In 1872 Congress established Yellowstone National Park, and its vast wonders soon 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 effort evolved into a full-fledged business, and from 1896 to 1905 the Wylie Camping Company fed, sheltered, and guided thousands of Victorian vacationers through relaxed week-long tours of geysers, hot pools, waterfalls, and trails.
Despite the park’s wilderness setting, Wylie lured travelers with promises of comfort, ease, and delicious meals, claiming such luxuries as “woven wire springs under fine mattress beds; no sleeping on the ground…fine covered buggies to ride in. His “new method of caring for tourists” embraced separate dining tents, partitioned sleeping tents heated with stoves, informative outings, and fresh-air bonfires. His policy of hiring honest, hard-working college students and teachers who utilized the park as an outdoor classroom set an example for concessions throughout Yellowstone and other national parks.
But operating the Wylie Camping Company was a formidable task. There were bears, runaway horses, and drunken stage coach drivers. Anecdotes include observations of wildlife, the arrest of a bison poacher, and an altercation with the park’s game warden, Buffalo Jones. In order to serve his unique clientele, Wylie contended with park superintendents, railroad officials, Washington, D.C., legislators, and various other political personalities. Eventually the demands became too great, and he sold his business. But the Wylie Camping Company and its owner’s unswerving efforts helped develop, define, and preserve tourism in the West, particularly in America’s first national park.
Illustrations / maps / notes / bibliography / index / 230 pages (2015)