Book Review: Through Early Yellowstone

“Through Early Yellowstone” is a delightful trip through travelers’ tales about one of the most remarkable places on Earth. Not only was Yellowstone the United States’ first national park, filled with an incredible number of natural wonders, it quickly captured the imagination of Americans and others. Janet Chapple has selected nearly 2 dozen examples of these recollections. Each is rich with description and offers a different perspective, whether from when or by whom it was written.

The writing styles and experiences are widely varied and every reader will find something that appeals.  My favorites were Elwood Hofer’s travels through the parks on skis and the crusty C. Hanford Henderson’s walking tour. Henderson’s description of his gear is hysterical:

Now, to walk successfully one must attend to certain details.  The most important detail is one’s dress.  The common mistake is to wear too heavy clothing and too much.  This is disastrous.  Better venture up on the trip, as I did, wearing the lightest underclothing, a summer traveling suit, a straw hat, and light shoes.  A special caution is needed against heavy shoes.  They have wrecked many a promising expedition.  It is much better to go tripping daintily along, picking one’s way, if need be, than to wear tiresome clod hopper shoes, and step on every sharp stone you see.  In my hand I carried a light umbrella (to kill rattlesnakes and frighten off bears) and a modest little paper bundle, in my pocket a package of soda crackers, in my heart many things.  Nevertheless, it was very light.

Many of the selections for this anthology were written for publication, and so the quality of story-telling strikes me as higher than it would be if these had merely come from private diaries. It is hard to imagine the variety of transport – foot, ski, cayuse ponies, bicycle – that these travelers used to navigate the park.

Chapple’s book is exceptional in many ways and the text selections are only the starting point. She provides a detailed overview of the illustrations included, something that gets short shrift in many non-fiction books. Illustrations are important here because she has included 26 color plates plus frequent spot images throughout the accompanying text.

Additionally, each writer’s section is introduced with some background both about the writer and some of the context of their Yellowstone visit. Each section is heavily footnoted, with some additional definitions added within the text. This results in an easy to read approach.

This is an excellent read for anyone interested in American history, Yellowstone and the national parks, or just travel in late 19th century America. Junior high and high school students will find this to be a solid reference, and it’s a highly readable collection for any public library.

[based on review copy]

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