Conrad Kohrs’ trip to Yellowstone Park in 1883 was in many ways typical of those made by Montanans at that time. Travel was by horseback and lodging in tents. The pace was leisurely to allow the horses time to graze and people time to see the sights.
Kohrs was a very wealthy man who was known as “The Montana Cattle King” in the era of open range. He sold up to 10,000 steers a year. Naturally, his equipment was more elaborate than most. Kohrs himself drove an ambulance, a wagon that the rich used to maximize travel comfort. Unlike a canvass covered wagon, an ambulance had rigid sides and top, windows that could be covered by rolling down shades, and soft springs.
Kohrs had a four-horse team to pull his provision wagon that was loaded with enough equipment and supplies for the seven-week trip. In addition, each member of the party had a personal saddle horse. Kohrs hired a man just to take care of the 18 horses of the entourage.
Like many tourists coming from the west, they went up the Madison River and crossed Raynolds Pass over the continental divide to Henry’s Lake, which Kohrs described in his reminiscence:
“Henry’s Lake was a pretty sight, a fine sheet of water and covered with swan. An old settler living in a small cabin had a few elk and some young swan he was taming and raising. We secured boats from him and had great sport spearing lake trout, of which the lake contained a great many.”
After a few days at Henry’s lake, the party went back over the continental divide via Targhee Pass the Park. Crossing the divide twice made sense then because that’s where the road went. The “old settler” who Kohrs rented boats from probably was Gilman Sawtell, who homesteaded at Henry’s Lake in the 1860s.
Sawtell harvested fish from the lake—up to 40,000 pounds a year. He had to build a road to Virginia City to take them to market. And after the park was designated in 1872, he extended his road to the Lower Geyser Basin
The Kohrs party camped for several days at the Lower Geyser Basin and took side trips on horseback. They spent several days at there before moving on.
Although he didn’t see the Excelsior Geyser in the Middle Geyser Basin play, Korhs described it anyway:
“The largest geyser on Hell’s Half Acre was the Excelsior. This one spouts at long intervals, every two or three years, and then the eruption is terrific and continues many hours. When in the state of acquiescence it emits a roaring noise and makes nearly everyone feel as if the earth would give way under the feet.”
The party camped in the upper geyser basin near old Faithful where they saw what Korhs termed “most of the geysers of any importance.” They had to return to the lower basin to proceed to Yellowstone Lake, because that’s where the only road was. Kohrs said the lake was “a beautiful sight” and noted that the fish were worthless—a fact he erroneously attributed to water from hot springs rather than parasites.
They proceeded to the Falls: “the most majestic and beautiful spot in the park,” according to Kohrs. It snowed while they camped four miles from the Falls so they spent an extra day in camp. After that, they spend several days absorbing “the shading of the canyon.”
“As far as camping was concerned, there were no restrictions. Everything was free and easy. There were no government troops stationed at various points, though we realized the need of them as many of the beauties were defaced by the souvenir hunters. This was particularly true of the Monument Geyser Basin, an aggregation of extinct geysers thrown up in fantastic shape and named according to their resemblance to humans and of bird life.”
On their way to Mammoth Hot Springs, they saw so many pools, mud pots and hot springs that they became bored with them and gave Mammoth only a cursory glance.
The party then took the 226-mile trip back to Deer Lodge stopping in Bozeman, Central Park and Butte.
— Adapted from “A Camping Trip in Yellowstone Park: Aug. 20 – Sept. 12, 1883.” Pp. 77-79 in Conrad Kohrs: An Autobiography.
— Moran painting from Coppermine Photo Gallery; Kohrs photo from Progressive Men of the State of Montana.
You might also enjoy:
- “Ajax Takes a Trip to Yellowstone Park.“
- “Gliman Sawtell: Yellowstone’s First Commercial Guide.“
- “Big Boots to Fill.“
The Kohrs Ranch headquarters in Deer Lodge, Montana, is a National Historic Site.