Podcast Episodes

White Nose Syndrome

This episode of the America’s National Parks Podcast was written and hosted by Jason Epperson and the interviews come from the National Park Service documentary video “Before It’s Too Late,” by Jessica Portuondo

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The National Park Service manages 84 million acres, in 419 parks, 1 in 4 of which have caves, and 1 in 3 of which have mines. Many of these caves and mines provide habitat for hibernating bats.

Bats are an essential part of many American ecosystems, but they’re under threat from a hidden illness called white-nose syndrome. Since 2006, this fungal disease has killed millions of bats in North America. In some caves and mines, 90-100% of bat populations have died.

Parks in more than half of the United States are affected by the presence of White Nose Syndrom. Losing an important predator so quickly may have a drastic effect on the ecology of a given park. As the disease spreads, scientists consider the impact and potential for impact on national parks to be very high.

On this latest episode of America’s National Parks, Bats of the Greater Yellowstone area – and how National Park Service scientists are working to learn how to protect them.

“Before It’s Too Late”:

There are over 1,400 species of bats worldwide. Bats can be found on nearly every part of the planet except in extreme deserts and polar regions. Many species can live for over 20 years if they aren’t threatened by disease. And we need them to. In Montana alone, bats do the same work as 680 million dollars worth of agricultural pest control.

Spores of the fungus that causes white-nose syndrome can cling to clothes, shoes, and gear and stay viable for a long time. If you’re a rock climber or you visit caves or mines, it is important to clean and disinfect your clothes and gear to prevent spreading the fungus from one place to the next.

Many National Park caves provide soapy mats for you to walk across. And rangers will often want to know if you’ve visited a cave recently and are wearing the same shoes, so they can help you disinfect them.

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For great American road trip destinations, give us a listen on the See America podcast, wherever you listen to this one. If you are interested in RV travel, find us at the RV Miles Podcast.

Today’s show was sponsored by L.L.Bean, follow the hashtag #BeanOutsider, and visit LLBean.com to find great gear for exploring the National Parks.

Podcast Episodes

The Return of the Wolves

This episode of America’s National Parks was written and hosted by Jason Epperson with narration by Abigail Trabue and audio from the National Park Service.

In the battle for conservation and the protection and reinvigoration of endangered species, one animal serves as a symbol to remind us of what we’ve done as a human race, and how we have the responsibility to fix our mistakes. And it all played out in America’s first and most famous National Park.

On this episode of the America’s National Parks, Yellowstone National Park, and the 25th anniversary of the return of the Grey Wolf.

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History of the Grey Wolf and Yellowstone:

In the 1800s, westward expansion brought settlers and their livestock into direct contact with native predator and prey species. Much of the wolves’ prey base was destroyed as agriculture flourished. With the prey removed, wolves began to hunt domestic stock, which resulted in humans eliminating wolves from most of their historical range.

Predator control, including poisoning, was practiced in the park in the late 1800s and early 1900s, and other predators such as bears, cougars, and coyotes were also killed to protect livestock and “more desirable” wildlife species, such as deer and elk.

The gray wolf was present in Yellowstone when the park was established in 1872. Today, it is difficult for many people to understand why early park managers would have participated in the extermination of wolves. After all, the Yellowstone National Park Act of 1872 stated that the Secretary of the Interior “shall provide against the wanton destruction of the fish and game found within said Park.” But this was an era before people, including many biologists, understood the concepts of ecosystem and the interconnectedness of species.

At the time, the wolves’ habit of killing prey species was considered “wanton destruction” of the animals, and between 1914 and 1926, at least 136 wolves were killed in the park. By the 1940s, wolf packs were rarely reported. By the mid-1900s, they had been almost entirely eliminated not only from Yellowstone but from the 48 states.

An intensive survey in the 1970s found no evidence of a wolf population in Yellowstone, although an occasional wolf probably wandered into the area. A wolf was filmed in Hayden Valley in August 1992, and a wolf was shot just outside the park’s southern boundary in September 1992. However, no verifiable evidence of a breeding pair of wolves existed.

Back in the 1960s, National Park Service wildlife management policy changed to allow populations to manage themselves. Many suggested at the time that for such regulation to succeed, the wolf had to be a part of the picture. National awareness of environmental issues and consequences had led to the passage of many laws designed to correct the mistakes of the past and help prevent similar mistakes in the future. One such law was the Endangered Species Act, passed in 1973. Requiring by law the restoration of endangered species that have been eliminated to an area, if possible. By 1978, all wolf subspecies were on the federal list for the lower 48 states except Minnesota.

Doug Smith is the Senior Wildlife Biologist with Yellowstone National Park.

The US Fish and Wildlife Service’s 1987 Northern Rocky Mountain Wolf Recovery Plan proposed reintroduction of an “experimental population” of wolves into Yellowstone.
In 1991, Congress provided funds to prepare an environmental impact statement. In June 1994, after several years and a near-record number of public comments, the Secretary of the Interior approved the reintroduction of gray wolves to Yellowstone and central Idaho.

Park staff completed site planning and archeological and sensitive-plant surveys for the release sites. Each site was approximately one acre enclosed with 9-gauge chain-link fence in 10 x 10-foot panels. The fences had a two-foot overhang and a four-foot skirt at the bottom to discourage climbing over or digging under the enclosure. Each pen had a small holding area attached to allow a wolf to be separated from the group if necessary for medical treatment. Plywood boxes provided shelter if the wolves wanted isolation from each other.

Canadian wildlife biologists captured wolves in Canada and relocated and released them in both Yellowstone and central Idaho. In mid-January 1995, 14 wolves were temporarily penned in Yellowstone; the first eight wolves on January 12, and the second six on January 19, 1995. Wolves from one social group were together in each acclimation pen. On January 23, 1996, 11 more animals were brought to Yellowstone for the second year of wolf restoration. Four days later they were joined by another six.

Each wolf was radio-collared, and while temporarily penned, they experienced minimal human contact. Twice a week, they were fed elk, deer, moose, or bison that had died in and around the park. They were guarded by law enforcement rangers who minimized how much the wolves saw humans. The pen sites and surrounding areas were closed to visitation and marked to prevent unauthorized entry. Biologists checked on the welfare of the wolves twice each week, using telemetry or visual observation while placing food in the pens.

Several lawsuits were filed to stop the restoration on a variety of grounds. These suits were consolidated, and in December 1997, the judge found that the wolf reintroduction program in Yellowstone and central Idaho violated the intent of the Endangered Species Act because there was a lack of geographic separation between fully protected wolves already existing in Montana and the reintroduction areas in which special rules for wolf management apply. The judge wrote that he had reached his decision “with utmost reluctance.” He ordered the removal (specifically not the killing) of reintroduced wolves and their offspring from the Yellowstone and central Idaho experimental population areas, then immediately stayed his order, pending appeal. The Justice Department appealed the case, and in January 2000 the decision was reversed.

Although five years of reintroductions were predicted, no transplants occurred after 1996 because of the early success of the reintroductions.

That was 25 years ago. So how is the experiment working?

Here’s ranger Beth Taylor to describe the cascade of changes the reintroduction of wolves has spawned:

The future of wolves in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem will depend on how livestock depredation and hunting of wolves outside the park are handled. Wolf populations will also continue to be affected by the availability of elk, deer, and bison, which fluctuates in response to hunting quotas, winter severity, and disease. To what extent wolves may have contributed to the decline in the northern Yellowstone elk population since the mid- 1990s, or the possibly related resurgence of willow in some areas, is an ongoing topic of debate.

The reintroduction of wolves has provided biologists like Doug Smith with invaluable information about the lives and behaviors of wolves:

Humans have made disastrous environmental mistakes ever since they had the strength and numbers to attempt to tame the land. But humans also have the power to fix those mistakes.

Visiting Yellowstone National Park:

Yellowstone National Park is the best place in the world to see wolves in the wild. But where do you go? The Lamar Valley of course.

Ranger Beth Taylor again:

Wolves are not normally a danger to humans, unless humans habituate them by providing them with food. No wolf has attacked a human in Yellowstone, but a few attacks have occurred in other places.
Like coyotes, wolves can quickly learn to associate campgrounds, picnic areas, and roads with food. This can lead to aggressive behavior toward humans.

