MSU Library acquires collection of papers from noted conservationist Frank Craighead

Wednesday Sep. 11th, 2019

Montana State University’s Library has acquired a collection of materials of the noted wildlife researcher and conservationist Frank Cooper Craighead Jr.

“We’re delighted to have the Craighead collection entrusted to the MSU Library,” said Kenning Arlitsch, MSU Library dean. “This important collection documents significant and pioneering research that informed federal and state environmental and wildlife policies and legislation.”

According to Craighead’s New York Times obituary, he and his twin brother, John, were both prolific wildlife researchers and conservationists who grew up near Washington, D.C. but later moved to Moose, Wyoming. In 1959, Yellowstone National Park officials asked the twins to study grizzly bears. They agreed, and, using collars and transmitters that they built themselves, the Craigheads were the first to use radio telemetry to track the movements and behavior of grizzly bears and elk in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.

They joined the Navy in World War II and were assigned to design and implement a survival training program. They also conducted research on birds of prey and broader ecosystems and helped write the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, which was created by Congress in 1968 to preserve certain rivers with outstanding natural, cultural and recreational values in a free-flowing condition.

After an attempt at a career in federal agencies, in 1965 Craighead founded the Craighead Institute, an applied science and research organization that designs and manages research projects in support of conservation in the Northern Rockies and around the world. The institute is now located in Bozeman and is run by Craighead’s son, Frank “Lance” Craighead and Lance’s wife, April Craighead. More information about the Craighead Institute is available at

The collection, which will be available for the public to view in MSU Library’s Special Collection and Archives, includes original research notes, field data, manuscripts, published reports and books. In all, it contains approximately 40 boxes of materials.

The materials should be noteworthy to individuals for a range of reasons, according to Arlitsch.

“The Craighead brothers were hugely influential scientists,” he said. “It is a valuable collection for researchers but also for anyone interested in the amazingly adventurous lives that Frank and John led.”

The MSU Library acquired the collection after Lance Craighead attended a Friends of the MSU Library event in 2018, Arlitsch said. A few days later, Lance Craighead approached Arlitsch to see if the library would be interested in his father’s papers.

“We’re very pleased that Dad’s archives are now safely housed at the MSU Library where this material will be available to everyone,” said Lance Craighead. “My brother, Charles, and sister, Jana, and I considered several other options for donating this legacy of research and conservation and decided on Montana State University partly because of the archive’s focus on the Greater Yellowstone, which has always been central to our family’s world, and partly because I studied here and obtained my Ph.D. and know it for the wonderful institution it is. My Dad and his brother John (and not least their sister Jean) led extraordinary lives immersed in nature, and it is our hope that some of the insights and knowledge that Dad recorded will be helpful to future generations as they plot a course through a rapidly changing world.”

Charlie Craighead said he appreciates the MSU Library’s efforts to preserve his father’s observations.

“Dad was the kind of scientist that made a note of everything that interested him or caught his attention. He made handwritten notes in pocket-sized spiral bound pads, on correspondence, on maps, on legal pads. Over the years, he filled notebook after notebook with his observations — some of these turned into scientific papers, others into books. And some notations were obviously meant only for himself, reminders of the world he saw and hoped to understand. Maybe some future scholar can figure those out.

“After Dad's home burned to the ground in 1978 we watched him slowly rebuild his library of books and publications. Fortunately, he disliked paperwork enough that he kept most of it out of the house in a separate building he used as an office, so it survived the fire. We all lamented the loss of his photographs and films, but none of us really cared about the papers and documents he lost. It turns out there are people who do care about paper. Luckily for us, Kenning Arlitsch is one of those and saw the historical value of Dad’s basement full of letters and notes. We made him take it all. Spread among those 40 boxes is the story of Frank Craighead, and it will be safely waiting in Bozeman for discovery.”

Arlitsch noted that the Craighead collection joins a number of other collections at the MSU Library that focus on the Yellowstone region.

“We have approximately 80 archival collections related to the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, and collecting in that area is one of our stated emphases,” Arlitsch said. “The Frank Craighead collection is a major advancement in the growth of our Special Collections, and it adds to recent acquisitions from Mike Clark, Rick Reese, Paul Schullery and Marsha Karle.”

The MSU Library’s Special Collections and Archives has more than 800 active collections. It specializes in collections related to Montana agriculture and ranching, Montana engineering and architecture, Montana history, MSU history, Native Americans in Montana, prominent Montanans, trout and salmonids, U.S. Sen. Burton K. Wheeler, and Yellowstone National Park and the Yellowstone ecosystem. More information is available online at