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I love Montana’s many small museums because the do such a good job of preserving history and promoting community spirit. I’m looking forward to presenting “Sidesaddles and Geysers” Saturday, May 19, at the Jefferson County Museum in Clancy.  I’ve been there before and I plan to arrive early so I can see the wonderful exhibits.

I’ll begin my presentation, which is supported by Humanities Montana, with stories my grandmother used to tell me about her trip to Yellowstone Park in 1909.  I built a “stone soup story” around that trip for my presentation at the Sheridan, MT, Public Library a couple of weeks ago.  You can read about that here.

Then I’ll tell stories about the first women to visit Yellowstone Park. These brave ladies literally rode sidesaddle through the then roadless wilderness in the 1870’s. One of the most chilling stories is Emma Cowan’s tale of being captured by Indians in the Park.  Emma and her family went there in the summer of 1877, the year the Nez Perce fled the homeland in hopes of finding freedom in Canada.

Emma wrote a gripping account of watching Indians shoot her husband, George, in the head, and, leaving him for dead, and then taking her and her sister and brother captive. After the Nez Perce release the trio, Emma made her way home where she awaited word of her husband’s fate. Word finally arrived that George was alive, but Emma didn’t know if the army would send him to Virginia City or Bozeman, so she waited near the telegraph office in Helena to find out. As soon Emma heard that George was being taken to Bozeman, she rented a wagon and set out to meet him.

For my presentation in Clancy, I’ll read the account I wrote about Emma’s epic ride to be by George’s side for my upcoming book, Encounters in Yellowstone. Emma traveled 175 miles over rough roads in 31 hours, a trip that generally took four days.

Then I’ll slow the pace with a different kind of adventure: Eleanor Corthell’s account of her 1903 trip to Yellowstone Park. By then roads were good and there was no danger from Indians, but Eleanor still had plenty to deal with while she watched her seven children frolic near geysers and drove bears from her camp.

I’ll end the presentation with a bit of humor, Louise Elliott’s story of how a camp assistant for a tour company gets even with a supercilious guest who has been making her life miserable.

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— Photo from the Jefferson County Museum Web Site.

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