Sunday, May 31, 2009

"Liver Eating" Johnson

In the East, any inn worth the designation as "historic" can claim that "George Washington slept here."

In the parts of the West that we've been touring, we have found towns, parks, and homes claiming that either Butch Cassidy or the Sundance Kid spent time there. Our most recent encounters with homes associated with Butch and his sidekicks came at Old Trail Town on the edge of Cody (WY). One of the two dozen-plus buildings, dating betweeen 1879 and 1901, that have been moved to this site from towns in the Cody area is the Mud Spring Cabin (above). At this hideout, Kid Curry and the Sundance Kid planned their attempt to hold up the Red Lodge Bank.

Another cabin in Old Trail Town, built in 1883 on Buffalo Creek in the "Hole in the Wall" country, served as a rendezvous for Butch Cassidy, the Sundance Kid, and other outlaws of the region.

Finding this group picture was a surprise. Back row: (l to r): Will Carver, Kid Curry. Front row (l to r): Sundance Kid, Ben Kirkpatrick, Butch Cassidy.

This 1888 Homestead Cabin was described as "a fine example of log craftsmanship." Indeed, it was. The joints are very tight, and the whole cabin is square and looks very solid.

The next three photos were taken from the front door of the Shell Store.
As you can tell from the vintage merchandise on the shelves, if visitors had free reign to walk through the store, some of the merchandise would also walk.

The necktie and white vest on the counter (above) seemed to have just come in on a shipment from the East.

The shelves were stocked and the register appeared in working order. Ready for business.

On the shelves we could see Niagra laundry starch and, of course, the Stetson hat box.

The store was built in 1892 and was the first store in Shell, WY.

From the size of this box (right), it seemed that hair tonic was an essential item in the West of the 1890s.

The Coffin School was built in 1884 at the W Bar Ranch on the Wood River.

I thought the globe and the bell on the teacher's desk looked very appropriate for the school.
I liked the touches of the slate on one of the desks and what looks like a lunch bucket on the other desk.

The Coffin School received its name from the tragic death of Alfred Nower who died of gangrene in this cabin after he cut himself in the leg while hewing logs.

Lastly, reading Alan Bellows' account of John "Liver Eating" Johnson introduced us to another historical figure of the West. Born sometime around 1824 in Little York, NJ, as John Garrison, he changed his name to John Johnston and deserted the navy after fighting with an officer at the time of the Mexican American War.

Johnston learned trapping, hunting, and survival skills from Hatcher, a mountain man of some reknown. When Hatcher quit the mountain-manning trade several years later, Johnston took over the cabin and set out for the Bitterroot Valley of Montana, where a year earlier a Flathead Indian sub-chief had offered his daughter to Johnston in a trade. Johnston made the exchange in 1846, and he and his new wife set off to return to his cabin on the Little Snake River.

Returning to his cabin after a winter of trapping and hunting, he found his wife and unborn child had been killed. It was clear that she had been the victim of a Crow hunting party.

Soon the scalped bodies of Crow warriors began to appear throughout the Northern Rockies and the plains of Wyoming and Montana. Each had had his liver cut out, and presumably eaten by the killer. Eventually other mountain men and Indians learned of Johnston's ongoing vengeance slayings, and he soon became known as "Liver-Eating Johnson" (dropping the "t" in "Johnston").

After almost twenty years and countless Crow deaths, Johnston finally ended his vendetta against the Crow and made peace.

He was admitted to a veteran's hospital in Los Angeles, where he died on January 21, 1900.

Then in 1972, a middle school teacher, Tri Robinson, in the Antelope Valley town of Lancaster, CA, became fascinated by his story and learned that Johnston had wanted to be interred in his old stomping grounds in the northern Rockies. He shared the book with his seventh-grade students.

Robinson's students at Park View Middle School began calling themselves the Committee for the Reburial of Liver-Eating Johnston. In 1974, more than 2,000 people paid homage at Johnston's new burial ground, the gateway to Yellowstone National Park.

John Garrison was mmortalized as "Jeremiah Johnson" in the 1972 film. Seeing this photo of Mr. Garrison just cries out that he be played by . . . Robert Redford.

