A Tale: Early Hotels Offered Crude Accommodations — 1883

In August of 1883 Yellowstone Park was overrun with parties of dignitaries including President Chester A. Arthur. Still, that’s when a 58-year-old school teacher, Margaret Cruikshank took new Northern Pacific train to Yellowstone. Miss Cruikshank said her guidebooks were far too lavish in praising the natural wonders of the Park, and she was quick to condemn the accommodations. Here’s her description of Marshall’s Hotel at the Lower Geyser Basin.


Marshall’s Hotel

We went on a rather monotonous day’s journey till the early afternoon brought us to the Forks of Firehole—Marshall’s.

Marshall is a man who, having no park permit, has chosen to assume that he could keep such a house of entertainment, that the Yellowstone Park Company would be glad to let him stay.

When only rough teamsters and hunters visited the Park I suppose he gave satisfaction. But now that crowds throng there and are of a more fastidious sort, Marshall won’t do. Marshall must go.

The effective force here is only three—Marshall, his wife, and a Chinaman—and they are all overworked and all cross. Not being forethoughted and forehanded as to providing and not having very high standards. I cannot praise their results.

We had a tolerably good supper, which I enjoyed. Part of the reason was that our party got in early and the over‑worked cook was not so rushed. We had fish nicely fried and quite tolerable coffee. I often found it difficult when things were at their worst at Marshall’s to force down enough food to sustain nature, such abominable messes were served up to us.

Above the square part of the building was a great loft, and this was elegantly subdivided into cells by burlap partitions reaching rather more than half‑way up. Judging by their size I thought that there must have been more than a dozen of these little cubbyholes, dark and stifling! Into these most of us were stowed. Beyond beds, the less said about our accommodations the better. Many slept on the floor.

Our room was in the southeast comer upstairs and had two beds in it, one at each end. Mrs. Gobeen was our roommate.

It fell to my lot to sleep where the eaves came down over me like the crust over the blackbird in the pie. Mrs. Gobeen objected to having the window open. The bed was stuffed with sagebrush and had a horrid medicinal, quininey smell. And though the bedclothes may have been clean, I fancied that they had covered every teamster in the valley, beside being washed in that hot spring till the blankets were perfect felt. Moreover, with the sagacity usually exhibited by the lower classes in bed making, every double blanket had its fold up towards the head, so that if you were too warm you had to throw off both thicknesses—or neither.


— Margaret Cruikshank’s journal is at the Yellowstone Research Center in Gardiner, Montana.

— Photo from a  stereopticon view, Yellowstone Digital Slide File.

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