When I present my Humanities Montana Program, “Sidesaddles and Geysers,” I always have difficulties deciding what stories to share. My programs at Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park at 8 p.m. this Friday, June 19, is no exception. After more than a decade of researching early travel to Yellowstone Park, I have dozens of stories to choose from.

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Doing laundry in a hot spring.

Given the location of Lewis and Clark Caverns just a few miles west of Three Forks on the banks of the Jefferson River, I’m tempted to share the famous story of “Colter’s Run.”  In that story, John Colter was stripped naked and told to run for his life from hundreds of Blackfeet warriors. It happened just a few miles east of where I’ll be presenting, but I’m supposed to be talking about the adventures of women who visited the Yellowstone Park more than a hundred years ago, so I’ll stick to that.

I’ll begin with stories my grandmother used to tell about her trip to Yellowstone Park in 1909 and her grandfather’s trip there in 1883. They’re among my earliest memories and launched my interest in park history.

Then I’ll outline the history of the Yellowstone area and describe how women began visiting there before the ink dried on President Grant’s signature on the document that created the park in 1872. That’s the year Emma Stone became the first women to make a complete tour of the park and I’ll describe her trip.

In the 1870s, Yellowstone Park was a roadless wilderness fraught with danger from wild animals, boiling hot springs, deep canyons. In 1877, Emma Cowan and her sister had a unique Yellowstone experience—they were captured by Indians. Emma’s account of her adventure is a classic, and I’ll read her description of watching Indians shoot her husband in the head and leave him for dead.

After railroads arrived in the area in 1883, Yellowstone Park developed rapidly. Soon tourists could speed between sights over the best roads in America and spend their nights in luxury hotels. To illustrate how safe people felt  by the dawn of the twentieth century, I’ll read excerpts from Eleanor Corthell’s tale of leaving her husband at home and taking her seven children to the park in 1903.

I’ll stop there and ask the audience for comments and questions. That’s my favorite park of any presentation.

If there’s time, I’ll have plenty of other stories for an encore.

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  • NPS Photo, Yellowstone Digital Archive.
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