GRANITE PEAK PUBLICATIONS: Accompanying travelers to the national park since 2002

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Historical events in Yellowstone National Park, Montana, and Wyoming.

Sorry to say, I *did* leave out at least one of Lee’s books about Yellowstone in my tribute to him. In 2007 he published Storytelling in Yellowstone: Horse and Buggy Tour Guides, a great contribution to lovers of the park. The book contributes a lot to our knowledge of the men who spread their expertise—usually gained from long experience and exploration—to visitors they led around the geyser basins or escorted around the park.

Reviewing just now the “Bibliographic Essay” of this book, I am proud to come across these sentences: “Yellowstone guidebooks (the first one appeared in 1873) are legion. Janet Chapple’s Yellowstone Treasures (Providence: Granite Peak Publications, 2002) is my recent favorite in this category.

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I’d like to follow up on the delightful biography of Park Historian Lee H. Whittlesey, posted by Liz Kearney on May 30th on the Yellowstone Insider website. Lee retired a month ago from his long-held position and gave up his office in the Yellowstone Heritage and Research Center building.

Every time I’ve been in the park since 1995, I’ve asked Lee for a visit, which he has kindly granted. Lee has been essential to every bit of the research and writing I’ve done there. I remember the first time I timidly asked to interview him with one of the endless lists of questions I generate between my yearly (or sometimes more frequent) visits to the park. From our first visit on, he put me at ease and directed me to all the sources I’ve needed.

I find it hard to think of continuing my Yellowstone research without the rock-solid assistance of Yellowstone’s fabulous historian. Here is a list of his books and National Park Service publications that I own. I may be missing some—but I hope not.
Death in Yellowstone: Accidents and Foolhardiness in the First National
Park
(1st ed., 1995; 2nd ed., 2014)
Gateway to Yellowstone: The Raucous Town of Cinnabar on the Montana Frontier
History of Mammoth Hot Springs (2010 draft)
A History of the Old Faithful Area
Yellowstone Place Names (1st ed., 1988; 2nd ed. 2006); Yellowstone Nomenclature (2012 disc)
Article in “Annals of Wyoming,” Vol. 88, No. 3, Summer, 2016: “G. L. Henderson: From New York Free-Thinker to Yellowstone Gentleman of Science”
—And with Elizabeth A. Watry:
Ho! For Wonderland: Travelers’ Accounts of Yellowstone, 1872–1914 (2009)
Yellowstone National Park, Images of America series: largely, historic photos with detailed captions (2008).

I will remain in contact with Lee for as long as possible. He has planned a “retirement” full of the writing projects he has not yet had time to complete.

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This question came up on Quora today, and I decided to answer it. Here’s what I submitted:

The superficial answer might be simply: It is important because it was the first place called a national park ever set aside by any country.

In answering this question one would have to ask two others: Important to whom? and Important in what way or ways?

Important to whom? Well, to anyone who cares about preserving remarkable landscapes from commercialism or from being despoiled. In 1872, when Congress passed the act setting aside the park and President Ulysses S. Grant signed it, the Yellowstone area was compared to Niagara Falls, because that phenomenon had not been preserved officially nor were businesses forbidden from setting up to sell whatever they wanted to the tourists who flocked there.

How was it important? Although no one in Congress had seen this remote western area, the men who had gone there were able to show photographs and paintings and tell them stories of what they had seen—phenomenal geysers and hot springs, lakes and waterfalls, mountains and valleys teeming with wildlife.

Not only Americans but people from all over the world are now able to visit and experience a place like no other, where only the necessary concessions are permitted and noone is trying to sell you anything outside of the few souvenir shops you may enter if you wish.

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John Muir’s 180th Birthday

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John Muir Home in Martinez California On April 21, 1838, famous naturalist John Muir was born in Dunbar, Scotland. So this 21st we celebrate the 180th birthday of a hero of the conservation movement, without whom the national parks of the world might never have been created. Muir’s writings about the beauty of U.S. lands, particularly in California and Alaska, convinced the U.S. government to protect Yosemite, Sequoia, Grand Canyon and Mt. Rainier as national parks. He also included a chapter on Yellowstone in his 1901 book Our National Parks, and Janet quotes his 1898 description of Yellowstone Lake in Yellowstone Treasures. Here’s a famous quote from a letter he wrote to his sister Sarah in 1873: “The mountains are calling and I must go.”

In June 2017 I took the opportunity during a visit to the Bay Area to see the peaceful house where he lived with his wife and two daughters, Helen and Wanda. A highlight of the tour is his study, which he called his “scribble den,” with its bright daylight, fine wooden furniture, and landscape paintings. It is also great fun to walk through the seven acres of orchards and other parts of the grounds, including the oldest structure in the town of Martinez, the Vicente Martinez adobe. (Click for larger images.)

Muir study with typewriter

John Muir’s study

Historical markers

Historical markers for the Vicente Martinez adobe and the John Muir home




Think of Muir as you celebrate Earth Day this weekend! If you are in the Bay Area on Saturday, a John Muir Birthday / Earth Day celebration at the John Muir Home National Historic Site in Martinez, California, this year includes family-friendly activities, music, food for sale, and self-guided tours. Learn more about what you can see on a visit in this “National Park Getaway” article.

