A Tale: Confusion Surrounds the First Car Officially in Yellowstone — 1915

YNP First Cars 1915 PMB

Dignitaries in a White Motor Company car lead the official automobile entourage in Yellowstone Park on August 1, 1915.

The story below claims to describe the trip by the first automobiles admitted to Yellowstone National Park. I’ve learned to be skeptical of such claims so I checked it out in Aubrey Haines’ definitive history, The Yellowstone Story

According to Haines, Henry G. Merry sneaked in his 1897 Winton in 1902 making it the first car to enter the park. As Merry’s son told the story, his father raced his car past the mounted guards at the Gardiner Entrance. The cavalrymen gave chase on horseback and caught the machine when slowed on steep hill. They tied ropes to the the Winton and dragged it to park headquarters at Mammoth where the park superintendent ordered it out of the park—after demanding a ride.

People feared that automobiles would frighten horses and wildlife, so the park superintendent issue a general order forbidding cars. Hains says several vehicles entered the park by accident or contrivance before the order was lifted in 1915.

Political pressure from motorists increased until the Secretary of Interior decided in April 1915 to admit cars on August 1 of that year. However, the park superintendent wasn’t sure that cars could make the trip so he allowed two cars, a Buick and a Franklin, to drive a two-day circuit in June. Then a group of congressmen and government officials motored from the East Entrance to the Lake Hotel on July 4. The new regulation allowing cars was to go into effect on August 1, but the superintendent feared congestion so he issued seven permits on July 31.

Haines says that officials of the White Motor Company thought one of their cars was the first officially allowed in the park and issued a news release to that effect. The news release apparently was the basis for the story below. A magazine editor asked for clarification from the park superintendent who told him that a Ford had been issued permit number one the day before the White led the official entourage.

For the first year, private cars shared park roads with touring coaches pulled by four-horse teams, but in 1916 commercial tour busses were admitted. Those buses were made by the White Motor Company.


The first car entered the park at 6 o’clock on the afternoon of July 31, when a party of government officials, riding in a White car, passed through the lava arch at Gardiner, Montana, followed by a large cavalcade of motorists who were waiting for the honor of entering the park on the first day.

In the official car were Colonel Lloyd M. Brett, U. S. A., acting superintendent of the park, Major Amos A. Fries, U. S. A., chief of the park engineers, H. W. Child, president of the Yellowstone Park Hotel and Transportation Companies, and Robert S. Yard, of the Department of the Interior. The car, followed by the procession of motorists, led the way to the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel, where the night was spent. The following day it led to a tour of the entire park.

From the seat of a comfortable motorcar it is possible to see Yellowstone in a way that no other mode of transportation affords. Entering the park at Gardiner, the official car covered a five-mile stretch of road, winding around beautiful hills and high cliffs and skirted by the rugged, foaming Gardiner river. This road brought the party to the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel.

Promptly at 7 the next morning, the official White left Mammoth Hotel for a complete circuit of the park. The road requires a sharp ascent and soon overlooks the gleaming white formation of the Mammoth Hot Springs, 6,264 feet, which had appeared as a small mountain when viewed from the porch of the hotel. Three miles farther, Silver Gate and the Hoodoos, massive blocks of travertine, are passed at an altitude of 7,000 feet. One-half mile farther, one of the prettiest spots on the trip is reached. This is Golden Gate, 7,245 feet,  a curving road on the side of a deep canyon. A fine concrete viaduct here shows great engineering skill.

Golden Gate canyon then emerges into picturesque Swan Lake basin. From this mountain valley can be seen Electric peak, Quadrant mountain, Bannock peak, Antler peak, The Dome, Trilobite point and Mount Holmes. Ten miles from Mammoth Hot Springs, Appollinaris Spring is reached. Two miles farther Obsidian cliff is reached.

Roaring mountain, fifteen and one-half miles from Mammoth Hot Springs, is the next interesting place. Passing from here Twin Lakes is almost immediately reached. Here are two small lakes of entirely different color, but joined together by a small strip of water. Then comes the Frying Pan, eighteen miles from Mammoth Hot Springs, with an altitude of 7,500 feet. This is a hot spring, which stews and sizzles year in and year out, reminding one of a hot griddle all ready for business.

At the crossing of the Gibbon River, the tourist comes to the first soldier station, and from there it is only a half mile to Norris Geyser basin, where Norris hotel is located. As the official car pulled up to the steps of the hotel a great crowd collected to see the first motorcar that had ever visited the hotel.

A great deal of time can be well spent at this point viewing the many geysers— Constant geyser, Whirligig geyser, Valentine geyser, Black Growler, Bathtub, Emerald pool and some small paint pots.as the vari-colored thermal pools are called.

