Christmas 2013 is days away in Yellowstone. The weather is wintry, fairly new snow on the ground. Most of the holiday preparations and plans are set. Now we just wait. This is a perfect time to hear a Christmas story that is 92 years old this year. The year was 1921 and the place was Yellowstone.
Don Fraser, Bud Trishman and Spencer Dupre were first graders at the Mammoth Hot Springs School. School for the 17 students was 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 Livingston, Don laid eyes on a battleship in a store window that was made from an Erector Set. He really wanted it for Christmas and Don’s 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 Trishman and Spencer Dupre to figure out what to do. Trishman’s father was Harry Trishman, assistant chief ranger and the boys’ thinking was 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 two 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. Fraser and Trishman signed the letter.
About two weeks went by and then schoolteacher Mrs. Mariott announced that Don and Bud were to go to Mr. Albright’s office after school. Normally they would have been scared but this time they knew what it was about. 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 from then on. The letter was framed and hung on Mr. Albright’s office was for the rest of his superintendence.
Accompanying the correspondence was a check for $200, proceeds of a collection taken among 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.
Mammoth Hot Springs School students are pictured in this 1921 photo with their teacher, Ellen Mariott (with hat). The three children who developed a plan to allow Santa Claus into Yellowstone Park on Christmas Eve are seated in the front row: Don Fraser, far left, Bud Trishman, fourth from left, and Spencer Dupre, far right. Photo courtesy of Don Fraser
Sources: “Santa comes to Wonderland” by Jerry Brekke. Montana Best Times, December 2003. Find it in the vertical files in the Research Library.