In 1913 L. Louise Elliott publish a book titled Six Weeks on Horseback Through Yellowstone Park. Elliott and her husband toured the park with a touring company that moved its camp from place to place. Most tourist at the time travelled between hotels or permanent camps where tents were put up early in the season and left up until Fall. Others had their own wagons and camping equipment and stayed anywhere they could find space. They were called “Sagebrushers” because sometimes the only places they could find were on undesirable sagebrush flats.
Elliott sent kept a detailed diary but when she tried to convert it into a book she decided a simple description of sights and activities needed a plot to make things interesting. She created a fictional character, a young schoolteacher from Lander, Wyoming, who took a job as a camp assistant and wrote the book as letters from the teacher to her mother.
In her preface, Elliott confesses that she used several techniques that critics now might label “new journalism.” She created composite characters by combining traits of her camp companions, and made up a “little romance” for her protagonist.
We can forgive Elliott because she provided an explicit disclaimer—and an entertaining portrait of travel to Yellowstone Park in the early twentieth century. While her tales must be taken with the proverbial grain of salt, we probably can take her word that “the camp episodes and jokes, the weather and scenery, and the statistics” were all accurate descriptions copied from her diary.
Elliott gives interesting details of her trip—a cook who makes biscuits “charred on the outside and doughy in the middle,”—a guide who carries “the scratchiest flannels” to be worn by anyone who didn’t heed his warning to bring warm clothing—and, snobbish hotel guests who refuse to return the greetings of lowly campers.
I decided not to include Elliott’s book in my anthology, Sidesaddles and Geysers, for two reasons. First, I thought there was too much fiction in her account for it to be included in a book of “true” stories. Second, I thought Elliott’s descriptions of Native Americans would offend contemporary sensibilities. But I hope you can overlook these shortcomings and enjoy the descriptions of travel to Yellowstone Park in the early 1900s and the delightful stories.
You can see page images of Elliott’s book on the Internet Archive. If you’d like to see a sample first, take a peek at “Maud Gets Her Revenge,” which posted on my blog in 2010.