We ran across an interesting piece of Yellowstone history a few months ago involving an intrepid group of cyclists from Laramie. We couldn’t pass up the opportunity to do a podcast about the first group to explore Yellowstone by bicycle…and yes, they were members of the Laramie Bicycle Club of Wyoming.
You can listen to today’s podcast by clicking ‘play’ or read our show notes below.
The main source that I used for this podcast is a first hand account of the experience by W. O. Owen who was one of the three members of the Laramie Bicycle Club to plan and complete the tour of Yellowstone. It’s a fascinating read and the link to where you can find his account is below.
So the year is 1883, and if you can imagine the West was still wild with outlaws and cowboys, trappers, and westward migration and expansion. But in 1872 the Yellowstone National Park Act had been established, making it the world’s first National Park. The act set aside two million acres in Montana and Wyoming as a place to be preserved and protected for the benefit and enjoyment of the people.
Now, wanting to explore this wild land, several members of the Laramie Bicycle Club started to plan their journey. Ironically there was a little bit of disagreement amongst members of the club-most of them believed that a journey through Yellowstone would be impossible. Not because they’d be dodging tourists stopped on the side of the road taking pictures of bison like we see now, but because the terrain was rough, the weather could be terrible, and if you can envision one of those old fashioned bicycles with a large front wheel and a small back wheel their equipment was pretty heavy and rustic. I can imagine that without shocks or a cushy seat that riding bicycles of the era was not a comfortable way to travel. Eventually three men, C.S. Greenbaum, W. K. Sinclair and W. O Owen decided to make the tour.
At that time there were two entrances into the park, the first through Bozeman, Montana, and the second through Beaver Canon, Idaho. The men decided to enter the park through Idaho so they traveled by rail through Utah and met up with a team, wagon, camp outfit and guide at Beaver Canon and then began their epic adventure.
Owen’s account of this adventure is just amazing. He describes traveling through Teton valley and seeing the Tetons, which he described as “sharp in the pure, strong blue with faultless definition,” which I think is one of the most accurate descriptions I’ve ever heard.
The group then traveled to Henry’s Fork of the Snake River and took a wagon across the river and then headed into the park. Now, the group knew that they were the first to enter the park by bicycle and Owen describes a race to be the first to enter the park.
He wrote, “For two miles we rode neck and neck and it seemed as if all were to share the honor equally, when suddenly Sinclair took a stunning header and left but two of us to finish. A dead heat was the result, for we crossed the line together.”
A little bit later they crested the top of a hill an noticed a large band of Native Americans below them. Not knowing if the Native Americans were friendly they decided to keep heading down the trail and just blew past the Native Americans. Owen once again gives a great description of what happened, he wrote,
“At this moment we were about a quarter of a mile from the Indians and perhaps a mile from the foot of the mountain. In my heart I believe that no men ever moved with greater velocity on a wheel than did we on this occasion. We dashed into their midst at a speed which I dare not even conjecture, and, with the most unearthly yells that ever reached human ears, squaws, chiefs, horses and innumerable dogs scattered in as many directions as there are points to the mariner’s compass. It was a desperate charge, but entirely successful, and, passing the Indians, we reached the foot of the hill in safety.
I imagine that from a Native American’s standpoint who had never seen a white man on a bicycle before that this experience was a little bit bizarre.
The group went on to travel through the park, Owen described the water in the park as being exceedingly “disagreeable to the palate” but that seeing the geysers, boiling hot springs, transparent pools of water, and Old Faithful were incredible. And like most early tourists, the group added their names to a silicate formation, signing off as the first bicycle tourists in Yellowstone Wyoming.
At one point Owen used a cup of boiling geyser water to make a cup of tea which made him terribly sick. But he recovered quickly and was able to continue the journey. He also talks about visiting Mammoth Hot Springs, and I didn’t know this but I guess it was customary for early tourists to suspend things like old shoes, bottles, picture frames into the springs and then let them dry and when they dried they be dried with a hard, white coating.
They eventually made there way back to Beaver Canon and took a train home to Laramie. And Owen sums up their journey nicely. He wrote,
“It would be difficult to arrange a trip of equal interest, and I trust any others will be persuaded to take it. Some toil and hardship, to be sure, must accompany the undertaking, what what figure do they cut? The shadowy forms of obstacles that were met and turned on this journey arise before me; but all the toil an hardships endured pale an grow dim when compared with the pleasure and the friendship of those welcome made our home where night overtook us, and left a green spot in our memoir that time cannot efface.”
It’s interesting to see how Yellowstone has changed since this first bicycle tour.What do you think about the first bicycle tour of Yellowstone? Would you have toured Yellowstone in the late 1800′s on bicycle knowing that you were going deep into a rugged and potentially dangerous place?
The First Bicycle Tour of the Yellowstone National Park (link)
It Happened in Yellowstone, 2nd: Remarkable Events That Shaped History (It Happened In Series) by Erin H. Turner
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