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Historic Roads in the National Park System





Raynold Expedition

Barlow Expedition

Jones Expedition

Ludlow Reconnaissance

Dan C. Kingman

Hiram M. Chittenden



The Jones Expedition of 1873



The Yellowstone — Teton Basin

As the region here to be described is quite small, it is thought advisable to treat it as a whole, although it is traversed by the main divide of the Rocky Mountains — here very low — and part of the divide between the Upper Yellowstone and Missouri Rivers. It includes the Yellowstone National Park. It has the Sierra Shoshonee range on the north and east, the Wyoming Mountains on the south, and the Tetons on the southwest. All but the latter have been described. This range is quite short, and extends in a northerly direction between the parallels of 43° 30' and 44° 15', in longitude 110° 35'. A few peaks are quite acicular in character, and attain in the Grand Teton and Mount Moran the altitude of 13,835 and 12,800 feet respectively, as given by Professor Hayden. The figures are largely in excess of what the previous estimates of these altitudes had been. This region is an elevated plateau, lying about the sources of some of the principal rivers of the continent. It has a surface of high, rolling hills, covered with dense forests, with many lakes, some quite large, about the sources of the streams which lower down have cut very deep valleys.

The northwestern portion about the sources of the Gallatin and Madison is mountainous, culminating in Mount Washburn, overlooking the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone at an elevation of 10,105 feet. About ten miles south of Yellowstone Lake is Mount Sheridan, a small knob, with an elevation of 10,156 feet. The soil is quite rich, and vegetation flourishes, although there are indications of a severe climate. At the foot of the Tetons, on the east, is a large, fertile valley called Jackson's Hole. In the midst of it is Jackson's Lake, a considerable body of water. The whole region is thoroughly well watered and is notable for the quantity of timber which it carries on low-lying land. Its greatest dimension is one hundred and four miles from north to south, and there is an area of over five thousand square miles. Southwest from Yellowstone Lake is a cluster of small lakes — of which the largest is Shoshonee Lake — all at the sources of Snake River.

Yellowstone River rises in the Sierra Shoshonee range about fifty miles above the lake, to which it flows in a northwesterly direction. Shortly after leaving the latter it makes a fall of about 500 feet into its Grand Canyon, through which it flows in a curved line, emerging with a northwesterly direction, and afterward makes a grand detour around the northern extremity of the Sierra Shoshonee, from whence it joins the Missouri by an easterly and northeasterly course.

Within the limits of the region described, the only tributaries of consequence are Pelican Creek and East Fork, on the right, flowing from the Sierra Shoshonee.

Snake River rises along the Continental divide, between latitude 43° 50' and 44° 30', in a large number of streams that spread out like a fan from a base at the foot of the Teton Mountains. The principal ones are: 1st, Lewis Fork, rising in a series of lakes lying southwest from Yellowstone Lake; 2nd, Barlow's Fork, a tributary of the latter from the east; 3d, Pacific Creek, rising near Two-Ocean Pass; 4th, Buffalo Fork, rising far to the eastward, in the vicinity of the Washakee Needles; and 5th, Gros Ventres Creek, rising near the head of Wind River.

There are no roads traversing this basin. One from Fort Ellis leads to the Great Hot Springs, just inside of its northern limit.


A Short Route to the Yellowstone National Park

The discovery of Togwotee Pass, at the head of Wind River, is pregnant with results to the future commerce of the West and Northwest, as it discloses in all probability one of the principal highways that will in the future bind their interests with those of the Mississippi Valley and the Atlantic States.

One important object of the expedition was to discover, if possible, a practicable approach to Yellowstone Lake from the south or southeast, an approach which would not only furnish the shortest route to the Yellowstone National Park, now practically inaccessible, but would open a new route to Montana by a wagon-road but little, if any, longer than the present one from Corinne, Utah, that would save a considerable distance by rail. In this it has met with a gratifying success.

In the first place, it was ascertained that there are three passes through the Sierra Shoshonee affording approaches to the Yellowstone Basin from the east. These are: 1st, from the head of Clark's Fork to the East Fork of the Yellowstone; 2d, from the head of the North Fork of the "Stinking Water," entering the basin opposite the foot of Yellowstone Lake (the route of the expedition); 3d, from the head of the Ishawooa River, entering the basin opposite the head of Yellowstone Lake. These passes are all difficult.

Also there is one at the head of Wind River, a little southeast from Yellowstone Lake, which affords a perfectly practicable passage to the Yellowstone Valley, via Wind River Valley and the head of Wind River. I have named it Togwotee Pass, preferring to attach easy Indian names, wherever possible, to the prominent features of the country. It lies in latitude 43° 46' 29", longitude 110° 1', and has an altitude of 9,621 feet above the sea. Notwithstanding this altitude the slopes approaching the summit are so long and regular that a railroad could be built over it at a reasonable cost.

At present there are two routes to Montana, over which the interchange of products between that Territory and the East is carried on, and government supplies shipped to the military posts and the Indians in that country. These are: 1st, the Missouri River route, by which supplies are carried by steamboat as far as Fort Benton, Montana, and from thence distributed through the Territory by wagons; and, 2d, the Union Pacific Railroad route, over which supplies are carried by rail as far as Corinne, Utah, and from thence northward, by wagons to Idaho and Montana. In the Government's freighting contracts of 1873, the rates from Fort Benton to points in the Territory, and from Corinne to the same points, are exactly the same. Of course, so far as rates are concerned, the land-route cannot compete with the water-route; but the river-route is only open during a few months of the year, and during the remainder of the time the land-route is not brought into competition with it. Furthermore, during the season that the river is open, its navigability is far from being certain and reliable at all times; so that shipments over it are detained a very long and wholly uncertain length of time in transitu. As the business of the country is now conducted, men can ill afford to have their money lying idle for months, or weeks, or even days, locked up in goods in transitu. Every day saved on goods, of whatever character, is the equivalent of money gained. It is this element of time and its money equivalent that underlies the astounding success of railroads as competitors with water-lines of traffic — success through which the steamboat is disappearing from our rivers; success that is proving to us that there is no such thing as slow freight; that men want some kinds of freight shipped faster than others, but that there is none they want shipped in a slow and unreliable manner.

