Dudes and Sagebrushers
IN the early days, all visitors to the national parks
were divided into two kinds, "Dudes" and "Sagebrushers."
Dudes were those who traveled by train and motor
Sagebrushers were those who rolled their own cars
over the mountains.
In more recent years, with the tremendous increase in
motor travel to the Parks, "Dude" has come to mean any one who stopped
at the hotels or lodges. The campers are still called
The term "Dude" originated years ago in the ranch
country of North Dakota and Wyoming and was early adopted in Yellowstone
Park. In those days the tourist who could afford the luxury of train
travel was considered a person of some means. He wore his good clothes,
at least until he reached the ranch or the park, and even then he was
accused of being finicky. To the old-time horse wranglers on the ranches
and to the old stagecoach drivers the infallible test of a Dude was to
look behind his ears. Dudes invariably washed behind the ears even when
they were roughing it. Try as he might to dress as a ranch hand and look
like a regular wrangler, the Dude always gave himself away by some
little foible such as this.
From a term of derision, the title "Dude" has grown
in a quarter of a century to become one of distinction. At first it was
used only by the help in the parks. Later Dudes began calling each other
Dudes and were proud of it. The popularity of the western Dude Ranches
as a headquarters for summer vacationists has helped to make the
nickname popular. From the Yellowstone, the term spread to the other
national parks, with certain variations. In all the parks the Dude is
the visitor who stops at either the hotels or the lodges. Actually, a
visitor's social standing or wealth or taste have nothing to do with his
rating in a park. A Dude is a Dude and a Sagebrusher is a Sagebrusher.
The latter may own the First National Bank in his own home town and
arrive in the finest automobile, driven by a liveried chauffeur, but as
soon as he crosses the park boundary he is a Sagebrusher, even if he
chooses to camp out.
Nicknaming of people in the national parks does not
stop with the visitors. The hired help are called "Savages." They fall
into several groups. The dishwashers are called "Pearl Divers." The
waitresses are called "Heavers." Tent girls and chambermaids are known
as "Pillow Punchers." Chauffeurs are "Gearjammers" or just plan
"'Jammers." Laundry girls are "Bubble Queens." Porters and bellboys are
"Pack Rats" or merely "Rats." When a young man and a young woman step
out in the evening for a stroll, they are said to be "rotten-logging,"
in the vernacular, whether or not they surrender to the temptation of
sitting out a few dances on a nice soft decaying log. Much of the help
in the hotels, lodges, and camps of the parks is recruited from
colleges. One of the great charms of life in the parks is the vivacity
and enthusiasm of these collegiate "Savages." Many of them choose a
different park each summer. In most of the parks they are selected not
only for their willingness to work, but also for their ability to
entertain camp visitors with songs, skits, and programs.
Counting Dudes, Sagebrushers, and Savages alike, the
total number of visitors to the national parks alone each year except in
recent war years is approximately six million. That astounding total
makes the parks the greatest tourist attraction of the United States,
and possibly in the world. In fact, it has been said that the trek to
the national parks each season is the greatest migration of all time,
greater than the Gold Rush of 'Forty-nine or the invasion of Europe by
Attila and his Huns. Rocky Mountain National Park for many years held
the lead in number of visitors, then phenomenal increase in travel to
Yosemite gave that park undisputed leadership in popularity, surpassed
only recently by Great Smoky Mountains and Shenandoah and some of the
historical parks in the East. Yellowstone, Rocky Mountain, Mount
Rainier, Grand Canyon, and Hot Springs Parks are now visited by upward
of a half million people each year. Crater Lake, Sequoia, Glacier, Zion,
and other parks are each sought yearly by hundreds of thousands.
The majority of the Sagebrushers bring their own
camping equipment and stop over whenever a mountain, a forest, or a
fishing stream appeals to their fancy. They move on only when the spirit
stirs them, some lingering all summer long in the mountains, where the
air is clear, the mornings crisp, the sky blue, broken only by the
clouds that drift lazily by. They delight in roughing it de luxe, in
wearing khaki and knickers and boots and sweaters, either about their
own campfires or at some rustic established camp where food and warmth
and shelter are available at a cost so low that it is cheaper than
staying at home.
Traveling through the national parks on de luxe
stages is comfort itself nowadays. But before the coming of the
automobile, it was an experience enjoyed only by the more adventurous
spirits. The trip to Yosemite on the Cannonball Express, which made the
run at what was considered terrific speed in those dayspossibly
ten miles per hourwas one full of thrills. Today the trip that
once required an entire day is an easy run of three hours. The
Cannonball Express carried the mail. The contract specified the time
allowed to make delivery to Yosemite Valley. On one occasion, the
Cannonball stage ran into a forest fire on a narrow road high in the
mountains, at a point where it was impossible to turn around. With the
flames sweeping down upon the coach, the situation was one of great
danger. Calling to his passengers to cover their faces, the driver
whipped his horses and dashed at full speed into the fire and through
it. Not one of his frightened passengers was injured, though the horses
were badly singed and the canvas cover to the luggage at the back of the
coach was blazing when the rolling vehicle came to a stop a mile or so
beyond the forest fire.
