When I find long pieces on early travel to Yellowstone Park, I usually look for a excerpt or two to post on my blog. But when I examined “A Lady’s Visits To The Geysers of Yellowstone Park,” I couldn’t find short piece that stood out.
In fact, the whole thing struck me as a charming account that deserved wide circulation. Also, since it’s getting harder to find items, I decided to post it in sections.
The magazine that published the article identifies its author only as HWS, and she reveals few details about herself, just that she was a stout lady in her 50s who had two daughters.
We know that HWS was adventurous because she took her trip at a time when getting to Yellowstone Park required a long horseback or stagecoach ride. Also, road building was just beginning in Yellowstone Park so HWS knew she would have to ride a horse when she was there.
In part 1 or her story, HWS describes preparations for her Yellowstone adventure and the trip from Ogden, Utah, to Camas, Idaho, on the Utah and Northern Railroad. By 1883, thousands would take the train to Yellowstone Park and cross it in comfortable coaches. But in 1881, when HWS went there, it was still a remote wilderness with only a few primitive roads.
In the summer of 1880, while traveling in California, we conceived the idea of taking a trip the following year to the National Yellowstone Park. Our party consisted of myself and three children, two young collegians, two gentlemen from Philadelphia, and a young cousin. As we had learned that our journey would have to be largely made on horseback, we condensed our baggage as much as possible, and packed it in some admirable canvas saddlebags we found in an outlying store at Salt Lake. Our “proud clothes” we left in Ogden to be picked up on our return.
During our previous camping-out trip in Colorado, we had discovered that an oval hole dug for the hips relieved the strain on the body, and made even the hard earth quite bearable. And if to this was added a small pillow to place under the back or side, it became luxurious! We therefore purchased pillows at Salt Lake, and I supplied myself with a private trowel to carry in my own knapsack for these digging purposes. The three ladies of the party (myself and my two daughters) wore short flannel suits, with Turkish trousers. The gentlemen wore flannel shirts, and winter coats and pants, with brown duck overalls for protection from rents and holes. These latter garments were bought at my especial request, as I strongly objected to the risk of spending all my spare time in mending.
On July 27th we started for Camas on the little narrow gauge railroad, our road lying through the dreariest of all dreary alkali plains. As far as the eye could reach, there was nothing to be seen but the burning sand and the sad gray sagebrush, which is the only thing that will grow upon it. Prairie the people called it, but desert it is, and desert it used to be called, I am sure, in the geographies of my childhood. I remember well how I used to be interested and excited in those far off days with the vague | descriptions given us of this mysterious I “Great American Desert,” and how I used to long to penetrate its dreary wastes, but never hoped to have such good fortune bestowed upon me.
And now here I found myself, feeling as natural and almost as much at home as on a New Jersey sand-flat, and could hardly wonder how it came about. I believe it is the tin cans that have done it—tin cans and Yankee push and grit, but chiefly tin cans, for without them I do not see how these deserts could have been traversed or settled. The altitudes are so high, and the nights so cold, and the water so scarce, that nothing fit to eat grows naturally, and very little can be raised artificially, and therefore if it had not been for the ease of carrying food in these cans, civilization would, it seems to me, have met with an impassible barrier in these desert plains.
— From H. W. S., “A Lady’s Visit To The Geysers Of The Yellowstone Park.” Friends Intelligencer May 19, 1883. Pages 218-221, and May 27, Pages 234-237.
— Image from Widipedia Commons.
— In Part 2: HWS describes the trials and tribulations of traveling across Idaho to the edge of Yellowstone National Park with a pack train.