The story behind the 1870 naming of Tower Falls in Yellowstone

Tower Falls in Yellowstone National Park as photographed by William Henry Jackson in 1871.

Tower Falls in Yellowstone National Park as photographed by William Henry Jackson in 1871.

By M. Mark Miller

In 1870, the now-famous Washburn Expedition explored the remote area that became Yellowstone National Park. While the explorers always had to be alert for the dangers of Indians, wild animals, and strange geothermal features, they also found ways to have fun. Here’s Nathaniel P. Langford’s description of  one of the pranks they played on each other.


Tower Falls

At the outset of our journey we had agreed that we would not give to any object of interest that we might discover the name of any of our party nor of our friends. This rule was to be religiously observed.

While in camp on Sunday, August 28th, on the bank of this creek, it was suggested that we select a name for the creek and fall. Walter Trumbull suggested “Minaret Creek” and “Minaret Fall.” Mr. Hauser suggested “Tower Creek” and “Tower Fall.” After some discussion a vote was taken, and by a small majority, the name “Minaret” was decided upon.

During the following evening Mr. Hauser stated with great seriousness that we had violated the agreement made relative to naming objects for our friends. He said that the well known Southern family—the Rhetts—lived in St. Louis, and that they had a most charming and accomplished daughter named “Minnie.” He said that this daughter was a sweetheart of Trumbull, who had proposed the name, her name, “Minnie Rhett” — and that we had unwittingly given to the fall and creek the name of this sweetheart of Mr. Trumbull.

Mr. Trumbull indignantly denied the truth of Hauser’s statement, and Hauser as determinedly insisted that it was the truth. The vote was therefore reconsidered, and by a substantial majority it was decided to substitute the name “Tower” for “Minaret.” Later, and when it was too late to recall or reverse the action of our party, it was surmised that Hauser himself had a sweetheart in St. Louis — a Miss Tower.

Read more tales of early travel in Yellowstone like this excerpt from N. P. Langford’s The Discovery of Yellowstone Park, in M. Mark Miller’s Adventures in Yellowstone: Early Travelers Tell Their Tales.

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