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A ‘Dark and Stormy Night’ in Yellowstone Park from 1874

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Early Yellowstone National Park visitor the Earl of Dunraven shares a scary tale of a dark and stormy night in 1874, in which "the Demon of the Tempest was abroad in his anger, yelling down the valley, dashing out the water-floods with his hands, laying waste the forest, and filling with dread the hearts of man and beast and every living thing." Continue Reading →

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Montana author shares historic tales of adventurous travels in Yellowstone

Historian and author M. Mark Miller recalls stories from his grandmother about Handkerchief Pool, a now-defunct thermal feature in Yellowstone National Park.

Visitors to Yellowstone National Park typically go home with a story or two to share about wildlife, wilderness or wide-open spaces. But with modern vehicles, hotels and even smartphones and laptops, their experiences are usually a far cry from the frontier adventures of the park’s earliest visitors. Those first tourists entered a park that lacked not only hotels and restaurants, but boardwalks and even roads. For Montana writer and historian M. Mark Miller, who will sign books this weekend and next at Old Faithful Inn, sharing those tales of early travel in Yellowstone is a passionate pursuit that has deep personal roots. M. Mark Miller
Miller recalls hearing stories from his grandmother about her 1909 trip to the park, as well as her recollections of Miller’s great-grandfather’s work surveying the park’s northern boundary in 1882. Continue Reading →

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Historian explores complex history behind founding of town of Cody

Buffalo Bill Cody

Popular legend has William F. "Buffalo Bill" creating the town of Cody, Wyo. as a tourist oasis to help share the wonder of Yellowstone with the world. But the truth is that Cody was founded at the site of a canyon that proved ideal for building a dam that was key to Buffalo Bill's ambitious plan to irrigate 400,000 acres between the Shoshone River and the Bighorn Mountains. Continue Reading →

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Remembering the first commercial tour guide in Yellowstone Park

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Most of the earliest Yellowstone National Park tourists came from Montana because that’s where the access rivers ran. The north entrance via the Yellowstone River was 60 miles from the farm town of Bozeman, and the west entrance via the Madison was 90 miles from the gold rush town of Virginia City. Both rivers flow through rugged canyons that made travel difficult. In fact, the Madison Canyon was so bad that early travelers chose to cross the continental divide twice to avoid it. But that was a small sacrifice. Passage over the Raynolds and Targhee Passes was relatively easy. Besides, traveling this route provided the reward of a stop at Henry’s Lake. Continue Reading →

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‘Savage Christmas’ a quirky Yellowstone tradition celebrated each August

Buffalo Bill Cody never celebrated Savage Christmas in Yellowstone. But he did dress as Santa Claus while visiting a group of kids in Arizona during Christmas of 1910. (Buffalo Bill Historical Center - click to enlarge)

Like so many elements of Yellowstone history, the origins of Savage Christmas are shrouded in apocryphal legends and weird juxtapositions of unlikely circumstnces. Still observed today with a Christmas tree, for instance, in the Old Faithful Inn in late August, Savage Christmas has its origins in summer celebrations and parades in the park dating to around World War II, said park historian Lee Whittlesey. But according to (false) popular folklore, Savage Christmas is an annual Yellowstone celebration of Christmas in August that started in the park's unspecificed "early days" when a group of visitors were trapped at the Old Faitful Inn after several inches of snow fell on Aug. 24, making stagecoach travel impossible. (Stagecoach drivers were commonly referred to at the time as "savages.") Continue Reading →

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Making use of ‘a million billion gallons of hot water’ in Yellowstone in 1872

A postcard by historic Yellowstone National Park photographer Frank Haynes shows Grotto Geyser as it appeared in approximately 1913. (click to enlarge)

A group of professionals and businessmen visited the geysers in 1872—long before the era of hot water heaters. The trip was chronicled by Harry Norton, who published the first Yellowstone travel guide in Virginia City in 1873. Norton called one of his companions, who owned telegraph lines between Deer Lodge and Bozeman, “Prince Telegraph.” Here’s Norton’s description of the Prince’s experiments in geyserland. Continue Reading →

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Angering Old Faithful in Yellowstone Park with a load of dirty laundry in 1877

Old Faithful erupts. (William Henry Jackson)

Today most Yellowstone tourists believe that nature is fragile. They wouldn’t collect a leaf or pick a flower for fear of causing irreparable damage. But early tourists shattered geological features to gather specimens, slaughtered animals for fun, and experimented with geysers. They reported these things without the slightest embarrassment. Continue Reading →

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Author describes creation of Yellowstone Park as following a violent course

Gustavus Cheyeney Doane, fourth from left with sash, was a soldier who figures prominently in Empire of Shadows: The Epic Story of Yellowstone, by George Black. (Pioneer Museum - click to enlarge)

Yellowstone National Park looms large in the public imagination as an inspirational idea, unique landscape and critically important haven for wildlife. But according to one author and historian, its creation resulted as much from violence, ambition and greed as from high-minded ideals. The patterns outlined in George Black's, Empire of Shadows: The Epic Story of Yellowstone, are hardly unique in American history, or any other history, for that matter. But they may come as a jolt to those who mistakenly believe that Yellowstone was devoid of people until the arrival of white Americans in the second half of the 19th century. Continue Reading →

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Century-old trees near Yellowstone yield clues about human, forest histories

A group participtating in a field trip to the Wood River area of the Shohone Forest in northwestern Wyoming hikes through a stand of trees east of Yellowstone Park where researchers are working to learn more about the natural and human history of the region. (Ruffin Prevost/Yellowstone Gate - click to enlarge)

It's no secret to even casual naturalists that the age of a tree can be determined by counting the rings in its cross-section. But researchers in the greater Yellowstone area are building on that technique and expanding the field of dendrochronology to learn new secrets about how landscapes were affected decades or centuries ago by people, climate and fire. "We're interested in learning as much as we can from the wood, in finding out what stories trees tell," said Marcy Reiser, a dendrochronologist with the Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forests and Pawnee National Grassland in Colorado. Continue Reading →

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