Lost in the Yellowstone–Breathtaking account documents 37 days lost in the wilderness

Review by C.J. Bunce

Like Jon Krakauer’s account of the May 1996 disastrous climb up Mt. Everest (Into Thin Air) prompted only more people in subsequent years to make the climb, and like Krakauer’s account of ill-fated adventurer Christopher McCandless (Into the Wild) drove more adventurers into the Alaskan outback, more than 125 years earlier the tale of a man separated from his exploration party in Yellowstone for 37 days would prompt excitement across America that would result in President Grant naming the forest of geysers, hot springs, sulfur pots, geological features, and waterfalls the first national park.  The man lost in the wilderness was Truman Everts, and his first-hand accounts of his trials in Yellowstone (the longest anyone has ever been lost in the park and not discovered dead) is recounted in Lost in the Yellowstone (New Edition), a thrilling account of being lost and alone with only the clothes on his back with snow, storms, mountain lions, bears, wolves and coyotes.

The events of Everts’ journey in Yellowstone began in August 1870, part of a caravan of prominent men from Montana on the Washburn Expedition, attempting to confirm first-hand the rumored unparalleled beauty and extraordinary accounts of the geology and natural life recounted by others dating back to Lewis and Clark–venturing into the lands at the Continental Divide broaching Yellowstone Lake in Wyoming.  Evert, who was from the northeast, had been appointed by President Lincoln as Assessor of Internal Revenue for the new territory of Montana.  Following that position, near-sighted and age 54, he decided to take his daughter back east, but not before joining the expedition into Yellowstone.

The volume of naturally downed trees prompted the men on horseback to frequently separate from each other to find their way.  So it wasn’t unusual for one or more members of the party to fall behind.  But in early September, without food or other provisions, Evert, while far enough away from the caravan, hopped from his horse, and while walking a path forward he saw his horse, possibly scared by a sound, bound off, never to be seen again.  He was lost and not found until 37 days later after two men learned of a $600 reward and set off to find him.  Miraculously he avoided the sulfur pots that has cost the life of many an off-the-path walker over the decades (and caused me many a nightmare as a kid after visiting the park and its seemingly endless boiling caverns).

The new edition of Lost in the Yellowstone includes Evert’s account first published in Scribner’s Monthly in May and June 1871.  The original hand-written account by Evert was not disclosed by the family until 1996, and it is transcribed in this edition.  Comparison reveals how much the contemporary, periodical publication must have been significantly edited, as Evert’s language and writing is entirely different–except for the story details and general content.  The Scribner’s Monthly account is smartly included first along with a foreword by a modern staff member of Yellowstone Park, and a detailed, contextual introduction by editor Lee H. Whittlesey, a historian for the park service.  Yellowstone became the first national park in 1872.

A good read for any fan of true-life adventures, Lost in the Yellowstone is published at 95 pages, and is available here at Amazon.  For other true-life adventures, start with the recently reviewed As Told at The Explorer’s Club.  Then try Krakauer’s Into Thin Air and other breathless accounts of survival–in the context of mountain climbing–like The Climb: Tragic Ambitions on Everest, Left for Dead: My Journey Home from Everest, Climbing High: A Woman’s Account of Surviving the Everest Tragedy, After The Wind: 1996 Everest Tragedy–One Survivor’s Story, and High Exposure: An Enduring Passion for Everest and Unforgiving Places, as well as more pitfalls of adventuring in Krakauer’s Into the Wild.

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