Two interesting points: In the movie there was no reference to liver consumption or removal and on June 8, 1974, Liver Eating Johnson's body was reburied in Old Trail Town in Cody, Wyoming with Robert Redford as one of the pallbearers.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

The Artistry of Thermophiles

After watching Old Faithful erupt, we began our hike in the Upper Geyser Basin of Yellowstone NP.

Several people from the crowd at Old Faithful had the same idea for an afternoon hike. We later learned that this 1.5 mile hike is the most heavily used trail in the park.

We crossed a beautiful section of the Firehole River, and the scenery changed abruptly.

Ahead of us lay what appeared to be an artist's canvas. The "artists" working on this canvas are the inhabitants of Yellowstone's geothermal features. Yellowstone holds the world’s most diverse collection of geysers, hot springs, mud pots, thermal pools, and fumaroles. Combined, there are more than 10,000 thermal features within Yellowstone’s boundaries. This natural wonderland contains more geothermal features than any place on earth.

The ribbons of color in and around the thermal features along the boardwalk trail are usually formed by thermophiles (heat-loving organisms).

These organisms--algae, bacteria, and Archaea--are primitive life forms that have inhabited the earth for almost four billion years.

Cyanobacteria, which are common in the Old Faithful area, thrive in temperaturs up to 163° F. Other thermophiles exist in even hoter water.

The landscape of the travertine terraces changes daily, along with the colors of these stone waterfalls. The beautiful colors of pink, green, brown, yellow, and orange are caused by the bacteria and other organisms living on the rock.

As we walked among these hot springs, the abstract designs created by the flow of the water and thermophiles drew our attention.

But it is their contribution to science that may have a major impact in several disciplines. Some examples are: scientists hope to treat breast cancer by having viruses engineered to carry chemotheraphy drugs and magnetic materials to diseased cells, allowing doctors to treat a patient and even track their progress through magnetic resonance imaging.

Another recent discovery revolves around plants that live near Yellowstone's hot springs, where flora typically can't exist. The secret lies in yet another microbe: a fungus that confers heat tolerance to the plants. If scientists can find a way to take this fungus and inoculate, say, wheat crops, farmers could produce food in conditions where crops normally can't grow--in drought, hot climates. Enzymes from other microbes could ferment plant cells into "gasohol," an alternative fuel source. Others break down the components of used tires, or gobble up chemicals in toxic environments like old mines and pulp mills.

The colors of Depression Geyser,

Heart Hot Spring, and

this hot spring add considerable beauty to the grayish volcanic surface.

Midway around the loop, we noticed Castle Geyser erupting. This was a lucky break for us, because this geyser erupts only every 11-12 hours and the ranger station did not have an estimated time for the next eruption.

The buffalo strolled into the scene at just the right time.

Even though we wanted to hurry to reach the geyser, we stopped to take photographs of the geyser on our route to its site.

We later learned that the water phase of an eruption lasts about 15 minutes and a steam phase, similar to a steam locomotive, lasts an additional 45 minutes.

Members of the 1870 Langford-Doane Expedition named this feature for the "resemblance to the ruins of an old castle."

At the surface, silica-laden waters form a rock called geyserite, or sinter, creating the massive geyser cones; the scalloped edges of hot springs; and the expansive, light-colored, barren landscape characteristic of geyser basins.

The large sinter cone is nearly 12 feet high with a diameter of 20 feet at the top.

We felt fortunate to have been able to arrive at Castle Geyser while the steam phase was still present.

And fortunate to have seen some of the colorful works of the thermophiles.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Lunch with Irma

One thing about restaurants in this part of Wyoming, they all have many of the same basic elements of interior design.

The two most prominent are chandeliers made from elk antler and large game heads (or the heads of large game animals) hanging from the walls. And why is it that their beady glass eyes all seem to be looking at me? And so was the case with the restaurant at the Irma Hotel.

The Irma has both a lunch menu and a lunch buffet. After the hostess led us to our booth, I immediately went to scope out the buffet offerings. That day they offered cowboy beans, potato salad, macaroni salad (made with penne), buffalo sloppy Joes, chicken enchilada casserole, buffalo lasagna, carved ham, and bread pudding. Looked interesting. Then I looked up. Directly above the buffet was the head of a giant buffalo. I rapidly returned to our booth and opened the menu.

