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Castle Geyser, Upper Geyser Basin

Castle Gesyer, Upper Geyser Basin

Conventional Yellowstone Park history holds that people didn’t start visiting the area just for fun until the area was explored in the 1870s. But this tale proves the sights attracted people long before that.

James Gemmell toured the area that became Yellowstone Park in 1846 with the best guide of all, Jim Bridger. Gemmell and his companion left Fort Bridger on the Green River in Utah, followed the Snake River to “Wonderland,” and spent several weeks seeing the sights on their way to trade with Indians in Montana. Here’s his story.

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In 1846 I started from Fort Bridger in company with old Jim Bridger on a trading expedition to the Crows and Sioux. We left in August with a large and complete outfit, went up Green River and camped for a time near the Three Tetons, and then followed the trail over the divide between Snake River and the streams which flow north into Yellowstone Lake.

We camped for a time near the west arm of the lake and here Bridger proposed to show me the wonderful spouting springs at the head of the Madison. Leaving our main camp, with a small and select party we took the trail by Snake Lake (now called Shoshonne Lake) and visited what have of late years become so famous as the Upper and Lower Geyser Basins. There we spent a week and then returned to our camp, whence we resumed our journey, skirted the Yellowstone Lake along its west side, visited the Upper and Lower Falls, and the Mammoth Hot Springs, which appeared as wonderful to us as had the geysers.

Here we camped several days to enjoy the baths and to recuperate our animals, for we had had hard work in getting around the lake and down the river, because of so much fallen timber which had to be removed. We then worked our way down the Yellowstone and camped again for a few days’ rest on what is now the reservation, opposite to where Benson’s Landing now is.

From here we crossed the present Crow Reservation and made our winter camp at the mouth of the Big Horn, where we had a big trade with the Crow and Sioux Indians, who at that time were friendly towards each other. The next spring we returned with our furs and robes, passing up the Big Horn River and over the mountains to Independence Kock and thence home.

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— Gemmell’s story is quoted in William F. Wheeler, “The Late James Gemmell,” Contributions to the Historical Society of Montana 2 (Helena, Mont.: State Publishing Co., 1896), pages 331-332.

— The Thomas Moran painting of Castle Geyser is from the Copper Mine Photo Gallery.

— You might enjoy fur trader Warren Angus Ferris’s story of visiting geysers in 1834.  

— For similar stories click on “Mountain Men” under the Categories button above.

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