A Yellowstone Christmas
December 24, 2012
George L. Henderson, originally hired as an assistant superintendent in 1882, soon became one of the first Park interpreters and promoters.Well educated and with a penchant for writing poetry and short narratives for the region's newspapers, Henderson published the following description of Christmas at Fort Yellowstone, 1899, in the Livingston Post.While quite Victorian in its tone and language (Henderson also named many of the geysers and thermal features after figures in literature and classical mythology), it is also a charming story of making merry in an isolated and unusual setting.
It also a bit of a soldier's homecoming story-Colonel Wilber Elliot Wilder, a Congressional Medal of Honor winner for his service in the Indian Wars, served only three months as acting superintendent of Yellowstone (all military superintendents were designated "acting").He then fought in the Philippines Islands during the Spanish-American War.While not a true homecoming, a telegram that he was safe would have been the next best Christmas present a wife could have received.
"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 ever indicated by any saccarimeters [sic], boys and girls being most accurate ones.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 Mother Eve curiosity and sympathy brought the house down with laughter and applause, alike from citizen and soldier.The hoary-headed Saint 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."
Sources: "Thoughts of Old," Livingston Post, Jan. 11, 1900.Henderson Family Papers (MSC 2), Yellowstone Park Archives; Whittlesey, Lee H.Storytelling in Yellowstone: Horse and Buggy Tour Guides (2007); Haines, Aubrey L.The Yellowstone Story (1977).
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Did You Know?
Prior to the establishment of the National Park Service, the U.S. Army protected Yellowstone between 1886 and 1918. Fort Yellowstone was established at Mammoth Hot Springs for that purpose.