Hotels in the Yellowstone
Yancey's - Roosevelt Lodge
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.
Yancey's Hotel in Pleasant Valley
Uncle John F, Yancey
This colorful character, the sixth of ten children, was born in Barren County, Kentucky in 1826. Described as the weakly child of the family, he outlived them all. He moved with his family to Missouri while he was still a boy. He journeyed to California in 1849, no doubt following the Gold Rush and later spent time on the Santa Fe Trail. Yancey returned east and fought for the cause of the South in the Civil War. After the war he removed to the Bozeman area and Crow country in 1866 and was employed by the government much of the time. Sensing opportunity in the Yellowstone Park, he made arrangement to settle himself along the road from Mammoth Hot Springs to Cooke City. Jack Baronett built a bridge over the Yellowstone River, that was located near Yancey’s site.
John Yancey settled into Pleasant Valley in 1882 and built a cabin and mail station to serve the stages and miners enroute to the mines of Cooke City. The area was located near the junction of the Lamar and Yellowstone Rivers, not too far from Baronett's Bridge. The mail route from Gardiner to Cooke City generally took two days in good weather, and mail carriers used Yancey’s as the overnight stop. Yancey had reportedly received verbal permission from Supt. Patrick Conger to establish the mail station to accommodate traffic to Cooke City.
Left: Bridge built by Jack Baronett in 1871 over the Yellowstone River, just above its junction with the East Fork of the Yellowstone (Lamar River).
[F. Jay Haynes Stereoview]
Right: Sketch of John Yancey made by Ernest Thompson Seton in 1897. [From Recreation Magazine, "ElkLand," Vol. 7, 1897]
Yancey received a 10-year lease on 10 acres of land on which to construct his hotel and mail station. He opened the "Pleasant Valley Hotel" in 1884 with a 1-1/2-story log cabin measuring 30' x 50'. It could supposedly accommodate 20 guests in the upstairs bedrooms at a rate of $2/day or $10/week. Yancey erected a 1-1/2-story saloon nearby in 1887 that measured about 20’x20.’ The story goes that his whiskey glasses were undefiled by the touch of water. Yancey knew all the good fishing holes and had plenty of tall tales to amuse people. His establishment attracted fishermen, hunters, and others interested in this quiet part of the park.
By 1885, $25,000 had been spent on the construction of a road from the Yellowstone Falls via the east trail over Mount Washburn to Yancey's on the Mammoth Hot Springs road. This road allowed traffic to and from Yancey’s into the heart of Yellowstone, providing addition business traffic. To deal with the increased business, Yancey enlarged his hotel
Above Right: Yancey's Hotel & saloon, ca1896. From Burton Holmes Travelogues
Below: Yancey's Hotel, undated stereoview, photographer unknown.
One Acting Superintendent described Yancey as a “peculiar and interesting old character . . . popular among a large class of people in this section, and also has a few powerful friends in the east . . .” It was also noted that Yancey’s place had “attractions, for a number of people, probably for the very reason of its roughness, and because it is a typical frontier establishment.” Of course that roughness did not appeal to everyone and superintendent Pitcher commented in 1902 that “it is so wretched as to prevent many people from going to his place who [would] do so if he would furnish [them] with a fairly decent fare."
That same year, Owen Wister, who later authored The Virginian, was in Yellowstone on a sheep and goat hunting trip. He stopped by Yancey’s and was treated to one of Uncle John’s special elixirs. Wister described the old man as one,
“of that frontier type which is no more to be seen; the goat-bearded, shrewd-eyed, lank Uncle Sam type. He and his cabins had been there a long while. The legend ran that he was once a Confederate soldier, and had struck out from the land of the Lost Cause quite unreconstructed, and would never wear blue jeans because blue reminded him of the Union army. He was known as Uncle John by that whole country . . . And then Uncle John led me across the road to—not his wine, but his whisky cellar. Handsome barrels. I came to know it well. He had some sort of fermented stuff made from oranges, which he obtained from California. Mingled properly with whisky, the like of it I have never elsewhere tasted.”