Hold-ups were frequent in those early days. Daring
robbers frequently felled a tree across the road to trap a stagecoach
where it could not be turned around to escape. Occasionally the bandits
made off with good hauls. Some were captured, more were not. One
particularly daring hold-up that has become notorious in story was
staged about halfway between Old Faithful Inn and the Lake, in
Yellowstone. The bandit took a position behind a rock projecting into
the road at a very sharp curve, a point from which he could control the
road for several hundred yards in either direction. He spread out a
blanket near the road, and as the coaches came around the great rock he
commanded the drivers to stop. He directed the passengers to step out
and empty their valuables from their pockets to the blanket. The Dudes
were huddled on a hillside which the bandit easily controlled from his
vantage point. As the next stage appeared, he repeated the operation,
carrying on a running conversation all the while with his victims,
joking about their plight, bantering them, and generally keeping them in
good humor. This fellow single-handed actually held up the passengers of
twenty-eight stages in a row and made his get-away into the mountains
with the blanket containing about four thousand dollars. This bandit
escaped from the park, his identity unsuspected, and he would never have
been caught had it not been for a quarrel with his wife, who in revenge
revealed his secret. He was then captured, tried, and sentenced to a
term in Leavenworth. Finishing his sentence, he went to California,
where he died eventually eating an ice-cream cone!
Bandit stories and other yarns of adventure in the
parks in the early days, as told by the Old-Timers, are still a source
of delight to the Dudes as they gather for the evening lectures at the
hotels and lodges. Some of the tales have grown with the years until
they have become known as "whoppers." The whoppers started in the
Yellowstone country shortly after the first explorers returned to
civilization. The stories they told of boiling water spouts eighty feet
high, of boiling mud puddles and hot-water pools and streams, were just
too preposterous to be believed by the wise folks at home, who knew such
things simply could not exist.
Most noted of all these early purveyors of whoppers
was Jim Bridger, the pioneer trapper and pathfinder and one of the first
white men to penetrate the fastnesses of Yellowstone. When Jim Bridger
found that the truth was doubted anyway, he concluded that he might as
well make his lies colossal ones. He enlarged and developed upon them
until he arrived at a state of perfection, the like of which has never
been equaled since his time. One of his best stories was an account of
how he caught fish in a cold stream, flopped them into a pool of boiling
water alongside the stream, and cooked them there. This was not
necessarily fiction, for there are at least a dozen places in
Yellowstone where one could do exactly that. To vindicate Jim Bridger's
veracity in that one story the Sierra Club, the California
mountaineering society, on the occasion of an outing in the Yellowstone
did cook trout and make coffee in a boiling pool. So the distance
between the truth and the whopper is not so great after all.
A few years ago, in the course of a summer spent in
the Yellowstone, Harry W. Frantz, the well-known Washington
correspondent and writer, became interested in these whoppers from the
old days and gathered from some of the Old-Timers their most whopping
whoppers. He would come to the evening gatherings at the hotels dressed
in old buckskin clothes, a Buffalo Bill hat and long, black whiskers.
Interrupting the ranger's nature talk, this picturesque character, who
apparently had just straggled from the jumping off place would
"Ranger, where does the West begin?"
The ranger never seemed to know the answer to that
one. "Well, I'll tell you," the old man would say. "It's half way
between St. Paul and Minneapolis. I know, because I was out here in the
'sixties when the West began. There wuz nothin' but sagebrush an' Injuns
as far as the eye could see, Buddy, I helped to start the West. Say,
would you like to hear about some of the Injun fights we had?"
The ranger invariably appeared annoyed at this
interruption, but the Dudes always clamored for more.
"Well, it wuz in the fall o' sixty-nine an' the
Injuns out here wuz thicker'n fleas on a yaller dog. I ran into
thousands of 'em, right here on this spot where we're talkin' now, an'
when they saw me they started to chase me. Their war whoops wuz
blood-curdlin', an' they waved their tommyhawks an' came right after me.
I ran up yon' canyon, hopin' to get away from 'em. But they kep' on
comin' an' gainin' on me. I ran faster an' faster, but they kep' a
gainin' an' a-gainin' an' pretty soon they caught up with me. I saw
somethin' had to be done, an' I looked up. To the left o' me wuz a cliff
a mile high and to the right o' me another one half a mile high, so I
kept on runnin' straight ahead. All of a sudden I came 'round a bend an'
right in front o' me wuz a cliff two miles high. I wuz trapped. That's
all they wuz to ittrapped, where the devils couldn't help but get
Dead silence, as the old fellow finished his
Some Dude always broke it with:
"Well, what did they do to you?"
Trembling with emotion, the old man said: "By God,
they killed me!"
Another whopper that always made a hit was the story
originally told by "Buffalo" Jones who claimed he once saved the bison
from extinction. He galloped into the Yellowstone one time, he said, to
find the last of the bison being killed by the wolves and the coyotes.
