Texas Jack in Yellowstone
The following article was originally printed in The Boys of the World, a serial printed by Street & Smith, the same publisher that produced Ned Buntline's Buffalo Bill and Texas Jack stories. This is Jack's account of his 1874 trip into the Yellowstone with Lord Dunraven, George Kingsley, and Captain Wynne.
TEXAS JACK’S EXPERIENCE
Three Months in the National Park,
The Yellowstone Region.
His description of that marvelous country after a hunting expedition there with The Earl of Dunraven and others.
WRITTEN BY HIMSELF
I left New York August 1st, 1874, to go as guide and hunter to an English party, among whom were the Earl of Dunraven, Doctor Kingsley, and others.
I joined the party in Denver City, Colorado, and, after a few days of recreation there, started alone to Salt Lake City, where I met the superintendent of the Overland Stage Line, and succeeded in chartering a coach to carry us from Corinne to Virginia City.
My party came up the next day to Salt Lake, and, after seeing Brigham Young and other curiosities, we hurried on to Corinne.
The next morning the coach was at the hotel door at seven “sharp” as the earl would say, and guns, pistols, dogs, servants, scouts, English lords and other bundles were tumbled in promiscuously, and before we could get half a view of the beautiful country our driver shouted “all aboard,” and away we went at breakneck speed.
We reached the first twelve miles station before I had got comfortably seated, for there was such a confusion of baggage in the coach one would have thought the Grand Duke and the Prince of Wales were along, and here our first trouble began, for, to “cap the lay out,” one of the dogs had taken sick, for Salt Lake hash did not seem to agree with that canine’s English stomach; but then we had only four hundred and forty-eight miles to go, and, as a little thing like that wouldn’t amount to much, I chucked the dog on top the coach, and had just time to jump astride of a ten-gallon keg of whiskey when the driver shouted “hoop la!” and away we went again.
I had given the driver a drink, and that settled it, for in vain did I cry out to him to make the horses pace that me might go easy over the stones. He took my wailing for cries to make better time, for all that is said to these Western drivers they understand to mean go faster and make time.
At this rate, we soon pulled up at the next station, where we got in a balky horse. He would not budge, and the driver called out for some of us to get out, and throw a stone at his head.
I only got a chance to throw one at old balky when back went his ears, and out came his two hind feet at my head, and off like a shot went coach and horses.
I had just time to grab on to one of the straps behind when I was towed for half a mile, and then rescued by the earl, who dragged me in.
The remainder of the trip to Virginia City was made under similar circumstances, we arriving there in four days and a half after leaving Corrine; for a wonder everybody alive, and nobody robbed.
The next day I hired a team, and the earl and myself drove to Sterling, distant twenty-nine miles, and on the way we passed Alf Slade’s old ranch.*
Sterling is a place that started up upon “quartz” prospects, but, like the butcher’s calf, it “kinder gin out.”
Here we expected to meet George Ray, one of the noted hunters and trappers of the Yellowstone, for he was to join us at Sterling.
Buying some ponies, we rode on to Boseman City, distant ninety miles, and on the way passed through Gallatin Valley, which was by far the prettiest country we had seen thus far.
Boseman is a nice little town, situated upon a tributary of the Gallatin, and three miles from Fort Ellis, and here it was I bought my outfit of saddle ponies, pack-mules and other necessaries, the earl going, in the meantime, in company of some officers of the fort, to visit the Crow village and see a war-dance by some Indians of that friendly tribe.
After leaving Boseman I shot a small bear on Trail Creek—first blood of the trip.
The next day we entered the great and wonderful Yellowstone Valley, striking the river at a point about a hundred miles below Yellowstone Lake.
The valley here is wide, the rolling hills extending back some distance to the main range, and the country grandly beautiful.
Here we met some friendly Indians of the Bannock tribe, who were hurrying back toward the Gallatin, as they said there were Sioux across the river. These tribes have long been deadly enemies. They admired my Winchester and Remington rifles greatly, and when I told them that Dr. Evans, of Lewiston, Maine, was making me a gun that shot thirty-five times without reloading, they were immensely tickled, and also curious, one of them saying:
“Me habee dat gun me stay here and kill em heap Sioux every time.”
A few hours ride brought us to Bottler’s ranch, the last regular settlement up the river.
It was late when we got here, but the tents were soon pitched in a nice little grove, and things began to look to me like old frontier times.
Mr. Bottler came to see me soon, a stout, healthy-looking, American born Dutchman who had spent half his life in the mountains, and from him we heard nine good bear stories, while he showed us signs where one had gone off with a good piece of his left leg. Also he told us that there were plenty more bears around his ranch, and as I knew this to be a good part of the valley for that kind of sport, we concluded to stay here a short while hunting, and trout fishing in the streams.
