Hotels in the Yellowstone
Marshall's & Fire Hole - 1880-1891
Copyright 2020 by Robert V. Goss. All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced or utilized in any form by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or by an information storage and retrieval system without permission in writing from the author.
Marshall's Hotel - Marshall House
George W. Marshall received a 1-year mail carrier contract in 1879 for the Virginia City to Fire Hole to Mammoth Hot Springs route in Yellowstone Park. He noted in his diary that “the Government discontinued [the mail route], at a great loss to me….” Way stations had to be erected or arranged through the Madison Valley, along with spare teams, tenders, etc. It would have been a sizeable investment to get started.
He formed the Marshall & Goff Stage Co. with J.A. Goff in 1880 that traveled the mail route, no doubt making use of some of these same facilities. He built a 2-story log house with a 6-room extension at the Firehole River near Nez Perce Creek in 1880 that served as mail station and small hotel. Their first passengers, Robert and Carrie Strahorn, arrived at the unfinished hotel in early October. That year he also erected a mail station at Norris, possibly in the meadow near the soldier station.
The Helena Weekly Herald reported on Aug 26 1880, “This week the coaches on Marshall & Goffs mail and express line to the National: Park were started. The coaches are commodious lour-horse vehicles, and the stations are at convenient distances, so that tourists can now make the journey by easy stages to Fire Hole Basin.”
The following year, Marshall was operating as the Virginia City & National Park Stage Line.
Left: Article about the Marshall & Goff stages. (Click to enlarge)
Helena Weekly Herald, Aug 26, 1880
Marshall's First Hotel, 1884.
In June 1885, Marshall began construction of a new hotel on the other side of the river, today's Nez Perce Picnic Area.
1881 Map of the Upper & Lower geyser basins. The Fire Hole Hotel (Marshall's) is the center Star. Lower Star is the Old Faithful area, and Star at left is the Riverside Mail Station. Road to left of center Star leads over Mary's Lake pass and down to Hayden Valley, providing access to Lake and the Grand Canyon. (Click to enlarge)
[Dept. of Interior Map, Library of Congress]
Robert A. & Carrie Adelle Strahorn were Marshall's first passengers in early October of 1880. Robert provides a brief description from his book:
A DELIGHTFUL RIDE.
“The stage coach, which above all others in my estimation, deserves a friendly handing down to history, was that of the G. W. Marshall Line, which was the first public conveyance to enter Yellowstone National Park. It started on its first trip into the Park from Virginia City, Montana, at daylight of October 1st, 1880, and had, besides the driver, the writer hereof and his joyous and appreciative better half as self-appointed and sole participants in such agreeable pioneering duty. The ride from Virginia to Lower Geyser Basin, now a matter of only about 16 hours, is a fitting prelude to the pleasures of the Park tour itself.”
[Strahorn.RE, Montana and Yellowstone National Park, 1881]
From Robert A. Strahorn, in Montana and Yellowstone National Park, 1881
“The National Park House, Lower Geyser Basin, forty-five miles from Henry Lake, or ninety-five miles from Virginia, was reached too late at night to admit of further sight-seeing, and it was with no little reluctance that we closed our eyes in the midst of marvels of which we had heard so much without seeing some of them. We found the pioneer hotel of the National Park to be a neatly and solidly built two-story hewed log structure, then nearing completion, and designed to afford accommodation for from thirty to forty guests. It is romantically located at the foot of high cliffs of the range we had just crossed, with the Forks of Firehole River and a pretty natural lawn in the foreground and a cold rivulet dashing by the door on the right. It is the property of Mr. Marshall, the stage man, who promises a complete and homelike hostelry and good fare for future visitors.”
EXPENSES IN THE PARK.
"Mr. G. W. Marshall, at the National Park House in Lower Geyser Basin, will transport parties to various points or outfit them at following rates; Three-seated carriage and driver, 88 per day; single-seated rig and driver, 86 per day; saddle horses, 82.50 per d ay for 3 days or more, or $3 for single day; pack animals, 82 per day; attendant who will act as guide, packer and cook, and furnish his own animal, 84 per day. Bedding, tents and board will be furnished to parties on Park tours at very reasonable rates; board at hotel, 83 per day, and at Henry Lake House at same rates; parties of 20 or more can engage board at either hotel at 82.50 per day each. Parties who desire to outfit and board themselves while making excursions in the Park, can buy all necessary provisions, ammunition, fishing tackle and bedding of Mr. G. W. Marshall at a reasonable advance (for freightage) over prices at Virginia City, or cooking utensils, bedding, tents, etc., will be leased on favorable terms to proper parties. From these figures tourists can calculate within a few dollars what a 10 or 12 days’ tour of Wonderland will cost. Our estimate of the entire expense of the trip for one person from Omaha to the Park and return, including horse hire, board or provisions, etc., for 10 days in the Park is from $225 to $250."
