THE DISCOVERY OF YELLOWSTONE PARK
Journal of the Washburn Expedition to the Yellowstone and Firehole Rivers in the Year 1870
by Nathaniel Pitt Langford
Foreword (not included)
Index (not included)
When the rumored discovery in the year 1861 of extensive gold placers on Salmon river was confirmed, the intelligence spread through the states like wild fire. Hundreds of men with dependent families, who had been thrown out of employment by the depressed industrial condition of the country and by the Civil War, and still others actuated by a thirst for gain, utilized their available resources in providing means for an immediate migration to the land of promise. Before midsummer they had started on the long and perilous journey. How little did they know of its exposures! The deserts, destitute of water and grass, the alkaline plains where food and drink were alike affected by the poisonous dust, the roving bands of hostile Indians, the treacherous quicksands of river fords, the danger and difficulty of the mountain passes, the death of their companions, their cattle and their horses, breakage of their vehicles, angry and often violent personal altercations—all these fled in the light of the summer sun, the vernal beauty of the plains and the delightfully pure atmosphere which wooed them day by day farther away from the abode of civilization and the protection of law. The most fortunate of this army of adventurers suffered from some of these fruitful causes of disaster. So certain were they to occur in some form that a successful completion of the journey was simply an escape from death. The story of the Indian murders and cruelties alone, which befell hundreds of these hapless emigrants, would fill volumes. Every mile of the several routes across the continent was marked by the decaying carcasses of oxen and horses, which had perished during the period of this hegira to the gold mines. Three months with mules and four with oxen were necessary to make the journey—a journey now completed in five days from ocean to ocean by the railroad. Some of these expeditions, after entering the unexplored region which afterwards became Montana, were arrested by the information that it would be impossible to cross with wagon teams the several mountain ranges between them and the mines.
In the summer of 1862 a company of 130 persons left St. Paul for the Salmon river mines. This Northern overland expedition was confided to the leadership of Captain James L. Fisk, whose previous frontier experience and unquestionable personal courage admirably fitted him for the command of an expedition which owed so much of its final success, as well as its safety during a hazardous journey through a region occupied by hostile Indians, to the vigilance and discipline of its commanding officer. E.H. Burritt was first assistant, the writer was second assistant and commissary, and Samuel R. Bond was secretary. Among those who were selected for guard duty were David E. Folsom, Patrick Doherty (Baptiste), Robert C. Knox, Patrick Bray, Cornelius Bray, Ard Godfrey, and many other well known pioneers of Montana. We started with ox teams on this journey on the 16th day of June, traveling by the way of Fort Abercrombie, old Fort Union, Milk river and Fort Benton, bridging all the streams not fordable on the entire route. Fort Union and Fort Benton were not United States military forts, but were the old trading posts of the American Fur Company.
This Northern overland route of over 1,600 miles, lay for most of the distance through a partially explored region, filled with numerous bands of the hostile Sioux Indians. It was the year of the Sioux Indian massacre in Minnesota. After a continuous journey of upwards of eighteen weeks we reached Grasshopper creek near the head of the Missouri on the 23d day of October, with our supply of provisions nearly exhausted, and with cattle sore-footed and too much worn out to continue the journey. There we camped for the winter in the midst of the wilderness, 400 miles from the nearest settlement or postoffice, from which we were separated by a region of mountainous country, rendered nearly impassable in the winter by deep snows, and beset for the entire distance by hostile Indians. Disheartening as the prospect was, we felt that it would not do to give way to discouragement. A few venturesome prospectors from the west side of the Rocky Mountains had found gold in small quantities on the bars bordering the stream, and a few traders had followed in their wake with a limited supply of the bare necessaries of life, risking the dangers of Indian attack by the way to obtain large profits as a rightful reward for their temerity. Flour was worth 75 cents per pound in greenbacks, and prices of other commodities were in like proportion, and the placer unpromising; and many of the unemployed started out, some on foot, and some bestride their worn-out animals, into the bleak mountain wilderness, in search of gold. With the certainty of death in its most horrid form if they fell into the hands of a band of prowling Blackfeet Indians, and the thought uppermost in their minds that they could scarcely escape freezing, surely the hope which sustained this little band of wanderers lacked none of those grand elements which sustained the early settlers of our country in their days of disaster and suffering. Men who cavil with Providence and attribute to luck or chance or accident the escape from massacre and starvation of a company of destitute men, under circumstances like these, are either wanting in gratitude or have never been overtaken by calamity. My recollection of those gloomy days is all the more vivid because I was among the indigent ones.
This region was then the rendezvous of the Bannack Indians, and we named the settlement "Bannack," not the Scotch name "Bannock," now often given to it.
Montana was organized as a territory on the 26th day of May, 1864, and I continued to reside in that territory until the year 1876, being engaged chiefly in official business of a character which made it necessary, from time to time, for me to visit all portions of the territory. It is a beautiful country. Nature displays her wonders there upon the most magnificent scale. Lofty ranges of mountains, broad and fertile valleys, streams broken into torrents are the scenery of every-day life. These are rendered enjoyable by clear skies, pure atmosphere and invigorating climate.
Ever since the first year of my residence there I had frequently heard rumors of the existence of wonderful phenomena in the region where the Yellowstone, Wind, Snake and other large rivers take their rise, and as often had determined to improve the first opportunity to visit and explore it, but had been deterred by the presence of unusual and insurmountable dangers. It was at that time inhabited only by wild beasts and roving bands of hostile Indians. An occasional trapper or old mountaineer were the only white persons who had ever seen even those portions of it nearest to civilization, previous to the visit of David E. Folsom and C.W. Cook in the year 1869. Of these some had seen one, some another object of interest; but as they were all believed to be romancers their stories were received with great distrust.
The old mountaineers of Montana were generally regarded as great fabricators. I have met with many, but never one who was not fond of practicing upon the credulity of those who listened to the recital of his adventures. James Bridger, the discoverer of Great Salt lake, who had a large experience in wild mountain life, wove so much of romance around his Indian adventures that his narrations were generally received with many grains of allowance by his listeners. Probably no man ever had a more varied and interesting experience during a long period of sojourning on the western plains and in the Rocky Mountains than Bridger, and he did not hesitate, if a favorable occasion offered, to "guy" the unsophisticated. At one time when in camp near "Pumpkin Butte," a well-known landmark near Fort Laramie, rising a thousand feet or more above the surrounding plain, a young attache of the party approached Mr. Bridger, and in a rather patronizing manner said: "Mr. Bridger, they tell me that you have lived a long time on these plains and in the mountains." Mr. Bridger, pointing toward "Pumpkin Butte," replied: "Young man, you see that butte over there! Well, that mountain was a hole in the ground when I came here."
Bridger's long sojourn in the Rocky Mountains commenced as early as the year 1820, and in 1832 we find him a resident partner in the Rocky Mountain Fur Company. He frequently spent periods of time varying from three months to two years, so far removed from any settlement or trading post, that neither flour nor bread stuffs in any form could be obtained, the only available substitute for bread being the various roots found in the Rocky Mountain region.
I first became acquainted with Bridger in the year 1866. He was then employed by a wagon road company, of which I was president, to conduct the emigration from the states to Montana, by way of Fort Laramie, the Big Horn river and Emigrant gulch. He told me in Virginia City, Mont., at that time, of the existence of hot spouting springs in the vicinity of the source of the Yellowstone and Madison rivers, and said that he had seen a column of water as large as his body, spout as high as the flag pole in Virginia City, which was about sixty (60) feet high. The more I pondered upon this statement, the more I was impressed with the probability of its truth. If he had told me of the existence of falls one thousand feet high, I should have considered his story an exaggeration of a phenomenon he had really beheld; but I did not think that his imagination was sufficiently fertile to originate the story of the existence of a spouting geyser, unless he had really seen one, and I therefore was inclined to give credence to his statement, and to believe that such a wonder did really exist.
I was the more disposed to credit his statement, because of what I had previously read in the report of Captain John Mullan, made to the war department. From my present examination of that report, which was made Feb. 14, 1863, and a copy of which I still have in my possession, I find that Captain Mullan says:
I learned from the Indians, and afterwards confirmed by my own explorations, the fact of the existence of an infinite number of hot springs at the headwaters of the Missouri, Columbia and Yellowstone rivers, and that hot geysers, similar to those of California, exist at the head of the Yellowstone.
Again he speaks of the isochimenal line (a line of even winter temperature), which he says reaches from Fort Laramie to the headwaters of the Yellowstone, at the hot spring and geysers of that stream, and continues thence to the Beaver Head valley, and he adds:
This is as true as it is strange, and shows unerringly that there exists in this zone an atmospheric river of heat, flowing through this region, varying in width from one to one hundred miles, according to the physical face of the country.
