Yellowstone In 1904

“This is nothing. Just wait! You and your pa heading out on the Tour today?”

“No.” I stared over the milky-white terraces, avoiding his eyes, plucking at my gloves. Whatever the Tour was, it would cost money. Which apparently we had none of. I sighed. “What is the Tour, anyway?”1904 map of Yellowstone

“It’s a tour through the entire Park. You’ll see it all, all the geysers, hot springs – with any luck, animals, too.” Page 87, FAITHFUL.

Yellowstone, our nation’s first National Park, was in 1904 nicknamed “Wonderland”, and it certainly lived up to the name then as today. The Park was open to tourists who mostly would have booked a Grand Tour through one of a number of organizations. Those tourists were called “dudes”, while tourists who made their own way through the Park and camped rather than stayed in one of the hotels were “sagebrushers.” Most entered the Park as Maggie did, through the North Entrance at Gardiner, and clambered aboard a Tallyho stagecoach for the ride to Mammoth Hot Springs.

lady @ Norris 1903, Yellowstone

Hotel at Norris (no longer exists)

Yellowstone in 1904 looked very similar to Yellowstone today, with the road layout largely complete (except for the leg between Canyon north past Mount Washburn.) A number of hotels provided stopping points along the way, from two at Mammoth (the National and the far more humble Cottage), to the Firehole and Fountain hotels which preceded the Old Faithful Inn, to the Lake Hotel, and finally the Canyon Hotel. Once the Old Faithful Inn opened in 1904 the Firehole and Fountain were closed.

Yellowstone Lake Hotel 1904

Lake Hotel, 1904

The Old Faithful Inn was not only beautiful – an outstanding log structure – but also sported all the modern conveniences (electricity, hot running water). It still retains its charm, including the original massive stone fireplace and huge clock, and although the topmost galleries in the entry hall are closed today, in 1904 musicians serenaded guests from almost 80 feet above. The Lake Hotel was a classic frame-style building, also fully appointed and luxurious.

Tent campers had the option of traveling the “Wylie Way”, which offered permanent, gaily candy-striped tent camps and a less formal (and cheaper) accommodation.

Old Faithful Inn 1904

The newly opened Old Faithful Inn

Tourists naturally visited all the hot springs and geysers along the way. They were also treated to nightly bear feedings, which took place behind the hotels, where food scraps were piled high and as many as a dozen bears would come out to dine while visitors watched from bleachers. Even women in ankle-length skirts climbed the rough walls of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone via primitive ladders. And it was possible to take a ferry from Lake out to Dot Island, which housed live elk and buffalo in pens.

The entire tour, including stops, took about six days. One tourist in 1917 remarked: “I have just completed the six days’ circular journey by stage through the Yellowstone National Park. I am moved to admiration, but still more to awe.”

See my previous post on 1900s social norms here.

Social Norms of 1904: A FAITHFUL Reflection

Mary’s ball had been the last debut of the season, held on an August night that began so hot and still, even the flies seemed drunk with stupor…Lightning flickered on the far horizon, echoing the tiny lights strung from branch to branch in the gardens outside. Page 27, FAITHFUL

My previous post discussed the fashion and food of 1904. Another fun aspect of researching historical fiction is discovering the social norms of past times. Social life in 1904, the time period for FAITHFUL, was vastly different from today’s social norm. The most important aa social eventspect of that difference: the formality of society in the early twentieth century.

A seventeen-year-old girl from the upper end of society like Maggie would already have begun thinking about marriage. She would have been preparing for her debut – her introduction to her peers and elders as a marriageable prospect. A proper debut was every girl’s dream, as she selected her adult wardrobe and cast aside more childish clothing styles. Of course, she also would now wear a corset, a most miserable contraption. A girl’s debut would include parties and balls, and especially one thrown by her parents – a very glam affair.

A girl’s suitors would be less interested in love than in her social and financial standing. American girls whose fathers were industrial giants – who had made fortunes in the railroad or banking industries – were often sought by European bachelors who were land and title-rich but cash-poor. (The story line of Downton Abbey features this thread in the marriage between Robert Crawley and his American wife Cora.)

Social separation in Downton

Downton Abbey’s two rigidly separated castes.

Maggie would be expected to behave with certain constraints. She would not be permitted to spend time alone with a man in a private place; she’d be expected to ride a horse side-saddle; she’d wear a hat and gloves when out. Her education would be completed by seventeen or eighteen. She’d be expected to go “calling” on her upper crust neighbors each afternoon, and to receive “callers”, who would leave calling cards on a silver tray at the house entrance. And, of course, a woman couldn’t vote in the United States until the suffrage law passed (see here for that discussion) and women really had no rights at all.

Consuelo - a social prisoner

Beautiful, rich, but sad Consuelo Vanderbilt.

In the lower classes of society, a young girl would either find factory work – grueling and poorly paid – or if she was lucky, would go into service as a ladies’ maid. Maggie would have needed a maid to help her dress and make up her hair, and to keep her clothing clean and in good repair. It was generally impossible for a girl from the lower classes to ascend to upper class status – marriage between classes was unthinkable.

This rigid caste society dictated everything from what a girl could eat, to what she could say, to those she could spend time with. Her marriage would have been almost arranged – that is, she would have only been able to choose from a select number of suitors, and love was not a high priority. (It’s said that Consuelo Vanderbilt sobbed throughout her wedding to a man she did not love, as she was forced to leave behind her true love.)

An upper class girl would want for nothing. She’d have beautiful clothing, jewelry, and a lovely home. But a lower class girl could make her own way – including marrying for love, if she was lucky.

Fashion & Food in 1904


One gown hung from the door of my wardrobe. Black and white, with lace at the throat, and tight through the waist, where a crushed satin belt was a slash of scarlet. Page 27, FAITHFUL. One of the fun things (for me) about writing historical … [Continue reading]

Trains and World Fairs: Progress in 1904


Today I'm posting the second in my series about 1904, the time period for my YA novel FAITHFUL. (For the first post, see here.) Maggie's father tells her that he is taking her across the country on a pleasure trip. In 1904, the best way to travel … [Continue reading]