—Beth Chapple, Editor and Publisher

P.S. Here is another lovely John Muir quote: “Handle a book as a bee does a flower, extract its sweetness but do not damage it.”

Photo credits: The exterior of the John Muir house is an NPS photo. All other photos by Beth Chapple.

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Why we say it is Yellowstone National Park’s birthday today

Categories: History, Through Early Yellowstone
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1872 Yellowstone act excerpt

Excerpt from page 50 of Through Early Yellowstone

On the first of March in 1872, President Ulysses S. Grant signed the bill setting aside “the tract of land in the Territories of Montana and Wyoming, lying near the head-waters of the Yellowstone river,” creating the nation’s first national park at Yellowstone. We reproduce the text of that act in our historical anthology, Through Early Yellowstone, to share with other readers what this foresightful law was meant to do. This land was “set apart as a public park or pleasuring-ground for the benefit and enjoyment of the people.” And the act continues to inspire governments to dedicate land for conservation throughout the world—just look at Chile and Peru for recent examples.

The month of March in Yellowstone also means that park roads start to close to oversnow travel, in preparation for plowing and reopening in April and May. While the road from the North Entrance (Gardiner) to the Northeast Entrance (Cooke City) is open year-round, today at 9 pm the road from the East Entrance to Lake Butte Overlook (Sylvan Pass) closes to snowcoaches and snowmobiles, and other roads follow throughout the next two weeks. Conditions permitting, there is also a schedule for reopening the roads for motorized traffic. See the Park Roads page at https://www.nps.gov/yell/planyourvisit/parkroads.htm.

This period between closing the park roads to oversnow travel and reopening them is a time when cyclists and hikers can travel the roads but car drivers are not allowed. See the National Park Service’s Spring Bicycling page to learn about the regulations and reminders, since you must still share the road with bears, administrative vehicles, and snow removal equipment. No services are available within the park during the spring shoulder season.

—Editor and Publisher, Beth Chapple

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Broad and beautiful Hayden Valley is where today’s visitors are most likely to see herds of bison close to—or on—the road. The valley is named for Dr. Ferdinand V. Hayden, born on September 7, 1829. He played a large role in the creation of Yellowstone National Park.

Trained as a medical doctor at Albany (NY) Medical School, Hayden served as a surgeon in the Union Army until 1865. However, he became interested in geology through collecting and studying fossils in the Dakota Territory and in 1867 began his government-supported geological surveys of the west.

During the summers of 1871, 1872, and 1878, the Hayden Survey studied the Yellowstone area systematically. The men observed and reported on many geological and other phenomena in voluminous reports. The report of Hayden’s first exploration was essential in convincing Congress to establish YNP in 1872.

Hayden’s love of geysers and hot springs reportedly could move him to tears. As an early guidebook writer observed: “He cannot compose himself in the presence of a geyser in eruption; but, losing recollection of the material world for the time, rubs his hands, shouts, and dances around the object of his admiration in a paroxysm of gleeful excitement.”

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New Youth Campus proposed for Mammoth Hot Springs area

Categories: History, On the Web
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Having returned from my Yellowstone trip several weeks ago now and not expecting to be able to go again this year, I’m reduced to reading all I can find about the park in order to keep current. I’ve just read some of the National Park Service’s Environmental Assessment for the proposed Youth Campus. I hope that Alternative C will be built on the land where the Mammoth Horse Corral was formerly located. Of course, I don’t know for sure that this is going to happen, but I am trusting enough to mention it in Yellowstone Treasures’ Fifth Edition (pages 269–70).

The proposal would bring as many as 140 young people to work and enjoy the park each summer and house them in lovely modern surroundings while they are there. Being concerned that the important historical features in the area should be carefully preserved, I just sent a comment to that effect. I included a suggestion that a separate access road and small parking area be available for visitors to the small (formerly military) cemetery started there in 1888. Although the soldiers’ graves have been relocated elsewhere, the cemetery is still a beautiful spot and should be carefully preserved for posterity.

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Trains to Yellowstone? Oh, for the days . . .

Categories: History, Transportation
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I just answered an amazing question on quora.com: “What are the dangers of taking a train to Yellowstone?”

To my mind this is a strange question, but perhaps the person asking it does not know where trains do and do not run in the U.S.

It would be great if there were still trains to one or more of the entrances to the park. However, the last passenger train, the Northern Pacific, to terminate at Gardiner, Montana (the North Entrance) arrived with a passel of Girls Scouts in 1955, and one could only get as far as Livingston on a train up to 1979. The other railroads that took passengers near the park had stopped running trains to the vicinity of Yellowstone even before that.

Your present options are taking a tour bus, flying to one of the gateway towns that has an airport and renting a car, or driving in your own car, which people do from every state in the Union.

Personally, I would think it high time that railroads reconsider the possibility of building tracks back to Gardiner, Cody, and/or West Yellowstone. The National Park Service should then set up shuttle buses to all the major points of interest—if only there were money for such a dream to come true any time soon. . . .

