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The “Dudes” in Yellowstone: early tourism in the Park

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By Hunter Rothwell

In 1915, a Model T Ford was the
first automobile to pass through
the gates of Yellowstone National
Park. Prior to automobiles being
legally allowed to tour the park, the
experience of tourists was some-
thing quite unique. As the first
cars were entering Yellowstone,
one old-timer wrote: “The old Yellowstone—the Yellowstone of the
pioneer and the explorer—is a thing
of the past.”
Recreational tourism in Yellowstone began in summer 1872, the
same year it became the world’s
first national park, when a group
of 50 ventured to Mammoth Hot
Springs where the only accommodations were a log shack and a
ramshackle bathhouse. Many of the
earliest tourists came primarily to
bathe in the hot springs and for the
waters’ supposed restorative pow-
ers. The only other human presence
during those days was small bands
of American Indians and regiments
of the U.S. military who were often
accompanied by scientists, photographers, painters and an occasional
newspaper reporter. A total of 300
people visited the park in 1872.
Before the railroad reached Livings-
ton in 1882 and later Gardiner, just
north of the park, visitation remained light due to the remoteness
of the Western states, the difficulty
in accessing Yellowstone’s attractions, and the primitive accommodations. Tourists were either wealthy aristocrats well outfitted
and toured the park in grand style
(known as “dudes” by the locals),
or frontier people accustomed to
roughing it in the wild.

Once the railroads were built, the
Union Pacific became the market-
ing department for Yellowstone,
aggressively soliciting Easterners and Europeans to buy passage
to the region. One of the most
popular campaigns of the late 19th
century was promoting the park
as “Wonderland.” However, rail
travel was still expensive and only
the wealthy “dudes” could afford
the cost of the excursion.

The “Grand Tour” consisted of a
five-day tour of the park. Upon
arriving at Mammoth Hot Springs,
visitors would spend a day exploring
the springs, “which some lurid hotel
keeper had christened Cleopatra’s
Pitcher or Mark Anthony’s Whiskey
Jug, or something as equally poetical.”
recounted a diary entry from
a female visitor. The next four days
visitors toured the Greater Yellowstone in 11-passenger stagecoaches.

The experience was bumpy, bouncy
and dusty. They were entertained by
the unsophisticated yet colorful stage
drivers who cursed at their horses
and narrated tremendous fictions as
to how the attractions of Yellowstone
came to be. When a Yellowstone
wagon reached a steep grade, the
passengers were unloaded and had to
walk up the most difficult areas.

The scenery was exquisite, and
these affluent leaders of the
industrial revolution relished in
the rough conditions. Bandits held
up the stagecoaches on five separate occasions on one Grand Tour.

During one of these robberies an
impressive bandit fleeced 174 passengers riding in 17 stagecoaches – one
of the most impressive robberies of
the age. Despite the loss of valuables,
the well-heeled dudes were captivated
by their outlaws – apparently they
were very entertaining fellows and
never seriously injured anyone. One
of the dudes later remarked, “We
think we got off cheap and would not
sell our experience, if we could, for
what it cost us.” It was all just a part
of “doing Yellowstone”.

In the years 1872 to 1914, 395,608
people visited Yellowstone National
Park (20,250 in 1914). Once the automobile was introduced in 1915, visitation
doubled. And while the dudes
continued to come, the park was now
truly available to all the people, not
just the wealthy. In 2010 alone, the
park saw 3,640,186 visitors. In total,
152,683,423 people have spent time
in one the greatest wonders in the

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