Never feed a wolf or any other wildlife. Do not leave food or garbage outside unattended. Make sure the door is shut on a garbage can or dumpster after you deposit a bag of trash. Treat wolves with the same respect you give any other wild animal.

To date, eight wolves in Yellowstone National Park have become habituated to humans. Biologists successfully conducted aversive conditioning on some of them to discourage being close to humans, but two had to be killed.

Connect & Subscribe

You can find America’s National Parks Podcast on FacebookInstagram and Twitter, and make sure to subscribe on Apple or wherever you get your podcasts, so you’ll never miss an episode.

Join the America’s National Parks Facebook Group here.

Pick up your own “From Sea to Shining Sea” gear in the America’s National Parks Teespring store.

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For great American road trip destinations, give us a listen on the See America podcast, wherever you listen to this one. If you are interested in RV travel, find us at the RV Miles Podcast.

Today’s show was sponsored by L.L.Bean, follow the hashtag #BeanOutsider, and visit LLBean.com to find great gear for exploring the National Parks.

Podcast Episodes

Spooky Yellowstone

National Parks play roles in all kinds of American legends, and Yellowstone, our first park, is no exception. It’s October, time to dust off the ghost stories and feast on three short pieces of Yellowstone lore, as retold by S.E. Schlosser for her book “Spooky Yellowstone.

Listen below, or on any podcast app:

In the wild-west early days of the park, many of the proprietors felt they owned the land, and as our first tale proves, some could never let go.

Yancey was a quirky old-time pioneer, gold prospector and Civil War veteran —perhaps the last of that breed—who came to Yellowstone National Park in the 1870s and built a hotel in “Yancey’s Hole”; current day Pleasant Valley near Roosevelt Lodge. The hotel provided accommodations and provisions to the stagecoach traveling back and forth between Mammoth Hot Springs and the mining camps in Cooke City. It boasted five bedrooms and could accommodate twenty guests. Rooms were $2 per day, $10 per week, and included meals. There was also a saloon handy for anyone wishing a splash of moonshine after dinner.
Folks around Yellowstone called him “Uncle John” Yancey. He was popular with just about everybody in the park and its vicinity. Uncle John Yancey had important friends among the posh families back east, some of whom dropped by the hotel from time-to-time. Yancey knew all the good fishing holes and had plenty of tall tales to amuse people. He welcomed all and sundry with a libation of “Kentucky tea,” reputed to be the best whiskey in the park.
John F. Yancey was seventy-seven years when he traveled to Gardiner, Montana, to witness the dedication of the Roosevelt Arch by President Theodore Roosevelt on April 24, 1903. Yancey met President Roosevelt during the ceremony, but he caught a cold at the event and died of pneumonia a couple of weeks later. He was buried in the old Tinker’s Cemetery near Mammoth, and folks thought that was the last they’d ever see of Yancey. But not so!
It soon became apparent that Yancey’s ghost had gone right back to the Pleasant Valley; and Yancey’s ghost made himself at home in Roosevelt Lodge for the next 100 plus years. According to the park employees, Yancey’s ghost will bang a tin cup on the walls of the staff quarters at three a.m. He hides things and makes them reappear in unexpected places. Yancey’s ghost has also been known to unsaddle horses at the end of a long day on the trail. A trickster and a bit of a nuisance, Yancey’s ghost is still as wild as the West he helped tame.

The Lake Yellowstone has been filled with lore since it was built back in the 1800s. Many workers of all stripes have treated guests over the last century…perhaps some never left. Our next story is a first-person account of a very helpful bellman.

I gasped a bit as I wheeled my heavy bag toward the white-trimmed double doors leading to the hotel lobby. I was having some trouble adjusting to the altitude in Yellowstone after living my whole life at sea level. My husband Frank, on the other hand, took to the elevation as one mountain-born, much to my annoyance. He’d already dragged the rest of our luggage inside the hotel and was checking in at the front desk as I doddered my way into the lobby and collapsed in a chair near the fireplace.

“Come on, slowpoke, we are on the fourth floor,” my husband called happily, and dashed down the hall carrying a load of luggage as expertly as any of the bellmen. I struggled out of the chair, which was very comfortable, and aimed myself somewhat erratically for the hall. About halfway down, a compassionate bellman overtook me and claimed my heavy bag. Relieved, I hitched my handbag over my shoulder and followed the bellman. We chattered about my trip all the way up the elevator, and the bellman had some great suggestions for hikes we might take along the lakeshore, and where we might see wildlife.

The elevator let us off on the fourth floor, and we walked to the end of a long, rather spooky hallway. I shivered a bit, feeling uncomfortable and not understanding why this was so. But the friendly bellman distracted me with his gentle conversation. He left me in front of the open door with my bag, bowing slightly like an old-fashioned gentleman in a movie. I fumbled in my handbag, looking for my wallet, then realized I’d given it to my husband so he could check us in.

“Wait a moment,” I told the friendly bellman and hurried inside the room, calling to my husband. Frank was locked in the bathroom, but my wallet was on the bedside table. Pulling out some money, I hurried to the door, only to find that the friendly bellman had vanished.

“Were you calling for me, honey?” my husband asked, coming out of the bathroom.”I was looking for my wallet to tip the bellman that helped me with my bag,” I explained. “But he disappeared while I was looking for it.”
“We can leave a tip for him at the desk in the lobby,” my husband said.
“Great idea,” I said. “Don’t let me forget. He had some great advice for our trip. Told me to drink lots of water to help me adjust to the elevation and recommended the hike out to Storm Point. Apparently, the view of the lake is lovely!” Frank’s face lit up at this suggestion. He loved to hike.

We turned our attention to unpacking our bags. We were staying at the hotel for two nights before heading up to Canyon. Frank was going fishing for lake trout tomorrow, while I took a tour around the lower loop, learning all about the Yellowstone volcano and looking at the geysers and other hot springs.

Our room was quite lovely. It was at the end of the hall on the backside of the hotel, but I could see the lake out of the side window. Still, something about the room felt a little strange, as if someone was watching. I had goosebumps all along my upper arms as I unpacked. “What nonsense,” I said aloud, trying to make the feeling go away. “What did you say?” Frank asked, looking up from his fishing tackle box. “Nothing,” I said hastily. “Let’s go down to dinner.”

We had reservations for 7 p.m. at the hotel dining room, and it was almost that time now. I grabbed my wallet, remembering that I wanted to tip the friendly bellman. The being-watched feeling returned full force as we walked down the spooky hallway to the elevator. I shivered, and my husband suggested that I go back for my sweater. “No I’m fine,” I said hastily, not wanting to be alone in the room.

We descended in the elevator and walked down the lower hall to the lobby. I paused for a moment at the bell desk, hoping to see my friendly bellman. A nice young man greeted me with a smile, and I asked about the man who’d helped me with my luggage, explaining that he’d vanished before I could tip him. “Do you know his name?” the young man asked. “I’m sorry, I don’t,” I said. Then I spied the picture on the desk, showing a group of bellmen. “That’s him,” I said, pointing. The young man’s smile slipped a bit. “That is a historic picture, taken many years ago,” he said cautiously. “None of those men work here now.” “Really? That’s strange,” I said, feeling cold again. “The bellman who helped me looks just like this man.” “That man was the bell captain,” the young man said. “He’s since passed away.” Face devoid of expression; he added: “I’m sorry, I don’t know who it was that helped you today.” “Oh well, maybe I will see him again,” I said with an uneasy glance at the photo on the desk. Strange that the man who helped me looked exactly like the former bell captain.

I shuddered and hurried over to my husband, who was examining some of the lovely photographs displayed around the lobby. “All done?” he asked, taking my hand and leading me toward the dining room. “Not really,” I said uneasily, and told him about the picture. “So, you’re saying a ghost helped you with your luggage?” Frank asked when I finished. Hearing it put that way sent cold shudders down my spine. “Pretty much,” I said. “I’m not sure I want to spend the night at this hotel. What if the ghost comes back?” “If the phantom bellman comes back, we’ll ask him to take our luggage down to the car,” said Frank. “That way, we can make a fast getaway and we won’t have to carry our bags. Works for me!” “Get out of here,” I said with a reluctant grin. He smiled back and took my hand. “Let’s go to dinner,” my husband said.

A 500-passenger ship began touring the massive Yellowstone Lake in 1905. Its owner hired a man to watch the ship for the 1906 winter, but he died of a heart attack as he rowed out to Stevenson Island. The ship never took another cruise and was left on the Stevenson Island waterfront to wither away.