As early as the year 1866 I first considered the possibility of organizing an expedition for the purpose of exploring the Upper Yellowstone to its source. The first move which I made looking to this end was in 1867 and the next in 1868; but these efforts ended in nothing more than a general discussion of the subject of an exploration, the most potent factor in the abandonment of the enterprise being the threatened outbreaks of the Indians in Gallatin valley.
The following year (1869) the project was again revived, and plans formed for an expedition; but again the hostility of the Indians prevented the accomplishment of our purpose of exploration. Hon. David E. Folsom was enrolled as one of the members of this expedition, and when it was found that no large party could be organized, Mr. Folsom and his partner, C.W. Cook, and Mr. Peterson (a helper on the Folsom ranch), in the face of the threatened dangers from Indians, visited the Grand Canon, the falls of the Yellowstone and Yellowstone lake, and then turned in a northwesterly direction, emerging into the Lower Geyser basin, where they found a geyser in action, the water of which, says Mr. Folsom in his record of the expedition, "came rushing up and shot into the air at least eighty feet, causing us to stampede for higher ground."
Mr. Folsom, in speaking of the various efforts made to organize an expedition for exploration of the Yellowstone says:
In 1867, an exploring expedition from Virginia City, Montana Territory, was talked of, but for some unknown reason, probably for the want of a sufficient number to engage in it, it was abandoned. The next year another was planned, which ended like the first—in talk. Early in the summer of 1869 the newspapers throughout the Territory announced that a party of citizens from Helena, Virginia City and Bozeman, accompanied by some of the officers stationed at Fort Ellis, with an escort of soldiers, would leave Bozeman about the fifth of September for the Yellowstone country, with the intention of making a thorough examination of all the wonders with which the region was said to abound. The party was expected to be limited in numbers and to be composed of some of the most prominent men in the Territory, and the writer felt extremely flattered when his earnest request to have his name added to the list was granted. He joined with two personal friends in getting an outfit, and then waited patiently for the other members of the party to perfect their arrangements. About a month before the day fixed for starting, some of the members began to discover that pressing business engagements would prevent their going. Then came news from Fort Ellis that, owing to some changes made in the disposition of troops stationed in the Territory, the military portion of the party would be unable to join the expedition; and our party, which had now dwindled down to ten or twelve persons, thinking it would be unsafe for so small a number to venture where there was a strong probability of meeting with hostile Indians, also abandoned the undertaking. But the writer and his two friends before mentioned, believing that the dangers to be encountered had been magnified, and trusting by vigilance and good luck to avoid them, resolved to attempt the journey at all hazards.
We provided ourselves with five horses—three of them for the saddle, and the other two for carrying our cooking utensils, ammunition, fishing tackle, blankets and buffalo robes, a pick, and a pan, a shovel, an axe, and provisions necessary for a six weeks' trip. We were all well armed with repeating rifles, Colt's six-shooters and sheath-knives, and had besides a double barreled shotgun for small game. We also had a good field glass, a pocket compass and a thermometer.
Mr. Folsom followed the Yellowstone to the lake and crossed over to the Firehole, which he followed up as far as the Excelsior geyser (not then named), but did not visit the Upper Geyser basin. On his return to Helena he related to a few of his intimate friends many of the incidents of his journey, and Mr. Samuel T. Hauser and I invited him to meet a number of the citizens of Helena at the directors' room of the First National Bank in Helena; but on assembling there were so many present who were unknown to Mr. Folsom that he was unwilling to risk his reputation for veracity, by a full recital, in the presence of strangers, of the wonders he had seen. He said that he did not wish to be regarded as a liar by those who were unacquainted with his reputation. But the accounts which he gave to Hauser Gillette and myself renewed in us our determination to visit that region during the following year. Mr. Folsom, however, sent to the Western Monthly of Chicago a carefully prepared account of his expedition, which that magazine published in July, 1870, after cutting out some of the most interesting portions of the story, thus destroying in some measure the continuity of the narrative. The office of the Western Monthly was destroyed by fire before the copies of the magazine containing Mr. Folsom's article were distributed, and the single copy which Mr. Folsom possessed and which he presented to the Historical Society of Montana met a like fate in the great Helena fire. The copy which I possessed and which I afterwards presented to that Society is doubtless the only original copy now in existence; and, for the purpose of preserving the history of the initial step which eventuated in the creation of the Yellowstone National Park, I re-published, in the year 1894, 500 copies of Mr. Folsom's narrative, for distribution among those most interested in that exploration.
In the spring of 1870, while in St. Paul, I had an interview with Major General Winfield S. Hancock, during which he showed great interest in the plan of exploration which I outlined to him, and expressed a desire to obtain additional information concerning the Yellowstone country which would be of service to him in the disposition of troops for frontier defense, and he assured me that, unless some unforeseen exigency prevented, he would, when the time arrived, give a favorable response to our application for a military escort, if one were needed. Mr. Hauser also had a conference with General Hancock about the same time, and received from him like assurances.
About the 1st of August, 1870, our plans took definite shape, and some twenty men were enrolled as members of the exploring party. About this time the Crow Indians again "broke loose," and a raid of the Gallatin and Yellowstone valleys was threatened, and a majority of those who had enrolled their names, experiencing that decline of courage so aptly illustrated by Bob Acres, suddenly found excuse for withdrawal in various emergent occupations.
After a few days of suspense and doubt, Samuel T. Hauser told me that if he could find two men whom he knew, who would accompany him, he would attempt the journey; and he asked me to join him in a letter to James Stuart, living at Deer Lodge, proposing that he should go with us. Benjamin Stickney, one of the most enthusiastic of our number, also wrote to Mr. Stuart that there were eight persons who would go at all hazards and asked him (Stuart) to be a member of the party. Stuart replied to Hauser and myself as follows:
Deer Lodge City, M.T., Aug. 9th, 1870.
Dear Sam and Langford:
Stickney wrote me that the Yellow Stone party had dwindled down to eight persons. That is not enough to stand guard, and I won't go into that country without having a guard every night. From present news it is probable that the Crows will be scattered on all the headwaters of the Yellow Stone, and if that is the case, they would not want any better fun than to clean up a party of eight (that does not stand guard) and say that the Sioux did it, as they said when they went through us on the Big Horn. It will not be safe to go into that country with less than fifteen men, and not very safe with that number. I would like it better if it was fight from the start; we would then kill every Crow that we saw, and take the chances of their rubbing us out. As it is, we will have to let them alone until they will get the best of us by stealing our horses or killing some of us; then we will be so crippled that we can't do them any damage.
At the commencement of this letter I said I would not go unless the party stood guard. I will take that back, for I am just d——d fool enough to go anywhere that anybody else is willing to go, only I want it understood that very likely some of us will lose our hair. I will be on hand Sunday evening, unless I hear that the trip is postponed.
Since writing the above, I have received a telegram saying, "twelve of us going certain." Glad to hear it—the more the better. Will bring two pack horses and one pack saddle.
I have preserved this letter of James Stuart for the thirty-five years since it was received. It was written with a lead pencil on both sides of a sheet of paper, and I insert here a photograph of a half-tone reproduction of it. It has become somewhat illegible and obscure from repeated folding and unfolding.
Mr. Stuart was a man of large experience in such enterprises as that in which we were about to engage, and was familiar with all the tricks of Indian craft and sagacity; and our subsequent experience in meeting the Indians on the second day of our journey after leaving Fort Ellis, and their evident hostile intentions, justified in the fullest degree Stuart's apprehensions.
About this time Gen. Henry D. Washburn, the surveyor general of Montana, joined with Mr. Hauser in a telegram to General Hancock, at St. Paul, requesting him to provide the promised escort of a company of cavalry. General Hancock immediately responded, and on August 14th telegraphed an order on the commandant at Fort Ellis, near Bozeman, for such escort as would be deemed necessary to insure the safety of our party.
Just at this critical time I received a letter from Stuart announcing that he had been drawn as a juryman to serve at the term of court then about to open, and that as the federal judge declined to excuse him, he would not be able to join our party. This was a sore and discouraging disappointment both to Hauser and myself, for we felt that in case we had trouble with the Indians Stuart's services to the party would be worth those of half a dozen ordinary men.
A new roster was made up, and I question if there was ever a body of men organized for an exploring expedition, more intelligent or more keenly alive to the risks to be encountered than those then enrolled; and it seems proper that I here speak more specifically of them.