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March 31st, the birthday of a Welsh painter of Yellowstone scenes

Categories: History, Through Early Yellowstone
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My iPhone shot shows a page from the August 11, 1888 Graphic. You see three scenes engraved from photographs: Livingston, Montana; Pulpit Terrace at Mammoth; and the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel. One engraving is from a pencil sketch and two from watercolors: Bath Spring, Orange Spring Mound, and the interior of Devil’s Kitchen.

Today is the one-hundred-seventy-eighth birthday of Thomas Henry Thomas, the author and artist featured at the center of my 19th century collection, Through Early Yellowstone: Adventuring by Bicycle, Covered Wagon, Foot, Horseback, and Skis.

In 1884, you could travel around the new national park either by horseback or by horse-drawn coach. Thomas chose to ride. He wrote to a friend in his native Wales that he painted “quite half, if not more” of his watercolor sketches from “the logger-head of the Mexican saddle of my Cayuse.” In Through Early Yellowstone you can see 26 of his watercolors and one pencil sketch, none of which have ever been seen outside of Wales.

Born in 1839 in Pontypool, Wales, Thomas studied art at the British Royal Academy and also in France and Italy. His online biography does not tell us where he learned to write with his special combination of erudition, grace, and humor.

He spent most of his life in Cardiff, Wales, where he pursued many interests besides art, including archaeology, geology, and Welsh folklore. He served as artist to the London Graphic, a large-format publication with 16- by 12-inch pages. It took four years for the Graphic to turn some of Thomas’s Yellowstone watercolors and collected photographs into engravings. The first page of one of his two articles for the magazine is shown above.

Before Thomas died in his mid seventies in 1915, he bequeathed more than one thousand prints, drawings, and watercolors to the National Museum of Wales (Amgueddfa Cymru in Welsh), of which he was a founding father.

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Through Early Yellowstone becomes a Foreword INDIES finalist

Categories: Bio, History, News, Through Early Yellowstone
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Through Early Yellowstone book 2016 finalist
We’re celebrating at Granite Peak Publications since we learned that our historical anthology, published in 2016, has a good chance of winning top recognition for that year! Through Early Yellowstone: Adventuring by Bicycle, Covered Wagon, Foot, Horseback, and Skis is a finalist in two categories in this year’s contest run by Foreword Reviews, the foremost organization in helping promote outstanding independent press publications. The categories we entered are: Adventure & Recreation and Travel.

During the 21st century I have loved researching in libraries on both coasts and in Montana and Wyoming to locate the best early Yellowstone writings that need to be preserved in a modern book. By 2003 I had divided my findings into 11 categories, including early expeditions, the public entering the new park, early visits by various means, wildlife, poetry and songs, and other subjects. Wow! Even a sampling of the 85 articles I’d read and enjoyed by 2003 was way too much to fit into one collection.

Still, I kept reading. By 2007 I had read a great deal more but managed to pare my findings and categories down to a manageable number of articles and thought it was time to start seeking a publisher. Compiling what I was then calling Magnificent Playground required using my subjective judgment to reproduce the best written and most entertaining of these. In my letter to one university press, I acknowledged my awareness of two other Yellowstone historical anthologies, Old Yellowstone Days, edited by Paul Schullery, and Ho! for Wonderland, edited by park historian Lee Whittlesey and Betsy Watry. I intended to complement these two predecessor collections, not to compete with them. I wanted to avoid repeating descriptions of the many wonders of the park as much as possible, while giving readers a fascinating taste of early, long-out-of-print visitors’ accounts written by entertaining and talented writers and intrepid adventurers.

My editor/publisher/daughter Beth and I decided to publish the book with Granite Peak Publications, which up to that time had concentrated on putting out Yellowstone Treasures. Beth was particularly good at eliminating authors I had become enamored of but who did not fit well into the collection for our readers. I decided that we needed to include the short writings that I call snippets to show how the idea of an area that begged for preservation as the first national park gradually became a prime destination for travelers from all over the world.

The completion of the Northern Pacific Railroad (NPRR) across Montana in 1883 made access to the park much more convenient than before. A majority of the accounts in Through Early Yellowstone were written by people who used the NPRR and then traveled by horseback or horse-driven coach. Automobiles entered the park for the first time late in the 1915 season, and by 1917 they had taken over completely. It seemed to me the logical point for this anthology to end.

I am proudest of having found and been able to reproduce twenty-seven watercolor sketches, which (as the artist wrote to a friend) “are almost untouched travel sketches, quite half, if not more, of the Park ones being taken on the logger-head of the Mexican saddle of my Cayuse [Indian pony].” The artist, Thomas H. Thomas, visited from Wales in 1884. He wrote a delightful two-part article for a London magazine called The Graphic that turned many of his watercolors into engravings. In my book we reproduce many of the engravings along with his articles and roughly half-size reproductions of his watercolors. These reside in the archives of the National Museum of Wales and have never before been seen in this country.

—Janet

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