By 1921, the ship had to be pushed onto the Island’s shore and by 1926, her steam boiler was drilled out and used as an island hotel heater. The ship was also used by skiers for warmth, as an overhang for a fish-fry business and as a place to stage full-out bar fights.

In 1930, rangers doused the boat in kerosene and light it ablaze, which really only served to turn it black.

In the time since, the anchor and other items have been removed and put on display throughout the park, but the ship’s ribs still wait on the Island.

Our final story comes from a park ranger’s chilling tale from those early years after the wreck.

My supervisor radioed me just after sunrise on a warm summer morning to report another incident aboard the shipwrecked E.C. Waters out on Stevenson Island. “A bunch of drunks were boozing and brawling on the boat last night,” he said in a grumpy tone that clearly indicated his lack of morning coffee. I sighed. Again! I had no idea why so many summer visitors flocked to the wreck of the old steamboat on Stevenson Island, which lay partially submerged beside a sandy beach.”I want you to head out there and make sure no one got knocked on the head or stranded on the island when the brawl ended,” my supervisor continued. “Right, boss,” I said.

I hurried down to the marina and headed out in the boat we used for official business. It was a short ride out to Stevenson’s Island. I sighed as I drew closer to the creaky old tub listing precariously on the shore. There were empty beer bottles strewn on the beach and floating in the water, always a sign of trespassers. I moored my craft and gathered up as much trash as I could. Then I cautiously ventured onto the rickety steamboat. Thankfully, I found no bodies huddled asleep in the beer-soaked wreck.

Time to check the Island.

Stevenson’s Island was 1.3 miles long, and I was going to have to check the whole darn thing, just in case some of the drunks had gone exploring last night. With a sigh, I headed out in a basic search pattern.

By mid-morning, I was hot, grumpy, tired, and convinced I was on a wild-goose chase. There had been no sign of stranded vacationers – drunk or sober. I headed back toward the sunlit beach, ready to return to the mainland.

As I came over a tiny rise, a huge wind struck me hard, making me stagger backward a few paces in the suddenly freezing air. In front of me, I saw the lake churning in great waves while a huge storm cloud massed overhead. I saw something big and bulky, floating at the edge of the water. Something man-shaped. My heart leapt into my throat, and I rushed forward. Dear God, someone had fallen from the boat last night and hit his head! My hands felt cold and clammy as I fumbled with the radio at my belt. I had to call this in! But when I spoke into the radio, it only returned static.

I dropped to my knees beside the body; noticing that the sodden clothing was old-fashioned, dating from long before 1900. The drowned man looked rather like a fur trapper or explorer from the era when Yellowstone was first discovered. I checked his neck for a pulse. There was no pulse. I turned the body over and stared into a pair of bulging brown eyes on a blue-white face.

And then, in between one breath and the next, the body vanished. Suddenly my hand was gripping empty air instead of an old-fashioned jacket. I reeled backward with a gasp and landed on my rump in the sand. Where had the corpse gone?

I glanced frantically over the calm, sparkling waters of the still lake, searching for the body of the drowned man. The warm summer wind caressed my face as my brain registered the change in scenery. What had happened to the approaching storm? Where were the huge, wind-swept swells that had frightened me so much when I came over the rise?

I scrambled to my feet and stood hyperventilating with my head between my legs, arms braced on my knees. This couldn’t be happening. But I knew it was. Storm, cold wind, and the corpse had vanished in a heartbeat. They had been shades of a former time, a former accident. So that was why the man’s clothes had been so old-fashioned.

Spooked by the incident, I unmoored the official park boat and leapt in, glad to get away from Stevenson Island. Folks said that Lake Yellowstone never gave up its dead. Apparently, neither did the Island. I turned my craft and headed back to the main land and (hopefully) sanity. No more ghosts for me!

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Learn More

Links to some of the resources we used and the website links we mentioned in this episode. 

Spooky Yellowstone: Tales Of Hauntings, Strange Happenings, And Other Local Lore
By S.E. Schlosser

From Amazon: Pull up a chair or gather round the campfire and get ready for creepy tales of ghostly hauntings, eerie happenings, and other strange occurrences under starry skies. Whether read around the campfire on a dark and stormy night or from the backseat of the family van on the way to grandma’s, this is a collection to treasure.

For more great American destinations, give us a listen at our new See America podcast, wherever you listen to this one.
If you are interested in RV travel, find us at the RV Miles Podcast. You can also follow Abigail and me as we travel the country with our three boys at Our Wandering Family

The America’s National Parks Podcast is sponsored by L.L.Bean, follow the hashtag #beanoutsider, and visit LLBean.com to find great gear for exploring the National Parks.

Podcast Episodes

The Night the Mountain Fell

The Yellowstone Supervolcano snores through the geysers and mud pots, and restlessly tumbles as multiple earthquakes hit the region nearly every day. We don’t hear a lot about Yellowstone earthquakes, but each year one to three thousand hit the park and surrounding area. Most can’t even be felt, but there have already been four this year in the lower-3.0 magnitude range. Enough to shake pots and pans on the wall. And a 4.4 hit to the west of Yellowstone just a couple days before this recording—right near the center of the biggest Yellowstone earthquake in recent history, a 7.5. Today on America’s National Parks, The Night The Mountain Fell — the story of the Montana-Yellowstone Earthquake of 1959, as told in the book with the same name by Edmund Christopherson. 

The following is just the first chapter of thirteen that twist and turn through the story of the quake. The rest can be read free here.

August is a busy month in the exciting mountain vacation area that centers in West Yellowstone, Montana, and includes Yellowstone National Park, the restored ghost town of Virginia City, the nationally famous trout fishing reach of Madison Canyon that runs through the Gallatin National Forest, plus dude ranches and lakes in the parts of Montana, Wyoming and Idaho where the three states come together.

Geologically, it’s a new area, where enormous forces are still thrusting up mountains, where volcanic craters still exist, and where the heat of the earth still spouts its imprisoned fury through the geysers that have made Yellowstone Park’s Firehole Basin famous.

At 11:37 P. M. on Monday, August 17, 1959, one of the severest earthquakes recorded on the North American continent shook this area. It sent gigantic tidal waves surging down the 7-mile length of Hebgen Lake, throwing an enormous quantity of water over the top of Hebgen Dam, the way you can slosh water out of a dishpan, still keeping it upright. This water—described as a wall 20 ft. high—swept down the narrow Madison Canyon, full of campers and vacationers who were staying in dude ranches and at three Forest Service campgrounds along the seven-mile stretch from the dam to the point where the canyon opened up into rolling wheat and grazing land. Just about the time this surge of water reached the mouth of the canyon, half of a 7,600-ft.-high mountain came crashing down into the valley and cascaded, like water, up the opposite canyon wall, hurtling house-size quartzite and dolomite boulders onto the lower portion of Rock Creek Campground.6

This slide dammed the river and forced the surging water—carrying trees, mud, and debris, back into the campground. The campers who’d escaped being crushed under part of the 44 million cubic yards (80 million tons) of rock found themselves picked up and thrown against trees, cars, trailers, the side of the canyon, etc. Heavy, 4,000 pound cars were tossed 40 ft. and smashed against trees by the force of the ricocheting water and the near-hurricane velocity wind created by the mountainfall. Other cars were scrunched to suitcase thickness and thrown out from under the slide.

And the water stayed—held by the earthquake-caused natural dam. It began to flood the lower end of the canyon. At the upper end, big sections of the road that would take the 300 people trapped in the canyon to safety crumpled and fell into Hebgen Lake, cutting them off from the world outside.

When the quake hit, summer Alternate Rangers Fred Tim and Lamont Herbold were on duty at the West Yellowstone entrance of Yellowstone National Park. They had just cleared a semi-load of Pres-to-Logs. As the truck pulled on through the gate, the plywood gatehouse shook so violently, with the lights flashing off and on, that Herbold shouted,

“Stop the truck, you ____, you’ve hooked the shack!”

Truck drivers Jack and Lyle Tuttle thought the frantic way their truck was flopping around meant the motor had broken loose from the mounts. Driving into the Park, they were halted by huge rocks blocking the road. Renewed shaking, with tons more rocks rolling down the mountainside sent them scurrying for cover behind trees. Lyle took refuge in a tree, where, he later said, the shaking seemed twice as rough.

