Western Girls Don’t Need Chaperones — Alice Richards, 1898.
I’m excited about presenting “Sidesaddles and Geysers” at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West in Cody next Wednesday (May 20). I always like to give my talks a local angle so I’ve been digging through my files looking for Wyoming women’s accounts of their trips to Yellowstone Park. I found a delightful tale by twenty-one-year-old Alice Richards.
Alice was the daughter of Wyoming’s first state governor, William A. Richards. In 1898, S.S. Huntley, General Manager of the Yellowstone National Park Transportation Company, invited her to tour the Park as his guest. Alice eagerly organized a party of three other young women, but she couldn’t find an older person to serve as chaperone. Undaunted, the party resolved to be on their best behavior and take the trip without an escort. Here’s Alice’s story.
Mr. Huntley said that not enough people from Wyoming were visiting the park and if I would get up a party, he would provide transportation through the Park. I was greatly interested and began to talk about such a trip as soon as I reached home. I had expected to find it easy to get older friends to join me, but no one was interested though the expense at hotels we knew was not very high.
When I was about to give up on the idea, my father said he wanted my sister Ruth and myself to go. He spoke to Jesse Knight, the Judge of the State Supreme Court, who said his daughter, Harriet, could go. She found that a university friend of hers, Harriet Fox, would like to make the trip—so the plans were made and we four left Cheyenne on July 30th, via the Cheyenne and Northern Railroad.
We had a gay time on the trip because we were allowed the freedom of the train and rode on the engine, on the rear platform, and in the baggage car. I think Hattie Fox knew the engineer. We met several people whom we knew and had a generally good time—but we always remembered we were “ladies.” I was 21 and a half years old; the Hatties were a little younger and Ruth was 15.
From Livingston, which is on the main line of the Northern Pacific Railroad, we took a branch, which runs 51 miles south to the town of Cinnabar, Montana. Here we were met by Park employees who took charge of us. “Tourists are conveyed in six-horse tally-ho coaches to the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel, seven miles from Cinnabar
The other tourists were “conveyed” by stagecoach, but the four of us were taken in charge by, put in the Park wagon with two seats behind the driver. Four schoolteachers from Brooklyn wanted a wagon also. They said: “We do not see why those giddy girls have a wagon when we can’t have one.” So, right there, easterners began to be critical of “those western girls.”
Maybe here is the place to say that they finally changed their minds. Even the teachers said they wished eastern girls had the high spirits and courtesy of us giddy western girls. We were full of fun, but we were always polite and courteous to others and didn’t do anything out of the way. However, after we had been on the way a day or two, Mrs. Meyer from Red Lodge, Montana, suggested to me that some of us ride in their somewhat larger wagon while she or her husband rode with us.
She said, “You do not need chaperones as you behave well, but those easterners do not understand our ways and will take away a better report if you seem to be of our party.” Being loyal westerners we agreed—I remember I was very glad for I did feel the responsibility of my party.
At Cinnabar, we were approached by an emissary from Mr. Huntley who ushered us over to the Park wagon mentioned above. The baggage was out in with us and we started out with Mr. Murphy as driver to get our first view of Wonderland ahead. In a note to me, Mr. Huntley had said that he would try to find an honest driver for us, but quite soon Mr. Murphy began telling quite tall tales of the rather rough country through which we were passing.
We didn’t “ah” and “oh” quite enough to suit him and pretty soon he turned to us and said, “ Just were are you girls from?” We tried to say we were tenderfeet—but it didn’t suit him. When he found that the Hatties were from the University of Wyoming, and Ruth and I from Cheyenne, he was quite abashed. “Why didn’t Mr. Huntley tell me I was driving western girls? I though I was going to have some nice innocent girls from the east.”
Later he said, “I was taking someone else’s place today but I am going to ask Mr. Huntley to let me take you all the way through the Park—even though I can’t tell my tall tales.” We assured him we would gladly listen and would be glad to have for all the trip—which we did and found him a very good driver and a kind friend.
The first stop on the trip after leaving the railroad is the Mammoth Hot Springs—which fully lived up to their name. However, this is not a tale of the Park, but of four girls who managed their own trip—with the help of Park employees. The people were the greatest item of interest. There were many easterners, and others from many parts of the country.
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, but when they could find nothing to really criticize, they one and all decided that western girls were pretty nice people after all.
- Compiled from the correspondence, notes and diary of Alice Richards McCreery. Originals are in the Wyoming Historical Society’s Richards locker in Cheyenne.
- Photo from the Richards locker.
- You might also enjoy another the adventures of another Wyoming woman, Eleanor Corthell: “A Mother Takes Her Seven Children to the Park,” and “The New Camp Spirit Gets Arrested.“