Thumb Paint Pots

After the Montana gold rush of 1863, groups of prospectors began scouring the area that became Yellowstone Park for gold. Occasionally their reports appeared in territorial newspapers. According to conventional wisdom, however, newspapers in the states (as opposed the the territories) were always skepical about reports of wonders on the upper Yellowstone until the famous of Washburn Expedition of 1870. This report from the September 14, 1867, issue of The New York Times proves that wasn’t always the case, although the reports of “blue flame” and “molten brimstone” don’t match any known features of the area today and show that some skepticism was in order.

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The Montana Post says that an exploring party, which has been to the headwaters of the Yellowstone River, has just returned and reports seeing one of the greatest wonders of the world. For eight days, the party traveled through a country emitting blue flame and a living stream of molten brimstone. The country was smooth and rolling, a long level plain intervening between roiling mounds. On the summits of the roiling mounds were craters for 4 to 6 inches in diameter, from which streamed a blaze and constant whistling sound. The hollow ground resounded beneath our feet as they traveled and every moment seemed to break through. Not a living thing was seen in the vicinity. The explorers gave it the significant appellation of hell.

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— New York Times, September 14, 1867, page 1.

— Ashahel Curtis Postcard, Copperplate Photo Gallery

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