When the quaking stopped briefly, they turned the truck around and were happy to get out before more boulders blocked their exit.7

In the confusion that followed when the first shock hit, Jerry Yetter, who operates the Duck Creek Cabins near West Yellowstone, jumped out of bed and knocked on all the cabin doors to warn the occupants of the quake. Only after he’d finished the job did he realize that he was wearing no clothes at all.

His wife, Iris, ran onto the front porch. The porch dropped into the basement. She climbed out, got into the car, and didn’t stop until she reached Bozeman, 90 miles to the north.

Just west of the Duck Creek Junction of highways 1 and 191, the first shocks wakened Rolland Whitman as it sent dishes and furniture crashing to the floor. When he couldn’t reach his wife’s folks in West Yellowstone, 10 miles south, by phone, he rushed his wife, Margaret, and their six children into the car, started out, and immediately crashed over a 13-foot drop-off scarp that the quake had jutted up between his home and the highway.8

On the night of the quake Mrs. Grace Miller, a widow who, in her seventies, is still sprightly enough to run, single-handed, the Hillgard Fishing Lodge cabin and boat rentals on the north shore of Hebgen Lake, found herself suddenly wakened about midnight. She didn’t know what was happening, but she felt she had to get out of the house. She threw a blanket around herself. The door was jammed, and she had to kick to get it open.

Outside the door she saw a big, 5-foot crevice. As she leaped across it, the house dropped from under her into the lake. More crevices kept opening in the moonlit ground as she walked away from the lake. “Rabbits were skedaddling in every which direction,” she said, but her Malamute dog, Sandy, was so frightened he wouldn’t even notice them.

After quite a spell of hiking in the nightmare-like night, she found refuge along with about forty other people at Kirkwood Ranch, which itself was considerably damaged, but a 9safe distance from the lake. She was safe there, while next day skin-divers, alerted by worried friends, searched her floating house for her body.

Later next day she boated past her 9-room home—which contained everything she owned, floating on the lake.

“I hope it stays upright,” she said. “My teeth are still on the kitchen counter, right next to the sink.”

When she arrived at the dam, she greeted an acquaintance with, “I’ve been a pretty tough old bird, but I wouldn’t want to go through that again!”

In a forest fire lookout on top of 10,300-ft.-high Mt. Holmes in Yellowstone Park, the first shock threw Penn State College student David Bittner out of his bunk.

“By golly, they’ll believe me this time,” he said with satisfaction as he picked himself up off the floor.

Several days earlier he’d phoned a report of substantial tremors, but no one would take his report seriously.10

Charles Godkin, chef at the Frontier, and his wife, Ruth, a waitress, were driving home at 11:37.

“We must have a flat,” she said as the car thumped and shook along the road.

When Godkin got out to look, the ground was bucking so strenuously that he could hardly stand up. Back at the Frontier, he found steak plates all over the floor. In the establishment’s walk-in freezer he found the floor covered with mayonnaise—a foot deep!

At the Emmett J. Culligan place, dubbed the “Blarneystone Ranch,” the Santa Barbara water softener tycoon spent hundreds of thousands of dollars building a refuge from the possibility of atomic attack.

Ironically, the main fault of the earthquake rammed through one end of his building’s cement block foundation, raising the ground 15 ft., twisting and cracking the whole 150-ft. length of the building.

Ironically, too, Culligan’s spread was perhaps the only one reputed to be covered by earthquake insurance.

His caretaking family, John and Doris Russell, were trapped in their cottage and had to crawl out and pass their children through a chin-high 15-inch square window.

At the proud dude ranch, Parade Rest, where Bud and Lu Morris capitalize on the area’s superb fishing, the shock toppled chimneys atop the massive log buildings and sent the guests scurrying outdoors.

Huddled around a huge campfire in the courtyard, where it seemed safer, they felt bewildered and helpless as the ground continued to heave and writhe throughout the night. For hours, the shocks continued at the rate of one every minute.

By morning the kitchen was a shambles—“like a cabin a grizzly bear had worked over. Dishes, flour—everything crashed to the floor. The only thing to do was to clean it up with a broom and shovel,” Lu Morris said.

Elsewhere throughout the earthquake area, crockery and goods in glass containers were at a premium; drug stores, bars, groceries were shard-piled shambles.

After the quake, the proprietor of the antique shop next to the West Yellowstone Post Office took one look at the disheartening spectacle of his shop and took off. The shop floor was strewn with a fortune in broken antique glass and dishware.

“The ground just got up and bucked like a horse,” one West Yellowstone citizen put it.

The only man who was enthusiastic about the earthquake from the start was geologist Irving J. Witkind of the U. S. Geological Survey, who was living in a trailer on a rise to the north of Hebgen Lake, above the Culligans and Parade Rest, while he surveyed and mapped the area.

When the first shock hit, he figured his trailer had somehow broken loose and was rolling down the hill. He charged out, intent on stopping it. From the way the trees were swaying in the absence of any wind, he knew it was a genuine earthquake. He hopped in his jeep and headed down toward the lake. He saw the scarp that the Whitmans soared off just in time to stop.

“It’s mine! It’s mine!” he shouted as he got out of the jeep and realized the full measure of his fortune. His words will echo wherever geologists gather in years to come. Professionally, his once-in-a-thousand-lifetimes fortune in being on the scene of a major quake meant as much as discovering an unfound Pharaoh’s tomb would to an Egyptologist.13

At Mammoth, the old army post which is still headquarters for Yellowstone Park, Superintendent Lon Garrison was sitting up in bed reading when the quake hit. His wife and daughter were watching TV when the big chimneys and rocks from the massive old 1909-built masonry buildings began crashing through the porches and roofs.

“We got out and fast. We prided ourselves on being cool. It wasn’t for an hour or so that I remembered that I was still wearing my Park Service uniform coat over pajama pants.”

Every time there was a new tremor, the coyotes, abundant thereabouts, would let out a fresh howl. The phone lines to Old Faithful and West Yellowstone weren’t working. The quake had taken them out. The 18,000 people who were overnighting in the Park when the quakes began were on the edge of panic.

“What can we do?”

“How can we get word out?”

“Can we get out?”

Everyone wanted answers to these questions at once.

At Old Faithful, 800 people were in the recreation hall enjoying a college talent program. In the best entertainment tradition, the MC played it cool, continuing his patter while the Park Rangers opened the doors. Everyone exited in good order.

But there was to be little comfort that night. Everyone who’d made it to bed got up after the first shock.

At the massive, log-built Old Faithful Inn, the timbers gave out loud creaking and popping noises as the structural torment continued.

“We had to evacuate the building,” Superintendent Garrison said. “Hot water from a broken pipe in the attic was running down the floor of the east wing. Half an hour later the fireplace and chimney crashed through the dining room floor, activating the sprinkler system. The water damage was horrible.

“A few hours earlier, with the dining room full, the casualty list would have been gruesome.

“As it was, our only casualty was a woman who sprained her ankle leaping out of bed after the first tremor.

“Later in the week a ranger, exhausted from quake duty, skidded on a rain-slick pavement and went off the road.

“We feel that God had his arm around us all the way.”

The quakes continued with especial violence at Old Faithful. Evacuees from the Inn sat out the night, wrapped in hotel blankets, in their cars and in the big, distinctive Yellowstone Park Co. busses, trembling with fear at each new quake.

At the new Canyon Village, guests were reassured by the big-voiced man who, in the midst of the turmoil, marched up to the reservations desk and demanded accommodations for an additional two nights.

Canyon, too, was the place where, they say, another guest left a note on his pillow for the chambermaid, saying,

“An awfully rough bear stayed under my cabin last night. Had an awfully hard time sleeping. Better tell the night man to do something about it.”

As the shocks continued, the summons to exodus was clear. Quake-broken roads blocked all the exits from West Yellowstone except the route, 191, through Idaho south to Pocatello. For the rest of the night it was bright with the lights of cars streaming away from the earthquake country to the solid security and comfort of the outside world.

Continue the story on the web or free kindle download here.

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Music for this week’s episode is provided through the generosity of the artists under a creative commons license.

Podcast Episodes

A Yellowstone Christmas

What could be more magical than Christmas at a National Park lodge? Grand log-beamed lobbies, decked out in real pine trimmings, the crackling of massive stone fireplaces, and decadent holiday feasts, while far away from civilization with the glories of snow-blanketed nature in every direction.