Gen. Henry D. Washburn was the surveyor general of Montana and had been brevetted a major general for services in the Civil War, and had served two terms in the Congress of the United States. Judge Cornelius Hedges was a distinguished and highly esteemed member of the Montana bar. Samuel T. Hauser was a civil engineer, and was president of the First National Bank of Helena. He was afterwards appointed governor of Montana by Grover Cleveland. Warren C. Gillette and Benjamin Stickney were pioneer merchants in Montana. Walter Trumbull was assistant assessor of internal revenue, and a son of United States Senator Lyman Trumbull of Illinois. Truman C. Everts was assessor of internal revenue for Montana, and Nathaniel P. Langford (the writer) had been for nearly five years the United States collector of internal revenue for Montana, and had been appointed governor of Montana by Andrew Johnson, but, owing to the imbroglio of the Senate with Johnson, his appointment was not confirmed.
While we were disappointed in our expectation of having James Stuart for our commander and adviser, General Washburn was chosen captain of the party, and Mr. Stickney was appointed commissary and instructed to put up in proper form a supply of provisions sufficient for thirty (30) days, though we had contemplated a limit of twenty-five (25) days for our absence. Each man promptly paid to Mr. Stickney his share of the estimated expense. When all these preparations had been made, Jake Smith requested permission to be enrolled as a member of our company. Jake was constitutionally unfitted to be a member of such a party of exploration, where vigilance and alertness were essential to safety and success. He was too inconsequent and easy going to command our confidence or to be of much assistance. He seemed to think that his good-natured nonsense would always be a passport to favor and be accepted in the stead of real service, and in my association with him I was frequently reminded of the youth who announced in a newspaper advertisement that he was a poor but pious young man, who desired board in a family where there were small children, and where his Christian example would be considered a sufficient compensation. Jake did not share the view of the other members of our company, that in standing guard, the sentry should resist his inclination to slumber. Mr. Hedges, in his diary, published in Volume V. of the Montana Historical Society publications, on September 13th, thus records an instance of insubordination in standing guard:
Jake made a fuss about his turn, and Washburn stood in his place.
Now that this and like incidents of our journey are in the dim past, let us inscribe for his epitaph what was his own adopted motto while doing guard duty when menaced by the Indians on the Yellowstone:
"REQUIESCAT IN PACE."
Of our number, five—General Washburn, Walter Trumbull, Truman C. Everts, Jacob Smith and Lieutenant Doane—have died. The five members now surviving are Cornelius Hedges, Samuel T. Hauser, Warren C. Gillette, Benjamin Stickney and myself.
I have not been able to ascertain the date of death of either Walter Trumbull or Jacob Smith. Lieutenant Doane died at Bozeman, Montana, May 5, 1892. His report to the War Department of our exploration is a classic. Major Chittenden says:
His fine descriptions have never been surpassed by any subsequent writer. Although suffering intense physical torture during the greater portion of the trip, it did not extinguish in him the truly poetic ardor with which those strange phenomena seem to have inspired him.
Dr. Hayden, who first visited this region the year following that of our exploration, says of Lieutenant Doane's report:
I venture to state as my opinion, that for graphic description and thrilling interest, it has not been surpassed by any official report made to our government since the times of Lewis and Clark.
Mr. Everts died at Hyattsville, Md., on the 16th day of February, 1901, at the age of eighty-five, survived by his daughter, Elizabeth Everts Verrill, and a young widow, and also a son nine years old, born when Everts was seventy-six years of age,—a living monument to bear testimony to that physical vigor and vitality which carried him through the "Thirty-seven days of peril," when he was lost from our party in the dense forest on the southwest shore of Yellowstone lake.
General Washburn died on January 26, 1871, his death being doubtless hastened by the hardships and exposures of our journey, from which many of our party suffered in greater or less degree.
In an eloquent eulogistic address delivered in Helena January 29, 1871, Judge Cornelius Hedges said concerning the naming of Mount Washburn:
On the west bank of the Yellowstone, between Tower Fall and Hell-broth springs, opposite the profoundest chasm of that marvelous river canon, a mighty sentinel overlooking that region of wonders, rises in its serene and solitary grandeur,—Mount Washburn,—pointing the way his enfranchised spirit was so soon to soar. He was the first to climb its bare, bald summit, and thence reported to us the welcome news that he saw the beautiful lake that had been the proposed object of our journey. By unanimous voice, unsolicited by him, we gave the mountain a name that through coming years shall bear onward the memory of our gallant, generous leader. How little we then thought that he would be the first to live only in memory. * * * The deep forests of evergreen pine that embosom that lake shall typify the ever green spot in our memory where shall cluster the pleasant recollections of our varied experiences on that expedition.
The question is frequently asked, "Who originated the plan of setting apart this region as a National Park?" I answer that Judge Cornelius Hedges of Helena wrote the first articles ever published by the press urging the dedication of this region as a park. The Helena Herald of Nov. 9, 1870, contains a letter of Mr. Hedges, in which he advocated the scheme, and in my lectures delivered in Washington and New York in January, 1871, I directed attention to Mr. Hedges' suggestion, and urged the passage by Congress of an act setting apart that region as a public park. All this was several months prior to the first exploration by the U.S. Geological Survey, in charge of Dr. Hayden. The suggestion that the region should be made into a National Park was first broached to the members of our party on September 19, 1870, by Mr. Hedges, while we were in camp at the confluence of the Firehole and Gibbon rivers, as is related in this diary. After the return home of our party, I was informed by General Washburn that on the eve of the departure of our expedition from Helena, David E. Folsom had suggested to him the desirability of creating a park at the grand canon and falls of the Yellowstone. This fact was unknown to Mr. Hedges,—and the boundary lines of the proposed park were extended by him so as to be commensurate with the wider range of our explorations.
The bill for the creation of the park was introduced in the House of Representatives by Hon. William H. Clagett, delegate from Montana Territory. On July 9, 1894, William R. Marshall, Secretary of the Minnesota Historical Society, wrote to Mr. Clagett, asking him the question: "Who are entitled to the principal credit for the passage of the act of Congress establishing the Yellowstone National Park?" Mr. Clagett replied as follows:
Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, July 14th, 1894.
Wm. R. Marshall,
Secretary Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minn.
Dear Sir: Your favor of July 9th is just received. I am glad that you have called my attention to the question, "Who are entitled to the principal credit for the passage of the act of Congress establishing the Yellowstone National Park?" The history of that measure, as far as known to me, is as follows, to-wit: In the fall of 1870, soon after the return of the Washburn-Langford party, two printers at Deer Lodge City, Montana, went into the Firehole basin and cut a large number of poles, intending to come back the next summer and fence in the tract of land containing the principal geysers, and hold possession for speculative purposes, as the Hutchins family so long held the Yosemite valley. One of these men was named Harry Norton. He subsequently wrote a book on the park. The other one was named Brown. He now lives in Spokane, Wash., and both of them in the summer of 1871 worked in the New Northwest office at Deer Lodge. When I learned from them in the late fall of 1870 or spring of 1871 what they intended to do, I remonstrated with them and stated that from the description given by them and by members of Mr. Langford's party, the whole region should be made into a National Park and no private proprietorship be allowed.
I was elected Delegate to Congress from Montana in August, 1871, and after the election, Nathaniel P. Langford, Cornelius Hedges and myself had a consultation in Helena, and agreed that every effort should be made to establish the Park as soon as possible, and before any person had got a serious foot-hold—Mr. McCartney, at the Mammoth Hot Springs, being the only one who at that time had any improvements made. In December, 1871, Mr. Langford came to Washington and remained there for some time, and we two counseled together about the Park project. I drew the bill to establish the Park, and never knew Professor Hayden in connection with that bill, except that I requested Mr. Langford to get from him a description of the boundaries of the proposed Park. There was some delay in getting the description, and my recollection is that Langford brought me the description after consultation with Professor Hayden. I then filled the blank in the bill with the description, and the bill passed both Houses of Congress just as it was drawn and without any change or amendment whatsoever.
After the bill was drawn, Langford stated to me that Senator Pomeroy of Kansas was very anxious to have the honor of introducing the bill in the Senate; and as he (Pomeroy) was the chairman of the Senate committee on Public Lands, in order to facilitate its passage, I had a clean copy made of the bill and on the first call day in the House, introduced the original there, and then went over to the Senate Chamber and handed the copy to Senator Pomeroy, who immediately introduced it in the Senate. The bill passed the Senate first and came to the House, and passed the House without amendment, at a time when I happened to be at the other end of the Capitol, and hence I was not present when it actually passed the House.
Since the passage of this bill there have been so many men who have claimed the exclusive credit for its passage, that I have lived for twenty years, suffering from a chronic feeling of disgust whenever the subject was mentioned. So far as my personal knowledge goes, the first idea of making it a public park occurred to myself; but from information received from Langford and others, it has always been my opinion that Hedges, Langford, and myself formed the same idea about the same time, and we all three acted together in Montana, and afterwards Langford and I acted with Professor Hayden in Washington, in the winter of 1871-2.
