In the decade between 1834 and 1843, a trapper named Osborne Russell kept a journal describing his adventures in the frontier northwest. Russell’s journal provides one of the earliest written accounts of travel to the upper Yellowstone. Here’s his description of hot springs and geysers in a now extinct geothermal area.
The next day we traveled along the border of the lake till we came to the northwest extremity, where we found about 50 springs of boiling hot water. We stopped here some hours as one of my comrades had visited this spot the year previous he wished to show us some curiosities.
The first spring we visited was about ten feet in diameter, which threw up mud with a noise similar to boiling soap. Close about this were numerous similar to it throwing up the hot mud and water five or six feet high. About thirty or forty paces from these along the side of a small ridge the hot steam rushed forth from holes in the ground with a hissing noise which could be heard a mile distant.
On a near approach we could hear the water bubbling under ground some distance from the surface. The sound of our footsteps over this place was like thumping over a hollow vessel of immense size. In many places were peaks from two to six feet high formed of limestone, deposited by the boiling water, which appeared of snowy whiteness. The water when cold is perfectly sweet except having a fresh limestone taste.
After surveying these natural wonders for sometime, my comrade conducted me to what he called the “Hour Spring.” At this spring the first thing that attracts the attention is a hole about 15 inches in diameter in which the water is boiling slowly about 4 inches below the surface. At length it begins to boil and bubble violently and the water commences raising and shooting upwards until the column arises to the height of sixty feet. It falls to the ground in drops on a circle of about 30 feet in diameter being perfectly cold when it strikes the ground.
It continues shooting up in this manner five or six minutes and then sinks back to its former state of slowly boiling for an hour — and then shoots forth as before. My comrade said he had watched the motions of this spring for one whole day and part of the night the year previous and found no irregularity whatever in its movements.
— Photo, Coppermine Photo Galley
— From Osborn Russell, Journal of a Trapper, Syms-York Company, Boise, Idaho, 1921. Pages 99-100.
— You might also enjoy:
- Daniel Potts 1827 “Letter from Sweet Lake,” which is thought to be the first written description of Yellowstone’s geothermal features.
- Warren Angus Ferris’s description of his trip to the geysers in 1834.