Old Yellowstone: Dude Wranglers, Savages and Scissorbills – Visiting Yellowstone in 1915

Those with an interest in Yellowstone history may be amused this account of the colorful characters guiding visitors through the Park in 1915, in these tales of dude wranglers, savages and more.

This article, published in November 1915 in The Wisconsin magazine — a publication produced by University of Wisconsin students — provides a fascinating account of Yellowstone history as seen through the eyes of Wisconsin students working as Tourist Agents serving Yellowstone visitors. In many ways Yellowstone has changed dramatically since 1915, but in some fascinating ways Yellowstone remains the same: concessions workers still refer to themselves as savages, for instance. And we’re guessing there is constant amusement among the savages for some of the more naive visitors to Yellowstone.

In any case, enjoy this colorful piece of Yellowstone history.

Dude Wrangling: A Piece of Yellowstone History

By H.H. Morris

Dude Wrangler.

The words have a western twang, but they would scarcely lead anyone to imagine that they referred to any kind of “summer work.” In everyday English, however, they simply mean Tourist Agent for one of the companies that have concessions to carry tourists through that most fascinating of National Parks — the Yellowstone.

Yellowstone Park summer work is much sought after by college people the country over for there is such an attraction about the place with its wild and strange scenery, its history and legends, its coach drivers with their unique slang, and exaggerated stories, that when one has felt the charm for a summer he is more than anxious to renew the experience.

The thousands of tourists that visit the Park every year are by no means the least of its attractions, and it is the “Dude Wrangler” who has a chance to meet most of these, as he is located at some place just outside the Park where the tourists must change trains for the Park trip. It is his duty to answer all the thousand and one questions about park travel and accommodations, locations of points of interest, price of tickets, and anything else about the whole western half of the United States that occurs to them.

The college man is beginning to take his place in this line of work so that the traveling public is not entertained as often as it used to be by such mistakes as one of the agents made a few years ago when a tourist asked him:

“Do you find any congeniality when traveling with your company?”

To which the agent replied:

“Oh yes, we point that out to you just beyond Mammoth Hot Springs.”

Out of the half dozen college men that were in this line of work this summer, there were two from Wisconsin, and our experiences in meeting the vast number of people that made the Park trip this year, were humorous and varied.

A friend of mine who answers the questions in the information bureau in Denver told me at one time that he was sure from his experience that the traveling public left all their manners at home. That is a little severe on the average traveler, but there are certainly a large number that lose all sense of the fitness of things, and their ability to care for themselves when they start on a trip. The replies of the drivers in the Park to some of their foolish questions have been real bits of humor.

On one occasion a lady asked the driver if the hot pools froze over in winter. He replied, “Certainly, Madam. Why it was only last winter that a soldier was skating on one, and broke through and scalded his feet.”

There is a system of slang in use in the Yellowstone that I believe is unique, and when one is speaking of the Park it seems out of place not to use it, but without a key it would be almost incomprehensible. For instance, all the drivers, and help in general, are known as “Savages,” the travelers are “Dudes,” while the two-horse drivers are “Scissorbills“. Then we have the “Pearl-divers”, “Heavers”, “Pack-rats”, “Barn Dogs” and so forth, all of whose names are somewhat expressive.

There are so many college people working in the Park that the ‘dudes’ have made it quite a standard inquiry to ask the ‘savages’, “Are you a college student?” On one trip around the loop a party of ‘dudes’ lead been leaving a good deal of fun at the expense of their driver, of whom they finally inquired, “Are you a college graduate?” He said that he was, and that rather sobered them for a tine till one of the bolder ones asked, “What college did you graduate from?”

The Keeley Institute,” replied the driver.

Of course among so many tourists there are always those who are anxious to save a little money wherever possible, and are willing to sacrifice considerable comfort to do so. A year ago I met what I think was the champion family at the sacrifice game. A family of four got off the train one day, and asked all the particulars concerning the six-day trip. They asked among other things what part of the cost was for meals. I informed them, and then they dumfounded me with the question, “Can we go cheaper if we will fast while we make the trip?”

This kind of economy was even more exaggerated in the case of a man who went into the Park for his health, a year ago, taking the cheapest trip possible, but had to he hurried out when it was only half over on account of a serious turn of his disease. He refused medical aid saying that he had no money, but at last acknowledged that he had $25.00 that might be used for hospital service. After he had died a few days later several thousand dollars in travelers’ cheques were found in his effects.

Among the tourists there is always the pest that insists on telling you how much finer things are in some other part of the world that he has visited.

One day a young Englishman of this type went to a barbershop in the town where some of the “Dude Wranglers” were located, and informed everyone how much inferior America was in most every way, and then asked, “How can I get to the Park?”

He was given instructions to walk down the street four blocks to the river, cross the bridge, and he would be there. It happened that this was only a small city park covered with underbrush and vines. After several hours of fruitless search the Englishman returned very much disgusted and remarked that he thought it was a crying shame to advertise all over the world that there was a park with geysers, hot pools and so on when there was nothing to be seen at all. “Oh?” said the fellow that had previously given him the instructions, “You want Yellowstone Park. That is fiftv-four miles down the railroad.”‘

I met a party of three prosperous business men from the East last summer, one of whom was much better off financially than the other two, but who was rather close with his money. The other two formed a majority that had the express purpose of making the third man spend something at every turn. They called me aside one day and asked me to tell them of all the things they could possibly spend money for on the trip so that they could just watch the third man squirm when he found himself confronted with a new expense. As one of them expressed it to me, “That fellow has got enough money to buy out both of us and not know he had a business transaction, and we are just going to make him spend some of it.”

Travel through Yellowstone continues on Sunday the same as every other day in the week, and this is somewhat objected to at times by persons apparently of the old Puritan stock. On one occasion an elderly lady felt that it would he impossible for her to worship sincerely among the natural beauties and grandeurs of the Park, so she stayed over at the entrance for five days in order to leave on Monday morning and return before another Sunday.

On the other hand one might mention the surprise of one tourist when he found the man with whom he had fished every available stream throughout the trip, delivering the Sunday sermon at the last camp.

More than once I have seen clergymen cover their clerical collars with a handkerchief, and go in for the fun like boys.

The parties of tourists that travel together in the same coach for six days are bothered at times by some incessant questioner whom they are likely to silence if possible, either by foolish answers, or assumed ignorance on all subjects.

One coach load had the problem of two elderly maiden ladies who were always late at the morning start, and constantly fretting about the other one’s welfare. On one occasion one of them left the coach along with a few of the younger people, to view the falls of the Yellowstone. The others returned but “sister” lingered, and the other “sister” fretted. Finally she asked for the twelfth time, “I wonder where sister is?” Then one of the returned party comforted her with the reply, “Why she fell down and broke her leg, and we had to shoot her.”

The “Newly-weds” are always entertaining. Some feel embarrassed, others glory in their new possessions, but none could be more frank than one couple this past season who came to me and said, “We have lost all our reservations for we are just one day late. Can’t you make them for us again? You see we are just married, and we are not responsible.”

The slogan “See America First” is gaining a new popularity in this country, and we will soon hear people talking as enthusiastically about the Grand Canyon, as we formerly heard them describing the Swiss Alps.

Image of Mammoth Hot Springs hotel courtesy of National Park Service.

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