The fact is that the matter was well under way before Professor Hayden was ever heard of in connection with that measure. When he returned to Washington in 1871, he brought with him a large number of specimens from different parts of the Park, which were on exhibition in one of the rooms of the Capitol or in the Smithsonian Institute (one or the other), while Congress was in session, and he rendered valuable services, in exhibiting these specimens and explaining the geological and other features of the proposed Park, and between him, Langford and myself, I believe there was not a single member of Congress in either House who was not fully posted by one or the other of us in personal interviews; so much so, that the bill practically passed both Houses without objection.
It has always been a pleasure to me to give to Professor Hayden and to Senator Pomeroy, and Mr. Dawes of Mass, all of the credit which they deserve in connection with the passage of that measure, but the truth of the matter is that the origin of the movement which created the Park was with Hedges, Langford and myself; and after Congress met, Langford and I probably did two-thirds, if not three-fourths of all the work connected with its passage.
I think that the foregoing letter contains a full statement of what you wish, and I hope that you will be able to correct, at least to some extent, the misconceptions which the selfish vanity of some people has occasioned on the subject.
Very truly yours,
Wm. H. Clagett.
It is true that Professor Hayden joined with Mr. Clagett and myself in working for the passage of the act of dedication, but no person can divide with Cornelius Hedges and David E. Folsom the honor of originating the idea of creating the Yellowstone Park.
By direction of Major Hiram M. Chittenden there has been erected at the junction of the Firehole and Gibbon rivers a large slab upon which is inscribed the following legend:
JUNCTION OF THE GIBBON AND FIREHOLE RIVERS, FORMING THE MADISON FORK OF THE MISSOURI.
* * * * *
ON THE POINT OF LAND BETWEEN THE TRIBUTARY STREAMS, SEPTEMBER 19, 1870, THE CELEBRATED WASHBURN EXPEDITION, WHICH FIRST MADE KNOWN TO THE WORLD THE WONDERS OF THE YELLOWSTONE, WAS ENCAMPED, AND HERE WAS FIRST SUGGESTED THE IDEA OF SETTING APART THIS REGION AS A NATIONAL PARK.
On the south bank of the Madison, just below the junction of these two streams, and overlooking this memorable camping ground, is a lofty escarpment to which has appropriately been given the name "National Park mountain."
I take occasion here to refer to my personal connection with the Park. Upon the passage by Congress, on March 1, 1872, of the act of dedication, I was appointed superintendent of the Park. I discharged the duties of the office for more than five years, without compensation of any kind, and paying my own expenses. Soon after the creation of the Park the Secretary of the Interior received many applications for leases to run for a long term of years, of tracts of land in the vicinity of the principal marvels of that region, such as the Grand Canon and Falls, the Upper Geyser basin, etc. These applications were invariably referred to me by the Assistant Secretary of the Interior, Hon. B.R. Cowen. It was apparent from an examination of these applications that the purpose of the applicants was to enclose with fences their holdings, and charge visitors an admission fee. To have permitted this would have defeated the purpose of the act of dedication. In many instances the applicants made earnest pleas, both personally and through their members in Congress, to the Interior Department and to myself for an approval of their applications, offering to speedily make improvements of a value ranging from $100,000 to $500,000. I invariably reported unfavorably upon these alluring propositions, and in no instance was my recommendation overruled by Secretary Cowen, to whom Secretary Delano had given the charge of the whole matter, and to Judge Cowen's firmness in resisting the political and other influences that were brought to bear is largely due the fact that these early applications for concessions were not granted. A time should never come when the American people will have forgotten the services, a generation ago, of Judge Cowen, in resisting the designs of unscrupulous men in their efforts to secure possession of the most important localities in the Park, nor the later services of George Bird Grinnell, William Hallett Phillips and U.S. Senator George Graham Vest, in the preservation of the wild game of the Park and of the Park itself from the more determined encroachments of private greed.
The second year of my services as superintendent, some of my friends in Congress proposed to give me a salary sufficiently large to pay actual expenses. I requested them to make no effort in this behalf, saying that I feared that some successful applicant for such a salaried position, giving little thought to the matter, would approve the applications for leases; and that as long as I could prevent the granting of any exclusive concessions I would be willing to serve as superintendent without compensation.
Apropos of my official connection with the Park a third of a century ago, is the following letter to me, written by George Bird Grinnell. This personal tribute from one who himself has done so much in behalf of the Park was very gratifying to me.
New York, April 29th, 1903.
Mr. N.P. Langford St. Paul, Minn.,
Dear Sir: I am glad to read the newspaper cutting from the Pioneer Press of April 19th, which you so kindly sent me.
In these days of hurry and bustle, when events of importance crowd so fast on each other that the memory of each is necessarily short lived, it is gratifying to be reminded from time to time of important services rendered to the nation in a past which, though really recent, seems to the younger generation far away.
The service which you performed for the United States, and indeed for the world, in describing the Yellowstone Park, and in setting on foot and persistently advocating the plan to make it a national pleasure ground, will always be remembered; and it is well that public acknowledgment should be made of it occasionally, so that the men of this generation may not forget what they owe to those of the past.
Yours very truly,
GEO. BIRD GRINNELL.
The Act of Congress creating the Park provided that this region should be "set apart for a public park or pleasuring ground for the benefit and enjoyment of the people," but this end has not been accomplished except as the result of untiring vigilance and labor on the part of a very few persons who have never wavered in their loyalty to the Park. It may never be known how nearly the purposes of the Act of Dedication have escaped defeat; but a letter written to me by George Bird Grinnell and an editorial from Forest and Stream may reveal to visitors who now enjoy without let or hindrance the wonders of that region, how narrowly this "Temple of the living God," as it has been termed, has escaped desecration at the hands of avaricious money-getters, and becoming a "Den of Thieves."
New York, July 25, 1905. Mr. N.P. Langford.
Dear Sir: I am very glad that your diary is to be published. It is something that I have long hoped that we might see.
It is true, as you say, that I have for a good many years done what I could toward protecting the game in the Yellowstone Park; but what seems to me more important than that is that Forest and Stream for a dozen years carried on, almost single handed, a fight for the integrity of the National Park. If you remember, all through from 1881 or thereabouts to 1890 continued efforts were being made to gain control of the park by one syndicate and another, or to run a railroad through it, or to put an elevator down the side of the canon—in short, to use this public pleasure ground as a means for private gain. There were half a dozen of us who, being very enthusiastic about the park, and, being in a position to watch legislation at Washington, and also to know what was going on in the Interior Department, kept ourselves very much alive to the situation and succeeded in choking off half a dozen of these projects before they grew large enough to be made public.
One of these men was William Hallett Phillips, a dear friend of mine, a resident of Washington, a Supreme Court lawyer with a large acquaintance there, and a delightful fellow. He was the best co-worker that any one could have had who wanted to keep things straight and as they ought to be.
At rare intervals I get out old volumes of the Forest and Stream and look over the editorials written in those days with a mingling of amusement and sadness as I recall how excited we used to get, and think of the true fellows who used to help, but who have since crossed over to the other side.
GEO. BIRD GRINNELL.
From Forest and Stream, August 20, 1904.
SENATOR VEST AND THE NATIONAL PARK.
In no one of all the editorials and obituaries written last week on the death of Senator Vest did we see mention made of one great service performed by him for the American people, and for which they and their descendants should always remember him. It is a bit of ancient history now, and largely forgotten by all except those who took an active part in the fight. More than twenty years ago strong efforts were made by a private corporation to secure a monopoly of the Yellowstone National Park by obtaining from the government, contracts giving them exclusive privileges within the Park. This corporation secured an agreement from the Interior Department by which six different plots in the Yellowstone Park, each one covering about one section of land—a square mile—were to be leased to it for a period of ten years. It was also to have a monopoly of hotel, stage and telegraph rights, and there was a privilege of renewal of the concession at the end of the ten years. The rate to be paid for the concession was $2 an acre.
When the question of this lease came before Congress, it was referred to a sub-committee of the Committee on Territories, of which Senator Vest was chairman. He investigated the question, and in the report made on it used these words: "Nothing but absolute necessity, however, should permit the Great National Park to be used for money-making by private persons, and, in our judgment, no such necessity exists. The purpose to which this region, matchless in wonders and grandeur, was dedicated—'a public park and a pleasure ground for the benefit and enjoyment of the people'—is worthy the highest patriotism and statesmanship."