On this episode of America’s National Parks, we take you back nearly 100 years, to an impending Christmas emergency. Three 6-year-olds came to the rescue of Christmas at Yellowstone National Park.


Listen to the episode in the player below, or wherever you get your podcasts. 

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Join the America’s National Parks Facebook Group here.

Learn More

Links to some of the resources we used and the website links we mentioned in this episode.

Yellowstone National Park – National Park Service Website

Old Faithful Snow Lodge – Yellowstone National Park Lodges

Yellowstone Holiday Traditions – Yellowstone Forever

Christmas is Magical in a National Park Lodge – Today

How Christmas in August Became an Annual Yellowstone Tradition – Yellowstone Insider


One of my dreams is to stay in a National Park lodge at Christmas. What could be more magical? Grand log-beamed lobbies, decked out in real pine trimmings, the crackling of massive stone fireplaces, and decadent holiday feasts, while far away from civilization with the glories of snow-blanketed nature in every direction.

In order to quench my thirst for National Park Christmas magic this year, we’ve put together this episode, featuring stories of Christmas at one of the most special places on earth, Yellowstone National Park.

We begin with the final Christmas of the 19th century. Let me set the scene. More than 40 years before the creation of the National Park Service, Yellowstone was established on March 1, 1872, as the world’s first national park. Between 1872 and 1886, the park was administered by the Interior Department and managed by a civilian superintendent with limited resources and almost no legal authority to maintain and protect the park’s natural features and wildlife. Over the next decade, special interest groups such as concessionaires, railroad and mining interests attempted to commercialize and privatize park lands.

In 1883, Congress transferred control of the park to the War Department, protecting Yellowstone from schemes to commercialize it. Congress then appropriated funds for the establishment of a permanent fort in 1891.

Over the next decade, 60 structures were erected at what would be known as Fort Yellowstone — mainly cottage style wood-framed buildings and some Colonial Revival styled buildings. 35 of which were still in existence one hundred years later. Along with the necessary personnel quarters, there was a 10-bed hospital, a jail, and a bakery.

Yellowstone Archivist Anne Foster dug up Assistant Superintendent George L. Henderson’s description from a January 1900 edition of the Livingston post of the just passed holiday celebration. It’s also a story of a happy telegram giving good word to the wife of Colonel Wilber Elliot Wilder, a Congressional Medal of Honor winner, about his safety.

Here’s Abigail Trabue.

The ladies of Fort Yellowstone united in making Christmas a joyful occasion for the Sunday School children. The Christmas tree was brilliantly illuminated and bore an abundance of that fruit which children most desire. Captain Brown made one of the jolliest Saints that ever distributed dolls to the outstretched arms of baby-mothers, so eager to kiss and embrace them. The boys were in raptures over their horns, tin horses, soldiers, and locomotives. All were sweetened up to the highest degree.When the tree was cleared of its fruit the jolly Saint informed his patrons that there were millions more expecting to see him that night and that he must bid them farewell.”Have you far to go?” enquired a sweet little girl in a voice that indicated both affection and pity for the good, hard-working Saint. This child’s motherly like curiosity and sympathy brought the house down with laughter and applause alike from citizen and soldier. The Saint soon vanished, surrounded by a halo of glory in the minds of the children, and that he was no mere illusion was evident from the fact that arms and pockets were full of dolls, candies and many other good things. Mrs. W. E. Wilder, although suffering from a sprained ankle, was present and furnished the music to which the school children marched and sang in joyful concert. Mrs. Wilder is very much loved and respected by the children. That night she looked radiant, having had a telegram from Col. Wilder that he was alive and well at Manila.”

JASON: Two decades later, the roaring twenties had hit the cities of the East, but Fort Yellowstone was still as old-fashioned as it gets. A Christmas emergency was coming, but three 6-year-olds came to the rescue. This heartwarming story comes from Jackie Jerla, Yellowstone Librarian.


Don Fraser, Bud Trishman and Spencer Dupre were first graders at the Mammoth Hot Springs School. Lessons for the 17 students at Fort Yellowstone were held in the old Army Canteen and went from first grade to the eighth grade. Their teacher was Mrs. Ellen Mariott, an accredited teacher whose salary was paid by the government. Books and materials had to be purchased by the students’ parents.

Don Fraser’s dad, Jay Fraser, was the assistant chief mechanic in the park. After a shopping trip to nearby Livingston, Montana, Little Don laid eyes on a battleship in a store window that was made from an Erector Set. He really wanted it for Christmas and his mom suggested that he write to Santa. But Fraser’s father Jay foresaw a problem with Santa’s arrival. “You know old man Pond closes the park gate every night at 9 o’clock and nobody leaves or gets into Yellowstone until morning,” he told his son.

Fraser never dreamt it possible that Santa would be barricaded from Yellowstone. With visions of the Erector Set battleship slipping away when Santa had to bypass Yellowstone, Fraser got with his friends Bud and Spencer to figure out what to do. Bud’s father was Harry Trishman, assistant chief ranger, and the boys thought that surely he could order the entrance gate to stay open on Christmas. But Harry had to explain to the boys that this matter was out of a ranger’s hands and only Superintendent Horace Albright could change it. If the boys wanted the gate open, they would have to talk with Superintendent Albright.

Lucky for the boys, Raymond Edmonds, the superintendent’s personal secretary, was a friend of the Fraser family. They reticently went to talk with him, despite always being told by their parents to never bother the superintendent and stay out of his yard and not to play around his house. Off they went and presented their case to Edmonds who listened to the 6-year-old’s request, then disappeared into Superintendent Albright’s office. When he came out, Edmonds told the boys the superintendent would see them.

Mustering their courage, the boys managed to express their concerns about the entrance gate being closed to Santa and then waited to hear the superintendent’s response. “I’ll give you some news, boys” said Albright. “We may be able to do something, but I don’t make or break the rules of Yellowstone National Park. We can, however, make a request to the Department of the Interior, if you boys will sign it.”

The boys agreed. Margaret Linsley, the postmaster’s wife was sent for, and Superintendent Albright dictated a letter requesting the entrance to Yellowstone be left open on Christmas Eve for Santa Claus. The boys signed the letter.

About two weeks went by before schoolteacher Mrs. Mariott announced that Don and Bud were to report to Superintendent Albright’s office after school. Normally they would have been scared, but this time they knew what it was about. When they arrived, Albright had in hand an official Department of Interior order declaring the gates to Yellowstone National Park were to remain open on Christmas Eve. And not just for that year, but each Christmas Eve from then on. The letter was framed and hung on Mr. Albright’s office for the rest of his tenure.

Accompanying the correspondence was a check for $200, proceeds of a collection taken among the staff of the Department of the Interior. The money was to be used to purchase Christmas presents for every child on the post.

The contribution did that and more. A community celebration was held with nearly all the families in Mammoth Hot Springs participating. School students produced and performed a Christmas play in the Canteen. The spirit of the season was alive and well in Mammoth Hot Springs that 1921 Christmas.

On Christmas morning, an Erector Set battleship, glowing in all its battery-powered splendor, graced the mantle in the Fraser home. Every kid on the post came over to play with it and it was christened “Battleship Yellowstone.”

Today, people can enter or leave Yellowstone at any hour of the day. But for nearly four decades after 1921, the policy of locking up at night remained in effect. Officially, the gates stood open only one night a year – on Christmas Eve – to accommodate the expected arrival of a very special tourist.


It’s unfortunate that, at the time, the flying abilities of Santa’s Reindeer had yet to be documented.

Visitor Centers at Mammoth Hot Springs and Old Faithful are open on Christmas Day and throughout the holiday season. Two Christmas Eve candlelight services are held every year in the Mammoth Chapel, which was built in 1913 for the Army soldiers and their families.The candlelight services are one of the oldest annual traditions in the park, as is the giant evergreen lit for the holidays on Officer’s Row.

The Old Faithful inn is closed this time of year, but the Old Faithful Snow Lodge opens around mid-December. The Snow Lodge and cabins, as well as the Old Faithful area, are only accessible by commercially operated oversnow vehicles in the winter. Here, you can enjoy a special Christmas dinner on December 25, and sing holiday carols with live piano music.

