Frank and John Craighead

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Frank and John Craighead
Born(1916-08-14)August 14, 1916
Washington, D.C., U.S.
DiedFrank: October 21, 2001(2001-10-21) (aged 85)
Jackson, Wyoming, U.S.
John: September 18, 2016(2016-09-18) (aged 100)
Missoula, Montana, U.S.
Alma materUniversity of Michigan
OccupationConservation, falconry, grizzly bear biology
Years active1934–1976

Frank Cooper Craighead Jr. (August 14, 1916 – October 21, 2001) and John Johnson Craighead (August 14, 1916 – September 18, 2016), twin brothers, were American conservationists, naturalists, and researchers who made important contributions to the study of falconry and grizzly bear biology.[1] Born in Washington, D.C. where both graduated from Western High School in 1935, the brothers began collecting and identifying animals and plants they found alongside the Potomac, and soon expanded their interests to birds and hawks, going west in 1934 to begin studying falconry. After the war, during which they were employed as survival trainers, they each married and resumed their work in falconry. During the 1950s they expanded their work to other animals, including many species living in and around Yellowstone, and eventually separated.[2]

In 1959 their careers merged again, this time to begin a 12-year study of grizzly bears in Yellowstone, as the animals were considered threatened by increased human activity; however a 1971 disagreement with the National Park Service ended their Yellowstone studies; however it continued elsewhere in Montana, including the Scapegoat Wilderness.[3] After 1976 their work was mostly confined to field guides and educating the public about environmentalism; however, field ecology continued until Frank's death in 2001 from Parkinson's disease.

In 1998, the National Audubon Society named the brothers among the top 100 conservationists of the 20th century.[4]

Early life[edit]

Frank training a pair of great horned owls

Frank Cooper Craighead and John Johnson Craighead were born in Washington, D.C. on August 14, 1916. Their father, Frank Craighead Sr., was an environmentalist and founder of the modern environmentalist Craighead family.[4] Their sister, Jean Craighead George, was an author of books with nature and environmental themes for children and young adults. The twin brothers, almost identical to one another, spent much of their time collecting animals and plants along the banks of the Potomac while out of school, but their breakthrough with wildlife came in 1927, when they raised a baby owl at their home. Their interest in hawks and owls grew, and by the early 1930s they regularly visited hawk and owl nests all along the Potomac. Eventually, after high school, they moved to Pennsylvania and attended college there, graduating with science degrees in 1939.

John descending from photographing birds

At age 20, the brothers wrote their first article for National Geographic Society, published in the July 1937 issue, Adventures with Birds of Prey. They would write a total of 14 articles for the magazine between 1937 and 1976.[5] During the war, R. S. Dharmakumarsinhji, an Indian prince living in Bhavnagar, impressed by the Craigheads' 1937 and 1950 articles, invited them to visit India, where they learned about Indian ways of life, but returned home in 1942, as they missed home and their studies of falconry. They also became deeply opposed to killing animals after participating in Indian hunts during their stay.[4] After coming home again, they continued survival training until 1950, during that year they also received their Ph.Ds in 1949 from the University of Michigan.[1] During this time they practiced much wildlife research in Wyoming and Montana, writing Cloud Gardens in the Tetons in 1948 and Wildlife Adventuring in Jackson Hole in 1956.

Later career[edit]

In 1950, Frank and John were survival consultants to the Strategic Air Command, and in 1951 they organized survival training schools for the Air Force at Mountain Home and McCall, Idaho. From 1953 to 1955 Frank conducted classified defense research. His log home in Moose wasn't winterized, so the family lived in various places around the Jackson Hole valley, including stays on the Murie Ranch, the old Budge house in Wilson, and a house in Jackson. Frank and John went their separate ways in the early 1950s, when John accepted a permanent position with the University of Montana and Frank decided to work outside of Academia. From 1955 to 1957 he managed the Desert Game Range outside Las Vegas, Nevada, for the USFWS. This was the era of nuclear testing and Frank had great concerns about the effects of radiation, but his efforts to measure and document radiation levels on the refuge were not encouraged by the federal government.[1]