Thomas Henry Thomas
Welshman Thomas Henry Thomas visited Yellowstone the summer of 1884 to explore and sketch and paint watercolors of nature’s Wonderland. His articles and illustrations were published in London’s The Graphic newspaper on Aug 11 and 18, 1888. Thomas (31 March 1839 – 9 July 1915) was a Welsh artist particularly active in Cardiff. He was also interested in botany, geology, history, and archaeology which were often the subjects of his art works. He was a Fellow of the Royal Cambrian Academy of Art which was established in 1881, and was a leading force behind the founding of the National Museum of Wales.
He continued on to describe Marshall’s Hotel and the local clientele: (Click text box to enlarge).
His painting of the exterior and interior of the hotel in 1884 is to the right. Courtesy of the National Museum of Cardiff, Wales.
Thomas described the Fire Hole area:
“But Henderson’s is not a house to tire of. Our illustration will give in idea of the prettiness of the position—on a narrow island, with a shallow river of slightly tepid water, being chiefly derived from the hot springs, flowing round it, and backed by rocky hills crowned by pines. Beside the house is a hot pool, the water from which is led to the bath-house and into a washing-trough in the hotel, over which sacrilege no doubt the ardent naiad of the spring weeps copiously.”
Marshall's Hotel, also known as the Marshall House, Fire Hole Hotel, and National Park Hotel, was the 2nd hotel to operate in Yellowstone (McCartney's Hotel was the first). Marshall began giving tours of the park in 1880 and his tours were the first known to originate from "within the park." The Marshall House also housed the Firehole Post Office, established September 13, 1880.
After receiving a 10-year lease from Interior in January 1884, Marshall built a new hotel across the river from his original hotel, near the current Nez Perce Picnic Area. Marshall assigned half the lease to G.G. Henderson in April and the following year sold out to him. The Helena Independent Record observed on June 22, 1884 that, “[Marshall] has begun the erection of his hotel on his lease at Firehole basin in the National Park. He is now accommodating tourists at his old station.”
The story will continue below as the Fire Hole Hotel
George Washington Marshall
Born in Illinois in 1846 (1838 according to his tombstone in Three Forks, MT and 1835 according to two of his obituaries), George Washington Marshall ventured west to California in 1860, where he engaged in the blacksmith trade, operated a livery business, and bought cattle for slaughter. He moved in 1868 and managed a hostelry in Utah and stage stations in Nevada. He married Sarah Romrell in 1875 and in 1876 operated a stage line in Montana between Butte City and Eagle Rock, Idaho. Marshall retired from the Yellowstone hotel business in 1885 and moved to Bozeman. He died Dec. 16, 1917 inn Three Forks, Mont.
Sarah Ann Romrell Marshall
Sarah Ann Romrell was born July 1, 1859 in St. Louis, Missouri. She married George Marshall in 1874 and later moved with her husband to Yellowstone. In 1880 the Firehole Post Office was established and Sarah served as postmistress for two years. She gave birth to Rose Park Marshall on January 30, 1881, reportedly the first white child born in Yellowstone. In 1881 George left the park for Omaha on business. Expecting to be gone for a month, he stocked up their root cellar with meat and "grub." He later reported that "Soon after my departure one morning two bears came down one mountain, smelling the meat etc in the root house, approaching same and went to digging through the dirt roof. Wife saw it was either kill bears or starve. She took rifle shot one bear through the lungs, he came rolling towards her, she ran in the cabin and closed the door just in time as bear threw himself against it, shaking whole house. He found it useless, however, and left. Wife followed him up the mountain found him breathing hard, shot him through the heart." Sarah passed away Feb. 19, 1929 in Belgrade, Mt.
Near the site of the old hotel is the tombstone of Mattie (Shipley) Culver, wife of park businesssman E.C. Culver. He married Mattie Gillette (nee Martha Jane Shipley) on April 6, 1886. Mattie was born September 18, 1856 in Lowell Mass. They had a daughter named Theda born in Billings June 22, 1887.
Culver came to the park in 1887 with E.C. Waters as ‘Master of Transportation’, holding that position until 1892. He and Mattie spent the summers of 1887-88 at the Firehole Hotel (Marshall Hotel) and Ellery became winterkeeper for the hotel during the winter of 1888-89. Mattie suffered through the winter from tuberculosis and died March 2 of that spring and was buried nearby. Her grave and headstone can still be viewed at the Nez Perce picnic area. She was 30 years old at the time. Daughter Theda was sent to Spokane, Wash. to live with relatives.
Photos of Mattie Culver grave at the Nez Perce Picnic Area, former Fire Hole Hotel site.
Photos by the author, 2009.
