Camping in the Yellowstone
George A. Huston
Early Gold Miner, Guide & Packer
Copyright 2021 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.
George Huston was among the earliest guides in the wilderness that would become Yellowstone National Park in March of 1872. And although his operation does not fit into the mold of the latter day government-permitted camping operations, the situation in Yellowstone in the early 1870s was also quite different and much more primitive. I include him here because by 1873, I feel Huston provided what seems to be the first commercially advertised service for guiding, packing, camping, and transport through the north entrance into Wonderland.
Illustration of George Huston from Harper's Weekly, 11-17-1877
Biography of George Huston on my Biographies web page.
Gold Miners, Harper's New Monthly, April 1860
Huston first appeared on the Yellowstone scene in 1864 as a gold prospector, fresh from having served three years in the Pennsylvania Reserves during the Civil War. That year he conducted a party of 30-40 miners up the Yellowstone River into the Lamar and Clark’s Fork drainages. Later in the year he led another party up the Madison and Firehole rivers. In 1866 he guided a small group of miners through the west entrance of Yellowstone up the Madison River to the geyser basins and prospected around Yellowstone Lake, Hayden Valley, Mirror Plateau, Lamar Valley, and returned to Emigrant via the Yellowstone River. He has been thought by some to be insignificant in the bigger historical perspective of Yellowstone, and perhaps in some ways that may be true. However, he was one of those people that always seemed to “be where the action is” in the very early days of Wonderland, and by following his adventures, one can be led through many of the important events in the early history of the greater Yellowstone region.
Huston built a cabin in the fall of 1867 near Turkey Pen Creek along the present Rescue Creek Trail, becoming who is believed to be the first permanent white resident in the park. When Truman Everts was lost on the Washburn Expedition of 1870, it was Huston who carried Everts on his horse to the north side of Yankee Jim Canyon where a wagon could then transport Everts to Bozeman. It was probably his cabin that Jack Baronett and George Pritchett brought Everts to so he could recuperate. In Nov. 1871 Huston assisted Matthew McGuirk in the construction of a house and barns at McGuirk’s Springs on Boiling River that was intended to be a refuge for invalids to soak in the ‘medicinal waters.’ The following year he accompanied the F.V. Hayden Expedition into Yellowstone and with Jack Baronett helped provide guide services.
Scribner's Magazine of 1871 depicting a dazed and lost Truman Everts
McCartney's Hotel, Courtesy YNP Archives #50787
In the early 1870s there were no formal hotels, stores, or roads in Yellowstone. Explorers and curiosity-seekers were on their own and needed to be provisioned with everything they might need on an extended packing/camping trip. James McCartney and Harry Horr had homesteaded 160 acres at Mammoth Hot Springs in 1871 and built what can be loosely termed a ‘hotel.’ It was primitive at best and visitors were required to provide their own blankets and sleep on the floor, but guests could at least be dry, warm, and provided with food and drink. During a Yellowstone visit in 1874 Lord Dunraven commented that it was “the last outpost of civilization – that is, the last place whiskey is sold.” That was the only lodging in the park until 1880 when George W. Marshall built a hotel and mail station on the Firehole River.
The first known published reference to Huston’s commercial guiding and packing career occurred on April 4, 1873, when the Bozeman newspaper proclaimed “Huston & Werks pack train will in the course of a week be prepared to convey travelers and goods to the National park, or the Clark’s Fork mines.” Although Jack Baronett, Frederick Bottler and others had been providing guide services for exploration parties, this appears to be the first commercially advertised service for guiding and transport through the north entrance of the park. Huston joined up with fellow Pennsylvanian and prospector John Werks (John F. Works), who appeared to have handled the business end of matters.
On April 25 another ad appeared in the paper and interested parties were to contact Gov. Williams at the Exchange Saloon in Bozeman for details and arrangements. The ad proudly proclaimed “Ho for Wonderland and the Mammoth Hot Springs - I am now prepared to carry INVALIDS and PLEASURE PARTIES to the celebrated Mammoth Hot Springs, and other points in the National Park.” G.W.A. Frazier’s four-horse ‘conveyance’ from Bozeman carried passengers to the ‘Yellowstone Canyon’ on a weekly basis, or more often if necessary.
Top Right: Bozeman Avant-Courier, June 13, 1873
Bottom Right: Bozeman Times, July 6, 1876
Werks placed another ad in the July 4th newspaper that pronounced “Cheap Transportation to the Geysers. I am prepared to furnish Ten Pack Animals or Riding Animals to persons desiring to visit the national park or any portion of the Upper Yellowstone. Terms one dollar per day for each animal.” Frank Grounds, also a prospector and hunter, assisted in the pack train operation and the three men escorted intrepid tourists along the crude trails traversing the park, showing off the sights and describing the features as best they could.
