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Remembering the first commercial tour guide in Yellowstone Park

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

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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Colonel Pickett gets a bear in Yellowstone in 1877

After word spread about the magnificent big game in Yellowstone Park, hunters from the eastern United States and Europe began coming to bag a trophy. Even if they were skilled hunters where they came from, they needed someone to guide them in the rugged West. Jack Bean had the perfect credentials for the job. Before hiring out as a guide, Bean had been a trapper, hunter and Indian fighter. In the summer of 1877, the U.S. Army hired Bean to look for Chief Joseph and his band of Nez Perce Indians along the Madison River and in Yellowstone Park. He returned to Bozeman after locating the Indians and telling the Army they were headed into Yellowstone Park. Bean discovered that a Colonel Pickett wanted to hire him as a hunting guide. In his memoir, Bean tells this tale about the intrepid colonel. Continue Reading →

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The Earl of Dunraven visits Yellowstone in 1874 and explains how to pack a mule

Early tourists had to brave a roadless wilderness to see the sights of the new Yellowstone National Park. That meant supplies had to be carried by pack animals—often cantankerous mules. One such tourist was the Earl of Dunraven, an Irish noble who first visited the park in 1874. (Dunraven Pass was named after him.) Dunraven was an astute observer and a droll wit. Here's his description of how to pack a mule. Continue Reading →

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Cruising Yellowstone Lake ‘The Wylie Way’ in 1903

The ZIllah was a boat used by the Wylie tour company to take early Yellowstone Park visitors on scenic cruises on Yellowstone Lake. (NPS photo - click to enlarge)

In 1903, Hester Henshall traveled by train from Bozeman to Yellowstone Park with her husband, Dr. James Henshall, who was director of the Bozeman National Fish Hatchery. Dr. Henshall was a physician, but he made his name as an angler and fish biologist. His Book of the Black Bass, published in 1881, is still in print The Henshalls toured Yellowstone “The Wylie Way.” That is, with Wylie Permanent Camping Company, which offered tourists a comprehensive package that included transportation, food and lodging in tents that were put up in the spring and left up for the season. The tour included a steamboat cruise across Yellowstone Lake. Here’s Hester’s description of her cruise. Continue Reading →

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Old Gardiner Road follows historic stagecoach trail out of Yellowstone Park


Yellowstone National Park has more than 300 miles of paved (and often crowded) roads, but a lesser-known dirt road between Mammoth Hot Springs, Wyo. and Gardiner, Mont. offers visitors a chance to follow a historic stagecoach route out of the park. The Old Gardiner Road is a 5-mile stretch of dirt road that roughly parallels the paved road from Mammoth to Gardiner, but travels through the hills to the west of the main road, rather than along the Gardner River as it flows out of Yellowstone. Continue Reading →

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