In 1903, Eleanor Corthell bought a team of horses and a spring wagon to take her seven children to Yellowstone Park. She told the seller to send his bill to her husband, Nellis Corthell, a prominent Laramie lawyer. Nellis tried to talk Eleanor out of the trip, but in the end, she said, all he could do was “fizz and fume and furnish the wherewithal.”
Here are some excerpts from Mrs. Corthell’s account of her family’s adventures.
Nearly half a lifetime I have lived in Laramie, with all the while a great longing to see the wonders of the Yellowstone, in season, out of season, when the house was full of babies—even when it was full of measles. As the older children outgrew marbles and dolls, I conceived the bold idea of stowing them all in a prairie schooner and sailing away over the Rocky Mountains, deserts, forests and fords to the enchanted land five hundred miles away.
My husband offered strenuous objection, of course, to the crazy project, but could only fizz and fume and furnish the wherewithal—for the reasons advanced he found irresistible, such an ideal vacation for the children. A chance for their botany, geography, zoology, to be naturalized. To be drivers and cooks would throw them on their own resources somewhat, a valuable education in itself. So economical, too! Such a fine opportunity for stretching of legs and lungs, with the Park at the end! Reasons to turn a man’s head, you see, so when the boys wrote along the wagon top ” Park or Bust,” that settled it, and we started July 4th, 1903.
After traveling several days, Mrs. Corthell wrote:
Everybody is growing handy, even expert, in camp work. The boys can skin a cottontail or dress a sage hen equal to Kit Carson himself, while daughter can prepare a savory dinner or pack a mess box good enough for an army general. The children are eagerly interested in everything they see, hear or can catch. Tad announces that we have seen nine horned toads, caught six, mailed three and have two packed in little tablet boxes with which to surprise the chum at home. Query: Where is the medicine that was in the boxes?
At the Paint Pots near West Thumb on Lake Yellowstone, Eleanor was vigilant.
I was kept busy counting the children. Every time one of them moved I was certain he would stumble into one of the boiling, walloping vats of mud. That the mud was delicate rose, emerald green, or heavenly blue did not reassure me in the least. But the children simply laughed. Even the youngest pertly informed me he had not come all the way to Yellowstone Park to fall into a mud hole. Still the horrid smells and the horrible groans and growls, and the gaping mouths clear to Hades aroused such emotions of terror in me that in sheer desperation I hurried over to the lake.
Eleanor summarized the trip this way:
Like everybody else, we loved Old Faithful and the Morning Glory, we feared Excelsior, we admired the Giant, Bee Hive, Punch Bowl and a hundred other yawning chasms and smiling springs and spouting geysers. But the horrible rumbling—as if an earthquake were imminent—and the smell of brimstone made me eager to get my brood into the valley of safety beyond the Yellowstone.
Altogether we traveled twelve hundred miles, stood the journey well, and never, never had such a wonderful, delightful summer. The children will have lifelong memories of the grandest scenes the world can produce.
— Excerpts from “A Family Trip to the Yellowstone” by Mrs. N. E. Corthell, The Independent, June 29, 1905.
— Photo from the Pioneer Museum of Bozeman.
— You can read Eleanor Corthell’s complete story about her family trip in my book, Adventures in Yellowstone.
— You also might enjoy Mrs. Corthell’s story about chasing a bear away from her bean pot.