This past Sunday on PBS, (don't bale-out...trust me there's tons of humor in documentaries), I saw most of part-one...of "AMERICA'S PARKS: AMERICA'S BEST IDEA." This three-part series by filmmaker Ken Burns focuses on how public officials and special corporate interest used patriotism and common national purpose to establish, expand and popularize our National Park System.
Part-one dealt with the earliest stages, starting from 1851. Burns conveyed his message with a combination of contemporary filming, period photography and vintage artwork to produce an absorbing piece of eye-candy. Added to the visuals, the narration frequently used the eloquent descriptions that were directly quoted...in appropriate accents...from eye-witness accounts.
The incident that tickled me took place in 1870, at the area we now call Yellowstone National Park.
Twenty years prior to statehood, nearly all of Wyoming's northwest frontier was a pristine wilderness. Slowly, word was getting back to civilization that this area had a hellish beauty never before seen by European immigrants, (even Lewis and Clark managed to miss it). Expeditionary groups were sent to separate fact from fiction and gauge how to harness nature's bounty and profit from it.
ITS HARD TO TAKE A BAD PICTURE IN YELLOWSTONE.
The Washburn-Langford-Doane Expedition accompanied by an army escort, arrived in early September 1870. Their main task was to survey the topography and make detailed maps while also accessing the raw splendor of the lakes, mountains and wildlife. These observations were highlighted by the thermal features of the numerous geysers...most notably the one they named "Old Faithful." It got its name because it erupted (and still erupts today) about once an hour.
"OLD FAITHFUL" GEYSER IS THE MOST FAMOUS ATTRACTION IN THE PARK.
Two members of the Washburn party, David Folsom and Charles Cook kept journals. It was their thoughts, coupled with the memoirs of Truman C. Everts that inspired me to share this darkly comedic event with you.
More importantly, their descriptions of Hayden Valley (the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone), the Yellowstone River and Yellowstone Falls, plus the elk, buffalo and other animals occupying the upper and lower geyser basin made me want to book reservations for the next flight there. APPOINTED BY PRESIDENT LINCOLN IN 1864, EVERTS WAS AN IRS ASSESSOR FROM THE MONTANA TERRITORY.
Everts was born in Burlington Vermont in 1816. Despite his position in the expedition, he was more like a nerdy accountant than an outdoors man. While the group was camped at "Two Oceans Pass" near the Snake River, he wandered off on horseback and got lost. During the next few days, the company unsuccessfully searched for him. The situation became more dire when a freak "summer-time" blizzard dumped over twenty inches of snow on the area.
The expedition continued looking but soon their own supplies dwindled. They left parcels of food and directions in the hope that Everts would find them and be helped. A final camp was made at the West Thumb area . Two soldiers continued the search without any luck, after the others left.
In Helena Montana, Everts' cohorts doubted the "tender-foot" with minimal survival skills could persevere under the harsh conditions. Nevertheless, they advertised a generous $600.00 reward for anyone who would bring him back alive.
The travails of Truman Everts worsened after the unexpected snowstorm. His horse with all his food and supplies wandered off. He was left to roam the rugged terrain with only a magnifying glass and the clothes on his back.THE ABUNDANT WILDLIFE IN THE PARK TODAY IS STILL BOTH BEAUTIFUL AND DANGEROUS.
Oddly, the geysers not only kept Everts warm but made his predicament somewhat luxurious. Resembling a steam-bath, he found a middle ground between the geothermal pots and the frozen elements. Therefore, he was close enough to stay warm without getting burned and too far to be exposed to the frigid conditions. Still his hands sustained burns before he learned that lesson and he also developed frostbite on his bare feet.
Fearing Indian attack, bears, mountain lions, wolves etc., he slept several times in a tree.
His food intake was also highly limited, he avoided starvation by eating thistle plants.ONE OF EVERTS ' LAST TWO SEARCHERS, ARMY PVT. CHARLES MOORE SKETCHED THE LOWER YELLOWSTONE FALLS.
Although his actual starting weight was never mentioned...this documentary and wikipedia agreed that he was 50 pounds and delirious when two drifting mountain men, "Yellowstone-Jack" Baronett and George A. Pritchett came upon him 37 days into his ordeal.
Unable to travel, he remained with one drifter as the other walked 75 miles for help. When Everts safely returned to Helena, the mountain men were proclaimed heroes. But Everts, citing that he could have made it back safely without them, DENIED his saviors the reward.
The unappreciative, inconsiderate bastard then made a big chunk of change by selling his "37 Days of Peril," to Scribner's Monthly Magazine. Everts lived another thirty years. He became the postmaster of Hyattsville Maryland and died there on February 16, 1901.
In retrospect, splitting a big reward like that in the 1870's would have changed the drifters lives. It kind of makes you re-think the notion of being a good samaritan. With that in mind, I think no jury could have possibly convicted the kindly duo if they murdered Everts after he stiffed them !