Grizzly bears[edit]

The Craigheads trap a grizzly bear in Yellowstone, 1961

During 1959, Frank and John's careers merged again. At the request of Yellowstone National Park, they began a 12-year study of grizzly bears. Frank would drive from Pennsylvania, arriving in Yellowstone early in the spring and staying until late in the fall when the bears denned. Esther, Frank's wife waited until the kids were out of school and then drove to Moose for the summer. In late August she would load up the station wagon and drive back to Boiling Springs. By 1966 the long cross-country drives had become too much. Frank added indoor plumbing to his cabin on Antelope Flats, and he and Esther moved to Moose, Wyoming permanently. The brothers became famous in radio tracking and studying the grizzlies and black bears, by satellite, pioneered tranquilization, and studied the negative effects of grizzlies wandering outside the park boundaries. The Craigheads tagged 30 grizzlies in their first year, 37 in their second, and eventually, over 600 bears were transmitted and studied. They were often treed or chased by bears, but no injuries occurred. They went through the tragedy of seeing a bear die after being tagged in 1963, and the fact that many bears died at age 5 or 6 after human encounters persuaded the Craigheads to ask park officials to enforce animal rules more strictly.[4]

That sadly ended in 1971 when the Park Service planned to erase human effect on the park by closing the artificial food supplies (dumps) that the grizzlies depended on, which resulted in more aggressive bears being killed after many fatal maulings in the 1970s. The Craigheads were barred from doing any more work in the park by 1971 for speaking against this; however, they continued to do bear research in Montana until the 1980s.[1]

Writing the National Wild & Scenic River Act[edit]

The brothers, especially Frank, were deeply concerned about preserving the West's rivers, and after educating the public about how vital rivers were for water, recreation and fishing they created the Environmental Research Institute, which paved the way for clean water protection and President Johnson signing the National Wild and Scenic Rivers bill of 1965. The Craigheads ended their active research after Frank's log cabin in Moose burned down in 1978.[1]

Personal lives[edit]

John in Missoula, 2008

Frank married Esther Craighead in 1945. Meanwhile, John had married Margaret Smith, a mountain climber and daughter of a Grand Teton National Park ranger. Frank and Esther, and John and Margaret built identical log cabins on their property in Moose, and began families. While Frank was completing his various field studies during the late 1940s and early 1950s, he and Esther had three children - Lance, Charlie, and Jana - all born in Jackson at the old log cabin.

Frank's health deteriorated due to Parkinson's disease he had been diagnosed with in 1987, during his second marriage and seven years after Esther died, and he died in 2001 at the age of 85.[6] The Craighead institute has offices in both Bozeman and Moose and is run by Frank's son Lance.[1]

John Craighead lived in Missoula, Montana. He turned 100 in August 2016.[7] He died in South Missoula on September 18, 2016 at the age of 100.[8]

Selected publications[edit]

  • Track of the Grizzly, Frank Craighead, 1982
  • How to Survive on Land and Sea (Physical Education), 1984
  • Life with an Indian Prince, 1940–41
  • Hawks, Owls and Wildlife, 1958


  1. ^ a b c d e f "Frank Craighead Legacy". Craighead Institute. Retrieved September 4, 2015.
  2. ^ Cloud Gardens in the Tetons, National Geographic, June 1948.
  3. ^ Studying Grizzly Habitat by Satellite. National Geographic, July 1976.
  4. ^ a b c d Croke, Vicki Constantine (November 11, 2007). "The Brothers Wild". The Washington Post Magazine. Retrieved September 4, 2015.
  5. ^ The Complete National Geographic[full citation needed]
  6. ^ Martin, Douglas (November 4, 2001). "Frank Craighead, 85, an Outdoorsman and a Protector of the Grizzly, Dies". The New York Times. Retrieved September 4, 2015.
  7. ^ Staff (August 14, 2016). "John Craighead Turns 100". Retrieved August 17, 2016.
  8. ^ "Legendary wildlife scientist John Craighead dead at 100". Independent Record. Retrieved September 19, 2016.

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