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Yellowstone history presentation in Cooke City on July 12

The Miner's Saloon is a popular watering hole in Cooke City, Mont., at the northeast border of Yellowstone National Park.

I love Montana’s many small museums and it looks like I’ll get to preview a brand new one next week in Cooke City, at the northeastern edge of Yellowstone National Park. I’ll be presenting my Humanities Montana Program, “Sidesaddles and Geysers,” on Saturday, July 12, at 7:30 p.m. at Joe’s Campfire next to the Cooke City Community Center. Joe’s Campfire is part of the new Cooke City Museum and honors a park ranger who used to lecture there on nature and history. I’m thrilled to be carrying on Joe’s legacy. Continue Reading →

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Yellowstone Lake Hotel reopens after $28.5 million renovation

People gather Tuesday for a ribbon-cutting celebrating completion of a 2-year, $28.5 million renovation of Lake Hotel in Yellowstone National Park.

The oldest hotel in the world's first national park had a distinct aroma of fresh paint as summer guests began arriving this week. But the major renovations being wrapped up at Yellowstone Lake Hotel go far beyond new paint, as workers are completing a 2-year, $28.5 million makeover that has focused on restoring the iconic property to its historic elegance. Continue Reading →

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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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