Today tourists can see the wonders of Yellowstone Park in Winter by snow coach and snowmobile, but that’s a recent phenomenon. During the period where I focus my research, the 1800s and early 1900s, winter visits to Wonderland were rare and dangerous. I’ve searched diligently for a Christmas story set in Yellowstone Park, but I haven’t found one. I settled for this description of Christmas dinner in Utah from Osborne Russell’s famous Journal of a Trapper, which contains some of the earliest written descriptions of upper Yellowstone.
December 25th—It was agreed on by the party to prepare a Christmas dinner, but I shall first endeavor to describe the party and then the dinner. I have already said the man who was the proprietor of the lodge in which I staid was a Frenchman with a Flathead wife and one child. The inmates of the next lodge were a halfbreed Iowa, a Nez Perce wife and two children, his wife’s brother and another halfbreed; next lodge was a halfbreed Cree, his wife (a Nez Perce) two children and a Snake Indian. The inmates of the third lodge was a halfbreed Snake, his wife (a Nez Perce) and two children. The remainder were fifteen lodges of Snake Indians. Three of the party spoke English but very broken, therefore that language was made but little use of, as I was familiar with the Canadian French and Indian tongue.
About ten o’clock we sat down to dinner in the lodge where I staid, which was the most spacious, being about thirty-six feet in circumference at the base, with a fire built in the center. Around this sat on clean epishemores all who claimed kin to the white man (or to use their own expression, all who were gens d’esprit), with their legs crossed in true Turkish style, and now for the dinner.
The first dish that came on was a large tin pan eighteen inches in diameter, rounding full of stewed elk meat. The next dish was similar to the first, heaped up with boiled deer meat (or as the whites would call it, venison, a term not used in the mountains). The third and fourth dishes were equal in size to the first, containing a boiled flour pudding, prepared with dried, fruit, accompanied by four quarts of sauce made of the juice of sour berries and sugar. Then came the cakes, followed by about six gallons of strong coffee ready sweetened, with tin cups and pans to drink out of, large chips or pieces of bark supplying the places of plates. On being ready, the butcher knives were drawn and the eating commenced at the word given by the landlady.
As all dinners are accompanied by conversation, this was not deficient in that respect. The principal topic which was discussed was the political affairs of the Rocky Mountains, the state of governments among the different tribes, the personal characters of the most distinguished warrior chiefs, etc. One remarked that the Snake chief, Pahda-hewakunda, was becoming very unpopular and it was the opinion of the Snakes in general that Mohwoom-hah, his brother, would be at the head of affairs before twelve months, as his village already amounted to more than three hundred lodges, and, moreover, he was supported by the bravest men in the nation, among whom were Ink-a-tosh-a-pop, Fibe-bo-un-to-watsee and Who-sha-kik, who were the pillars of the nation and at whose names the Blackfeet quaked with fear.
In like manner were the characters of the principal chiefs of the Bannock, Nez Perce, Flathead and Crow nations and the policy of their respective nations commented upon by the descendants of Shem and Japhet with as much affected dignity as if they could have read their own names when written, or distinguish the letter B from bull’s foot.
Dinner being over, the tobacco pipes were filled and lighted, while the squaws and children cleared away the remains of the feast to one side of the lodge, where they held a sociable tete-a-tete over the fragments. After the pipes were extinguished all agreed to have a frolic shooting at a mark, which occupied the remainder of the day.
— Osborne Russell and Lem A York, Journal of a Trapper or Nine Years in the Rocky Mountains, 1834-1843. Syms York Company: Boise Idaho, 1921. Page 114-116.
— You might also enjoy;
- My Holiday Greeting for 2010 that featured a postcard of Old Faithful Inn in Winter.
- F.J. Haynes’ story, An Arctic Explorer Braves Yellowstone in Winter.
— Image, Coppermine Photo Gallery.