Peter Devers, M. Alan Jenkins, Rocky Montgomery, Bill Barbour, James Frazier, Bob
Collins, North American Falconers Association
ohn Craighead liked to quote fellow legendary
conservationist Aldo Leopold, who once said
“we should think like a mountain.
The philosophy of following natures cues and
looking at the fundamentals of things” guided
Craighead’s pioneering work in American conservation, its wild
rivers and seminal studies of grizzly bears.
“I have listened to the voice of the mountain for most of my
life, said Craighead upon receiving The Wildlife Society’s Aldo
Leopold Memorial Award in 1998.
The mountains still talk, but they lost one of their most avid
listeners when John Craighead died in his sleep at his home of
more than 60 years in southwest Missoula.
Craighead turned 100 on Aug. 14 and had been ailing for years,
though his children said it wasnt until last year that he was
unable to frequent the tepee in his yard in all seasons.
The breadth of Craighead’s experience and expertise in
the natural world – with Frank and apart from him – is
legendary. In 1998, the same year John received the Aldo
Leopold Award, the twins were named among Americas top
scientists of the 20th century by the Audubon Society.
“I don’t think his impact on the wildlife profession can be
overestimated, said Dan Pletscher, who retired in 2013 as
director of the University of Montanas wildlife biology program
that Craighead helped establish as one of the best in the nation.
John and Frank Craighead, identical twins, were born
on Aug. 14, 1916, in Washington, D.C. They spent the
young years of remarkable lives roaming the banks of
the Potomac River, investigating nests and honing their
love and instincts for nature. Intrigued by falconry
and birds, they attended Penn State University.
Their father was an inspiration. After retiring as an entomologist
for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and even as his sons
were fitting the first radio collars on grizzlies in Yellowstone in
the early 1960s, Frank Sr. was launching a second career, this
one in the development-threatened Everglades of south Florida.
On the wall of Johns Missoula home is a plaque presented to
his father in 1976 dedicated to the “Scholar of the Everglades.
The twins were 19 when they co-wrote Adventures
With Birds of Prey” for National Geographic. It was
the start of a long association with the magazine.
The U.S. Navy tapped their outdoors prowess for the war effort.
Serving as First Lieutenants, the Craigheads developed a survival
school in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, during World War II that
provided physical conditioning and outdoors confidence to Navy
pilots in the expedited training program. In 1943 they wrote a
survival guide called “How to Survive on Land and Sea, and
as the war wound down they taught survival tactics to agents
of the Office of Strategic Services, the forerunner of the CIA.
The Craigheads remain best known for their groundbreaking
12-year study of grizzly bears beginning in 1959 in what they,
and then everybody else, came to call the Greater Yellowstone
“I have listened to the voice of the
mountain for most of my life.
-John Craighead
The Life of the Legendary Wildlife Conservationist
Above- The Craighead Brothers were the featured
banquet speakers at the 1992 NAFA Meet in Lamar
Colorado chaired by Jim Frazier (center).
-Referring to a favorite quote by Aldo Leopold,
legendary conservationist who once said, “we
should think like a mountain.”
John, along
with his brother
Frank, wrote
several raptor
books as well
as a survival
guide for
the US Navy
during WWII
that is still
in use. John
also authored
several books
that reected
a 12 year study
of grizzly bears.
Ecosystem. Their science was brought into the living rooms of
millions by a series of National Geographic television specials.
But the bear study only scratched the surface of the
remarkably diverse achievements of the former star wrestlers,
both of them Penn State and Michigan grads who were
described in a Washington Post story as dashing, handsome,
intrepid, scientifically minded and athletically built.
Advocates for land and water conservation, the wording of the Wild
and Scenic Rivers Act of 1968 was taken almost verbatim from the
Craigheads’ writing. Thirty years later John received the 1998 Aldo
Leopold Award, the highest honor bestowed by the Wildlife Society.
That same year the National Audubon Society named the Craighead
brothers among the top 100 conservationists of the 20th century.
Both Craigheads received doctorate degrees from the University of
Michigan in 1949. John moved into the academic world in the early
1950s when he accepted a position with UM, where he led the Montana
Cooperative Wildlife Research Unit for 25 years. He and Margaret raised
their three conservation and science-minded children in Missoula.
John and Frank Craighead wrote much of the text for the National
Wild and Scenic Rivers Act that was passed by Congress in 1968, even
as they conducted a 12-year study of grizzly bears in Yellowstone.
The study is credited with helping save the bears from extinction.
Craighead was pushing 90 in 2005 when UM endowed
the John J. Craighead Chair in Wildlife Biology.
“I’m just so happy we got that done while John was alive, said Pletscher.
The private dollars raised and placed in an endowment allows the
school to attract people that “you might not be able to attract,
Pletscher said. A name like John Craighead attracts people
because everyone knows that name, knows that legacy and knows
what John meant to wildlife and conservation in general.
Frank Craighead died of Parkinsons disease in 2001. He
lived much of his life in Moose, Wyoming, where he and
John built identical log cabins and started their families
some 70 years ago, and where Haynam, 69, lives today.
Son Derek, 65, lives in nearby Kelly. Hes executive director and senior
scientist for Craighead Beringia South, a wildlife research and education
institute at which his nephew, Trapper Haynam, is a research biologist.
Son Johnny Craighead is former president of the Craighead Wildlife-
Wildlands Institute that his father founded in Missoula in 1958.
Besides looking after his homebound parents, he’s responsible for
archiving his father’s research and personal work as acting program
director of the John J. Craighead Archive and Publication Program.
All three Craighead children went to Missoula schools and to the
University of Montana. Theirs were childhoods unimaginable to most.
“Looking back it was the most idyllic life a kid could
ever dream of, Derek said last week as he smoothed a
blanket on his father’s lap near the tepee ring.
“Even as a little grade-school kid he’d pull me out of school and go
up to Flathead Lake. We’d spend a couple of days on a motorboat
netting the Canada geese and banding them and putting dye in the
eggs. Then wed go up and count the young geese when they hatched.
The Craigheads were towering figures in American conservation. Also, it
is difficult to describe the effect of the brothers without also mentioning
their sister, Jean Craighead George, whose childrens books have done
at least as much to instill a conservation ethic in Americas youth.
Right-John with two young Golden Eagles. Photo
courtesy of The National Geographic.
drops down a
jagged cliff to
access a nest
with four young
duck hawks.
Far Left-John
climbs a tree to
access a Red-
Hawk’s nest