The next day some of the party went into the hills on a deer hunt, and I took to the river for some fish, and had landed, perhaps, a couple of dozen of trout and white fish, when I discovered a band of ponies coming at full speed down the opposite side of the stream.
Satisfied that there were Indians, running off stock, I didn’t hesitate an instant, but dropped the fishing tackle, seized my rifle, mounted, and swam across the river, which at that point was a hundred yards wide.
Reaching the other banks, I headed off the ponies, and they turned into the hills, and in pursuit of them were several Indians, to whom I gave chase, but soon drew off, as after ten minutes I discovered they were too well mounted for me to overhaul them.
As I turned to ride back I saw a lone Indian coming up in my rear; but he was out of range, yet I fired a shot at him just for luck, and after returning the fire he dusted, and was soon out of sight.
Returning to the river I recrossed, and was soon back in camp.
The next morning we moved up the river, and turned into the rough mountains, where we ran upon a band of elk, killing four or five before they got out of range, and had plenty of fresh meat.
Camped that night on the bank of a small brook, and had just started to pitch tents when we heard the whistle** of an elk close by.
Every one sprang for his rifle, and the earl took the first shot, and brought him down nicely, and we soon had his hide and horns in camp, the antlers being an exceedingly fine pair.
Before we finished supper we could hear bear growling at the remains of the elk, and several of the party who had not seen grizzlies, prepared to surround the place and take a shot at them; but I gave it as my opinion that grizzlies were nice little pets, and should not be disturbed at a quiet lunch at so late an hour, and Mr. Bottler, who was with us, hoped they would make out a meal on the elk as he had no more legs to spare.
Thus we decided to await until the morning; but no bears were in sight at that time, so we divided into two parties, and started out on a hunt for one.
Owing to the rough country it was impossible to keep together, and soon each man had to look out for himself.
One of the party soon found a large grizzly, but, being alone at the time in a dark valley, he concluded to climb a tree before he opened fire—a very wise conclusion, by the way.
After seating himself comfortably upon a convenient limb, about seventy-five feet from the ground, he got his rifle ready, and found that the bear had moved camp; but, being unused to bear tricks, he concluded to hold his position and await the return of Bruin, and there he might have been yet, perhaps, if I had not happened to pass the place, and assured him that there was no bear at the root of the tree.
Climbing down he started straight for camp, saying he “hadn’t lost any bear, anyway.” Guess he had already found one too many.
Taking a tramp through the hills, I was approaching camp late in the evening, and it had come on to be rainy and disagreeable, and put me in a bad humor.
Suddenly I came on a tremendous grizzly, picking the bones of the elk the earl had killed the day before.
It was the first big game I had seen during the day, and I was determined to tackle him alone, and at once endeavored to get as near as possible before I fired to make a sure thing of it.
Stripping myself of hat, coat, and boots, I crawled within thirty yards, for it was getting dark, and I could not see well at a longer range.
At the crack of my rife the old fellow raised up on his hind legs and bit his side angrily. I knew I had hit him hard; but my hair raised a little as he started directly toward me, and quickly I reloaded and again gave him another shot squarely in the breast, and again he assumed the position of a soldier, and with open mouth and terrible growl, rushed upon me.
A climb for it was not my only chance, and with no time to lose, I started up the nearest tree; and in none too big a hurry, you bet, for with one blow of his large claw, he stripped the bark off within on yard of my feet.
It was sixty feet to the nearest limb, and that was too small to bear my weight, so, knowing I could not hold on a great while, I clung well with my legs and left arm, and opened on Mr. Bruin with my six-shooter, and although he was bleeding from two bad wounds, I still had him bleeding from six more, and yet he haunted the foot of that tree as though he had business there.
Wondering what chance I would have in a tussle with a grizzly with my knife, and feeling that it had come down to that, I was thinking of coming down, when the old fellow staggered off to a little pond of water nearby and commenced rolling in the mud.
Then I slipped down the tree, seized my rifle, threw in a cartridge, and gave it to him through the head from a distance of five yards, and this rolled him over dead.
Just them several of the party, attracted by my firing, came up, and we soon had him out of the pond and found he was a twelve hundred pounder.
Being too late to take his hide, we returned to camp, the earl greatly lamenting that we could not enjoy another encounter with a bear; but I told him that it would likely snow during the night, as it threatened it, and then he should have all the bear-hunting he wanted.