Men such as Julius Beltizer and Ed Hibbard also guided ‘dudes’ through the park, perhaps on their own, or in conjunction with Huston & Werks’ operation. In their spare time, the men began ‘coating specimens’ in the mineral-laden waters of the Mammoth terraces and sold them to the tourists. The guiding venture apparently was successful, as Huston continued the pack train enterprise at least through 1876. It has been estimated that around 500 people a year visited the park during those years.
Above: Grounds & Huston
Bozeman Avant-Courier, June 11, 1875
Right: Typical pack train in Yellowstone. [Courtesy Burton Holmes Yellowstone Travelogues]
Huston was guide for the ill-fated Radersburg party through the geyser basins in 1877 during the Nez Perce War when members of the party were held captive and several persons killed in the park during that unfortunate event. He assisted in the search for George Cowen, who was wounded by the Nez Perce and joined Gen. Howard at the Clark’s Fork Mines as a scout for the US Army expedition that was tracking the Nez Perce. He apparently was with the command at the surrender of Chief Joseph in the Bear Paw Mountains in early October.
Collage of images from the Bear Paw Battlefield, Montana,
Harper's Weekly 11-17-1877]
After the Nez Perce adventure in 1877, Huston focused his endeavors mostly on gold prospecting and mining. Although he still guided special parties on occasion. In 1879 Huston teamed up with Jack Baronett to guide Silas Weir Mitchell, a well-known physician and writer from Philadelphia. Upon his return to civilization Weir wrote of his experiences and reflected, “Not an unpicturesque scene, our campfire, with the rough figures stretched out on the grass . . . Jack and George Houston good-naturely chaffing, and now and again a howl responsive to the anguish of a burnt boot. He who lived a life and never known a camp-fire is - Well, may he have that joy in the Happy Hunting-grounds!” Huston also guided General Sherman through Yellowstone in the summer of 1881 and while in the park they encountered General Sheridan with a small contingent of soldiers and together they all continued their journey under Huston’s expert guidance. During this period of time Huston spent several years in the Bear Gulch District mining gold in the mountains above the valley where the town of Gardiner would be founded in 1880. He then concentrated his mining efforts on the Cooke City area where he seems to have led a fairly successful life and was a respected citizen until his death at the relatively young age of 42.
Left Above: Jack Baronett's Bridge, built in 1871 to access the Cooke City gold mines. WH Jackson Photo
Left Below: Bear Gulch news, Bozeman Times, July 12, 1877
Some years later Huston and Joe Keeney purchased about 116 acres of the Henderson Ranch at Stephens Creek on Nov. 19, 1883. They resold the land later that year to the Northern Pacific RR and the site became the town of Cinnabar MT. Huston was also heavily involved in the Cooke City gold mines and was one of the original Cooke City founders and townsite residents. In 1884 he was one of the incorporators of the proposed rail line from Cinnabar to the mines of Cooke City, an enterprise that ultimately failed. As I mentioned previously, it seems whenever some important event was occurring in the park George Huston was likely to be involved.
Cooke City ca1883, courtesy YNP Archives #7141
Early in June 1886 the Bozeman Avant Courier reported that life-long bachelor George Huston was suffering with pneumonia and by mid-month was described as dangerously ill with pneumonia. As his health declined he was moved to a Livingston MT hospital. George A. Huston, born 1842 in Cumberland Township, PA, passed away July 4, 1886 at age 42 of typhoid pneumonia and other complications. An 1877 article in Harper’s Weekly described Huston as “…a man of sterling integrity and indomitable pluck . . . the hero of many a thrilling bear or Indian fight, but told so modestly that you do not suspect him of being the principle actor."
George Huston's tombstone, located at the Mountain View Cemetery in Livingston, MT
The Bozeman Weekly Avant Courier on July 22, 1886 posted a heart-felt proclamation
from the citizens of Cooke City:
RESOLVED, that in the death of Geo. A. Huston, we have lost a noble and true-hearted friend, filled with laudable impulses, faithful, kind and generous, gifted with all the manly attributes that add so much to the happiness of the world.
RESOLVED, that in his death the people of Montana lose one of the bravest of the many brave pioneers, who penetrated the undiscovered wilderness of our Northwestern Territory, and with brave hearts and willing hands brought to the knowledge of the world one of the greatest mining sections ever discovered.
RESOLVED, That his past efforts deserve the lasting gratitude of all who will share in the future Golden Harvest.
For more detailed information on the life and times of George Huston, check out my book:
“Pack Trains and Pay Dirt in Yellowstone:
On the Trail with George Huston.”
Self-Published, Copyright 2007
Available from the author for $12.00, which includes S&H via USPS Media Mail. Please email me for details.