A naturalist on Montana’s academic frontier, passionate conservationist Morton J. Elrod was instrumental in establishing the Department of Biology at the University of Montana, as well as Glacier National Park and the National Bison Range. In Montana’s Pioneer Naturalist, the first in-depth assessment of Elrod’s career, George M. Dennison reveals how one man helped to shape the scholarly study of nature and its institutionalization in the West at the turn of the century.
Elrod moved to Missoula in 1897, just four years after the state university’s founding, and participated in virtually every aspect of university life for almost forty years. To reveal the depths of this pioneer scientist’s influence on the growth of his university, his state, and the academic fields he worked in, author George M. Dennison delves into state and university archives, including Elrod’s personal papers. Although Elrod was an active participant in bison conservation and the growth of the National Park Naturalist Service, much of his work focused on Flathead Lake, where he surveyed local life forms and initiated the university’s biological station—one of the first of its kind in the United States. Yet at heart Elrod was an educator who desired to foster in his students a “love of nature,” which, he said, “should give health to any one, and supply knowledge of greatest value, either to the individual or to society, or to both.”
In this biography of a prominent scientist now almost forgotten, Dennison—longtime president of the University of Montana—demonstrates how Elrod’s scholarship and philosophy regarding science and nature made him one of Montana’s most distinguished naturalists, conservationists, and educators.