As I anticipated, there was snow, and the ground was covered white in the morning, so we all set off on another hunt, and soon struck a fresh trail.
We soon discovered that the bear was not far ahead, for he was circling the spot where he intended to lay down, a habit of caution which the grizzlies have.
Sending the party on the trail, the earl and myself cut across and come up the other side of the hill, and in five minutes we heard a snarling in the brush, and instantly we jumped behind a big boulder, just as the largest sort of grizzly came out in full view, not more than fifty yards distant.
The earl carried a double-barrel Dougall rifle, and I told him to give Bruin both shots, which he did, after a long sight.
Instantly the bear set up a terrible howling, and started down the mountain, but turned as he saw us coming.
Having reloaded, the earl gave him another double shot, I holding my fire for emergencies, and determined to let my lord and the bear “fight it out on that line if it took all Summer.”
Then the bear started toward us, but seeing the rest of our party coming up, ran down the mountain and hid in a willow swamp.
Instantly we surrounded the thicket, into which we could hardly see ten feet, and I ventured in, but finding that on foot I would have no chance if attacked, came out, and sent to camp after a pony, which soon arrived, the man who brought him taking care to dismount near an easy tree to climb. It was the same feller that hadn’t lost any bear the day before.
Mounting, I rode in, and the bear soon arose up in front of me with a growl and a rush.
The pony became frightened, reared up and fell backward, rolling over me. I was not hurt, but sprang to my feet in a second, and found the bear at arm’s length, and his anger I could easily see by his open mouth and glaring eyes.
I gave him a shot from my revolver in a twinkling, but he had aimed his blow, and his right paw grazed my cheek—I have considerable—and falling upon my chest, knocked me out of time.
It was some time before I remembered any more about the fight, and when I did, thought the bear still had hold of me, for I felt awfully cramped; but the bear was nowhere near, and I was happy, for I had begun to consider about passing in my checks.
I heard the boys yelling to know if I was hurt, but I had no strength to answer, and soon I heard the party coming toward me, for they had all determined to risk their lives to get me out.
I told them it was only a joke, my refusing to answer their call, to get them to come in the thicket; but my story wouldn’t stick, for they saw the blood on my cheek, and that I couldn’t get up.
I was taken to the edge of the swamp, and the doctor said I must have some brandy, and that was just what I had prescribed for myself. So they put me on the horse and led him to camp, and to account for my escape decided that the bear had given me one tap, and blinded by my fire had gone on after the pony, which he overtook at the edge of the swamp, and tore from one of his hind legs a large piece of flesh, and although he carried me to camp, he had to be left in the mountains to hunt his own living.
Remained in camp several days, and suddenly Mr. George Ray, the hunter we had wanted with is but could not find, put in an appearance.
He is a splendid specimen of manhood, six feet two in his moccasins; but we were supplied with meat, and he left us.
The next day my bear was found dead in the swamp, and as we had enough of that kind of game for the present, we moved up the river.
We passed some beautiful scenery and saw on the north bank some lodges of different colored stone extending from the top of the high ridge to the valley’s edge. These ledges are from fifty to sixty feet apart, twenty feet thick and from sixty to eighty feet in height, and the walls on both sides are perfectly smooth, and seem to be exactly the same distance apart. At a distance, it looks as if the mountain had been raked with a huge comb, with teeth like church steeples.
The night after starting from camp we halted opposite Emigrant’s Peak, one of the tallest mountains that overlook the valley.
The next day passed Emigrant Gulch, and felt safe from Indians, as none were ever known to go farther up the river than that point, and the story goes that they are superstitious about the country, calling it the Devil’s Home, where all sorts of bad spirits live.
White men say that they do not go there because they have no way to get out, except to come back down the river, and in fact, there is little to go for, excepting the scenery, hot water and wonderful specimens of rocks, and redskins have little attraction toward the above mentioned.
Continuing on our way we soon struck what is known as the Geyser Region, and a queer kind of place it is, for to describe these hot springs I can only say, the same effect can be produced by taking forty million tons of lime and dumping it in a lake.
Reaching the place we saw a combination of springs of hot water boiling up here and there, over a space about four hundred yards square.
As the water flows off it cools and leaves a formation of ashy chalk, and in one place there is a pyramid seventy feet high, evidently formed by a water sprout. It stands on a level, is small at both ends, and is large in the middle. It is perfectly dry and does not look unlike a sheep standing on its head.
Nature has erected some rude bath-houses here, and after taking advantage of a bath, we remained several days in the vicinity to continue them, and we felt like attacking a grizzly single-handed, so delightful was the effect upon us.