In fact, the bison were all dead but a few calves, which the wolves were
just preparing to kill.
"I roped eight calves and saved them," he asserted,
"though the wolves and the coyotes were surrounding us by the hundreds.
As soon as I got one calf, I tied my hat to it, knowing the wolves would
never touch anything tainted with the fresh scent of man. To the next
calf I tied my coat, to the next my vest, and so on, until I didn't have
anything on but my socks. When I had saved the eighth, I picked it up in
my arms and galloped back for the seventh, which was surrounded by
wolves. I then hurried back to the sixth and grabbed that calf just in
the nick of time. I tied the lasso around these calves and fastened the
end to the horse's neck and raced to the other calves and saved them
again just in time. The strain of saving them all was so great that I
fainted, but just then my boys came up and drove off the wolves and gave
me some whisky and saved the calves so that the bison was never entirely
It is a happy custom which has grown up in all of the
national parks for the Dudes and Sagebrushers to gather after dinner
about the fire, either in hotels, lodges, or in the private camps, for
informal entertainment, starting usually with singing and other musical
entertainment, and then resolving into the evening discussions with the
rangers. The rangers talk of the natural wonders, or of the wild life,
or sometimes tell tales on the Dudes and Sagebrushers themselves, to
their evident enjoyment. The evening fireside gathering has become so
popular in some of the parks that the rangers have built open-air
assemblies with logs for seats and bonfires for the stage lights. While
not as comfortable as the lobbies of the hotels, the campfires lend more
enchantment and atmosphere to the gatherings. Many times the campfire
under the stars lures the guests away from the hotel for the evening.
The firelight flickering on the trees, the odor of burning pine, the
witchery of the starry sky overhead, the comradery of the camp, combine
to cast the spell of the wilderness over the visitor.
From every corner of the land they gather, swapping
ideas, talking over road conditions, telling their adventures and
listening to those of their new-found neighbors, or enjoying the
impromptu entertainment of a band of informal musicians. There is always
somebody who can do something around a campfire.
"I have met people here from every state in the
union," exclaimed President Harding after he had visited a number of
these camps. "This is a cross section of America. There are no finer
playgrounds in the world." Like many another observer, he was enraptured
by the spirit, the fraternity, of the campfire "town meetings."
The Sagebrusher has the advantage over the Dude in
one respect, at least. Having his own outfit, he can make camp wherever
he chooses, and linger as long as he chooses. He can take time to enjoy
the mountainsthis life about the campfires, so colorful, so rich
in song and tradition, the chance to shake off the years and be young
once more for a few days or a few weeks. Most of the Sagebrushers do
travel leisurely, but now and then one comes "High-balling" it through
the Parks, as did the motorist who drove up to the entrance to Rocky
Mountain Park and demanded of the ranger, without getting out of his
"How long does it take to see this park?"
"You could do a good part of it in two days," said
"Too long. Gimme a sticker, will you, so I can prove
I've been here."
This happens occasionally at all of the parks. Why
such visitors come, no one knows. Where they are going, no one
knowsleast of all they themselves. But these are the exceptions to
the rule among the Sagebrushers, who, having no schedules to keep, make
the side trips, explore for fishing streams and lakes, stop over longer,
as a rule, than visitors who travel more formally. The Sagebrushers have
always been the nomads of the parks.
Sagebrushers derive their nickname from the early
days when their forerunners arrived at Yellowstone, Yosemite, and other
older national parks in covered wagons. Days on end they drove their
horses or mules across the plains, en route to the parks, camping each
night in the sagebrush. Roads were bad, stores were few, and the early
camper was obliged to bring with him such comforts of home as he
expected to enjoy in the park. The trip was sufficiently strenuous and
hazardous that he stayed some time in the park, often a month or more.
It took the old-time Sagebrusher eight days to make the loop in
Yellowstone, which any motorist can do in a day nowadays.
The first Sagebrushers to forsake their covered
wagons for the noisy early automobiles were not very hospitably received
at the gates of the national parks. They were told to park their cars
outside the boundary lines, until in 1913 the first autos were permitted
to enter Yosemite Valley as an experiment. Even then the authorities
there were suspicious of the little juggernauts. Motorists were
instructed to drive their cars to the parking area in the center of the
Valley, where the gas buggies were chained to great logs. By heck, they
were not going to have any of those new fangled vehicles starting up and
These stern restrictions quite naturally met with
much protest on the part of motorists, particularly in California where
the automobile clubs were growing rapidly. The concern of the park
authorities was mainly for the safety of Dudes riding in stages whose
horses might become frightened at the noisy automobiles. For a time, it
was thought that special roads must be built for automobiles. This plan
was abandoned because of the expense, but in most of the parks certain
hours were set aside when automobiles could use the roads. During these
hours, the horse drawn vehicles were ordered off the roads. Many people
who opposed the admission of autos insisted that the use of a machine in
the mountains was but a fad which would pass. Now the national park
Service is wondering what to do about the airplane!