So our day in Mammoth Springs, Sierra and I also got to go horseback riding. Our guide for the journey was a wrangler named Sarah, and she impressed me. She was a tough, no nonsense blonde who managed to talk to us over her shoulder while breaking trail the whole time.
On our ride, we heard a little about the Washburn Expedition. Several mountains are named in honor of this historic expedition across land that would become Yellowstone National Park. A military escort of ten men made the trek in 1870, between August 17 and September 21st (we were there during that time period). I ended up buying a book with text by Nathaniel Langford, who recorded his impressions of what they saw on their journey. I’ll include some of Langford’s quotes to go with pictures later on.
But more memorable even than the Washburn Expedition was the story of Truman C. Everts, one of the party who got lost for 37 days. Everts was a wildly inept traveler. He ended up getting separated from the party, and then he put all his survival gear on his horse and lost his horse and all his survival gear, too. He was not sensible enough to then die, but rather ended up cooking starch-heavy local plant life in the boiling hot springs to sustain himself.
A two person search party found him, including a famous mountain man. Everts was so backed up from his diet that the mountain man had to feed him a pint of black bear grease to get things moving. Black bear grease is some of the foulest, smelliest stuff in North America, but T.C. somehow ingested it, and managed not to die, either of starvation or of mortal constipation.
According to Sarah, by the time they found him, he was hanging out barefoot on the rocks well up a mountain now named in his honor. This is befuddling because mountains aren’t considered a very warm place to hang out when you’re starving and freezing. It is possible that he was paranoid of wildlife or the sulfur smells down below, and keeping a look out for dangers or rescuers. He was so wild and wooly and strange looking up on the mountain, that his rescuers almost mistook him for an emaciated bear and shot him down.
I don’t have pictures of me on the horse. My dad does. We couldn’t take cameras along on the ride, but the nice-seeming lady at the little pay-shack said she would take the camera and take pictures for us.
When I was lead to the corral, they brought me a giant horse named Rosie. Rosie was a boy. A towering boy. He looked to me about twice as high as Sierra or anyone else’s horse was. I can only imagine they gave me the titanic horse because Sierra is ten, and the other members of our riding party were very frail looking elderly women.
Anyway, the girl who was helping us indicated the stirrup that hung at about my chest level and said, “Just put your left foot in there, grab the saddle-horn, jump up and swing your other leg over.”
I gave her a look anyone would give a normal looking person who spoke crazy talk.
She gave me a lazy grin and said, “You can do it.”
This kind of mindless, confident belief has always seemed to me the most difficult sort of attitude to negate. I did get my foot into the stirrup, and closing my eyes with one of those ‘Ah well, I’m doomed…’ sort of sighs, I jumped.
My lunatic girl had forgotten to actually buckle the stirrup. Shortly after I jumped, the stirrup gave way. I’m surprised how long it lasted, actually, without a catch. The result was that I ended up lying across the horses back cross-wise with my legs flailing for a catch-hold.
And there was the nice old lady from the payment shack standing outside the fence, catching it all on camera.
Regretfully here I must confess that upon arriving back from the horse-ride, I did indeed try and mug the nice-seeming old lady for my father’s camera before he could get his hands on it. She wouldn’t give it to me. I explained that a life was at stake and my dad could be the victim of a tragic homicide if she didn’t turn over the goods, but the nice-seeming old lady became sternly immovable.
Deep down, I think she was enjoying her evil old self.
“My pack horse which I rode to-day, a buckskin colored broncho, which is docile under the pack saddle, “Bucked” as I mounted him this morning; but I kept my seat in the saddle without difficulty. Walter Trumbull, however, on my return tonight, presented me with a sketch which he says is a faithful portrayal of both horse and rider in the acrobatic act. I think the sketch is an exaggeration, and that I hugged the saddle in better form than it indicates.”
-September 12, 1870, Nathaniel Langford, The Washburn Expedition