Burton Holmes Travelogues
World traveler Burton Holmes expressed a similar opinion in his Yellowstone Travelogue during a visit in 1896: “A visit to “Uncle John Yancey’s” ranch is an experience that will be remembered but which will not be repeated. A comic writer might find food for profitable study in the peculiarities of Uncle John, but the ordinary traveler will find neither palatable food nor decent accommodations while at the old man’s “Hotel.” The tenderfoot should not remark the unwashed condition of the two historic glasses into which the proprietor pours the welcoming libation of “Kentucky tea,” for it is Yancey’s boast that his whisky glasses have never been polluted by the contact of so alien a liquid as water. That water is not held in good repute at Yancey’s is evidenced by the location and condition of the “bathing establishment” maintained for the inconvenience of guests who are so perverted as to require more than a pail that serves the needs of the habitués of the primitive caravansary. On the whole it is wiser to leave the park with the impressions of its glories undimmed by memories of Yancey’s Ranch.” Somehow, despite Holmes' unfavorable review, he did devote a fair bit of space to Yancey in the Yellowstone Travelogue, along with a wealth of photos not found elsewhere.
Yancey's "dough-wrangler" and all-around helper cooking "Grub," and John Yancey in his corral ca1896. Yancey maintained a small herd of horses, beef and milk cows to help maintain the operation. [From Burton Holmes Travelogues]
In 1897 Ernest Thompson Seton, sometimes Ernest Seton Thompson, and his wife traveled to Yellowstone and rented and fixed up one of Yancey’s cabins. They spent the next few months studying wildlife nearby Yancey’s Hotel and then ventured through Yellowstone to see and photograph other wildlife. That visit formed the basis on some of his many books.
[Recreation Magazine, December 1898]
Uncle John traveled to Gardiner in late April to attend the dedication of the new stone arch near the Northern Pacific RR depot. “Teddy” Roosevelt was on hand, along with numerous other dignitaries, and dedicated the arch on April 24. It came to be known as the Roosevelt Arch and still proudly stands today on the edge of Gardiner.
John Burroughs, in his Camping and Tramping with Roosevelt, remarked that during Roosevelt’s trip through Yellowstone in 1903 with Burroughs and others, “We spent two nights in our Tower Falls camp, and on the morning of the third day set out on our return to Fort Yellowstone, pausing at Yancey's on our way, and exchanging greetings with the old frontiersman,
Yancey took sick after attending the dedication of the new arch in Gardiner in 1903. The Anaconda newspaper reported on May 6 that, “Word was received late Monday night, first by telegraph and later by telephone, that "Uncle John” Yancey, pioneer in the Yellowstone park, having lived there more than 30 years . . . was dying. Both messages were directed to Assistant County Attorney Daniel Yancey, nephew of the pioneer. The telegram stated that '‘Uncle John" was sick, confined to bed, but the word over the 'phone was urgent and to the effect that the old settler was sinking fast.” Yancey passed away the next day, on May 7th at age 77.
Above Right: John F. Yancey
Photo taken at the C.E. Finn photographic studio in Livingston, Mt.
Left: Photo of Yancey's headstone in Gardiner's Tinker Hill Cemetery. [Photo by the author]
Right: Headline from the Butte Miner, May 8, 1903.
The Gardiner Wonderland reported on the 14th, that the funeral procession was the largest ever seen and most of the businesses had closed their doors for the funeral and procession. At the funeral service held at Tinker’s Hill cemetery, where the Rev. E. Smith of Livingston, offered a prayer and eulogy. The minister expressed the generally held opinion that,
“The esteem in which “Uncle John” Yancey was held in this community [Gardiner] where he was best known, was shown in the very great concern of people who paid a last tribute to his memory. From everywhere around came those who had known him in life, until the procession was much the largest ever seen here. Nearly all business houses closed and as the procession filed by the government and railroad works, all business was suspended.” Described as among the class of men renowned as “pioneers, first settlers, old timers, etc. . . [they lived a] hardy, rugged, rough and ready life . . . [where] the hardships born; the stalwart purposes developed can not be too extravagantly spoken of. All of this has brought peace, comforts, and prosperity to this present generation and insures the same to succeeding generations.”
The End is Near for Yancey's Hotel
On April 16, 1906 fire destroyed the hotel building. The Butte Daily Post reported soon after that; “A fire originating in a defective flue is reported to have completely destroyed the old Yancey hotel property in the Yellowstone park Monday night. Uncle John Yancey built and opened the hotel over twenty years ago, and it was a very popular resort for park tourists. The loss is about $5,000. Dan Yancey, who succeeded to the ownership and management of the hotel upon the death of Uncle John, says a new hotel will be built on the site of the old [one] this summer, and tents will be used in the interim for the accommodation of travelers.”
