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The Legacy of Richard "Beaver Dick" Leigh

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News and Adventure from Glacier National Park

Lying in the valley below the Teton Range are a chain of glacially-carved lakes. The Grand Teton region, especially these lakes, are steeped in history intertwined with an Englishman by the name of Richard “Beaver Dick” Leigh, who led a fairly long and adventurous life. Born in Manchester, England in 1831, his family migrated to America when Richard was just seven years old. Nine years later he would run away from home to join the Hudson’s Bay Company. During the following year he enlisted in the army to fight in the Mexican War. After the war he worked as a trapper, gold prospector, ferryboatman, and eventually as a hunting guide. In 1872 he guided the Hayden Geological Survey during their time in Jackson Hole, while his wife and children assisted with camp logistics. In 1891 he had a chance meeting with Theodore Roosevelt and his hunting party while camping in the Two Ocean area. His nickname, “Beaver Dick,” was purportedly given to him by Brigham Young.

In 1863 Leigh married a Shoshone woman, whom he would call Jenny. They immediately built a cabin in the Teton Basin on the west side of the Teton Range. Later that same year Leigh came across the isolated camp of a young Bannock family that went by the name of Tadpole. The wife of this couple happened to be in labor, and apparently was in need of some help. Leigh volunteered to act as a midwife. So grateful for his timely assistance the couple offered their newborn daughter, Susan, in marriage after she came of age. Leigh, already married at that point, declined the offer.

While serving as guide in the Jackson Hole area for the Hayden Geological Survey of 1872, expedition photographer William Henry Jackson took this photograph of Beaver Dick, Jenny and their four children in front of their tepee camp:

Hayden was so impressed with the services rendered by the Leigh family that he named three lakes after them. This included Leigh Lake, Jenny Lake and Beaver Dick Lake, which was later renamed as String Lake in the 1930s.

In December of 1876 Jenny gave birth to their sixth child. However, just a few days later, the wife of a trapper came into the Leigh home seeking food and shelter. The woman’s husband had just died of smallpox. Unbeknownst to this woman she was also carrying the virus, and died a few days later. Before succumbing to the deadly disease she inadvertently spread it to the entire Leigh family. Within two weeks Jenny and their six children were dead, while Beaver Dick barely survived.

Three years later Leigh would remarry. At the age of 48 he serendipitously married Susan Tadpole, the baby girl who was promised to him 16 years earlier. The couple and their three children posed for this photograph sometime in the mid-1890s:

In March of 1899 Leigh passed away at the age of 68.


Ramble On (2nd edition book on the rich history of hiking)
Exploring Glacier National Park
Exploring Grand Teton National Park


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