A Message In A Bottle: Or, Honeymoon On Cannon Mountain


Even after it turned out that this type of screw-top bottle did exist in the early 1900s, park officials remained skeptical about the note, arguing that because it had survived in such good condition “after all those years,” another climber could have copied the Cannons’ note and inserted it in the bottle. Had these doubters simply looked in their own files, they would have found an account of the climb written by my father and published in the October—December 1955 issue of National Parks Magazine.

The mountain had been attempted many times; the U.S. Geological Survey had tried it only a week before and found it impossible.

However, James Best, showing more initiative and curiosity than the suspicious park officials, set to work on his own to discover the identities of Dr. W. B. Cannon and Cornelia James Cannon. Microfilm records of 1901 newspapers and hotel records revealed nothing; but he did eventually find my parents listed in an old Who’s Who, which led him to my father’s autobiography, with its chapter describing the episode of the bottle.

The Park Service was undecided, apparently still fearing fraud. It was only after their historian contacted Professor Clifford Barger of the Harvard Medical School that the note was authenticated to the Park Service’s satisfaction. Barger, who was working on the first volume of my father’s biography, wrote: “There is no question that the handwriting is that of Dr. Cannon. As I read the note myself, I could not get over the fact that his handwriting as such a young man was so typical of his handwriting for the rest of his life.”

Some weeks after the excitement had subsided, James Best wrote to Professor Barger, “I feel this bit of history significant to Pre-Park history. A classic in Glacier’s romantic magic; honeymoon couple bags toughest peak in Valley! Nobody else has climbed it since.” In the end the park superintendent did give Certificates of Honor to Best and Steiner for their achievements.

The bottle and the note are now safely ensconced in the Apgar Information Center in Glacier National Park, where they are on display from time to time. To be sure, a few years ago, when a niece of mine was there and asked to see the artifact, it apparently had to be dusted off and brought out from some dark recess in which it reposed. Let us hope that it is not about to be lost for another eighty-four years.