The Yellowstone Forever Institute offers a holiday retreat each year at the Lamar Buffalo Ranch. Spend Christmas relaxing with kindred spirits, searching for wildlife such as wolves, elk, and bison, and taking snowshoe rambles through the snowy wonderland that is the Lamar Valley.

To celebrate the new year, employees and guests at Old Faithful head out to the geyser viewing area shortly after midnight to be among the few to share the first eruption of the new year.

If several feet of snow isn’t your thing, concessionaire employees at Yellowstone celebrate Christmas in August every year to close out the busy season. The decades-old tradition has unknown origins, but every hotel in the Park is decorated with holiday trees in the lobbies and cookies are passed out to visitors on August 25th, which happens to be the birthday of the National Park Service.

This episode of America’s National Parks was hosted by me, Jason Epperson, and narrated by Abigail Trabue. If you enjoyed the show, we’d love a 5-star review wherever you listen to podcasts. Don’t forget to subscribe, and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Just search “National Park Podcast.” You can also join our new America’s National Parks Facebook group. We’ll link to all of our social media, as well as National Park Service resources, music credits, and more in the show notes at National Park Podcast dot com.

If you are interested in RV travel, give us a listen over at the RV Miles Podcast. You can also follow Abigail and I as we travel the country in our converted school bus with our three boys at Our Wandering Family dot com.

Today’s show was sponsored by L.L.Bean, follow the hashtag #beanoutsider, and visit LLBean.com to find great gear for exploring the National Parks.


Provided through the generosity of the artists under a creative commons license.

Podcast Episodes

37 Days in Yellowstone

Two years before the creation of our first National Park, Truman C. Everts got lost in Yellowstone. He lost not one, but two horses. He set not one, but two forest fires. He waited out a mountain lion in a tree. He slept in a bear’s den. He fell through the crust of a hot spring and burnt his hip. He keeled over into his campfire while hallucinating. All in all, he spent 37 days battling against insurmountable odds, and he survived.

On this episode of the America’s National Parks Podcast, we present our abridged version of Everts’ 10,000-word essay, which shocked the nation – complete with the sounds of Yellowstone from the National Park Service’s archives.


Listen to the episode in the player below, or wherever you get your podcasts. 

Or Download this episode (right click and save)

Connect & Subscribe

You can find America’s National Parks Podcast on FacebookInstagram and Twitter, and make sure to subscribe on Apple or wherever you get your podcasts, so you’ll never miss an episode.

Learn More

Links to some of the resources we used and the website links we mentioned in this episode. 

Full text of Everts’ Thirty-Seven Days of Peril” from Scribner’s Monthly Vol III Nov. 1871

Yellowstone National Park Official Website

Sound Library of Yellowstone National Park


In 1870, 14 men led by Henry Washburn, Surveyor General of Montana, set out to explore the Northwestern region of Wyoming, an area known as Yellowstone. During their explorations, they made detailed maps and observations, exploring the numerous lakes, climbing several mountains, and observing the wildlife. They visited the Upper and Lower Geyser Basins, and after observing the regularity of eruptions of one geyser decided to name it Old Faithful.

For a 54-year-old U.S. assessor, the expedition through unknown lands was a chance of a lifetime. He fell ill for a few days a week into the journey, having to separate from the party a few days to recover, a precursor of what was to come. The expedition reached Two Ocean Pass, near the headwaters of both the Snake River and Yellowstone River on September 9th, 23 days into the journey. It was in camp that evening that the party discovered that Truman Everts was gone.

On this Episode of America’s National Parks, Truman C. Everts and the harrowing tale of his 37 days alone in Yellowstone.

This is a wild story – almost unbelievable, but the account we’re about to share is our faithful adaptation of Everts 10,000 word account that he shared in the November 1871 issue of Scribner’s Monthly. It’s not for the faint of heart.

Here’s Abigail Trabue

The Washburn expedition to Yellowstone, having already spent 23 days exploring the various wonders, including the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River and its falls, was circling Yellowstone Lake, forging through a dense growth of pine forest and occasional large tracts of fallen timber, rendering progress nearly impossible. From time to time, each man in the party would make their own passage through, because there was no other possible way.

The 54-year-old Truman Everts, during one such attempt, found a passage, and continued into the forest, out of sight and sound of his comrades. The day had been hard. The afternoon had drawn late, and Everts continued on unalarmed confident that he would rejoin the company or find the camp soon.

Riding his own horse, he was also spurring along a pack horse, laden with some of the party’s provisions, but Everts was having trouble getting the riderless horse to cooperate. He left it behind, intending to return later with his companions’ to retrieve it.

Knowing the pack horse would be a needed addition to the camp, Everts accelerated his pace, pressing on in the direction he supposed had been taken, until darkness overtook the dense forest.

Still unalarmed, he had no doubt of rejoining the party at breakfast. He selected a comfortable spot, picketed his horse, built a fire, and went to sleep.

The next morning he rose at early dawn, saddled and mounted his horse, and headed toward the intended camp. A beach on the shore of a lake had been the agreed upon destination. But on this morning, the forest was dark, and the trees were thick, and Everts could only very slowly get through them. He became confused.

The falling foliage of the pines obliterated every trace of travel. He frequently dismounted and examined the ground looking for the faintest indications of someone traveling ahead.

Everts came upon a clearing, from which he could see several vistas, and dismounted, knowing he was near the beach and had to confirm the direction. He walked a few yards to look about and was startled by the sound of his horse taking flight, turning in time to see it disappear at full speed into the trees, carrying away his blankets, guns, fishing tackle, and matches. Everything, except a couple of knives, a small opera-glass and the clothes on his back, was gone.

Still, the idea of permanent separation from the company hadn’t crossed Everts mind. Now knowing the way to camp, he turned, back into the forest, in pursuit of his horse.

After searching most of the day for his horses, Everts was convinced of the impracticality, and turned back to hike on foot to camp. As the day wore on without any discovery, alarm began to take the place of anxiety at the prospect of another night alone in the wilderness, this time without food or fire. But even as hunger began to set in, he thought about the laugh his companions would have upon reuniting.

Looking at the negative side of a misfortune was never Everts way, and he banished from his mind the fear of an unfavorable result. Seating himself on a log, he recalled every step he had traveled since separating. Having left several notes along the way, he figured the expedition must have run into one of them by now, and would surely be waiting near a spot he had already traveled.

But it was late, and he still must spend the night alone amid the tree trunks before his return. He resigned to lay upon a bed of pine needles, as he looked up at the near-black sky. The wind sighed mournfully through the pines. The forest seemed alive with the screeching of night birds, the angry barking of coyotes, and the prolonged, dismal howl of the gray wolf. With no fire and no blanket, he felt more exposed than the night before. These familiar sounds, now full of terror, kept him awake through the night. Still, the hope that he should be restored to his comrades the next day kept Everts going.

He arose the next morning, unrefreshed, and began the trek over the fallen timber. The sun was high in the sky as he reached the spot where his notices were posted. No one had been there. For the first time, Truman Everts fully realized he was lost.

A crushing sense of destitution suddenly hit him. He had no food, no fire, and no means to procure either. He was alone in an unexplored wilderness 150 miles from the nearest human abode, surrounded by wild beasts, and famishing with hunger. The calamity elevated his mind — breaking free from despair he resolved not to perish in that wilderness.

He spent another sleepless night forming a plan. Attempting to reunite with the party still seemed the most logical move. He rose and pursued his way through the timber-entangled forest, set on finding the peninsula on the lake where he could see the entire shore, perhaps even getting ahead of the party, as they made their way towards Madison Valley.

As Everts continued, a feeling of weakness took the place of hunger. He was conscious of the need for food, but felt no cravings. Occasionally, while scrambling over logs and through thickets, a sense of faintness and exhaustion would come over him, but he would suppress it with the audible expression, “This won’t do; I must find my company.”

He thought of home—of his daughter—and of the possible chance of starvation, or death in some more terrible form; but as often as these gloomy thoughts came, he would strive to banish them in order to focus on the immediate necessities.

Mid-day, he I emerged from the forest into an open space at the foot of the peninsula — exactly where he planned to be. A broad lake lay before him, glittering in the sunbeams — a full twelve miles in circumference. It was one of the grandest landscapes he ever beheld. An impenetrable mountain range directly across the lake, the vapor and smell of the hot springs and the spray of a single geyser set off the magnificent vista. Large flocks of swans were sporting on the quiet surface of the water; otters in great numbers performed aquatic acrobatics. Deer, elk, and mountain sheep stared at him, manifesting more surprise than fear at his presence.

