Our Daily Sykes #451 – Two Puzzling Lakes in Glacier National Park

Among Horace Sykes slides are one hundred or so copies of paintings.   These two are identified with names attached to their frames.  The names, however, are either wrong – actually misspelled – or no longer in use.  First what the unknown painter has named Crossley Lake is Cosley Lake.

Joe Cosley was a hunter-trapper who frequented this area and later worked as a park ranger once his hunting ground had been nationalized as a protected park.  Cosley Lake is about 10 miles north of what was called Lake McDermott, the name used by the painter on his frame, before it was changed to Swiftcurrent Lake.   It took awhile to sort this out.  There are quite a few postcards of McDermott Lake on line but none that I found indicated where in the park it was.   One of the cards described it as near Mt. Wilbur and Mt. Grinnell, so I went looking for them.

Soon I was confident that the little lake named Swiftcurrent, with the largest hotel in the park (Many Glaciers Hotel – and  many rooms too), was once named McDermott after a lumberman in the late 1890s.  And I also found the waterfalls at the western end of the lake.    The name was changed from McDermott to Swiftcurrent in 1928, perhaps because the creek was so named and also the popular mountain pass and trail that cross the divide and lead one to Lake McDonald on the west side of the park.  Swiftcurrent lake is only about a quarter mile wide when measured east-west directly across from the hotel.  The painting also looks west and a little south.  One half mile behind the painter is the western end of the six-mile long finger lake, Lake Sherburne.   An earth dam was built at its western end and the lake is now a reservoir for ultimately irrigating the farm lands of Montana and Canada to the east of the park and to the sides of the Milk River.

The Teepee in this charming but primitive painting has a cartoon size. The mountain upper right is Cleveland, the highest in the park. The artist has signed his painting on the bottom-right corner, but I cannot figure it, and Horace Sykes' slide is not in the sharpest focus. (click to enlarge)
The same artist on the wing of a crow could have made is south and a little east form Crosley Lake with his brushes and the rest to Swiftcurrent/McDermott Lake in less than ten miles. But along the way there would be a few high peaks to cross or fly around. The artist's actual trip may have been four times as long as the bird's. Mt.Wilbur is on the right, Mt. Gould on the left and Grinnell Point dominates the center. It was George Bird Grinnell who is credited with being the main mover behind the making of Glacier National Park. In 1887 Grinnell was the first non-native to walk on the glacier that was named for him then by Lt. J. H. Beacon who accompanied him. By now much of Grinnell Glacier is gone and the same is true with the rest of the park's namesake ice.
Grabbing a montage of related images, which include on the far right the photo of Wilbur Mountain and "McDermott Lake" that helped me identify it as Swiftcurrent Lake.
The top highly saturated and retouched look at Swiftcurrent Lake and the now familiar mountains beyond it includes the waterfall depicted in the painting.

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