The official car left Norris at 9:15 a. m., after a brief stop. The next hotel stop is Fountain Hotel, twenty miles farther into the park. Approaching Fountain Hotel another geyser basin is seen. This is the largest in area of the park geyser basins, but the geysers here are scattered and are not of as much importance as others along the route. Fountain Hotel was passed at 11:00 a. m., and after a short ride Mammoth Paint Pots were reached.

The official party reached Upper geyser basin at 12:00 o’clock, and stopped two and one-half hours for lunch at the beautiful Old Faithful Inn. The stop gave time for a leisurely visit to the area of geysers here, which contains the largest and finest geysers in the world. Of course the center of attraction is Old Faithful geyser, which nearly every one has heard of, and the Giant geyser, the greatest of them all.

Leaving Old Faithful Inn at 2:30, the official car sped on and began the long climb to the Continental Divide, first along the Fire Hole river and then up Spring Creek canyon. Two miles from the hotel a stop was made to view the beautiful Keppler cascades. The first crossing of the Continental divide is made at an altitude of 8.240 feet, eight and one-half miles from Old Faithful Inn. The road leads down Corkscrew hill, where good brakes and a substantial steering gear come in handy.

Lake hotel was reached at 6:15 p. m., and it seemed a pity that the schedule required the party to push on to Canyon Hotel without much time to spend enjoying the wonderful view across the Yellowstone lake from the veranda of the Lake Hotel. However, there was a slight delay here, while the White ran back seven miles to rescue the press car, which had stalled and refused to start on one of the long, tortuous hills.

Starting after dinner from the Lake Hotel at 7:30 p. m., the seventeen miles of road to Canyon Hotel were covered in one and one-half hours, over soft, slippery roads which, added to the frequent turnings, scarcely warranted the speed that “was made. It had rained all of Saturday night and the car was covered with mud. The night was spent at Grand Canyon Hotel.

Beautiful sights were seen on the morning run from the Canyon Hotel to Tower falls by way of Dunraven pass, 8,800 feet. There is a road that leads to the top of Mt. Washburn, but since the roads in this vicinity were found particularly wet, narrow and slippery, this route was avoided.

About half way around Mt. Washburn, a brand new auto station built of logs has just been erected, on the outside of the road. Soldiers are stationed here, as elsewhere through the park, to check passing autos and make sure that motor tourists are observing the regulations.

Leaving Mt. Washburn, the road steadily descends to Tower creek, whose altitude is 6,400 feet. The road along here provides wonderful scenery, as is runs along high above the rock-strewn Yellowstone river.  After the long, descending road from Mt. Washburn another soldier station is passed and, by turning off the main road a half mile, the Petrified Trees may be reached. The sight is well worth the slight detour.

Approaching the end of the trip a fine view is obtained of the valley in which Fort Yellowstone and Mammoth Hotel are located. The sight of this great group of buildings, flanked by hills and mountains and the white terraces of the Mammoth Hot Springs, is a fitting end to a most remarkable journey. The official car unloaded its passengers in front of the residence of Colonel Brett at 11:15 on August 2, and the first tour of Yellowstone Park ever made by Automobile had been completed in less than one and one-half days.

However, no one wishing to really enjoy the scenery of Yellowstone Park should make the trip in less than four days. Overnight stops should be made at Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel, Old Faithful Inn, the Lake Hotel and at the Grand Canyon Hotel. While all motor tourists would be required to make the regular schedule between the checking stations, the regulations permit them to lay over at hotels and other points of interest until they are ready to proceed, which may be done when the next schedule of motor cars passes their location.

At present the privileges of the park are only extended to privately owned motor cars. The present tourist service through the park will be maintained by horse-drawn vehicles operated by the regular transportation companies as heretofore. All regular traffic will move in one general direction in going through the park. Motor cars will leave one-half hour before the stages, from the entrances or from the controls where they are checked in during the journey through the park. The speed at which cars may travel is stated in the regulations and varies according to the requirements of safety in various localities. Fines will be imposed on motorists who arrive or leave the controls not according to schedule.

A special telephone service has been installed to enable motor tourists to keep in touch with headquarters if breakdowns occur. In such emergencies, if motor cars are unable to reach the next control on time, they must be parked off the road or on the outer edge of it, and wait for the next schedule of motor cars passing that point or, until special permission to proceed is obtained from the park guards.

Motorists who intend to tour Yellowstone Park should thoroughly familiarize themselves with the rules and know the penalties imposed for any infractions. It is also important to plan the trip before entering the park, so as not to miss any points of interest which one might wish to return to. This cannot be done except by encircling the park and entering again, since travel moves only in one direction.


— Condensed from “Motorists Touring Yellowstone Park,” Automobile Topics. 39(3):189-190 (August 28, 1915.)

— Photo, Pioneer Museum of Bozeman.

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