N.P. Ry.

Park Branch Promotion

By Craig Reese
Originally Published in The Mainstreeter
The quarterly publication of the Northern Pacific Railway Historical Association

Promotion of Yellowstone National Park was an important part of Northern Pacific advertising, as evidenced by the Yellowstone Park Line slogan carried as part of the NP herald for more than 50 years.
The promotional efforts had a special tone before World War I, however. Completion of the Park Branch in 1883 gave the NP an exclusive franchise for a time, a franchise it introduced to the traveling public through a guidebook called Wonderland.

Wonderland '98 by Olin D. Wheeler
Then profit by your reading and go and

That was the title page in 1898. The themes of instruction and self-improvement would be repeated, in a pleasant if somewhat stuffy Victorian voice, by Olin Wheeler in each annual issue:

As I stood on the railway platform at Livingston last summer, a tourist, just going into the park, approached me. He was an elderly man with silver hair and beard, a fine looking gentleman. Pointing to the Crazy Mountains, seemingly in the clear mountain light close at hand, he asked: 'How far away are those mountains?'
'From thirty to forty miles,' I replied.
Well, I declare,' said he, 'It seems as if you could walk right out to them. I am from New York state, but I never saw real mountains like those. How high are they?'
Three thousand to five thousand feet above us.'
'Is that snow on them?'
Yes, there is always some snow there, A little more than usual this year, though.'
He looked at them intently, absorbed in the thoughts passing through his mind. For sixty years or more he had lived, and was now seeing things about which he had read, but had never fully understood. Now that man, even if he failed utterly to grasp the meaning and enjoy the sight of the greater things in the park, the canyons, geysers, etc., was going to get his money's worth out of the mountains and lakes and rivers and flowers and animals, and to return home and regale his neighbors with tales of Wonderland.

Wonderland was not confined to Yellowstone. Each issue described the history and geography of the entire route of the Northern Pacific in detail. In 1901, Wheeler outlined the history of the monad, from its Asian origins to its use as the NP herald; in 1904, he described the North Coast Limited in detail.
But the park was the centerpiece, the Wonderland of the title. Each issue carried a map of the Northern Pacific and a map of Yellowstone, and a rate schedule for the tourist season. In 1905, a round-trip ticket from Livingston to Mammoth, by rail and stagecoach, was $5. The round trip from St. Paul to Gardiner was $45, and the same trip plus five and a half days at park hotels was $75.
Stopovers on all classes of railroad and sleeping-car tickets are given at Livingston, Mont., during the season, to enable our patrons to visit Yellowstone Park, the schedule noted.
This was the era of the grand tour, before automobiles were allowed into the park in 1916. Well-heeled tourists were shepherded from hotel to hotel (hotels often built and maintained by Northern Pacific interests) by stage after departing the Park Branch at Cinnabar or Gardiner. Wheeler wasn't shy about promoting such tours, although he did allow the traveler some flexibility:
It can be readily seen that in making a tour of such a region as Yellowstone Park, a foundation scheme, or schedule, must necessarily be arranged. This is a convenience both for the tourist and those in charge of the transportation and hotel arrangements at such places. Such a schedule must be arranged to accomplish two things as far as it can. It must plan to enable tourists to see as much as possible in a reasonable time at a reasonable expense. Such a scheme, however, is not at all absolute or immutable and those who have ample means and time are at liberty to vary it as much as they may desire. I hasten to add that those who can and do prolong the tour, spending several days at each hotel and studying the peculiarities of locality, are gloriously rewarded for so doing. Such persons obtain a really comprehensive idea of the park and its greatness. (1905)

Ten years earlier, Wonderland had described a typical tour:
First day, Livingston to Cinnabar, by rail, fifty-one miles; Cinnabar to Mammoth Hot Springs, by stagecoach, seven miles.
Second day, Mammoth Hot Springs to Lower Geyser Basin, by stagecoach, forty miles.
Third day, Lower Geyser Basin to Upper Geyser Basin and return, by stagecoach, eighteen miles.
Fourth day, Lower Geyser Basin to Yellowstone Lake Hotel, by stagecoach, forty-seven miles.
Fifth day, Yellowstone Lake Hotel to Grand Canyon, by stagecoach, seventeen miles. Sixth day, Grand Canyon to Cinnabar, by stagecoach, thirty-nine miles; Cinnabar to Livingston, by rail, fifty-one miles.

