A Tale: Adventurers Run Out of Grub at Old Faithful — Seth Bullock, 1872

It was natural that Seth Bullock would want to visit Yellowstone. After all, he was the delegate to Montana Territorial Senate who in December 1871 wrote the “memorial” asking the federal government to establish the park. The next summer, he became one of the first tourists to visit there.


Seth Bullock

Bullock was a colorful man whose real life biography inspired the tough sheriff character in the HBO series “Deadwood.” A newspaper once described him as “a man with a cold, grey eye, a nerve that never wavered, and a gun that never missed. “It has been said of him” the article continued, “he was a silent, cold man, and at times he seemed to have lost his power of speech. One writer referred to him as a ‘Man killer,’ and when this was called to his attention, Bullock broke his silence to remark: ‘They say I’ve killed forty-seven men. Son, I’ll tell you what. I’ve never killed but two, and I did not kill them soon enough.'”

Teddy Roosevelt once called Bullock “the finest kind of frontiersman” and appointed him U.S. Marshall for South Dakota. Bullock began his career as a businessman and lawman in Helena, Montana. Later he moved to South Dakota where he died on his ranch in 1919.

He was barely 22 when he was elected to the territorial legislature in 1871. Bullock said he never intended the journal of his Yellowstone for publication, but it’s a well written description of what was probably a typical trip at the time.

Bullock left Helena for the park on horseback August 23, 1872, with three friends named A. J. Teller, Dick White, and Jack Langrishe.

They led a packhorse that they named “Judge Clancy” after the man Bullock bought him from. The men counted on finding fish and game for food on their trip — a plan that didn’t always work.

On the second night out, lightening spooked their horses, but they were able to catch a rope on Judge Clancy and stop the stampede. Lost horses were a common occurrence for Yellowstone travelers all through the period when they the primary means of transportation. Since the travelers carried little food for their horses, the animals needed to graze over and sometimes they wandered off. Often travel was delayed to search for horses which were sometimes found miles away.

Here are some excerpts from Bullock’s journal.


MONDAY, AUGUST 26th –  [The Gallatin Valley]

Broke camp at 4 A. M. Teller grumbled a great deal at having to get up so early. For me, the day had a special interest. We were to travel through the Gallatin Valley.

I anticipated a fine stretch of country, but was totally unprepared for the surprise that awaited me. Well has the Gallatin Valley been named the Garden-Spot of Montana. We were charmed and delighted. Stretching before us with mountains on each side was a magnificent plateau of fine rolling prairies, interwoven with two fine streams of silver whose beautiful shimmering sheen could be seen for very beautiful fields of ripe golden grain, greet the eye on every side. Substantial houses and good buildings are the rule and not the exception.

Traveling through this beautiful valley — one of God’s dimples — as we did on this fine August day, it was impossible not to become a firm believer in the future and prosperity of this section of Montana.

At 11 a.m. we arrived in Bozeman and camped on Bozeman Creek. A fine stream that skirts the town. After enjoying our Bedouin repast, we took a look at the town, which strikes one as a thrifty place. Evidence of future prosperity exists in the well-known agricultural resources of the valley and the pluck, business energy and shrewdness of the citizens. The town is nicely laid out with wide streets, looks very much like Deer Lodge. The people are all good boys.

[five days later]

SATURDAY, AUGUST 31st – [Mammoth Hot Springs]

Here we are, at the famous springs, encamped in a little ravine, about 100 yards from the springs. Pen cannot describe, nor tongue tell, the wonders of this place. Large, white mountain and plains of icy whiteness cut into fantastic shapes meet the eye.

Found quite a colony of invalids here. All speak of the medicinal qualities of the baths in terms of praise. Passed the afternoon in resting and listening to amusing stories told by the old mountaineer of the bug-hunters, as they facetiously termed the Hayden party. Intend leaving tomorrow for the geyser country.

[eight days later]

SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 8th –  [Lower Geyser Basin]

Left prairie at 6 A. M. After floundering around through mud for over three hours, we succeeded in finding solid foundation on hillside and struck out down creek for Lower Geyser Basin. Two pilgrims got stalled in the mud and had to be roped out. Passed numerous hot springs and infant geysers.

As you approach the lower basin you can imagine that you are overlooking a wharf where a number of steamers are blowing off steam. Camped for noon in Lower Geyser Basin and examined curiosities. Reached Upper Fire Hole Basin about 4 o’clock. Went into camp and started out to examine the geysers. Did not have time to examine but one or two before night.

While we were eating supper, Old Faithful started its evening entertainment. The display was grand, beyond our highest expectation, the water being thrown about 100 feet high, five feet in diameter at the base to a fine silver thread at the top. Judging from the noises we hear, there must be a great number of geysers in this vicinity.

We are getting short on grub. Nothing left but flour and coffee. White prepared for supper a new dish, called Geyser sauce.

[The next day]

MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 9th – [Upper Geyser Basin]

Arose at 3 A. M.  Before breakfast, [we] visited a number of geysers. One called “Grand” breaks through a small mound, evidently formed by the geyser. Around the sides of the mound are the most beautiful colorings imaginable.

Left for home at 12 M. Course down Fire Hole River.  … Weather fine, but cold. No game in sight. No fish. Bread and water all we had today.

[six days later]

SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 15th – [At Bottler’s Ranch north of the Park]

Left Packer’s Camp at 5 A. M. Lunched at Bottler’s and examined his ranch. Fifty acres of wheat, very good. About the only ranch on the whole Yellowstone River

Walked into Bottler’s eggs, cream, butter, and “sich” in a way that looked bad for his winter’s grub supply. First civilized grub that we had for twenty days.

[the next day]


At noon, we started on for Bozeman through Rocky Canyon. Arrived at Bozeman at 4 P. M. A. J. Davis of Helena visited our camp, dined with us on trout and Yellowstone stories. Spent evening in Bozeman.


— Seth Bullock’s journal of his trip to Yellowstone Park is in the collection of the Montana Historical Society.

— Photo from Wikipedia Commons.

2 thoughts on “A Tale: Adventurers Run Out of Grub at Old Faithful — Seth Bullock, 1872

  1. Pingback: An Event — Reading at the Museum for the Bozeman Stroll | M. Mark Miller

  2. Great Story. I have some more questions about “Judge Clancy”, Bullock’s horse! He may have purchased that horse from “Judge William Clancy”, the namesake of Clancy, Montana. (Looks like you came to our Jefferson County Museum and gave a talk a few years ago… sorry I missed it!) Please contact me with your email address. Thanks!

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