The persons interested in this lease came from many sections of the country, and were ably represented by active agents in Washington. The pressure brought to bear on Congress was very great, and the more effectively applied, since few men knew much about conditions in the Yellowstone Park, or even where the Yellowstone Park was. But pressure and influence could not move Senator Vest when he knew he was right. He stood like a rock in Congress, resisting this pressure, making a noble fight in behalf of the interests of the people, and at last winning his battle. For years the issue seemed doubtful, and for years it was true that the sole hope of those who were devoted to the interests of the Park, and who were fighting the battle of the public, lay in Senator Vest. So after years of struggle the right triumphed, and the contract intended to be made between the Interior Department and the corporation was never consummated.
This long fight made evident the dangers to which the Park was exposed, and showed the necessity of additional legislation.
A bill to protect the Park was drawn by Senator Vest and passed by Congress, and from that time on, until the day of his retirement from public life, Senator Vest was ever a firm and watchful guardian of the Yellowstone National Park, showing in this matter, as in many others, "the highest patriotism and statesmanship." For many years, from 1882 to 1894, Senator Vest remained the chief defender of a National possession that self-seeking persons in many parts of the country were trying to use for their own profit.
If we were asked to mention the two men who did more than any other two men to save the National Park for the American people, we should name George Graham Vest and William Hallett Phillips, co-workers in this good cause. There were other men who helped them, but these two easily stand foremost.
In the light of the present glorious development of the Park it can be said of each one who has taken part in the work of preserving for all time this great national pleasuring ground for the enjoyment of the American people, "He builded better than he knew."
An amusing feature of the identity of my name with the Park was that my friends, with a play upon my initials, frequently addressed letters to me in the following style:
The fame of the Yellowstone National Park, combining the most extensive aggregation of wonders in the world—wonders unexcelled because nowhere else existing—is now world-wide. The "Wonderland" publications issued by the Northern Pacific Railway, prepared under the careful supervision of their author, Olin D. Wheeler, with their superb illustrations of the natural scenery of the park, and the illustrated volume, "The Yellowstone," by Major Hiram M. Chittenden, U.S. Engineers, under whose direction the roads and bridges throughout the Park are being constructed, have so confirmed the first accounts of these wonders that there remains now little of the incredulity with which the narrations of the members of our company were first received. The articles written by me on my return from the trip described in this diary, and published in Scribner's (now Century) Magazine for May and June, 1871, were regarded more as the amiable exaggerations of an enthusiastic Munchausen, who is disposed to tell the whole truth, and as much more as is necessary to make an undoubted sensation, than as the story of a sober, matter-of-fact observer who tells what he has seen with his own eyes, and exaggerates nothing. Dr. Holland, one of the editors of that magazine, sent to me a number of uncomplimentary criticisms of my article. One reviewer said: "This Langford must be the champion liar of the Northwest." Resting for a time under this imputation, I confess to a feeling of satisfaction in reading from a published letter, written later in the summer of 1871 from the Upper Geyser basin by a member of the U.S. Geological Survey, the words: "Langford did not dare tell one-half of what he saw."
Mr. Charles T. Whitmell, of Cardiff, Wales, a distinguished scholar and astronomer, who has done much to bring to the notice of our English brothers the wonders of the Park—which he visited in 1883—in a lecture delivered before the Cardiff Naturalists' Society on Nov. 12, 1885, sought to impress upon the minds of his audience the full significance of the above characterization. He said: "This quite unique description means a great deal, I can assure you; for Western American lying is not to be measured by any of our puny European standards of untruthfulness."
But the writings of Wheeler and others, running through a long series of years and covering an extended range of new discoveries, have vindicated the truthfulness of the early explorers, and even the stories of Bridger are not now regarded as exaggerations, and we no longer write for his epitaph,
Here LIES Bridger.
As I recall the events of this exploration, made thirty-five years ago, it is a pleasure to bear testimony that there was never a more unselfish or generous company of men associated for such an expedition; and, notwithstanding the importance of our discoveries, in the honor of which each desired to have his just share, there was absolutely neither jealousy nor ungenerous rivalry, and the various magazine and newspaper articles first published clearly show how the members of our party were "In honor preferring one another."
In reviewing my diary, preparatory to its publication, I have occasionally eliminated an expression that seemed to be too personal,—a sprinkling of pepper from the caster of my impatience,—and I have also here and there added an explanatory annotation or illustration. With this exception I here present the original notes just as they were penned under the inspiration of the overwhelming wonders which everywhere revealed themselves to our astonished vision; and as I again review and read the entries made in the field and around the campfire, in the journal that for nearly thirty years has been lost to my sight, I feel all the thrilling sensations of my first impressions, and with them is mingled the deep regret that our beloved Washburn did not live to see the triumphant accomplishment of what was dear to his heart, the setting apart at the headwaters of the Yellowstone, of a National "public park or pleasuring ground for the benefit and enjoyment of the people."
NATHANIEL PITT LANGFORD.
St. Paul, Minn., August 9, 1905.
Wednesday, August 17, 1870.—In accordance with the arrangements made last night, the different members of our party met at the agreed rendezvous—the office of General Washburn—at 9 o'clock a.m., to complete our arrangements for the journey and get under way. Our party consisted of Gen. Henry D. Washburn, Cornelius Hedges, Samuel T. Hauser, Warren C. Gillette, Benjamin Stickney, Truman C. Everts, Walter Trumbull, Jacob Smith and Nathaniel P. Langford. General Washburn has been chosen the leader of our party. For assistants we have Mr.—— Reynolds and Elwyn Bean, western slope packers, and two African boys as cooks. Each man has a saddle horse fully rigged with California saddle, cantinas, holsters, etc., and has furnished a pack horse for transportation of provisions, ammunition and blankets. There are but few of our party who are adepts in the art of packing, for verily it is an art acquired by long practice, and we look with admiration upon our packers as they "throw the rope" with such precision, and with great skill and rapidity tighten the cinch and gird the load securely upon the back of the broncho. Our ponies have not all been tried of late with the pack saddle, but most of them quietly submit to the loading. But now comes one that does not yield itself to the manipulations of the packer. He stands quiet till the pack saddle is adjusted, but the moment he feels the tightening of the cinch he asserts his independence of all restraint and commences bucking. This animal in question belongs to Gillette, who says that if he does not stand the pack he will use him for a saddle horse. If so, God save Gillette!
Thursday, August 18.—I rode on ahead of the party from Mr. Hartzell's ranch, stopping at Radersburg for dinner and riding through a snow storm to Gallatin City, where I remained over night with Major Campbell. General Washburn thought that it would be well for some members of the company to have a conference, as early as possible, with the commanding officer at Fort Ellis, concerning an escort of soldiers. I also desired to confer with some of the members of the Bozeman Masonic Lodge concerning the lodge troubles; and it was for these reasons that I rode on to Bozeman in advance of the party.
Friday, August 19.—Rode over to the East Gallatin river with Lieutenants Batchelor and Wright, crossing at Blakeley's bridge and reaching Bozeman at 7 o'clock p.m.
Saturday, August 20.—Spent the day at Bozeman and at Fort Ellis. I met the commanding officer, Major Baker, of the Second U.S. Cavalry, who informs me that nearly all the men of his command are in the field fighting the Indians. I informed him that we had an order for an escort of soldiers, and he said that the garrison was so weakened that he could not spare more than half a dozen men. I told him that six men added to our own roster would enable us to do good guard duty. The rest of the party and the pack train came into Bozeman at night.
This evening I visited Gallatin Lodge No. 6, and after a full consultation with its principal officers and members, I reluctantly decided to exercise my prerogative as Grand Master and arrest the charter of the lodge as the only means of bringing to a close a grievous state of dissension. In justice to my own convictions of duty, I could not have adopted any milder remedy than the one I applied.
Sunday, August 21.—We moved into camp about one-half mile from Fort Ellis on the East Gallatin. General Washburn presented the order of Major General Hancock (recommended by General Baird, Inspector General, as an important military necessity) for an escort. Major Baker repeated what he said to me yesterday, and he will detail for our service five soldiers under the command of a lieutenant, and we are satisfied. General Lester Willson entertained us at a bounteous supper last night. His wife is a charming musician.
Monday, August 22.—We left Fort Ellis at 11 o'clock this forenoon with an escort consisting of five men under command of Lieut. Gustavus C. Doane of the Second U.S. Cavalry. Lieutenant Doane has kindly allowed me to copy the special order detailing him for this service. It is as follows:
Headquarters Fort Ellis, Montana Territory, August 21; 1870.
In accordance with instructions from Headquarters District of Montana, Lieutenant G.C. Doane, Second Cavalry, will proceed with one sergeant and four privates of Company F. Second Cavalry, to escort the Surveyor General of
Montana to the falls and lakes of the Yellowstone, and return. They will be supplied with thirty days' rations, and one hundred rounds of ammunition per man. The acting assistant quarter-master will furnish them with the necessary transportation.
