Her Story

About the free-spirited woman who transformed a trapper into a conservationist.

Anahareo Inspires a Writer

Written by Kristin Gleeson, author of the biography, Anahareo: A Wilderness Spirit.

Author Kristin Gleeson.
Author Kristin Gleeson.

Inspirations for writing can come from just about anywhere. The biography I wrote of Anahareo stemmed from a Christmas holiday spent at my mother-in-law's in Cornwall, England. My husband saw that a film was on that he thought was "right up my alley." And so that afternoon I sat and watched Grey Owl, with Pierce Brosnan, directed by Richard Attenborough. I was really fascinated by Archie Belaney of course, but the most intriguing to me was the woman by his side, Anahareo.

Though she was portrayed in two braids and there wasn't a cigarette in sight, you could see Anahareo was no ordinary Hollywood, 'Injun' type. She didn't wear the fringed buckskin dress and she showed an independence of mind and determination that made her stand out from any film you could name that have been in the mainstream cinemas. My husband and I discussed it after the film finished and he told me that I should write about her. I was skeptical, certain that her whole story had already been told, since what I'd seen of it was so fascinating. (As a historian of Women's History I should have known better). My husband told me there was no one better to write her story.

I was someone who was always interested in history and studied it in college. Finding the women among all the documents, facts and analysis became a passion, too. Eventually by a bit of 'hook and crook' and a lot of determination I was able to study and obtain a Ph.D. Women's History. My career as an archivist and administrator meant I worked with many different types of collections, though. A significant proportion dealt with issues concerning Native Americans in Alaska and the Southwest. Through personal family connections and work, I established many contacts among the various communities and found myself involved in repatriating artifacts and sacred objects as well as assisting with land reclamation. I was also able to travel to some Native American communities and conduct oral histories. As a result I became good friends with several people.

Fate eventually took me to Ireland and by that time I had been writing freelance historical essays for textbooks and journals, so that when I saw the film one Christmas holiday afternoon I felt that Anahareo was the perfect person to write about. And when I came to research her, finding out the real person behind the film version, I was far from disappointed. She was so much better, much more feisty and unique than any woman you could hope to write about and the passion she had for life and the wilderness was remarkable.

Kristin's biography, Anahareo: A Wilderness Spirit is published by Fireship Press and is available through Amazon. You may also wish to read Kristin's essay, Blazing Her Own Trail: Anahareo's Rejection of Euro-Canadian Stereotypes, which appeared in the book Recollecting: Lives of Aboriginal Women of the Canadian Northwest and Borderlands, published by Athabasca University Press.