The following year Dan applied for permission to continue the business at a location closer to where a new road was being constructed. Permission was denied and the original lease was revoked in November of that year. However, a lease was issued to the Wylie Permanent Camps Co. to establish a camp nearby. The camp was located at the junction of the Mammoth-Cooke City-Mt Washburn/Canyon roads. the camp became the Roosevelt Lodge in the 1920s. The saloon and remaining buildings were razed in the 1960's.
Camp Roosevelt & Roosevelt Lodge
1917 - Present
Wylie Camping Company
Roosevelt Tent Camp was established by the Wylie Permanent Camping Co. in 1906. A bathhouse was built at nearby Nymph Spring, which had been used since at least the 1870s as a bathing/soaking spring by early pioneers and explorers. The guest accommodations were wood-floored tents covered with red and white candy-striped canvas and furnished with simple, rustic furniture. The camp could handle up to 125 guests. A communal dining tent served family-style meals. The area appealed to those who desired a more isolated area and catered to fisherman, wildlife enthusiasts, and horseback riders.
Above: Roosevelt Lodge in 1923, surrounded by a combination of tent cabins and wooden cabins. [Yellowstone Park Camps Co brochure, 1923, courtesy Univ of Wyoming Library]
Right: Wylie Camping Co., Camp Roosevelt, ca1907. [Underwood & Underwood stereoview]
Camp Roosevelt was originally named by the Wylie Camping Co. to honor President Theodore Roosevelt, who was rumored to have camped on the site during his camping trip in 1903. The actual camp site was located at the old Tower Soldier Station, about one and a half miles south of the camp and the Roosevelt Lodge. The rustic log lodge show above was built on the site of the former Wylie Camp in 1919-20 by the Yellowstone Parks Camps Co. and was originally known as Camp Roosevelt. Construction began in the fall of 1919 and was completed the following year. The 1-story building rested on a rubble-stone foundation and utilized unpeeled logs for the walls. It measured 90’ by 50’ with an “L” extension of 29’ by 59’. A covered porch extended across the front of the building and wrapped around the southeast side. In 1924, Vernon Goodwin bought the camp from Howard Hays and Roe Emory in 1924, retaining the same company name. Around 1927 Goodwin renamed the company the Yellowstone Park Lodge & Camps Co. The "Camps" at Mammoth Hot Springs, Lake, Canyon, OF and Roosevelt became 'Lodges.'
Left: Camp Roosevelt, ca1920, Real-Photo postcard.
Right: Camp Roosevelt, 1922. [Haynes PC #22738]
The lodge featured two stone fireplaces, a dining room lounge, kitchen and rustic furnishings. Roosevelt Lodge was not a part of the standard tour package and tourists had to pay extra to include that area in their trip. Therefore visitation here was never as great as in other locations, but was a favored location for fishermen and horseback riding.
Left: Camp Roosevelt, interior and stone fireplace, 1922.
[Haynes PC #22740]
During the years 1920-29, 37 cabins and 26 tent cabins were constructed, along with other utility buildings. By 1929, three groups of tourist cabins had been established at Camp Roosevelt. These included: six log cabins and one "rustic-frame” cabin located south southeast of the Lodge; 18 board-and-batten, rustic-frame, tent cabins located southeast of the lodge, and 18 rustic-frame cabins located northeast of the Lodge. In the 1920s, bathroom and shower facilities were added to the Camp Roosevelt complex. Two bathrooms were constructed adjacent to the southeast and northeast cabin groups. These were simple buildings, of frame construction with wood-shingled gable roofs. They also served as a public wash room for transient guests — people who come in only for lunch and did not have a cabin.
Left: Log & board rustic cabins at Camp Roosevelt. Facing the lodge, these would have been somewhere to the right side. [Undated Real-Photo postcard]
Right: Tent and wooden cabins located to the left of the lodge, 1925. Note the larger bench surrounding the "Roosevelt Tree." [YNP #36505]
Upper Left: The "Roosevelt Lodge" name appears on this Haynes postcard in 1927.
[Haynes PC #27468]
Lower Left: Roosevelt Lodge ca1930, with the local bear entertaining two young ladies. Note the log bench has again been changed.
Right: Article from the Anaconda Standard, June 1, 1919, describing the naming of "Camp Roosevelt." This was an official government name now, as opposed to the corporate name from the Wylie days.