In 1896, Wheeler focused on the Park Branch itself:
The park tour may really be said to begin at Livingston. The fifty-one mile ride on the cars up the Yellowstone Valley to Cinnabar is a glorious prelude to what follows and can hardly be disassociated from it. Soon after leaving Livingston the train passes through the Gate of the Mountains into Paradise Valley.
Large fields of grain extend from the river far up the slopes to the very mountains. The peaks rise to grand heights. The grandest of them is Emigrant Peak, 10,629 feet above the sea. It is a massive one, and if seen when its upper regions are covered with snow, will not soon be forgotten.
At Yankee Jim's Canyon the railroad is carried along the face of a rocky bluff, with the river far below.
No finer trout-fishing is to be found than in the rapids of the Yellowstone between the Gate of the Mountains and Cinnabar. Those who have once experienced the thrill of angling thereabouts, are never content until they again haunt the pools and whip the rapids for the eager, gamey beauties found there.
At Cinnabar the train is exchanged for the stagecoach, and the traveler enters upon a new experience. Three miles beyond Cinnabar, a small collection of log huts and stores is passed. This is Gardiner City.

By 1904, with completion of the last three miles from Cinnabar to Gardiner, and construction of the Gardiner depot, the small collection of log huts and stores warranted considerably more attention:
In 1903, the Northern Pacific having extended the railway from Cinnabar to Gardiner, a railway station was constructed that, with its surroundings, is one of the most unique, cozy and attractive to be found in the United States. From the Bitterroot Valley and mountains, selected pine logs were brought which, with the smooth, richly colored bark on, were fashioned into a symmetric, well-proportioned, tasteful and rustic building, the interior of which, with its quaint hardware, comfortable, alluring appointments, and ample fireplace and chimney, is in keeping with the inviting exterior.
Two colonnades, supported by massive, single log pillars at intervals, under which young and growing pine trees in wooden boxes are found, add much to the beauty of the structure.
On the south side of the station, opposite to the railway track and fronting the great park, is a pretty, artificial lake, the water which supplies it being brought in a flume from the Gardiner River, a mile away. Back of the lake rises the high, brown-black lava arch and its side walls, the new and striking official entrance to Yellowstone park, costing $10,000, whose cornerstone President Roosevelt laid in 1903. To the left of the station and arch lies Gardiner, a snug little town on the very boundary of the park; just beyond it flows the Yellowstone river, and still beyond and across the stream, rising high above and some miles away, the high Snowy range, a northern continuation of the Absaroka, terminates the view. At the right stand Electric peak and Sepulchre mountain, great, mighty peaks of volcanic origin and grand form.
The whole combination of railway and train, rustic station, lake, town, arch, and landscape, added to the chattering throng of humanity, full of life and laughter as it hustles aboard the line of waiting coaches with their champing, impatient horses, is full of interest and enthusiasm, and a very fitting prelude to the wonderful trip ahead.

Wheeler was always conscious of the unique grandeur of the park he was promoting. At times, he was capable of a lyricism worthy of the conservationist John Muir:
....situated where and as it is the park is one of the grandest places in the country for a good, wholesome rest and release from the heat and noise and dirt and nervous strain of the city in summer. Going to the very heart of God's Wonderland in the mountains where elevation brings coolness and health, where the great hills and forests calm and strengthen the mind, where the streams roar madly through mighty canyons and the trout sport in the rapids, where the hot fountains play, the lakes ripple in the sunlight or reflect the cliffs which edge their shores, where the flowers bedeck the slopes and vales, where the iridescent springs gush from superheated reservoirs, where from rolling coach, or, perchance, from hotel porch, the noble elk and graceful deer may be seen feeding at their ease --- going, I say, to this Wonderland in the mountains, means a sensible, sane heaven-inspired method of rest and recreation, means new blood, new nerves, new life. (1905)

But at the same time (in fact, in the same edition), he remained conscious of his duty to his employer, the Northern Pacific, and never missed an opportunity to promote it in tandem with its exclusive franchise:
Nature often fabricates wonderful profiles and patterns and an example of this is seen by the tourist after leaving Mud volcano and just after entering the Hayden Valley. Just as trout creek is reached, and to the left, down below in a pocket of they turfy plain, the creek, flowing in beautiful convolutions, has worked out an almost perfect and symmetric image of the Northern Pacific's trademark. The whole forms a nearly complete circle and the creek winds in such a way as to reproduce, even more perfectly than it does the entire figure, the two large, dense, commas of the design, known to the Chinese as the Yang and Yin, and shown in the body of the trademark in red and black or white and black. Anyone familiar with the trademark symbol can easily trace this natural reproduction on the ground.

Author: Craig D. Reese. Title: Park Branch Promotion. URL: www.netcom.com/~whstlpnk/parkp.html.

© March 20, 2002