A Tale: Ajax Takes a Trip to Yellowstone Park —1880

In the first decade after Yellowstone National Park was established in 1872, dozens of adventurous young men set out to see Wonderland. Usually the had meager supplies and planned to live off the land. That and problems of managing their horses always made such trips an adveture. Here’s a story of such a trip by Alva Josiah Noyes, who called himself “Ajax.”  


A.J. Noyes

The summer and fall of ’80 was spent in the Elk Park ranch. I remember that I got out a whole lot of timber for fencing. After haying I sold my interest to my uncle. I was to take the money, go to the University of Iowa and enter the Law Department. My uncle was to give me $250 the first year, the same amount for the second.

Before going to Iowa I made up my mind to take a team and make the trip through the National Park. My object in so doing was to get data for a lecture, providing my cash should not hold out. I thought that I could deliver a lecture on the wonders of that place and probably make a few dollars, as it was then so little known.

I took a team, one of the horses belonged to my step-mother, and began my journey alone. On my arrival at Bozeman I met several of the Butte boys, ten of them in all. They had just been through the park and were on their way home. I could not get any of them to go back with me.

I got my dinner that day with George Wakefield, who was then running the Northern Pacific Hotel. Mrs. Wakefield was a schoolmate of mother’s. I met a kid, Link Coberly, who had been pretty near the Park but had not been in it. I proposed that he go with me. He said: “All the money I have is five dollars; that won’t take me very far toward the Park.” I informed him that he didn’t need any, I would put up. He consented to go.

We camped out on Bear Creek, 10 miles from Bozeman that night, and the next we were at Bottler Brothers, on the Yellowstone. We picketed our horses a short distance from camp. We were up early the next morning. Requesting Link to get the horses, I proceeded to get breakfast. He had been gone but a short time when he came hurrying back with the information that one of the horses was cast, and “his head was as big as a barrel!”

On making an examination I found that he had, in some way, gotten one of his hind feet in the rope which was around his neck, and in struggling to get up, had choked himself, more or less, also bruising his head. This was a nice state of affairs. A horse that could not be used; miles from home, and anxious to make the trip. What could I do? I went to Bottler and explained my condition.

He said: “I have a horse that you can have as soon as he comes back from the Park, which should be soon now.” I had to be contented and wait for “Old Bozeman,” as the horse was called, for several days.

At last he came and we made a new start. It did not require a long time to go, from this ranch, to Mammoth Springs. On arriving there I met Mrs. Carson (mother of Arthur of the North Butte), also Mrs. Ed Reimel of Walkerville, who invited me to have lunch with them, which was accepted with pleasure and much enjoyed.

When I got back to camp I found a young man, who desired to make one of our company, a George Allen of the Yellowstone. We left the wagon at the Springs and began our trip through the Park. We went via Tower Falls to the Grand Canyon, Great Fall, Sulphur Mountain, Mud Volcano, thence to Mary’s Lake, to the Lower Geyser Basin. We did not go to Yellowstone Lake.

We enjoyed the scenery very much. The weather was delightful. When we arrived at Midway, or “Hell’s Half Acre,” we crossed the Fire Hole river to investigate the Prismatic Spring and the Caldron, or what was afterward called “Sheridan Geyser.” This is a large body of boiling water, over 100 feet across, and when not in a state of eruption, is some ten to more feet below the surface. Steam arises all the time, as from a great kettle of boiling water.

Wishing to see more of this wonderful spring, I carefully walked toward it and stopped in awe at the fearful sight that met my gaze when a light breeze wafted the steam from me, as I was at the brink of that hellish hole. One more careless step and—the end.

When we arrived at the Upper Basin, we found ourselves pretty short of provisions. The boys were successful in getting a nice lot of fool hens, with sticks, but as we had no grease in which to fry them we began to rustle. Link found, in a tree, a can of bacon grease that had been left by the former camper. As this was nice and fresh, we made use of it.

We returned to the Springs via Norris Geyser Basin. At that place Colonel Norris had a party of men at work on the roads. Link got some brown sugar of them, which, under the circumstances, was the nicest ever.

The next day we arrived at the Springs, and got as good a meal as McCartney’s Hotel could set up. We purchased a few supplies, and started down the river. When on my way up to the Mammoth Springs I made arrangements with a party to catch some fish for me. When I returned to the place the man had a nice supply, which I hauled to Butte and sold them for 25 cents per pound.

When I got back to Bottler’s I found that my horse was in no condition to take me home. William Lee had a large number of horses, so I went to his ranch and bought a pony for $40.00, leaving my horse in his care. Link and I arrived in Butte in good season. Owing to the inroads on my cash, I did not have enough to carry me through the first year at Iowa City, so I did not study law. There must have been something of a Providencial nature in this, as we have too many poor lawyers now.


— Adapted from Alva Josiah Noyes, The Story of Ajax: Life in the Big Hole Basin. State Publishing Company:Helena, Montana: 1914.  Pp.  43-45.

— Photo from the book.

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