By M. Mark Miller
Cars weren’t “officially” admitted to Yellowstone National Park until 1915, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t there before that. One story says that Henry G. Merry drove his Winton Motor Carriage to Mammoth Hot Springs in 1902 to a dance at the National Hotel. He was caught — the story goes — but was allowed to drive out under cover of darkness. Here’s a more colorful version told by Merry’s son.
When the Winton car arrived it was the conversation piece of the time. The word reached the commandant at the fort, along with the information that the noise it made was terrifying to horses. Very wisely he issued an order prohibiting this machine and others like if from the confines of the Yellowstone Park. My father knew of this order, but thought he would pilot the car to the fort and talk things over [with the] commandant. In the interim, two troopers had been station [at the] entrance to prevent any such violation of the commandant’s order.
As related in father’s diary, on June 2nd, 1902, he and my Mother took off. When the north entrance was reached, he opened up the speed to about 25 mph, and the troopers’ mounts acted up so that they could not block the passage. The machine was well on its way before they got their horses quieted down and started after the car — which was rapidly widening the distance between them.
All went well as long as the road was level but that was not for long. As the grade became steeper — the speed was reduced — and soon the car came to a stop. The troopers arrived at a hard gallop.
Fortunately, each one had a lariat and between the two horses they managed to pull the car to the commandant’s office and gave him a report of how things happened. He was quite pleasant and took time to explain to father, who already knew, that the noise of his conveyance posed a threat to the lives of all tourists who were visiting the park in horse-drawn vehicles. Then he became quite stern and reminded him that he was still under arrest and would have to pay a penalty to be released. When my father asked what the penalty would be, the officer very seriously replied, “You will have to take me for a ride in this contraption.” He got his ride and then assigned a detail to escort father to the gate.
Reprinted with permission from M. Mark Miller. More stories from early Yellowstone history are available in Miller’s, Adventures in Yellowstone: Early Travelers Tell Their Tales.