Snyder, who built the Snyder House hotel at the head of Lake McDonald, purchased a forty-foot steamboat in Wisconsin and had it loaded on a Great Northern train and hauled to Belton. Meanwhile, Snyder and the Apgars widened and corduroyed (laid logs side by side to create a road surface) the stage road from the Middle Fork of the Flathead River to Lake McDonald to portage the boat to the lake. He christened it the F. I. Whitney in honor of the Great Northern agent whose clever pamphlets, train schedules,
and booklets invited tourists to take the Great Northern Railway to see Lake McDonald. The F. I. Whitney was the first known commercial craft to cruise any of Glacier’s lakes. It ferried passengers and supplies back and forth from Apgar at the foot of Lake McDonald to the Snyder Hotel at the head of the lake. In 1906 Frank Kelly, who lived in a cabin on the lake, built the thirty-five-foot Emeline to take guests on tours around the lake. The two-boat Lake McDonald fleet grew to five by 1910. In 1914 John Lewis, who had acquired the Snyder Hotel in 1906 and renamed it the Glacier Hotel, offered to purchase the sixty-foot City of Polson from Bill Swanson, a boat builder and operator on Flathead Lake. Swanson’s business on Flathead Lake was in decline and he agreed to the sale. The deal required delivery of the boat to Lake McDonald, which proved to be no easy task.
Moving the City of Polson Swanson recounted his experiences navigating the Flathead River from Flathead Lake to Lake McDonald in a June 1970 story written by Phyllis Clark in the Daily Inter-Lake newspaper in Kalispell, Montana: “We headed up river June 15 during high water. I had a green crew of six men—each hired for a dollar a day and board. It took about two weeks.” At first the trip was largely uneventful—until the boat ran aground on a gravel bar in the middle of the river near Bad Rock Canyon. As the crew backed off the bar, the boat hit rocks, knocking a propeller loose. The next morning the crew fished the propeller out of the river and reattached it, but the boat was stuck in rock and gravel and wouldn’t budge. Swanson sent the engineer upriver in a “tender” (a small rowboat) to tie one end of a line to a large tree and let out the line as he returned to the grounded City of Polson. On the way back the tender floated in too fast, bounced off the bow of the Polson, and sank. The crewmen managed to catch the thrashing engineer with a pike pole and pull him aboard, but they couldn’t save the