‘Sidesaddles and Geysers’ offers look at women’s early travels in Yellowstone

A woman feeds a bear during an early visit to Yellowstone National Park.

A woman feeds a bear during an early visit to Yellowstone National Park.

CODY, WYO. — Any visit to Yellowstone National Park comes with at least some sense of adventure. And packing the car for even a short family trip through the park can be a logistical challenge. But the next time you’re flummoxed by packing for a Yellowstone weekend in the RV with the kids, consider Eleanor Corthell.

Corthell spent two months in Yellowstone in the summer of 1903. With her seven children. Traveling by horse-drawn wagon. Camping out the entire time.

Writing about her trip, Corthell recalled that her husband, a prominent attorney in Laramie, Wy., “offered strenuous objection, of course, to the crazy project, but could only fizz and fume and furnish the wherewithal.”

While Corthell’s trip through Yellowstone may sound adventurous by today’s standards, it’s hardly unique, according to M. Mark Miller, who has researched and republished a range of compelling first-hand accounts from early park travelers.

In fact, women were among the first visitors to Yellowstone when it was established as a park in 1872. And a mother and father took their six-year-old daughter through the park on horseback in 1874, said Miller, who will discuss women’s early travels in the park on Wednesday in Cody.

M. Mark Miller

M. Mark Miller

Miller is the author of Adventures in Yellowstone and The Stories of Yellowstone, two books that collect stories of early park visitors. Based in Bozeman, Mont., Miller speaks frequently on early travel in Yellowstone, and has written for Big Sky Journal and Montana Quarterly, as well as being a regular contributor to Yellowstone Gate.

His May 20 presentation at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West will focus on women’s adventures in early Yellowstone, including details of Corthell’s trip.

“Women were in the park very early,” Miller said. “Initially in my research, I was a little surprised by that. Because the park in its first years was truly a roadless wilderness.”

Most of Yellowstone’s first visitors were groups of adventurous men. But as roads, hotels and other improvements were made, women and families visited the park in increasing numbers, Miller said.

“Many of these women who were early visitors would have come across the prairie in covered wagons or on a steamboat up the Missouri (River),” he said. “So spending a few nights camping outdoors was not a big deal for them. And the park was something they really wanted to see.”

That includes women like 21-year-old Alice Richards, the daughter of Wyoming Gov. William Richards. She toured the park in 1898 as a guest of The Yellowstone National Park Transportation Company, which was seeking publicity by hosting prominent visitors.

Richards brought three girlfriends on the trip, but didn’t have an older chaperone, Miller said—a mildly scandalous issue at the time that now seems quaint.

“Alice’s story also offers a contrast between Western girls and the snobbish visitors from the East,” he said.

Writing of her trip, Richards said that “everything went smoothly, we all behaved as well as if we had been chaperoned—perhaps better.”

“The first few days, the other tourists were inclined to be critical,” Richards wrote. “But when (the Easterners) could find nothing to really criticize, they one and all decided that Western girls were pretty nice people after all.”

If you go…

M. Mark Miller will present Sidesaddles and Geysers: Women’s Adventures in Early Yellowstone during the Buffalo Gals Luncheon at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West in Cody on Wednesday, May 20, 11:45 a.m. – 1 p.m. For tickets and details, call 307-578-4008.

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