A Tale: Grandma Told Me Abuse Killed the Handkerchief Pool

When I was a little boy, my grandmother used to tell me about The Handkerchief Pool, which was one of the most popular geothermal features in Yellowstone Park when she went there in 1909. I was fascinated by the story, but Grandma explained that I would never see it because tourists threw so much junk into it that it didn’t work any more.

In 1903 Hester Henshall visited the park with her husband, angling writer and fish biologist Dr. James Henshall. In the Henshal’s tour group was Lillian Elhert, an intrepid young woman who was always thrusting herself into the middle of things. Here’s Hester’s description of Miss Lillian’s antics at the Handkerchief Pool.


The Handkerchief Pool reminded one of a great pot of boiling water, seething, roaring and bubbling, and issuing clouds of steam with a washday odor. Miss Lillian Ehlert must put her handkerchief in the pool, of course. We gathered round to watch it. It floated awhile, circling the pool, then suddenly disappeared down a sucking eddy, out of sight.

We watched and waited, some of us thinking it had gone forever, but at last it popped up in another part of the pool and floated once more to the surface. It was then taken out with a stick, to be gazed upon by all of the party with something akin to awe. We wondered where it had been when lost to sight—what it had seen underground, and what tale it could tell if gifted with speech.

Miss Ehlert simply said: “No checky no washee, but I got it all the same.”


— From the journal of Hester Ferguson Henshall, Trip Through Yellowstone National Park 1903. Montana Historical Society Archives.

— You might also enjoy Hester Henshall’s description of Miss Lilian’s antics in Cruising Lake Yellowstone.

— Frank J. Haynes postcard, Yellowstone Digital Slide File.

6 thoughts on “A Tale: Grandma Told Me Abuse Killed the Handkerchief Pool

  1. Pingback: Why I’m Interested in Yellowstone Stories « M. Mark Miller

  2. Pingback: An Event: Presenting at Beavertail Hill Park Was Great Fun « M. Mark Miller

    • Mark,
      It was a great program and despite the locked RV, everything went fine. Thank you again for participating —

  3. Mark — I am a great great niece of Dr. James Alexander Henshall and I live in Cincinnati Ohio. I am currently researching my family tree and Hester Ferguson and Dr. Henshall are my favorite relatives. I have family trinkets, photos and books left to me. I even travelled to Bozeman two summers ago to see the Fishery, their home at the Fishery etc. My partner and I then motorcycled through Yellowstone (first visit for me) and I recently learned that Hester wrote a journal about her Yellowstone trip. Any information I can share with you or you with me would be fabulous!!! I have Hester’s “Wildflowers of Florida” volume (one of a kind) in my possession and a handpainted picture frame surrounding Dr. Henshall’s fishing poses.


    Jennifer K. Rech
    Loveland, Ohio

    PS One of Dr. Henshall sisters, Margaret Virginia Henshall, married into my family here in Cincinnati.

    • Hi Jennifer —

      I have a transcription of Hester Henshall’s journal of her trip to Yellowstone Park that I could send you if you’d provide me with an email address. But you really should see the original, which is in the collection of the Montana Historical Society in Helena. A few of the flowers that Hester collected remain pressed in it. Hester was co-author of a volume on the fauna of Montana that is also at the Historical Society.

      I’m putting together an anthology of women’s writings about there travel to Yellowstone Park, so I’d love to have more information about the Henshalls. Anything you could provide would be useful.

      — Regards, Mark

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