These considerations are so potent that, were a railroad constructed to Montana from some point on the Union Pacific Railroad, it would, in all probability, be followed by virtual disappearance of steamboat traffic from the Missouri River; and it is by no means improbable that the great saving in distance effected by the new Yellowstone route will, even without any more railroad, enable the land-route to compete successfully with that via the Missouri. In all events, the proposed route is fraught with benefit to the people of Montana, through the bringing of the rival lines into a closer competition.

The present land-route leaves the Central Pacific Railroad at Corinne, Utah, and runs in a northerly direction through Idaho to Montana, crossing the Bannack Mountains on the divide between the Snake and Missouri Rivers. The distance from Corinne to Fort Ellis, Montana, is four hundred and three miles. The proposed road should leave the Union Pacific Railroad in the vicinity of Point of Rocks, Wyoming, and run about north into the Wind River Valley; thence following up that valley to its head, and through Togwotee Pass, northerly, to Yellowstone Lake, and through the Yellowstone National Park to Fort Ellis. This route would pass directly by all of the principal phenomena of the park — except the geysers, which could easily be reached by a short side-road. By it, the distance from Point of Rocks to Yellowstone Lake is two hundred and eighty-nine miles, and to Fort Ellis four hundred and thirty-seven miles.

The proposed route will not be blocked by snow so much as the present one, as the snow-belt lies in a heavily timbered country, in which the snow will not drift much. This will include a distance of fully one hundred and fifty miles north from Wind River Valley. It will open up a body of 2,000,000 acres of timber-land, well watered, and with a rich soil. Observations thus far indicate that this is a region of equable precipitation of rain, and that irrigation will not be necessary in cultivating the soil. There is considerable frost even during the summer, but in spite of it the vegetation is always quite luxuriant.

There is good reason for believing that the Yellowstone National Park will, in time, become the most popular summer-resort in the country, perhaps the world. This, of itself, is a sufficient reason for opening the way to it at once.

To sum up, the proposed route will save two hundred and fifty miles of distance by railroad; four hundred and eighty-two miles in reaching Yellowstone Lake, and two hundred and sixteen miles in reaching principal cities of Montana; is a direct route to the Yellowstone National Park, which at present is practically inaccessible, and will eventually be the shortest railroad line to Montana; it opens up a very large tract of low-lying timber-land, a feature of rare occurrence in the great Rocky Mountain plateau; it will open up to settlement the Wind River Valley, the Teton Basin, and the valley of the Upper Yellowstone; and, finally, will throw open the Yellowstone National Park to the wonder-seekers of the world.


Upper Yellowstone — Teton Basin

These two basins, although on opposite sides of the main divide of the Rocky Mountains, are yet subject to the same climatic influences; for this divide is so low between them as to lose its mountainous character almost entirely. This is supplied by the Sierra Shoshonee range which borders them on the east, the Wyoming Mountains to the south, and the Tetons which lie to the west.

This region is also characterized by wide extremes of diurnal temperature, although the day temperature is generally rather low, making an agreeable summer climate. The freezing-point seems to obtain quite commonly just before sunrise; and, late in August, different parties, in three consecutive years, have noted at this time of the day such very notable temperatures as 14° F., 13° F., and 12° F. The nights are extremely cold as a rule. An approximation to the mean annual temperature obtained from the temperatures of some springs east of Yellowstone Lake, and one between the lake and the falls, is 37.5° F.

The relative humidity is remarkably high for the Rocky Mountain region, which is so generally characterized by the small proportion of aqueous vapor in its atmosphere; as a natural attendant upon this exceptional feature, the whole region is densely timbered.

There is ample evidence of a moderately copious rain-fall in and around this basin, especially about the headwaters of Snake River, the vegetation is always fresh and tolerably luxuriant; the country is amply supplied with water in marsh, spring, stream, pond, and lake, and the meteorological records of parties who have visited it for three years in succession point clearly to it. We had several rainy days while traversing it, days in which the rain fell almost continuously during the night and day. This is a notable fact.

It is probably a region of severe storms; for an inspection of a general map . . . shows that the principal southwest air-current, moving over a low portion of the mountain mass of the Pacific coast, reaches the Teton's and Sierra Shoshonee range without being deprived of much of its vapor. It is not only checked in its course by this high, cool wall, but the tremendous acicular ridge of the Tetons stands in such a position as to produce a strong eddy about the headwaters of the Snake and over the lake basin.

The equable precipitation favors the growth of forest and rank vegetation, while the latter stores up the water, to be constantly vaporized and held ready for reprecipitation, the cause and effect each favorably acting upon the other. The indications are that this region along the western base of the Sierra Shoshone Mountains,* and lying between the parallels of 43°30' and 45°30' north latitude, is one of equable precipitation. The severity of the summer frosts, however, will prevent any extensive tillage of the soil, which, by the way, is a rich black loam. The prevailing winds are westerly, and mild in their character.

*I use the word "mountains" in connection with sierra in deference to the custom of considering them words of different shades of meaning. To the majority of English-speaking people mountain is the only word that completely covers the idea involved.

From William A. Jones, Report upon the Reconnaissance of Northwestern Wyoming, including Yellowstone National Park, made in the Summer of 1873. (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1875).

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