By order of Major Baker.
J.G. MacADAMS, First Lieutenant Second Cavalry. Acting Post Adjutant.
The names of the soldiers are Sergeant William Baker and Privates John Williamson, George W. McConnell, William Leipler and Charles Moore. This number, added to our own company of nine, will give us fourteen men for guard duty, a sufficient number to maintain a guard of two at all times, with two reliefs each night, each man serving half of a night twice each week. Our entire number, including the packers and cooks, is nineteen (19).
Along the trail, after leaving Fort Ellis, we found large quantities of the "service" berry, called by the Snake Indians "Tee-amp." Our ascent of the Belt range was somewhat irregular, leading us up several sharp acclivities, until we attained at the summit an elevation of nearly two thousand feet above the valley we had left. The scene from this point is excelled in grandeur only by extent and variety. An amphitheatre of mountains 200 miles in circumference, enclosing a valley nearly as large as the State of Rhode Island, with all its details of pinnacle, peak, dome, rock and river, is comprehended at a glance. In front of us at a distance of twenty miles, in sullen magnificence, rose the picturesque range of the Madison, with the insulated rock, Mount Washington, and the sharp pinnacle of Ward's Peak prominently in the foreground. Following the range to the right for the distance of twenty-five miles, the eye rests upon that singular depression where, formed by the confluent streams of the Madison, Jefferson and Gallatin, the mighty Missouri commences its meanderings to the Gulf. Far beyond these, in full blue outline, are defined the round knobs of the Boulder mountains, stretching away and imperceptibly commingling with the distant horizon. At the left, towering a thousand feet above the circumjacent ranges, are the glowering peaks of the Yellowstone, their summits half enveloped in clouds, or glittering with perpetual snow. At our feet, apparently within jumping distance, cleft centrally by its arrowy river, carpeted with verdure, is the magnificent valley of the Gallatin, like a rich emerald in its gorgeous mountain setting. Fascinating as was this scene we gave it but a glance, and turned our horses' heads towards the vast unknown. Descending the range to the east, we reached Trail creek, a tributary of the Yellowstone, about 3 o'clock in the afternoon, where we are now camped for the night. We are now fairly launched upon our expedition without the possibility of obtaining outside assistance in case we need it, and means for our protection have been fully considered since we camped, and our plans for guard duty throughout the trip have been arranged. Hedges is to be my comrade-in-arms in this service. He has expressed to me his great satisfaction that he is to be associated with me throughout the trip in this night guard duty, and I am especially pleased at being assigned to duty with so reliable a coadjutor as Hedges, a man who can be depended upon to neglect no duty. We two are to stand guard the first half of this first night—that is, until 1 o'clock to-morrow morning; then Washburn and Hauser take our places. Fresh Indian signs indicate that the red-skins are lurking near us, and justify the apprehensions expressed in the letter which Hauser and I received from James Stuart, that we will be attacked by the Crow Indians.[A] I am not entirely free from anxiety. Our safety will depend upon our vigilance. We are all well armed with long range repeating rifles and needle guns, though there are but few of our party who are experts at off-hand shooting with a revolver.
In the course of our discussion Jake Smith expressed his doubt whether any member of our party except Hauser (who is an expert pistol shot) is sufficiently skilled in the use of the revolver to hit an Indian at even a close range, and he offered to put the matter to a test by setting up his hat at a distance of twenty yards for the boys to shoot at with their revolvers, without a rest, at twenty-five cents a shot. While several members of our party were blazing away with indifferent success, with the result that Jake was adding to his exchequer without damage to his hat, I could not resist the inclination to quietly drop out of sight behind a clump of bushes, where from my place of concealment I sent from my breech-loading Ballard repeating rifle four bullets in rapid succession, through the hat, badly riddling it. Jake inquired, "Whose revolver is it that makes that loud report?" He did not discover the true state of the case, but removed the target with the ready acknowledgment that there were members of our party whose aim with a revolver was more accurate than he had thought. I think that I will make confession to him in a few days. I now wish that I had brought with me an extra hat. My own is not large enough for Jake's head. Notwithstanding the serious problems which we must deal with in making this journey, it is well to have a little amusement while we may.
Tuesday, August 23.—Last night was the first that we were on guard. The first relief was Hedges and Langford, the second Washburn and Hauser. Everything went well. At 8 a.m. to-day we broke camp. Some delay occurring in packing our horses, Lieutenant Doane and the escort went ahead, and we did not again see them until we reached our night camp.
We traveled down Trail creek and over a spur of the mountain to the valley of the Yellowstone, which we followed up eight miles to our present camp. Along on our right in passing up the valley was a vast natural pile of basaltic rock, perpendicular, a part of which had been overthrown, showing transverse seams in the rock. Away at the right in the highest range bordering the valley was Pyramid mountain, itself a snow-capped peak; and further up the range was a long ridge covered with deep snow. As we passed Pyramid mountain a cloud descended upon it, casting its gloomy shadow over the adjacent peaks and bursting in a grand storm. These magnificent changes in mountain scenery occasioned by light and shade during one of these terrific tempests, with all the incidental accompaniments of thunder, lightning, rain, snow and hail, afford the most awe-inspiring exhibition in nature. As I write, another grand storm, which does not extend to our camp, has broken out on Emigrant peak, which at one moment is completely obscured in darkness; at the next, perhaps, brilliant with light; all its gorges, recesses, seams and canons illuminated; these fade away into dim twilight, broken by a terrific flash, and, echoing to successive peals,
"* * * the rattling crags among Leaps the live thunder" in innumerable reverberations.
On the left of the valley the foot hills were mottled with a carpet of beautiful, maroon-colored, delicately-tinted verdure, and towering above all rose peak on peak of the snow-capped mountains.
To-day we saw our first Indians as we descended into the valley of the Yellowstone. They came down from the east side of the valley, over the foot hills, to the edge of the plateau overlooking the bottom lands of the river, and there conspicuously displayed themselves for a time to engage our attention. As we passed by them up the valley they moved down to where their ponies were hobbled. Two of our party, Hauser and Stickney, had dropped behind and passed towards the north to get a shot at an antelope; and when they came up they reported that, while we were observing the Indians on the plateau across the river, there were one hundred or more of them watching us from behind a high butte as our pack-train passed up the valley. As soon as they observed Hauser and Stickney coming up nearly behind them, they wheeled their horses and disappeared down the other side of the butte.[B] This early admonition of our exposure to hostile attack, and liability to be robbed of everything, and compelled on foot and without provisions to retrace our steps, has been the subject of discussion in our camp to-night, and has renewed in our party the determination to abate nothing of our vigilance, and keep in a condition of constant preparation.
With our long-range rifles and plenty of ammunition, we can stand off 200 or 300 of them, with their less efficient weapons, if we don't let them sneak up upon us in the night. If we encounter more than that number, then what? The odds will be against us that they will "rub us out," as Jim Stuart says.
Jake Smith has sent the first demoralizing shot into the camp by announcing that he doesn't think there is any necessity for standing guard. Jake is the only one of our party who shows some sign of baldness, and he probably thinks that his own scalp is not worth the taking by the Indians.
Did we act wisely in permitting him to join our party at the last moment before leaving Helena? One careless man, no less than one who is easily discouraged by difficulties, will frequently demoralize an entire company. I think we have now taken all possible precautions for our safety, but our numbers are few; and for me to say that I am not in hourly dread of the Indians when they appear in large force, would be a braggart boast.
Mr. Everts was taken sick this afternoon. All day we have had a cool breeze and a few light showers, clearing off from time to time, revealing the mountains opposite us covered from their summits half way down with the newly fallen snow, and light clouds floating just below over the foot hills. Until we reached the open valley of the Yellowstone our route was over a narrow trail, from which the stream, Trail creek, takes its name. The mountains opposite the point where we entered the valley are rugged, grand, picturesque and immense by turns, and colored by nature with a thousand gorgeous hues. We have traveled all this day amid this stupendous variety of landscape until we have at length reached the western shore of that vast and solitary river which is to guide us to the theatre of our explorations. From the "lay of the land" I should judge that our camp to-night is thirty-five to forty miles above the point where Captain William Clark, of the famous Lewis and Clark expedition, embarked with his party in July, 1806, in two cottonwood canoes bound together with buffalo thongs, on his return to the states. It was from that point also that some six hundred residents of Montana embarked for a trip to the states, in forty-two flat boats, in the autumn of 1865.[C] We learn from Mr. Boteler that there are some twenty-five lodges of Crow Indians up the valley.[D]
Wednesday, August 24.—It rained nearly all of last night, but Lieutenant Doane pitched his large tent, which was sufficiently capacious to accommodate us all by lying "heads and tails," and we were very comfortable. Throughout the forenoon we had occasional showers, but about noon it cleared away, and, after getting a lunch, we got under way. During the forenoon some of the escort were very successful in fishing for trout. Mr. Everts was not well enough to accompany us, and it was arranged that he should remain at Boteler's ranch, and that we would move about twelve miles up the river, and there await his arrival. Our preparations for departure being completed, General Washburn detailed a guard of four men to accompany the pack train, while the rest of the party rode on ahead. We broke camp at 2:30 p.m. with the pack train and moved up the valley. At about six miles from our camp we crossed a spur of the mountain which came down boldly to the river, and from the top we had a beautiful view of the valley stretched out below us, the stream fringed with a thin bordering of trees, the foot hills rising into a level plateau covered with rich bunch grass, and towering above all, the snow-covered summits of the distant mountains rising majestically, seemingly just out of the plateau, though they were many miles away. Above us the valley opened out wide, and from the overlooking rock on which we stood we could see the long train of pack horses winding their way along the narrow trail, the whole presenting a picturesque scene. The rock on which we stood was a coarse conglomerate, or pudding stone.
