Cabin Fever
Breaking Ground
Harry Morgan—Early Game Warden

© 1988 Mildred Chaffin

Harry Morgan was an early-day game warden of note. Those who remember him well say that he tempered his method of enforcing the law with an old time consideration for those in need.

Says Warren Skillicorn, "He never snooped. He never came into anyone’s home looking into steaming kettles or dipping his hands in the flour bin looking for wild meat like some of them did."

Warren went on to say, "Harry would ask people's names and inquire about their employment situation and their families. If someone was 'down and out', no job, no money and no meat, he would look the other way, saying, "Don’t watch me, watch your neighbor. If someone reports you, I have to take you in."

On some occasions the warden was known to go out and get a deer for a needy family. But woe be unto anyone who tried to put something over on him. However, it did happen—and the perpetrator got away with it.

A story goes that the warden received a report that a man was found killing wild chickens out of season. Mr. Morgan was obliged to investigate which meant a trip from his home at Ovando into the Swan Valley. Upon reaching the home of the transgressor he found three freshly killed grouse in a bag. The man did not protest, but requested time to clean up before starting the journey to Missoula for trial. He invited Morgan to have a snack while he waited. While the warden was having a leisurely cup of the coffee, the offender’s partner surreptitiously 'borrowed' the bag of chickens and returned it without the warden’s knowledge.

Arriving in Missoula, the warden took his charge before the judge. "I hope you have the evidence with you, Mr. Morgan," said the judge. "Yes sir, I have," Morgan answered, whereupon he emptied the bag before the judge’s eyes and out tumbled three headless Plymouth Rock hens!

In the early days of his association with the (then) Fish and Game Department—before roads were improved enough to make the automobile an accepted mode of travel—Morgan covered his territory on horseback. He often put his saddle horse in Skillicorn’s stable and made an overnight stop there. On one trip he came bearing five pounds of hamburger saying, "You folks must get awful tired of wild meat!"

Harriett Whitworth of Arlee says, "He was my friend!" As a very small girl she accompanied her mother and other relatives and friends when the Indian bands made their annual treks into the South Fork of the Flathead for their winter’s meat and buckskin to tan. She remembers the procession meeting Morgan on the trail. They would pause for an exchange of greetings and a friendly discourse during which the warden would take the small girl’s hand, put something in it and close her fingers tightly. As soon as he was on his way and the Indian party was on the trail again, she would open her hand with anticipation to find something there. "Maybe a dollar," she remembers, smiling.

Warden Harry Morgan was part Indian himself—a friend of both Indian and white people. He perhaps served the longest term of any warden in the Seeley, Ovando and Swan area.