I was delighted this morning to find a brand new, autographed copy of Paul Schullery’s book, Old Yellowstone Days, on my breakfast table. Now I can retire the 1977 edition that I refer to often. It’s falling apart.
The re-issue of Paul’s book means that three collections of first-person accounts of early travel to Yellowstone National Park have been published in the last two years. Old Yellowstone Days joins Ho! For Wonderland: Travelers Accounts of Yellowstone, 1872-1914 by Lee H. Whittlesey and Elizabeth A. Watry and my book, Adventures In Yellowstone: Early Travelers Tell Their Tales.
At a superficial level, a single blurb could describe all three books: “A collection of interesting stories about nineteenth century travel to the world’s first national park by the people who lived the adventures.” But, the books really are quite different. In fact, only two of the forty stories contained in the three books appear more than once.
Schullery focuses on celebrities. His book includes Rudyard Kipling’s description of Yellowstone as “a howling wilderness . . . full of the freaks of nature,” and his condescending description of a Fourth of July Celebration as “wild advertisement, gas, bunkum, blow, anything you please beyond the bounds of common sense,” and Theodore Roosevelt’s lament that hunters were wiping out all of America’s big game—bison, elk and moose, as well as Frederick Remington’s description of his adventures helping soldiers capture poachers.
Whittlesey and Watry provide a wide sample of “ordinary” Yellowstone experiences. They begin with Montana Pioneer Granville Stuart’s detailed descriptions of everything he saw when the park was just a year old in 1873. They end with Elbert and Alice Hubbard’s precious accounts of what they saw in 1914. Whittlesey and Watry approach their task in a scholarly manner liberally sprinkling their book with footnotes to explain unclear references.
I take the opposite approach focusing on extraordinary tales filled with adventure, like Emma Cowan’s story of watching Indians shoot her husband in the head, or with humor, like the Earl of Dunraven’s hilarious explanation of how to pack a mule. I don’t use a single footnote and edit extensively for easy reading by today’s readers.
The books are testament to the enormous diversity of the Yellowstone experience. Fans of Yellowstone Park would enjoy all of them. So would fans of history. And fans of well told stories.