PULLMAN, Wash.— WSU Press has recently released Yellowstone Summers: Touring with the Wylie Camping Company in America’s First National Park, by Jane Galloway Demaray. The book tells the story of the Wylie Camping Company and how the owner’s unswerving efforts helped develop, define, and preserve tourism in Yellowstone National Park.
Congress established America’s first national park in 1872, and its vast wonders mesmerized early sightseers. One of them, William Wallace Wylie, visited in July 1880. The school superintendent was immediately smitten. He returned to Bozeman, Montana, and arranged his first tour group a few weeks later. His initial endeavor evolved into a full-fledged business, and from 1896 to 1905 the Wylie Camping Company fed, sheltered, and guided thousands through relaxed week-long tours of geysers, hot pools, waterfalls, and trails.
Previously only for the rich, vacations were a burgeoning trend among the Victorian middle class. Wylie wisely kept accommodations simple and affordable—canvas tents clustered around a fire pit where guests gathered to sing, swap stories, and enjoy other impromptu entertainment. But he also offered luxuries like fine mattress beds, covered buggies, and delicious meals in special dining tents. Today that fusion of glamour and camping is often called “glamping.” During Yellowstone’s stagecoach era, the combination was known as “The Wylie Way.”
Drawn partly from an unpublished manuscript written by Wylie himself, the book’s anecdotes include observations of wildlife, the arrest of a bison poacher, and an altercation with the park’s game warden, Buffalo Jones. There were also hungry bears, runaway horses, and cantankerous stage coach drivers. Ever a teacher at heart, Wylie hired staff who utilized Yellowstone as an outdoor classroom, a precursor for the emphasis on education that now exists in many parks.
Operating the Wylie Camping Company was a formidable task, and the book also details the difficulties Wylie faced as he contended with park superintendents, railroad officials, Washington D.C. legislators, and various other political personalities. Without his persistence, Yellowstone’s leisure industry might have been closed to competition and be very different today.