Three Cheers for Yellowstone: Traveling 1895-Style
May 25, 2012
Visiting Yellowstone by stagecoach is known to have been a dusty affair and, while the Grand Loop tour offered many wondrous sights, there were long tree-filled stretches that were less exciting. It was during these times that passengers were wont to pepper their drivers with "fool tenderfoot questions" and, probably in desperation, the drivers responded by teaching the tourists a variety of songs and cheers to while the time. While it was known that songs were sung, we didn't have a good record of them until recently. Last year, the descendents of some 1895 tourists donated the family record of the trip. And thanks to the exuberant recording of the 16 year old daughter, Alice, we now know some of the cheers used to pass the time during the "boring" sections.
Alice's diary forms part of the F. E. Stratton Family Papers documenting the Stratton family's trip to Yellowstone National Park in 1895. Two diaries were recorded: one by father Frederick and one by daughter Alice-and apparently the two were on two wholly different trips. Frederick's diary details the natural and geothermal features of Park, complete with measurements and statistics. Typical of a teenager, Alice's diary describes all the social events and people she met. In addition to the daily entries, Alice also documents a number of yells (cheers) and poems the group learned during the tour. She also names the stagecoach drivers she met.
The 1895 trip to Yellowstone was organized by medical doctor, author, lecturer, instructor, and adventurer Lyman Beecher Sperry, for whom Sperry Glacier in Glacier National Park was named after his discovery in 1894. The following year, Sperry advertised a trip to Yellowstone National Park and the Stratton family--Frederick E., Mary, and their daughter, Alice B.--joined the expedition. The trip seems typical for the wealthy visitor: travelling by train and stagecoaches, staying in the hotels, and dining on fine fare. What makes the trip notable is that the family recorded it in such detail, providing current researchers a glimpse into both the technical and social aspects of such an adventure-and providing latter day travelers with a few new songs to sing when the car or bus trip becomes a little too long.
Sources:F. E. Stratton Papers, Yellowstone National Park Archives; Haines, Aubrey L. The Yellowstone Story. Vol. 2 (1977); Whittlesey, Lee H. Storytelling in Yellowstone: Horse and Buggy Tour Guides (2007).