In October 1880, Carrie Strahorn and her husband, Robert (she called him “Pard”) were the only passengers on the first run of George Marshall’s stage between Virginia City, Montana, and the Lower Geyser Basin. The Strahorns spent their first night in a cabin in the Madison River valley that belonged to Gilman Sawtell, Yellowstone Park’s first commercial guide and builder of the first road to the Lower Geyser Basin.
On their second day of travel, the Strahorns crossed the Continental Divide over Raynolds Pass and went to Henrys Lake where Sawtell had built a two-story building he planed to use as a hotel for Yellowstone tourists. Sawtell wasn’t there because, as Carrie put it, “during the late Indian troubles, he had abandoned this house and cached the doors and windows for fear the house would be burned.” The Strahorns made themselves at home anyway and Marshall fixed them a dinner of canned beans. Carrie told this story about what happened next.
Pard and I gathered our blankets to go back to the stage to fix a place to sleep, but Mr. Marshall insisted there was a nice lot of hay upstairs where we could be more comfortable, and handing us a candle, directed us to the stairway. It was a rickety passage, with the wind howling through every aperture and holding high carnival with every loose board in the house.
Once upstairs, the room to which we were sent seemed about forty feet square. The glimmering candle would light only a corner of the great black space, and a gust of wind would blow out the glim at intervals until the place seemed full of spooks and goblins. Pard and I gazed at each other when we could, and when we couldn’t, well, maybe I cried—I don’t quite remember.
He had persuaded me to buy a very heavy pair of shoes in Virginia City, because he had been told the ground was so hot in some sections of the park that thin soles were not at all safe to wear, and would soon be burned through. Then he had proceeded to hold them up to ridicule all day, and I had finally wagered five dollars with him that in spite of their looks I could get both of my feet into one of his shoes. So there in the dim candle light, with any number of sashless and paneless windows, with the pallet of hay down in a dark corner, partly covered with canvas, with the wind shrieking requiems for the dead and threats for the living, and with the rafters full of bats, I called to him to bring me his shoe, and let me win my wager.
I put on his number seven and declared my foot was lost and lonesome in it, and he cried out, “Well, then, now put in the other one! Put in the other one!” I began at once taking it off to put it on the other foot, when he cried out, “Oh, no, not that way, but both at once.” But I revolted and said, “No, that was not in the bargain; I had not agreed to put both in at the same time.” In deep chagrin, he threw a five-dollar gold piece at me, which was lost for half an hour in the hay before I could find it, while he gave a grunt or two that will be better not translated. And so we went on with our merrymaking, trying to forget our surroundings, and dispel thoughts of our discomfort, but it was a glad hour that saw us started again on our way with a new sun.
— Excerpt from “Early Days In Yellowstone,” pages 254-286 in Carrie Adell Strahorn, Fifteen Thousand Miles by Stage, New York: Putnam’s Sons, 1911.
— Photo detail from Strahorn’s book.
You also might enjoy:
- “An October Snow Storm at Yellowstone Canyon,” by Carrie Strahorn.
- “Building Fires to Light Up Grotto Geyser,” by Robert Strahorn.
- “Doughnuts In Bear Grease,” Sarah Tracy’s account of her stagecoach trip to Mammoth Hot Springs in 1873 and her adventures crossing Yellowstone Park.
— You can read Carrie Strahorn’s account of her 1880 trip to Yellowstone Park in my book, Adventures in Yellowstone.