Yellowstone's Gateway Communities
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Yellowstone’s Gateway Communities
The existence of the gateway communities has been viewed historically (incorrectly I think) by the early military authorities and the Park Service as a sort of ‘necessary evil’. From the earliest days these towns, which have provided many of the necessary visitor services, have also provided a relatively safe haven and a base for a variety of social misfits whose interests were generally contrary to the best interests of the park. Some of the biggest problems in the early days were the poachers of wildlife, and exploiters of park resources. There were also the occasional stagecoach robbers, and trouble-making drunks that had to be taken care of by the authorities. Until 1894, there were no effective laws governing the park, and no judicial system to deal with the lawbreakers when apprehended. Usually the most the authorities could do was to evict a troublemaker from the park and confiscate his gear. It was a small price to pay in return for some of the profits that could be made by selling buffalo heads, game meat, etc. Passage of the Lacey Act in 1894 provided for legal protection of the park’s features and established a working judicial system. Although this did not stop wrongdoing, as no laws will, it helped tremendously to control the problems and at least gave the military authorities the power to punish these people. Problems such as ‘horn-hunting’ and poaching continue to this day, as certain locals, and of course out-of-towners, look to the park’s resources to help supplement their incomes.
Gardiner, because of its lower elevation, lack of significant snows, milder climate and easy access, became the first gateway community in the early 1880’s. The area was traversed frequently starting with the fur trade in the 1820-30’s. Gold miners passed through the area in the 1860’s, with the precious element being discovered on Bear Creek in 1866 by Joe Brown. Gold ore was discovered in the hills around Jardine about 13 years later. The early exploration parties also passed through the area in 1869-72 as they followed the Yellowstone River into the park. These included the Folsom-Cook-Peterson, Washburn, and Hayden expeditions. The impetus to development came in 1883 with the arrival of the Northern Pacific Railroad to Cinnabar, 3 miles north of town. Even though the railroad did not reach town until 1902, Gardiner continued to prosper. It became the center of freighting activities not only for the park, but also for the gold mines at Jardine and Cooke City. It was the primary entrance for tourist travel through the park for many years. The town provided much labor for the road crews in the park, and for the transportation and hotel companies, and still does. The town also provided entertainment for the soldiers of Ft. Sheridan/Yellowstone in the form of bars, gambling, and houses of ill repute (much to the chagrin of the commanding officers no doubt). Amenities necessary for the comfort of the tourists, Sagebrushers, outfitters, hunters, and locals were also well provided for.
West Yellowstone came into being around 1907 with the arrival of the Union Pacific Railroad.
It was originally called Riverside even though it was not located at the river’s side, and the name was confused with the soldier station and stage station located a few miles inside the park. Two years later the town was renamed Yellowstone. It retained this name until 1920 when, to eliminate confusion it was changed again, this time to West Yellowstone. The west entrance of the park had been used since the early days of the trappers, who followed the course of the Madison River in search of beaver. Gold miners followed this route in the 1860’s, and by 1873 the “Virginia City and National Park Free Wagon Road” was built. By 1879 Gilmer & Salisbury were running stagecoaches from the UPRR station in Spencer Idaho into the Lower Geyser Basin. Although the post office was established in 1908, it was not until 1913 that lands were removed from Forest Service ownership in order to form the townsite. The town served primarily as a summer resort and fall hunting retreat until the early 1970’s when the Old Faithful Snow Lodge began operating for the winter season, and the Park Service began grooming the roads for snowmobiles.
Cooke City, located near the northeast entrance, had its beginnings as a mining town, with gold being discovered in the area around 1869-70. It was originally named Miner’s camp in 1872, changing to Clark’s Fork City and Galena, before becoming Cooke City in 1882. The only real way in or out of the area was the trail from Gardiner through the park. The road to Cooke City was marginal at best until the early 1920’s, and even then the road would be impassable to wagons most of the winter. This area did not really become a ‘gateway community’ until the mid-‘30s when the road over Beartooth Pass was completed. This road was then advertised by the railroads as the ‘most spectacular’ entrance to the park. NPRR had a branch line into Red Lodge and bus service was available from there. This road is still generally only accessible mid-June through September because of the deep snows on the 11,000’ pass. Like West Yellowstone, their basic season is summer and fall, but it has become a very popular winter snowmobile resort.
The closest gateway community to the east entrance is about 50 miles distant at Cody Wyoming. This town came into existence in the late 1890’s with help of the famous Buffalo Bill Cody, the railroad and agricultural interests. The first known white man to see the area was John Colter who passed through the area in the winter of 1807-08. The designation Colter’s Hell actually came from this area, not Yellowstone Park. Around 1902 Wm. Cody opened up his ‘Irma Hotel’, and established a trading company, campground and newspaper in town. He built Pahaska Lodge and the Wapiti Inn hunting lodge at the east entrance of the park. That same decade was fairly momentous for the new town, as the Chicago, Burlington, & Quincy railroad arrived, a road over Sylvan Pass into Yellowstone was built, and construction started on the Shoshone Dam and Reservoir outside of town. In 1912 Holm Transportation Co. started regular passenger service to Yellowstone, and four years later the Cody-Sylvan Pass Motor Co. became the first motorized transportation company to enter the park. They traveled as far as Lake Hotel where the guests were transferred to stagecoaches. The following year the stagecoaches gave way to the automobile and a new era was begun. The town is home to the world-famous Buffalo Bill Museum, Plains Indian Museum, and the Winchester Collection. Although seasonal in nature, the area has a variety of other business interests to help keep the town thriving year-round.
Jackson Wyoming, although really a gateway community to Grand Teton National Park, has
been included here because of the many historical ties the area has to Yellowstone. Colter is reputed to have passed through the area in 1807-08, and the area was well known to the fur trappers. The 1860’s saw gold seekers, but paydirt was never really found here. The Hayden Expedition explored the area in 1872 and ‘78. James Stevenson and Nathaniel Langford of the 1872 expedition claimed to have scaled the Grand Teton that year. However, Wm. Owen and his party who scaled the peak in 1898 disputed that earlier claim. The first known permanent settler arrived in 1884, but growth in the valley was slow. Access to the valley was difficult and the nearest railroad was over the mountains to the west in Idaho. The primary economy of the valley in the early days was ranching, cattle, horses, and dudes (probably the more profitable of the three). As with the other communities, poaching was a well-established custom for many years. In 1929 Grand Teton National Park was established and was expanded considerably in 1950. The first ski area was founded in 1946, and about 20 years later the Jackson Hole Ski area was established. The area now competes successfully with many of the renown ski hills of Colorado and Utah.
The communities of Jardine, Aldridge, Electric, and Horr have been included mostly because
of personal interest by the author. They have never been considered gateway communities, although they had considerable impact on the town of Gardiner in the early days. Gold ore was discovered on Crevasse Mountain near Jardine in 1879. In 1898 the post office was established and the town was quite a bustling little metropolis. Mining for gold, along with tungsten and arsenic was somewhat sporadic over the years. When the cyanide plant burned down in 1948, that was the end of any prosperity until 1988 when gold production started up at Mineral Hill Mine. That too was short-lived, closing down in 1996.
Aldridge, Horr and Electric were relatively short-lived towns. Horr was founded in 1888 the
service the nearby coal mines. It changed its name to Electric in 1904 because, as the old joke goes,“…the women were tired of living in Horr houses.” Aldridge, also related to the coal boom, was established in 1894 and was first called Lake. The coal mines shut down in 1910, and by 1915 both post offices had been closed down. By then many of the businessmen had already moved their operations into Gardiner, having seen the handwriting on the wall.