I left my lariat in one of the pools one night, and the next morning it was like solid stone, a coating of whitey substance having formed on it a quarter of an inch thick. A man would crust over if he remained too long in a bath, and that’s the kind of a place it is.
Continuing on, we passed Tower Falls, where the water has a nice little tumble of two hundred and fifty feet; but they are not a marker for the Grand Falls we passed the next day; these are “the boss,” four hundred and ninety feet high, clear of any obstacle.
A nice large river starts over the top of that fall, but it all turns to spray ere it reaches bottom, at least so I judged, for had I gone down to see, I could never have got back out.
We next came to the sulfur springs; these are hot air and boiling water, and everything has a yellowish cast of countenance in their neighborhood.
I stopped to get a drink, but the water was acid, and took all the skin off my mouth.
We reached the Wind Springs the next day and camped; these springs are six miles below the lake and the most wonderful in the valley.
We heard a terrible splashing and felt the earth shaking during the night, but we couldn’t see the performance.
The next morning we went to the spring or lake, which is of boiling water, is nearly round, twenty yards in diameter, and looks as though Nature had used it for scalding pigs, and it smells like it had been thus used too.
It was a very cauldron, thousands of tons of water being hurled upward with a bulging sound rising thirty feet high, and shaking the earth when it fell. As the water rushed into the basin again, up it was thrown, and so on.
In about two hours the throwing up process suddenly ceased, and in five minutes the lake was perfectly dry—recovered from its attack of sea-sickness. Then again the waters rushed in, and again the earth was nauseated. We remained in the vicinity several days and killed a few elk with splendid antlers. Then moved on to the lake.
This is a beautiful basin of water, eighteen miles long and fifteen feet wide, situated high up in the mountains, and it contains the largest trout I ever saw, some weighing twenty-four pounds; but they are not good—in fact, not fit for food. Above the Grand Falls no fish are fit to eat, strange to say until you strike Snake River, whose waters flow into the Pacific, while the lake waters flow into the Gulf of Mexico.
We now turned northward to the Great Geyser Basin, forty-five miles distant, and talked about water sprouts, why one of these would have put out the Chicago fire, even if the water is hot. The water sprouts out of the earth in streams three and a half feet in diameter, and shoot upward to a height of nearly four hundred and fifty feet.
They spout at intervals from two to twenty hours, and last from twenty minutes to two hours, first sending up hot clear water, then steam, followed by hot air, and then all is quiet until the time for the next entertainment.
We passed brooks where we caught trout and then threw them in a pool of hot water to cook, without taking them off the hook.
We next turned off into another part of the country to enjoy a good hunt, and we came pretty near having to hunt out holes, for we ran bang into an Indian neighborhood, and they were on the fight.
We camped in the hills near Crazy Mountain, and I went out to follow up a fresh bear trail, and noticing that the track was long and smooth in the heel, I concluded that a redskin was trailing the same Bruin.
But it soon got too dark to see, and I returned to camp and put out double guards, taking the first watch myself.
About ten o’clock, just as I was about to go in for a relief, I heard the rattle of hoofs, then a yell like forty wild cats on a spree, and away went all our ponies, stampeded by our Indian neighbors.
Mounting the pony I had with me, I started at once in pursuit and hailed the boys as I dashed by camp.
Following the noise of running feet for about four miles, they soon halted at the base of the mountain, and I discovered that the Indians were trying to corner and catch the ponies, and with a yell and a dash, I went at them, firing both of my revolvers in rapid succession.
Turning the ponies quickly I started them in the run back to camp; but whether I brought down and red game, I will not say, yet I found I had an extra pony the next morning, with a lariat around his neck.
We had now been out some time, had collected a fine lot of specimens and killed plenty of game, consisting of deer, elk, antelope, buffalo and bear, and also mountain sheep, mountain lions, wolves, wild cats and a great variety of smaller animals and fowls.
The fine weather we had had now left us, changing to cold snow storms, and the earl prepared to start for the settlements.
We retraced our way, and coming to the Yellowstone had some difficulty in crossing on account of the deep water.
Two more days brought us to Boseman, and three days after we tackled that abominable coach, at Virginia City, which put us on the railroad of the Union Pacific in five days, all of us delighted with the trip, and I perfectly willing to try it again any Summer as guide and hunter, into the great national park, whose wonders are yet unknown, and whose beautiful scenery is seldom gazed upon by either Indian or pale-face.
*Alf Slade was one of the most noted characters on the plains, and Mark Twain has given him a conspicuous place in his book “Roughing It.”
**This is a queer noise the elk makes in running season.