I’ve been assembling a stone soup story to present on April 29 in Sheridan, Montana. It will be my Humanities Montana talks entitled Sidesaddles and Geysers at the Sheridan Public Library beginning at 5:30 p.m.
I’m building my presentation around stories my grandmother told me when I was a little boy about her trip to Yellowstone Park in 1909. I real don’t know much about that trip, so I’ve been checking my files for accounts of trips to the park at the dawn of the Twentieth Century and historic photos to illustrate those accounts. I’ll put together bits and pieces from those accounts to assemble a description of what Grandma’s trip must have been like. That’s what I mean by a “stone soup story.”
Grandma went to the park with her Aunt Elvina Redfield, seven of Elivina’s eleven children, and two of her brothers whose last name was Mercer. The Redfield-Mercer party had a surrey for Elvina and the younger children, a wagon for supplies, and four saddle horses. They left the family ranch near the Point of Rocks west of Twin Bridges in early August and were gone for four weeks. That’s about all I know about the trip.
I’ll model my reconstruction of the trip after Florence Strebb Fassler’s diary of her trip to Yellowstone Park in 1910, which probably was very like my grandmother’s a year earlier. Florence started in Melrose, a town west of Twin Bridges, on August 1. She provides good descriptions of the route she and her companions and the sights they saw.
Florence’s first stop was Twin Bridges where she spent the first night and then toured the state orphans home the next morning. After that, she headed down the Jefferson Valley traveling about twenty miles a day. She and her companions fished for food and stopped by farmhouses to buy bread, butter, milk and fresh vegetables.
Florence was impressed by her stop in Bozeman where she saw streetcars and electric lights for the first time. She also took a tour of Nelson Story’s massive new flourmill—and got to meet Mr. Story himself.
Two days later, Florence was at Yankee Jim Canyon where she met the famous toll road operator. Yankee Jim had stopped taking tolls by then, but he was still spinning tall tales for passing tourists and telling fortunes.
The next day Florence entered the park and stopped at Mammoth Hot Springs for a couple of days. Then her group traveled to the lush meadows south of Mammoth to let their horses rest and graze for a couple of days.
After describing travel to Yellowstone Park, I’ll turn to other traveler’s descriptions of adventures that they had about the time the Redfield-Mercer party went there:
- Louis Downing’s description of his companions going to the base of the Lower Fall of the Yellowstone and nearly falling down the canyon.
- Hester Henshall’s tale of cruising Lake Yellowstone in the steam ship Zillah.
- Eleanor Corthell’s story of worrying that her children might fall into a boiling pool at a geyser basin.
- Ernest Thomson-Seton’s description of watching bears at a hotel garbage dump and a dramatic fight between a mom black bear defending her cub and a giant grizzly.
After reading the stories, I’ll tell about heading down the Madison River and exiting the park at West Yellowstone. Florence’s diary ends there. That should leave time for me to answer questions and sigh copies of my book, Adventures in Yellowstone.
I think the presentation will give a good ideas of what it would have been like to tour Yellowstone Park a hundred years ago. I know I’ll enjoy being in Sheridan.