By the time Georgina M. Synge visited Yellowstone Park in the 1890s, most tourists sped through the park on rigorously scheduled five-day coach tours.
But Georgina and her companion, whom she simply called “A.” (probably A. was her husband), preferred the flexibility of traveling on horseback. Having their own horses and tents not only provided them with the flexibility to stay as long as they wanted at any given sight, it also allowed them to choose their route. After visiting the Grand Geysers, they decided to detour into the back country in hopes of seeing some big game. Here’s how Georgina described what happened when a surprise visitor came to her tent.
We pitched our tent on the Yellowstone banks, by a lovely bend that carried it through great rocks further down. Behind us were thick forests, and in front long blue lines of hills. It looked a splendid place for trout, with its deep pools and gravelly shallows, so, though it was getting dark, A. brought out his rods, and in a very few minutes had secured some fine big fellows, which were delicious, grilled for supper.
The men had stupidly left the axe behind at our lunching place, and so it happened our tent was not very well pegged down that night. However, as it was clear still weather, we thought it did not matter, not dreaming of other alarms. I was rather tired and slept soundly, and it must have been about one o’clock when I was awakened by funny little squeaks near the tent, and I heard the men from the wagon, about ten yards off, calling out and trying to frighten something away. This ceased for a little. Then presently I heard something creeping round the tent, and some more squeals. The lamp was dimly burning, and I turned it on the entrance, which was the unpegged part. Something was squeezing itself under the canvas, something about the size of a badger, black and smooth, and with a sharp little nose.
I turned the lamp full upon it, and we stared at each other, both much surprised. My stick was close at hand, so I whacked on the ground, upon which the little beast turned tail in a hurry, and scuttled out as fast as it could. A. by this time was awake, and professed to be much surprised that I, who was so fond of live creatures, should object to the poor little thing.
“As if it would have hurt us,” he remarked, as he turned over and went to sleep again. However, dearly as I love the animal world, I prefer not to have unknown species thereof rambling about my sleeping apartment, and so I lay awake on the chance of having another visit. Before long I heard something walking about with heavy lumbering gait, some few yards off. Then it came nearer, walked slowly round the tent, sniffing along the bottom, and brushing up against the canvas as it passed. With some difficulty I awoke A.
“There’s a wild beast outside!” I cried,” and it’s trying to get in—what shall we do!” A. replied that he would rather be eaten than wake up, and that it was most likely a poor little mink or inoffensive creature of that kind, and I had better go to sleep again. But at that moment it began to move once more, there was a shuffling at the entrance—a great big something bulging it out as it tried to poke its way through. Then, as we watched, horrified (having no guns in the tent), we saw a large brown head thrust through the insecurely fastened opening.
“It’s a wolf!” I shrieked, “and it wants to eat us!” And we seized our sticks and made a terrific noise to frighten the monster. He certainly was surprised, for he quickly withdrew his nose, and we heard him sloping off. I was dying with curiosity to see what he was like, and at last summoned up courage to peep out. It was early morning, and a faint cold light made everything distinctly visible.
There, squatting a few yards off, was our visitor, watching us, and trying to make up his mind whether to investigate further. I had no desire for a closer acquaintance with him, however, and beat on the sides of the tent with my stick, and yelled at him in a way that evidently struck terror into his savage breast, for he turned tail and trotted off, and I lost sight of him below the hill. After this we barricaded the entrance and made it as secure as we could, and A. promised to keep watch for the rest of the night. However, I had not the smallest inclination, to close an eye even, and as soon as it was light enough we got up and roused the men to prepare breakfast.
We found they had had a lively night also, as they had had mink after the fish, and our big brown visitor also, which latter had been attracted by the elk steak. They declared it was a wolverine, which is a very cowardly sort of brute, and rarely shows fight or attacks mankind. But they confided in A. afterwards that it was really a cinnamon bear, but that they did not like to tell me for fear I should be too much alarmed to sleep in the tent again, whereas nobody minded wolverines. However, as I told them, one was quite as alarming to me as the other, though, now it was all over, I was not ill-pleased at having seen one of these interesting beasts so near; for many people go through the Yellowstone without seeing a vestige of a bear, especially if they keep on the trail.
—From “Big Game” pp. 71-84 in Georgina M. Synge, A Ride Through Wonderland. Sampson, Marston & Company. London, 1892.
—Image from the Coppermine Photo Gallery.