Five miles farther on we crossed a small stream bordered with black cherry trees, many of the smaller ones broken down by bears, of which animal we found many signs. One mile farther on we made our camp about a mile below the middle canon. To-night we have antelope, rabbit, duck, grouse and the finest of large trout for supper. As I write, General Washburn, Hedges and Hauser are engaged in an animated discussion of the differences between France and Germany, and the probabilities of the outcome of the war. The three gentlemen are not agreed in determining where the responsibility for the trouble lies, and I fear that I will have to check their profanity. However, neither Washburn nor Hedges swears.
Thursday, August 25.—Last night was very cold, the thermometer marking 40 degrees at 8 o'clock a.m. At one mile of travel we came to the middle canon, which we passed on a very narrow trail running over a high spur of the mountain overlooking the river, which at this point is forced through a narrow gorge, surging and boiling and tumbling over the rocks, the water having a dark green color. After passing the canon we again left the valley, passing over the mountain, on the top of which at an elevation of several hundred feet above the river is a beautiful lake. Descending the mountain again, we entered the valley, which here is about one and a half to two miles wide. At nineteen miles from our morning camp we came to Gardiner's river, at the mouth of which we camped. We are near the southern boundary of Montana, and still in the limestone and granite formations. Mr. Everts came into camp just at night, nearly recovered, but very tired from his long and tedious ride over a rugged road, making our two days' travel in one. We passed to-day a singular formation which we named "The Devil's Slide," From the top of the mountain to the valley, a distance of about 800 feet, the trap rock projected from 75 to 125 feet, the intermediate layers of friable rock having been washed out. The trap formation is about twenty-five feet wide, and covered with stunted pine trees. Opposite our camp is a high drift formation of granite boulders, gravel and clay. The boulders are the regular gray Quincy granite, and those in the middle of the river are hollowed out by the action of the water into many curious shapes. We have here found our first specimens of petrifactions and obsidian, or volcanic glass. From the top of the mountain back of our camp we can see to-night a smoke rising from another peak, which some of our party think is a signal from one band of the Indians to another, conveying intelligence of our progress. Along our trail of to-day are plenty of Indian "signs," and marks of the lodge poles dragging in the sand on either side of the trail.[E]
Jake Smith stood guard last night, or ought to have done so, and but for the fact that Gillette was also on guard, I should not have had an undisturbed sleep. We know that the Indians are near us, and sleep is more refreshing to me when I feel assured that I will not be joined in my slumbers by those who are assigned for watchful guard duty.
Friday, August 26.—For some reason we did not leave camp till 11 o'clock a.m. We forded Gardiner's river with some difficulty, several of our pack animals being nearly carried off their feet by the torrent. We passed over several rocky ridges or points coming down from the mountain, and at one and a half miles came down again into the valley, which one of our party called the "Valley of desolation." Taking the trail upon the left, we followed it until it led us to the mouth of a canon, through which ran an old Indian or game trail, which was hardly discernible, and had evidently been long abandoned. Retracing our steps for a quarter of a mile, and taking a cut-off through the sage brush, we followed another trail upon our right up through a steep, dry coulee. From the head of the coulee we went through fallen timber over a burnt and rocky road, our progress being very slow. A great many of the packs came off our horses or became loosened, necessitating frequent haltings for their readjustment. Upon the summit we found a great many shells. Descending the divide we found upon the trail the carcass of an antelope which the advance party had killed, and which we packed on our horses and carried to our night camp. In the morning Lieutenant Doane and one of his men, together with Mr. Everts, had started out ahead of the party to search out the best trail. At 3 o'clock p.m. we arrived at Antelope creek, only six miles from our morning camp, where we concluded to halt. On the trail which we were following there were no tracks except those of unshod ponies; and, as our horses were all shod, it was evident that Lieutenant Doane and the advance party had descended the mountain by some other trail than that which we were following. Neither were there any marks of dragging lodge poles. There are seemingly two trails across the mountain,—a circuitous one by as easy a grade as can be found, over which the Indians send their families with their heavily laden pack horses; and a more direct, though more difficult, route which the war parties use in making their rapid rides. This last is the one we have taken, and the advance party has doubtless taken the other.
Our camp to-night is on Antelope creek, about five miles from the Yellowstone river. After our arrival in camp, in company with Stickney and Gillette, I made a scout of eight or ten miles through the country east of our trail, and between it and the river, in search of some sign of Lieutenant Doane, but we found no trace of him. Parting from Stickney and Gillette, I followed down the stream through a narrow gorge by a game trail, hoping if I could reach the Yellowstone, to find a good trail along its banks up to the foot of the Grand canon; but I found the route impracticable for the passage of our pack train. After supper Mr. Hauser and I went out in search of our other party, and found the tracks of their horses, which we followed about four miles to the brow of a mountain overlooking the country for miles in advance of us. Here we remained an hour, firing our guns as a signal, and carefully scanning the whole country with our field glasses. We could discern the trail for many miles on its tortuous course, but could see no sign of a camp, or of horses feeding, and we returned to our camp.
Saturday, August 27.—Lieutenant Doane and those who were with him did not return to camp last night. At change of guard Gillette's pack horse became alarmed at something in the bushes bordering upon the creek on the bank of which he was tied, and, breaking loose, dashed through the camp, rousing all of us. Some wild animal—snake, fox or something of the kind—was probably the cause of the alarm. In its flight I became entangled in the lariat and was dragged head first for three or four rods, my head striking a log, which proved to be very rotten, and offered little resistance to a hard head, and did me very little damage. Towards morning a slight shower of rain fell, continuing at intervals till 8 o'clock. We left camp about 9 o'clock, the pack train following about 11 o'clock, and soon struck the trail of Lieutenant Doane, which proved to be the route traveled by the Indians. The marks of their lodge poles were plainly visible. At about four miles from our morning camp we discovered at some distance ahead of us what first appeared to be a young elk, but which proved to be a colt that had become separated from the camp of Indians to which it belonged. We think the Indians cannot be far from us at this time. Following the trail up the ascent leading from Antelope creek, we entered a deep cut, the sides of which rise at an angle of 45 degrees, and are covered with a luxuriant growth of grass. Through this cut we ascended by a grade entirely practicable for a wagon road to the summit of the divide separating the waters of Antelope creek from those of [F]—— creek, and from the summit descended through a beautiful gorge to a small tributary of the Yellowstone, a distance of two miles, dismounting and leading our horses almost the entire distance, the descent being too precipitous for the rider's comfort or for ease to the horse. We were now within four miles of[F]—— creek, and within two miles of the Yellowstone. On the right of the trail, two miles farther on, we found a small hot sulphur spring, the water of which was at a temperature a little below the boiling point, which at this elevation is about 195 degrees. Ascending a high ridge we had a commanding view of a basaltic formation of palisades, about thirty feet in height, on the opposite bank of the Yellowstone, overlooking a stratum of cement and gravel nearly two hundred feet thick, beneath which is another formation of the basaltic rock, and beneath this another body of cement and gravel. We named this formation "Column Rock." The upper formation, from which the rock takes its name, consists of basaltic columns about thirty feet high, closely touching each other, the columns being from three to five feet in diameter. A little farther on we descended the sides of the canon, through which runs a large creek. We crossed this creek and camped on the south side. Our camp is about four hundred feet in elevation above the Yellowstone, which is not more than two miles distant. The creek is full of granite boulders, varying in size from six inches to ten feet in diameter.