Fire Hole Hotel
G.W. Marshall sold out to partner George Graham Henderson in 1885 and left the park. Henry Klamer, who later married Mary Henderson, daughter of G.L. Henderson, and built a general store near Old Faithful Geyser, bought into the business that summer. They added two plainly-built 8-room, 2-story wooden cottages at either end of the hotel and made other improvements. The Livingston Enterprise on June 20, 1885, noted, “Mr. G.G. Henderson and H. Klamer have formed a partnership to conduct the hotel formerly known as Marshall's at the Forks of the Firehole. It will be henceforth known as the Firehole Hotel” A week later the newspaper reported that they were erecting six cottages of two and four rooms.
G.L. Henderson related in the Enterprise on July 18th that year, "I find on the Firehole Hotel register 23 names for last evening and 38 booked for tonight. This hotel can now provide comfortably for 50 people and the proprietors are constructing cottages as fast as possible to double the capacity.”
From the Salt Lake Herald, Aug. 24,1885:
Bassett Brothers, of Beaver Canyon, Idaho, have increased and improved the equipment of their Tourist Stage Line, running between Beaver Canyon and Fire Hole Basin. They have also established a line of first-class spring wagons for transporting passengers from Fire Hole Basin hotel to points of interest in the Park, and have made a scale of prices for service far below anything heretofore available to tourists. Bassett Brothers’ light spring wagons will leave Beaver Canyon at 7 a.m. and proceed first day to Snake River station, (fifty miles), where passengers will lodge for the night. Leaving Snake River next morning they will reach Fire Hole Basin hotel at 6 p.m. The journey involves an expense of $4 for meals, luncheons and lodging. The return trip is made, leaving Fire Hole Basin at 7 a.m. and stopping over night at Snake River as before, arriving at Beaver Canyon at 2 p.m. of second day.
One visitor in 1887 had issues with the notoriously thin walls at many of the early park hotels. He groused that, “The park suggests civilization; yet there are places where one can so quickly get out of the world and feel it too as here. This feeling was not lessened when we viewed the Fire Hole Hotel, where we were to spend two nights. It did not occur to us till afterwards that this was intended as one of the curiosities of the park. The primitiveness of candles was funny, and canvas walls were a novelty till the man in the next room BEGAN TO SNORE and kept it up faithfully all night.” The author did good-naturedly admit that one can sleep well at home, but can’t see Old Faithful except in Yellowstone.
[St. Joseph Weekly Gazette, Mo., Oct. 6, 1887]
James Dean, who later managed the National Hotel at Mammoth and became supervisor of the YPA hotel operation, served as clerk for the Firehole Hotel from 1885-87. John Fossum was in charge in 1888, Walter Henderson in 1889, and Benton Hatch, brother of Rufus Hatch, managed it in 1890.
Sometime in 1886 the Yellowstone Park Association took over the business and operated the hotel until the new Fountain Hotel opened in 1891. The 1891 Superintendent’s Report for Yellowstone noted that the Fire Hole Hotel was vacated around the middle of June and visitors were welcomed at the new Fountain Hotel nearby. The original hotel was later burned down and the two cottages were used by the Army for their summer encampment for a few years. Some of the buildings were reported to be still standing by 1914.
Left Above: F.J. Haynes Stereoview of the Firehole cottages: Gibson & Red Cottages.
Left: View of the Firehole Cottage and auxiliary tents, 1890
Above: T.W. Ingersoll Stereoview, Firehole Hotel & Stages, 1194.
Celinda M. Finch and her daughter Coda are somewhat of a hazy figure in Yellowstone’s early history. She is known to have had a tent hotel in the Fire Hole area in 1884, and possibly 1885. In 1885, she received a lease from the Interior Dept for hotel purposes, but she did not construct a formal hotel and eventually her lease was revoked. However, C.T. Hobart, one of the organizers of the Yellowstone Park Improvement Co. in 1883 with Henry Douglas and Rufus Hatch, received government approval for leases of 4400 acres, a monopoly on the park concessions, and almost unlimited use of park resources for their operation. He and Carpenter opened a tent and slab hotel at Firehole in 1884. It is possible that Mrs. Finch managed that operation in 1884-85. The author believes that location was across the current road that passes the Firehole Picnic Area.
Mrs. Finch was put in charge of the McCartney Hotel at Mammoth in 1882 and in 1885; she was placed in charge of the Albemarle hotel in Livingston, Mont., and superintended its management under the direction of the Northern Pacific RR. Her whereabouts for 1883 are also unknown at this time.
Left: Mrs. Finches Camp Hotel, Fire-Hole Basin, Sept. 1884
Right: Mrs. Finch's, Fire-Hole Basin, Sept. 1884
Both illustrations are from Thomas Henry Thomas' trip to Yellowstone in Sept. 1884. They were published in The Graphic, London, England Aug. 18, 1888. The original artwork is courtesy The National Museum of Cardiff, Wales.