But jaded, famishing and distressed, Truman Everts was in no mood for ecstasy. He longed for food, friends and protection. He gave the lake the name Bessie Lake, after his daughter, and waited.

For the next two days, his fear of meeting natives gave him considerable anxiety, but as desperation became worse, he began to long for someone, anyone to find him. Just then, to his amazement, across the water, he saw a canoe, with a single oarsman rapidly approaching. He ran to the beach to meet his salvation. As he reached the shore, the approaching mass spread dragon-like wings and flew off to safety. The pelican, as if mocking, took it’s own solitary point further up the lake.

Nearly unhinged, Everts looked for a sleeping spot. He came across a small green plant with a striking, lively hue. He pulled it up by the root, which was long and tapering, not unlike a radish. He tasted it, and then devoured it. The thistle root was the first meal he had in four days, and a discovery that would nurture him until he rejoined his companions.

Overjoyed, he stretched out in the crook of two trunks under a tree and fell asleep. How long he slept, he did not know, when he was awoken by a loud, shrill scream, that of a human being in distress, poured, seemingly, into the very portals of his ear. There was no mistaking that fearful voice. He had been deceived by and answered it a dozen times while threading the forest. It was the screech of a mountain lion, so alarmingly near as to cause every one of his nerves to thrill with terror.

Adrenaline pushed him hurriedly up the tree, until he was as near the top as safety would permit. The savage beast was snuffing and growling below on the very spot he had just abandoned. He answered every growl with a responsive scream. Terrified at the pawing of the beast, he increased his voice to its utmost volume, broke branches from the limbs, and madly hurled them at the spot where it paced.

Failing to alarm the animal, which now began to make a circuit of the tree as if to select a spot for springing into it, he shook the slender trunk until every limb rustled with motion. The mountain lion pursued his walk around the tree, lashing the ground with his tail, and prolonging his howlings almost to a roar. It was too dark to see, but the movements of the lion kept him apprised of its position. Whenever he heard it on one side of the tree, he moved to the opposite — an exercise which, in his weakened state, could only have performed under the impulse of terror.

Expecting any moment it would take the deadly leap, Everts tried to collect his thoughts and prepare for the fatal encounter which he knew must result. Just at this moment, it occurred to him to try a new tactic — silence.

Clasping the trunk of the tree with both arms, he sat perfectly still. The lion, at this time ranging around, occasionally snuffing and pausing, and all the while filling the forest with the echo of his howlings, suddenly imitated his example. This silence was more terrible than the clatter and crash of his movements through the brushwood, for now, Everts didn’t know what direction to expect his attack. Moments passed like hours, until the beast sprang screaming into the forest.

His strength decimated by the encounter, Everts climbed down and unwillingly fell asleep in the same spot, not waking until morning. The experience of the night seemed like a terrible dream; but the broken limbs on the ground in the daylight confirmed the reality.

Knowing that such an encounter was bound to happen again, Everts faced a new challenge — a change in weather. A storm of mingled snow and rain set in, the wind piercing the tears in his clothing. He began to realize that reuniting with his friends was a fool’s errand, and he must escape the wilderness on his own accord.

The accomplishment of that task seemed impossible, as he sheltered below the branches of a spruce tree for two more days as the storm continued to rage unabated. While laying exhausted, and again starving, a little bird, not larger than a snow-bird, hopped within his reach. He seized, killed it, and, plucking its feathers, ate it raw.

On the morning of the third day, the storm lulled. Everts rose early and started in the direction of a large group of hot springs in the distance. He knew the spot unmistakably and could see it in the distance. It was at the base of a mountain that Henry Washburn had named after him – Mount Everts. The journey was only 10 miles, but the storm raged again long before he made it to the clearing. Chilled to the bone, with his clothing thoroughly saturated, he lay down under a tree upon the heated crust of the hot springs until completely warmed.

After one of the worst storms he ever saw subsided, Everts found a place for revival. Thistle roots abounded, and a boiling hot spring allowed him to cook them. The vapor which supplied him with warmth saturated his clothing. He was enveloped in a perpetual steam-bath. At first, this was barely preferable to the storm, but he soon became accustomed to it, even enjoying it.

For days he thought of little but escape. The want for fire filled his mind, knowing he would need it to leave the warmth of the hot springs. He knew it would keep the wild beasts away, and he knew another storm would kill him if he had no way to recover from the cold. He recalled everything he had ever read or heard on producing fire, but none of them seemed within his reach.

As he lay anxiously awaiting the disappearance of the foot of snow which had fallen, a gleam of sunshine lit up the lake, and with it, a thought flashed through his mind. The opera glass. He quickly dismantled it, removed a lens, and focused the suns rays. As the smoke curled from the bit of dry wood in his fingers, all thoughts of failure were instantly abandoned, and he made preparations to leave.

As he slept on that third night, a toss and turn broke the crust of the hot spring, pouring steam upon his hip, scalding it severely. This, in addition to his frost-bitten feet, kept Everts from setting out again for seven days.

He was now able to make fire, but both of his knives had been lost on the way to the springs. He made a convenient substitute by sharpening the tongue of a buckle he cut from his vest. He used it to cut the legs off his boots, forming them into slippers. He mended his clothing by unraveling a handkerchief for thread, which he also fashioned into a fishing line, along with a fish hook made from a pin on his coat. With the leftovers of his boots he made pouches to carry food, which he fastened to his belt.

On the morning of the eighth day, Truman Everts bade the springs a final farewell and started out, back for the lake. It was a beautiful morning. The sun shone bright and warm, and there was a freshness in the atmosphere. Hope returned.

As the day went on, he became aware that his sanity was under attack. He’d drift off into dreams of the subconscious, and quickly shake them off, in full understanding of the malnourishment taking over his mind. A change in the wind brought an overcast sky, and as the afternoon drew on, he was unable to get a ray of sun to light a fire. A freezing night set in, again exposing all its terrors. After a week of warmth, suddenly death felt eminent. He struck his numb feet and hands against logs to awaken them. After everything he had endured, this seemed the longest and most terrible night of his life, and he was glad when dawn approached.

He made his way quickly to Bessie Lake, arriving at noon, and built a fire on the beach. He remained by it and again recuperated for the next two days, preparing for his escape.

Everts had three directions he could travel if life and strength held out. He drew a map in the sand of the different courses and considered the difficulties of each. He could follow Snake river 100 miles or more to Eagle Rock Bridge. He could cross the country between the southern shore of Yellowstone Lake and the Madison Mountains, scaling them to reach the settlements in the Madison Valley. Or he could retrace his journey over the long and discouraging route by which the expedition had entered the country. This was the least inviting, if only because he was familiar with it. He had heard of the violent waters of the Snake River and decided — most unwisely — that the shortest route, over the mountain barrier, would be his quest.

He set out over timber heaps, and through thickets. By noon, he took the precaution to light a torch, which he kept alive until he made camp in an impervious canopy of trees. The shrieking of night-birds, the supernatural scream of the Mountain lion, and the prolonged howl of the wolf set the tone for another difficult night. The burn on his hip was so inflamed that he could only sleep sitting up. The smoke from the fire almost enveloping him, his imagination ran wild with terror. He could see the blazing eyes of a monster through the trees. Rousing in and out of hallucinations and sleep, he fell forward into the fire and inflicted a wretched burn on his hand.

A bright and glorious morning succeeded the dismal night, and Truman Everts, again, resolved to banish the thought of peril, and now the hallucinations, from his mind. Resuming his journey, in a few days, he arrived at the far end of Yellowstone Lake, finding a camp last occupied by his friends on the beach. He found no note or food, but a left-behind dinner fork proved to be a very worthwhile root-digging tool, and a yeast powder can converted into a drinking cup and dinner pot.

He left the camp in deep dejection, now knowing that his friends did not leave food behind. He intended to follow their trail to Madison, pursuing signs of travel downstream. The wind howling, he built a shelter of pine boughs and built a fire to sleep for the night.

Everts woke in the middle of the night to the sound of the snapping and cracking of burning foliage, finding his shelter and the adjacent forest in a broad sheet of flame. His left hand badly burned, his hair singed off, he made his escape from the semi-circle of burning trees, leaving his buckle-tongue knife, fish-hook, and line behind.