But before ordering, we took time to study the dining room of the hotel that Buffalo Bill Cody had built in 1902, calling it "just the sweetest hotel that ever was." Cody, born in LeClair, Iowa, (just south of Kate's hometown of Clinton, Iowa) on February 26, 1846, named the hotel after his youngest daughter, Irma.

The centerpiece of the dining room is the cherrywood backbar which was presented to Colonel Cody in 1900 by Queen Victoria of England in appreciation for his command performance. It was made in France, shipped to New York by steamer, shipped by rail to Montana, and then by horse drawn freight wagon to Cody. It was valued at $100,000.

The tin plated ceiling is reflected in the mirror over the bar (right). Also shown in the photo is a buffalo head sculpture over the mirror.

Similar sculpted buffalo heads are mounted on the ends of each booth and serve as coat hooks. In 1867 at the age of 21, Cody went to work for the Kansas Pacific Railroad and had the dubious job of killing 12 buffalo a day in order to feed the large construction crews. Cody claimed to have killed some 6,570 buffalo in the 18 months he worked for the railroad, thereby gaining the nickname "Buffalo" Bill.

This ornate cash register at the bar seemed to have been with the bar for many decades. Cody could not recoup his investment in the ornate furnishings, but he wanted to show the confidence he felt that someday Cody Country would prosper.

But back to the menu. The lunch menu had the usual suspects, including (but not limited to) soups, salads, beef and buffalo burgers, french dip, a couple of variations on the chicken sandwich, and a fried fish sandwich. There was also an open faced prime rib sandwich and an open faced sirloin sandwich. Chuck has been hungry for meatloaf and was disappointed to learn that meatloaf only appears on the Irma’s dinner menu. Then he noticed the next best thing – the hot roast beef sandwich with mashed potatoes and gravy.

First, the shredded beef was tender, moist, and had an almost sweet flavor. It is no wonder that signs all over the state proclaim “Wyoming is Beef Country.” I have always believed that Iowa raised the best beef cattle, but I have to give Wyoming its props. The beef here is very good.

With the beef came a large serving of excellent real mashed potatoes. Still containing small but noticeable lumps, the light addition of chopped chives gave the bland potatoes extra flavor. And the serving was even large enough for my potato loving traveling companion. And the beef and potatoes were covered with savory rich beef gravy. Talk about being in comfort food heaven! His lunch was finished before I had eaten a quarter of mine.

And speaking about mine. I kept looking at the menu but didn’t want a traditional sandwich or either of the two open faced sandwiches. I then saw the Wild West Grilled Salmon salad. After looking around the room and ascertaining that there were no mounted fish hanging from the walls, my choice was made. And what a choice!
First came a single layer of romaine. Next came a bed of chopped iceberg lettuce mixed with baby greens. This was topped with a layer of grilled vegetables that included carrots, red onions, broccoli, cauliflower, red and green peppers, two hardboiled egg halves, and sliced tomatoes. Finally, there were two good-size filets of salmon which had been grilled with a maple glaze. A cup of blue cheese dressing came on the side.

This was perfect. The veggies were still crisp but had a sweet and smoky flavor from the grilling. After a taste, I decided not to spoil the flavor with the dressing. The wild river salmon was moist, flakey, and sweet with just enough glaze but not so much as to hide the sweet flavor of the fish. Perfect!

A meal at the Irma is more than just food--more like having lunch with Irma than at the Irma.

This photo of Irma was taken in 1902 when the Hotel opened.

Fortunately, the food matched the setting and earns a 4.5 Addie rating and my high recommendation for the salmon salad.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

"The Most Beautiful 50 Miles"

With rain in the forecast since Monday and extending into the early part of next week, we had been delaying a visit to Yellowstone NP. But since it has been clear and sunny all week, we placed our chips on "Sunny," spun the wheel of chance, and headed to Yellowstone.

We always stay near a town instead of camping in a national park so that we can experience the culture of the area (albeit only briefly) and meet locals.

The downside is that we sometimes have to drive a longer distance to the park. In our present case, however, the longer drive took us up the rugged volcanic canyon carved by the North Fork of the Shoshone River to the east entrance of Yellowstone National Park.