Click to enlarge.
The lodge was closed in 1933-34 due to the Great Depression and the housekeeping cabins at the Tower campground were closed in 1934. A few years later about 70 cabins were moved in to Roosevelt from Mammoth Lodge. By 1939 running water was provided to all of the cabins. World War II again closed the lodge from 1943-46. The southeast section of the lodge building was removed around 1947.
All of the tent cabins were removed by 1950 and in 1962 thirteen cabins from Old Faithful Lodge were hauled in. The lodge and about 97 cabins units are still available for guest use and are operated by Xanterra Parks & Lodges.
Yellowstone Forest and Trail Camp for Boys and Young Men
This camp was established in 1921 at Roosevelt to provide outdoors’ skills to young boys. It opened July 1 for a seven-week term. Alvin G. Whitney of Syracuse University of New York was the Director. The staff was composed of naturalists, foresters, and artists who instructed the students in photographing wild game, studying the fauna and flora, fishing, and mountain climbing. Informative auto tours were conducted to study the many park features and wildlife. The camp was designed for boys 12 to 18 years of age and emphasized character building. Meals were served in the Camp Roosevelt Lodge. There were tent cabins, simple wooden cabins, council house, shower baths, and a swimming pool. The boys were expected to provide for themselves, pocket kodak, flashlight, small sheath-knife, binoculars, knapsack, canteen, hand lens, compass, pocket notebook, fishing tackle, hatchet, and waterproof matches, in addition to a proscribed collection of varied clothing and boots..
A brochure from 1921 made the pitch that, “Every boy should have the opportunity to experience the simple and elemental in wild nature at the most imaginative and plastic age, while life-long interests are being developed. During that golden period of altruism a deepening interest in nature may well serve to mould his character and direct his pleasures permanently in the noblest channels.” Although the project seemed to be a noble venture, it unfortunately was short-lived and after the 1923 season, it closed due to financial losses.
Upper Left: Boy's Camp main lodge building. [YNP #31831]
Lower Left: Advertisement for the Forest and Trail Camp. Click to enlarge
[Newspaper ad from 1921, author's collection]
Upper Right: Boy's Camp lodge building with tent cabins. [YNP #193429-75]
Stage Rides & Cookouts
The now famous stagecoach rides and steak cookout at Yancey’s Hole n Pleasant Valley began in the summer of 1959. An article from the Spokesman Review of Spokane Wash. proclaimed, “For the first time in many years, old-fashioned stagecoaches and tallyhos (horse-drawn sightseeing carriages) will operate in Yellowstone park from Roosevelt lodge to Pleasant valley. Morning and evening rides to Yancey s Hole will be featured where breakfasts arid barbecue dinners will be served.”
A Yellowstone Park Co. brochure from the early 1960s invited guests to,
“Clamber aboard a stagecoach for an exciting jaunt into the past . . . The sturdy Concord coaches, luxurious vehicles at their time, [1886-1916] may in the softness of the present seem like Roosevelt rough riders.” At that time, a mere $1.75 allowed one to step back into Yellowstone’s past. By 1966, five bucks would gain one a coach ride with steak, French fries, a vegetable and coffee at the historic Yancey’s Hole. The Boston Globe that year waxed, “Barbecue smoke and the aroma of coffee hang heavy on pine-scented air while the sun falls behind the nearby Rockies. Later the stage rattles home, fording a stream, trailing a cloud of dust that glows red in the dying light of day.”
The Concord Tally-Ho ruled the road there for many a year, but in later times rubber-wheeled wagons did most of the hauling of guests. They were safer and easier for less-experienced wranglers to drive. The days when a jehu who knew how to wield the ribbons of four or six horse teams and expertly crack the whip had rapidly faded. Although in recent years a replica Talley Ho was built in the Xanterra garage/shop for use at Roosevelt.
One visitor in 1966, who seemed to have enjoyed his journey into the past, related his impressions:
At Roosevelt Lodge we climbed aboard a yellow stagecoach for a steak fry in the peaceful surroundings of Pleasant Valley. The 30-minute ride with steak, French fries, vegetable, coffee and dessert comes to $5. Children go for half price. Barbecue smoke and the aroma of coffee hang heavy on pine-scented air while the sun falls behind the nearby Rockies. Later the stage rattles home, fording a stream, trailing a cloud of dust that glows red in the dying light of day. [24Jul1966 Boston Globe]