He hastily forged on as an immense sheet of flame leaped madly from tree-top to tree-top. The roaring, cracking, crashing, and snapping of falling limbs and burning foliage was deafening. On and on he raced the destructive flames, until it seemed as if the whole forest was enveloped in flame, spread rapidly by the howling wind.

Knowing he could search for a trail no longer, Everts aimed for the lowest notch in the Madison Range. All the day, until nearly sunset, he struggled over rugged hills, through thickets and matted forests, with the rock-ribbed beacon constantly in view. Half way there, he stopped for the night.

The next day, another new wave of hope set upon him as he grew closer and closer to the mountains until he arrived at the base and scanned hopelessly its insurmountable difficulties. It presented an endless succession of peaks and precipices, rising thousands of feet, sheer and bare above the plain. No friendly gorge or gully or canyon caught his weak eyes.

Thinking his journey over the last two days was in vain, he turned his sights down the Yellowstone River. He knew what lay down that route. Dreary miles of forest and mountain. He was surely only 20 miles from the Madison Valley. He was already out of the supply of thistles he carried from the lake, thinking they would be in abundance on his journey, but none were to be found here.

While considering whether to remain and search for a passage or return to the Yellowstone River, an old friend, whose character and counsel he had always cherished, suddenly appeared before him.

“Go back immediately, as rapidly as your strength will permit. There is no food here, and the idea of scaling these rocks is madness.”

“Doctor,” Everts said, “the distance is too great. I cannot live to travel it.”

“Say not so. Your life depends upon the effort. Return at once. Start now, lest your resolution falter. Travel as fast and as far as possible—it is your only chance.”

He did just that. His friend returning time and time again for guidance, Everts made his way back to the lake, back toward the Washburn Expedition’s entrance to these lands. Distances were greater than anticipated. He did not eat until the 4th day, and once again, laying down by his fire near the river nearly abandoned all hope of escape.

He pressed on. “I will not perish in this wilderness,” he continued to say, even as his wish for life wavered. He lost all sense of time. Days and nights came and went. The thistle roots that gave him life now failed to digest and packed in a mass in his stomach. Though he was starving, he experienced little hunger and little pain. His hours of sleep were filled with beautiful hallucinations as his mind seemingly settled in for death.

After another terrible cold night with no fire, he pulled himself into a standing position and realized he could not move his right arm. His other limbs were so stiffened with cold as to be almost immovable. Fearing paralysis would suddenly seize the entire system, he dragged himself through the forest to the river. He anxiously awaited the appearance of the sun. He kindled a mighty flame, fed it with every dry stick and broken tree-top he could find, and without motion, and almost without sense, remained beside it several hours. The great falls of the Yellowstone roaring within three hundred yards.

He plodded along, starving, foot-sore, half blind, and worn to a skeleton. As weakness increased, more imaginary friends came, traveling companions he so long desired.

He ate a raw minnow, and though tasty, his stomach would have none of that. He spent hours trying to catch trout with a hook fashioned from the rim of his broken glasses to no avail. He saw large herds of deer, elk, antelope, occasionally a bear, and many smaller animals. Numerous flocks of ducks, geese, swans, and pelicans inhabited the lakes and rivers. But with no means of killing them, their presence was a perpetual aggravation.

One afternoon, he came upon a large hollow tree, which, from the numerous tracks surrounding it, and the matted foliage in the cavity, he recognized as the den of a bear. Instead of fearing its return, Everts’ warped mind saw the den as the most inviting couch. Gathering a needful supply of wood and brush, he lit a circle of fires around the tree, crawled into the nest, and passed a night of unbroken slumber. He rose the next morning to find that during the night the fires had burned a large space in all directions, doubtlessly intimidating the bear’s return.

He left the river for the open country of sagebrush and desolation. He awoke one morning after a snowfall to completely lose his bearings. No tracks or objects showed which way he came or where he was headed. He scrambled until he found the river again and stayed until the snow melted. He filled his pouches with thistles, knowing he would find none in the open country, and set out one last time.

A few days into this final journey towards civilization, he collapsed ascending a steep hill, without the power to rise. He soon woke, having no idea how long he slept, and scrambled to his feet to pursue his journey. As night drew near, he selected a camping place, gathered wood, and felt for his lense to light the fire. It was gone.

This, more than any moment, Truman Everts thought was his last. The struggle was over. He rapidly ran over every event of his life in his mind, and said: “I SHALL NOT PERISH IN THIS WILDERNESS.”

5 miles stood between him and his lens. Through the night, he staggered back to the spot where he collapsed, and in the morning found the lens, on the spot where he slept. It was the most joyful moment of his journey.

A storm came in, but something in his mind told Everts he would be saved if he didn’t stop. He must continue. With torch in hand, he fought to travel through the storm. He would count on the lens no longer. He would keep a torch going. He went on another day. And another. A storm came on, and a coldness took hold unlike any other he had felt. It entered his bones. He attempted a fire but could not make it burn. He stumbled blindly on, knowing that death was very near. He heard whispers: “struggle on.”

Groping the side of a hill, he looked up through half closed eyes to see two rough but kind faces.

“Are you Mr. Everts?” a man asked.

“Yes. All that is left of him.” He replied.

He fell forward into the arms of his preservers and lost consciousness.

He soon awoke, his saviors having restored his consciousness. One made the 70-mile journey to Fort Ellis to get help, while the other stayed by his side and nourished him to health. In two days the now barely 50-pound Everts was sufficiently recovered in strength to be moved twenty miles down the trail to the cabin of some miners who offered every possible attention. For four days they abandoned their work to aid in his restoration.

The night after his arrival at the cabin, while suffering the most excruciating agony, and thinking that he had only been saved to die among friends, a loud knock was heard at the cabin door. An old man in mountain garb entered—a hunter. He listened to the story of Evert’s sufferings, and tears rapidly flowed down his rough, weather-beaten face. He left the cabin, returning in a moment with a sack filled with the fat of a bear which he had killed a few hours before. From this he rendered out a pint of oil. Everts drank the whole of it, and the next day, freed from pain, with appetite and digestion reestablished, began his path to recovery.

In a day or two, A carriage took Everts to Bozeman, Montana, where he was reunited with old friends, who gave him every attention until his health was sufficiently restored to allow him to return to his home in Helena.

Two years later, Yellowstone National Park was established. Truman Everts was offered the position of superintendent but turned it down because it included no salary. He moved to Maryland where he worked in the U.S. Post Office, dying of pneumonia at age 85 in 1901, 30 years after his 37 days of peril in Yellowstone.

The thistle which gave him life is now known as Evert’s Thistle, and a Mountain Peak still bears his name.

Truman Everts learned that his friends cashed food wherever they could for him that he never found, including right on the beach where he found the fork and the powdered yeast can. They recovered the pack horse, and fired their guns in the air when they could to try to telegraph their location.

It took him a month to recover fully. But by the second week of November, General Washburn decided that he was well enough for an official celebration and invited the cream of Helena society to a gala banquet at the fanciest restaurant in town.

Everts’ story, when published less than a year later became legendary, and was major part of the Yellowstone lore that led to the creation of Yellowstone National Park.

Yellowstone is an out of this world experience, with way too many sights and activities to list here. It covers nearly 3,500 square miles in the northwest corner of Wyoming, with small portions in Montana and Idaho. There are five entrance stations, and several are closed during winter. Hundreds of thousands of people visit during June, July, and August, the only months short on below-freezing temps and snow. May and September are best to avoid crowds. There are plenty of campgrounds both in the Park and just outside the entrances, with the majority of private facilities in West Yellowstone. Backcountry camping abounds, and the only electrical hookups inside the park are at the Fishing Bridge RV Park. You can also stay at one of the many National Forest campgrounds just outside the park. Campgrounds and lodges fill very quickly, so plan ahead.

This episode of America’s National Parks was written and produced by me, Jason Epperson, and Narrated by Abigail Trabue. If you enjoyed the show, we’d love a 5-star review wherever you listen to podcasts. Don’t forget to hit the subscribe button, and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Just search “National Park Podcast.”

The America’s National Parks Podcast is part of the RV Miles Network of web resources for United States travelers. If you are interested in RV travel, give us a listen over at the RV Miles Podcast.

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