General Washburn was on guard last night, and to-night he seems somewhat fatigued. Mr. Hedges has improvised a writing stool from a sack of flour, and I have appropriated a sack of beans for a like use; and, as we have been writing, there has been a lively game of cards played near my left side, which Hedges, who has just closed his diary, says is a game of poker. I doubt if Deacon Hedges is sufficiently posted in the game to know to a certainty that poker is the game which is being played; but, putting what Hedges tells me with what I see and hear, I find that these infatuated players have put a valuation of five (5) cents per bean, on beans that did not cost more than $1 quart in Helena, and Jake Smith exhibits a marvelous lack of veneration for his kinswoman, by referring to each bean, as he places it before him upon the table, as his "aunt," or, more flippantly, his "auntie." Walter Trumbull has been styled the "Banker," and he says that at the commencement of the game he sold forty of these beans to each of the players, himself included (200 in all), at five (5) cents each, and that he has already redeemed the entire 200 at that rate; and now Jake Smith has a half-pint cup nearly full of beans, and is demanding of Trumbull that he redeem them also; that is, pay five (5) cents per bean for the contents of the cup. Trumbull objects. Jake persists. Reflecting upon their disagreement I recall that about an hour ago Jake, with an apologetic "Excuse me!" disturbed me while I was writing and untied the bean sack on which I am now sitting, and took from it a double handful of beans.
It seems to me that a game of cards which admits of such latitude as this, with a practically unlimited draft upon outside resources, is hardly fair to all parties, and especially to "The Banker."
Sunday, August 28.—To-day being Sunday, we remained all day in our camp, which Washburn and Everts have named "Camp Comfort," as we have an abundance of venison and trout.
We visited the falls of the creek, the waters of which tumble over the rocks and boulders for the distance of 200 yards from our camp, and then fall a distance of 110 feet, as triangulated by Mr. Hauser. Stickney ventured to the verge of the fall, and, with a stone attached to a strong cord, measured its height, which he gives as 105 feet.
The stream, in its descent to the brink of the fall, is separated into half a dozen distorted channels which have zig-zagged their passage through the cement formation, working it into spires, pinnacles, towers and many other capricious objects. Many of these are of faultless symmetry, resembling the minaret of a mosque; others are so grotesque as to provoke merriment as well as wonder. One of this latter character we named "The Devil's Hoof," from its supposed similarity to the proverbial foot of his Satanic majesty. The height of this rock from its base is about fifty feet.
The friable rock forming the spires and towers and pinnacles crumbles away under a slight pressure. I climbed one of these tall spires on the brink of the chasm overlooking the fall, and from the top had a beautiful view, though it was one not unmixed with terror. Directly beneath my feet, but probably about one hundred feet below me, was the verge of the fall, and still below that the deep gorge through which the creek went bounding and roaring over the boulders to its union with the Yellowstone. The scenery here cannot be called grand or magnificent, but it is most beautiful and picturesque. The spires are from 75 to 100 feet in height. The volume of water is about six or eight times that of Minnehaha fall, and I think that a month ago, while the snows were still melting, the creek could not easily have been forded. The route to the foot of the fall is by a well worn Indian trail running to the mouth of the creek over boulders and fallen pines, and through thickets of raspberry bushes.
At the mouth of the creek on the Yellowstone is a hot sulphur spring, the odor from which is perceptible in our camp to-day. At the base of the fall we found a large petrifaction of wood imbedded in the debris of the falling cement and slate rock. There are several sulphur springs at the mouth of the creek, three of them boiling, others nearly as hot as boiling water. There is also a milky white sulphur spring. Within one yard of a spring, the temperature of which is little below the boiling point, is a sulphur spring with water nearly as cold as ice water, or not more than ten degrees removed from it.
I went around and almost under the fall, or as far as the rocks gave a foot-hold, the rising spray thoroughly wetting and nearly blinding me. Some two hundred yards below the fall is a huge granite boulder about thirty feet in diameter. Where did it come from?
In camp to-day several names were proposed for the creek and fall, and after much discussion the name "Minaret" was selected. Later, this evening, this decision has been reconsidered, and we have decided to substitute the name "Tower" for "Minaret," and call it "Tower Fall."[G]
General Washburn rode out to make a reconnaissance for a route to the river, and returned about 3 o'clock in the afternoon with the intelligence that from the summit of a high mountain he had seen Yellowstone lake, the proposed object of our visit; and with his compass he had noted its direction from our camp. This intelligence has greatly relieved our anxiety concerning the course we are to pursue, and has quieted the dread apprehensions of some of our number, lest we become inextricably involved in the wooded labyrinth by which we are surrounded; and in violation of our agreement that we would not give the name of any member of our party to any object of interest, we have spontaneously and by unanimous vote given the mountain the name by which it will hereafter and forever be known, "Mount Washburn."
In addition to our saddle horses and pack horses, we have another four-footed animal in our outfit—a large black dog of seeming little intelligence, to which we have given the name of "Booby." He is owned by "Nute," one of our colored boys, who avers that he is a very knowing dog, and will prove himself so before our journey is ended. The poor beast is becoming sore-footed, and his sufferings excite our sympathy, and we are trying to devise some kind of shoe or moccasin for him. The rest to-day in camp will benefit him. Lieutenant Doane is suffering greatly with a felon on his thumb. It ought to be opened, but he is unwilling to submit to a thorough operation. His sufferings kept him awake nearly all of last night.
Monday, August 29.—We broke camp about 8 o'clock, leaving the trail, which runs down to the mouth of the creek, and passed over a succession of high ridges, and part of the time through fallen timber. The trail of the Indians leads off to the left, to the brink of the Yellowstone, which it follows up about three-fourths of a mile, and then crosses to the east side. Hauser, Gillette, Stickney, Trumbull and myself rode out to the summit of Mount Washburn, which is probably the highest peak on the west side of the river. Having an aneroid barometer with us, we ascertained the elevation of the mountain to be about 9,800 feet. The summit is about 500 feet above the snow line.
Descending the mountain on the southwest side, we came upon the trail of the pack train, which we followed to our camp at the head of a small stream running into the Yellowstone, which is about five miles distant. As we came into camp a black bear kindly vacated the premises. After supper some of our party followed down the creek to its mouth. At about one mile below our camp the creek runs through a bed of volcanic ashes, which extends for a hundred yards on either side. Toiling on our course down this creek to the river we came suddenly upon a basin of boiling sulphur springs, exhibiting signs of activity and points of difference so wonderful as to fully absorb our curiosity. The largest of these, about twenty feet in diameter, is boiling like a cauldron, throwing water and fearful volumes of sulphurous vapor higher than our heads. Its color is a disagreeable greenish yellow. The central spring of the group, of dark leaden hue, is in the most violent agitation, its convulsive spasms frequently projecting large masses of water to the height of seven or eight feet. The spring lying to the east of this, more diabolical in appearance, filled with a hot brownish substance of the consistency of mucilage, is in constant noisy ebullition, emitting fumes of villainous odor. Its surface is covered with bubbles, which are constantly rising and bursting, and emitting sulphurous gases from various parts of its surface. Its appearance has suggested the name, which Hedges has given, of "Hell-Broth springs;" for, as we gazed upon the infernal mixture and inhaled the pungent sickening vapors, we were impressed with the idea that this was a most perfect realization of Shakespeare's image in Macbeth. It needed but the presence of Hecate and her weird band to realize that horrible creation of poetic fancy, and I fancied the "black and midnight hags" concocting a charm around this horrible cauldron. We ventured near enough to this spring to dip the end of a pine pole into it, which, upon removal, was covered an eighth of an inch thick with lead-colored sulphury slime.
There are five large springs and half a dozen smaller ones in this basin, all of them strongly impregnated with sulphur, alum and arsenic. The water from all the larger springs is dark brown or nearly black. The largest spring is fifteen to eighteen feet in diameter, and the water boils up like a cauldron from 18 to 30 inches, and one instinctively draws back from the edge as the hot sulphur steam rises around him. Another of the larger springs is intermittent. The smaller springs are farther up on the bank than the larger ones. The deposit of sinter bordering one of them, with the emission of steam and smoke combined, gives it a resemblance to a chimney of a miner's cabin. Around them all is an incrustation formed from the bases of the spring deposits, arsenic, alum, sulphur, etc. This incrustation is sufficiently strong in many places to bear the weight of a man, but more frequently it gave way, and from the apertures thus created hot steam issued, showing it to be dangerous to approach the edge of the springs; and it was with the greatest difficulty that I obtained specimens of the incrustation. This I finally accomplished by lying at full length upon that portion of the incrustation which yielded the least, but which was not sufficiently strong to bear my weight while I stood upright, and at imminent risk of sinking in the infernal mixture, I rolled over and over to the edge of the opening; and, with the crust slowly bending and sinking beneath me, hurriedly secured the coveted prize of black sulphur, and rolled back to a place of safety.