President Theodore Roosevelt called the Buffalo Bill Scenic Byway from Cody (WY) to Yellowstone "the most beautiful 50 miles in the United States."

Today, we did not have the luxury of stopping at the turnouts to photograph scenes because of the distance we needed to travel to the site of Old Faithful, so these photos were taken while traveling.

The banks of the Shoshone River could barely contain the rapidly moving river, swelled by the melting snows. We hope to return with more time to capture some of the activity.

Once inside the Park, we found it interesting that we crossed the Continental Divide twice within a five-mile stretch between West Thumb and Old Faithful.

At every Visitor Center in the national parks we've visited, one of the rangers will invariably say, "Be on the lookout for ______ (moose, elk, bighorn sheep, or even bear)." However, one moose and a few buffalo have been the extent of wildlife that we've seen.

We arrived at Old Faithful in time for the 11:29 am eruption. A direct relationship exists between the duration of Old Faithful's eruption and the length of the following interval. Short eruptions (around 2 minutes) lead to short intervals (about 65 minutes); long eruptions (4 minutes or so) lead to long intervals (about 94 minutes). During a short eruption, less water and heat are discharged; thus, they rebuild again in a short time. Longer eruptions mean more water and heat are discharged and they require more time to rebuild. The average interval now is about 79 minutes.

Geysers evolve in response to small, natural changes in their plumbing systems, water temperature, dissolved gas and mineral content of the thermal water, amount of water, amount of heat, changes in pressure, and other factors. Geysers are also affected by natural events in Yellowstone such as frequent earthquakes. We were surprised to learn that Yellowstone has over 1,000 a year.

Even in late May, the crowds were considerable. We can only imagine what the numbers must be like in July and August.

The day was sunny and in the mid 70s. The cloud of steam and water against the deep blue sky made for some beautiful photos.

This was our introduction to Yellowstone.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

A Glimpse of Cody City 1895

We stopped at Old Trail Town for what we thought would be a quick walk-through of the historical buildings.

In 1967, Bob Edgar, an archaeologist, began gathering historic buildings from various points around Cody, WY, with the aim of displaying them on the site that Buffalo Bill Cody and his associates had chosen for the site of "Cody City" in 1895.

Many of the buildings were taken completely apart, moved to the new site, and reassemled. Today, the Old Trail Town collection cosists of 26 buildings, which date from 1879 to 1901.

The buildings have been placed along what would appear to be the main street through town. The result is a town that looks as though it had be planned and somehow preserved over the decades.

We could almost hear the sounds from the piano, the voices of the participants in a card game, and the stories of gold miners and outlaws over drinks in the Rivers Saloon (1888, moved from the nearby town of Meeteetse).

We found this chuck wagon in the Burlington Store (1897), which had been moved from Burlington, WY. The chuckwagon was owned and operateed by Henry C. Larsen, a pioneer cattleman in the 1800s.

It seemed ready to prepare a meal, and it was the small touches of the boxes labeled Prunes and Puffed Wheat that brought this display to life.

In the Museum of the Old West, we saw this Lewis and Clark era carved canoe. This one had been found under eight feet of Yellowstone gravel about 20 miles east of Billings, MT.

In the display case below the canoe were a Cheyenne War Shield and a Cheyenne War Shirt.

This case showed the complete paraphernalia for one horse of the Mountain Crow tribe. This material was from the late 1800s.

At the back of the Museum was this horse-drawn hearse. The carving on the sides was so well done that the curtains looked like drawn cloth curtains.

This hearse was from the late 1800s.

The Carter Cabin was built on Carter Mountain in 1879 by William Carter's men.

In contrast to the Carter Cabin is the Dry Creek Homestead Cabin, built around 1900. The owners of this cabin seemed to be wealthier than most. Note the number of rugs and what looks like a type of washing machine.

Here, also, was another cabin in which the owners had a pedal organ. While a luxury, this instrument must have been very important to have for the emotional well-being of the residents--and even the community.

There are some 100 horse-drawn vehicles in the collection, and these were two of the most interesting.

Visiting Old Trail Town deserved more than a "walk-through;" members of the non-profit Museum of the Old West had devoted considerable time to the buildings preservation.

We felt we were beneficiaries of their attention to detail. We will return to complete our tour.