All content on this blog is copyright by Marci Andrews Wahlquist as of its date of publication.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Diary of a Wylie Savage, part 1


Beatrice Boedefeld was born October 10, 1887 in Tacoma, Washington Territory. When she was still a small child, the family moved back east to Elkhart, Indiana, where she grew up. She had one sister, five years younger than herself. She excelled in English classes and wanted to be a writer. Over the protests of relatives and friends who felt it wasn’t the proper thing for a lady to do, she joined the staff of a newspaper, the Elkhart Truth, where she worked as a reporter of society news, or “Sob Sister,” for several years before coming to Yellowstone National Park.

She was tired of her situation by 1916 and wanted to go out West. Hearing of the need for single women to work in various positions for the summer camping season in Yellowstone National Park, she applied and was accepted by the Wylie Permanent Camping Company to be a tent maid. She obtained a leave of absence from her job by promising a report on her season that they could publish (which never materialized), but she was secretly hoping to get a lead on something different over the course of the summer. She was 28 years old, ready for adventure, amusement, romance, or simply a change of scenery. She ended up with everything, including a lead on a job that led to a position on the Natrona County Tribune at Casper, Wyoming.

The Wylie Permanent Camping Company ran eight camp “villages” in the Park. The camps consisted of: Riverside (on the Madison River), Upper Geyser Basin or Geysers (near Daisy Geyser), Swan Lake Flats (south end), Gibbon Falls, Canyon (near Artist Point), Swan Lake (current Lake Lodge site), Roosevelt, Cody Camp (near the East Entrance), and West Thumb. Gibbon and Thumb were lunch stations only.

Beatrice was stationed at the Upper Geyser Basin camp, which everybody called Geysers, a mile or so northwest of Old Faithful Inn, which at that time was just 13 years old. Her job was to clean tents and change the bedding of the tents used by “dudes,” as the tourists were called, and to clean those of the “Savages,” as her fellow workers were called. The women worked in pairs with one young man assigned to each pair to do the heavy lifting and carrying of water, loads of bedding, etc. They called the young men “pack rats.”

In the summer of 1916 the National Park Service was formed and soon merged the Wylie company with other camping companies to become the Yellowstone Parks Camping Company, so Beatrice was a “Wylie Savage” in its last season of existence.

In 1916, the Wylie campers rode in excursion wagons, surries, or coaches drawn by a team of horses. The drivers of these wagons were also seasonal workers, young men from around the country who wanted something a bit different to do to earn money between college terms. 1916 was also the last year that horses were used in the Park. There were automobiles being used by this time, and there were conflicts between them and the older horse-drawn wagons.

At this time, the town of West Yellowstone had not yet come into existence, although there was a large train station there. The main road from the west entrance followed the Madison River as it still does today, but the road went close to Gibbon Falls and then south from there to Old Faithful Inn a little east of the road today. Part of the old road still exists as a paved trail between Biscuit Basin and Old Faithful Inn, running on the west bank of the Firehole River to the bridge by the Riverside Geyser, then past Morning Glory Pool along the east bank of the Firehole. The Geysers camp was located just south of Grotto Geyser, with the Giant Geyser directly in front of the main part of the camp and the Daisy Geyser a little ways in back of the camp. At the top of the hill behind the camp perched the big pavilion tent where nightly dances were held.

Rising time for the camp workers was about 6:00 a.m. They cleaned tents, bungalows, cabins, the bunkhouse, and anything else they were asked to do. They waited on dudes who didn’t go out on the excursions. The work was usually finished by noon or sometimes a little later, and dinner was served at midday. The Savages were generally free to do whatever they liked until time for supper, after which was the campfire and the program, and then the nightly dance. Both dudes and Savages provided the music for the dances.

The Savages were expected to make sure the tourists had a good time by dancing with them. In addition, every night they put on a campfire and a program for the tourists, featuring recitations, songs, and other entertainment. Beatrice was a frequent performer on these programs. She also danced quite a lot. It was considered normal for women to dance together if there weren’t enough male partners to go around, but men danced together only as a sort of joke. In society normally a man would be introduced formally before he could ask a woman to dance, but in the camp atmosphere, Beatrice soon discovered that some formalities were dispensed with.

A stricter code of sexual morality was in force for the majority of society than is popular today. However, when they talk about “rotten logging,” it becomes clear that in general, only the women were expected to enforce the behavioral code, while most of the men indulged in a double standard. Beatrice strongly resents this code. Another common practice at the time was for unmarried people of the same sex to share a bed without any sexual connotation attached to the relationship. It was a common convenience of the time.

“Deaux Drop Inn” was the name Beatrice and her tent-mates gave their tent, which was number 60. In her tent were Rachael “Rae” Wylie (Bea’s bedfellow), Cora Cunningham, Dorothy “Dick” Loeffler, and sisters Perla and Vessie Caughey. Some of the other Savages she mentions are: Millard “Mird” Mecklem, Fred “Spooks” Stroetor, Bill Litchfield, Frank Vetter, Ed Klingensmith, Erwin “Pinkey” Johnson, Lloyd Strong, Virgil “Cupid” or “Lovey” Evans, Raymond “Steve” Stevens, Jimmie Miller, sisters Elsie and Garnet Rhodes, Helyn “Fish” Fisher, Helen “Billie” Wilson, Martha “Mart” McNary, Martha “Mart” or “Johnnie” McIlvain, Gula Frewe, sisters Clara and Tillie Sample, and Eugene “Gene” Eleson. The drivers she mentions most are Little Eva, Jack “Doc” Condon, Shorty Green (aka John Donahue), and Ivan Allen. Bea’s work mate was Mary McKelvy. The woman she worked for was Miss McCartney, who was called “Lady Mac.” Her immediate supervisors at Geysers camp were Mr. Greer and Miss Johnston (whose title was “matron”).

Beatrice uses a lot of slang terms. Most of them are self explanatory: having a “circus” means “fun,” and when they go to Old Faithful Inn, they “rubbered,” meaning they looked at everything. When a man gets “fresh” it can mean he is taking sexual liberties, but sometimes it only means he is flirting. “To meet your fate” means to meet the person you will marry. The term “swaddie” refers to the military forerunners of the park rangers, the name being derived from the wrapped leggings worn from ankle to knee below breeches-style trousers. The “formation” means the ground around the geysers and hot pools, covered with the lichens, mosses, and bacterial growths that thrive in thermal conditions, that today we wouldn’t think of stepping on. In those days, however, people walked on all the flora and fauna of the thermal features, not realizing what they were destroying.

Beatrice wrote the diary in a little red leather 1913 diary notebook that she had used only sporadically for the year 1913. She began her Yellowstone diary on the page labeled “Wednesday, Aug. 27, 1913” and wrote her own date, “May 24, 1916,” and she took as many pages as needed to finish up describing each day until the last, September 7, 1916, which is written on the page labeled “December 27.” Then she consulted the little diary to construct and type a much longer, fuller version, which she illustrated with the colored postcards she sent home and some of the black and white pictures she took. This book contains the longer version, with her title, but I added a few details from the red leather notebook when I felt that they would add materially to our enjoyment of her story, and I did not put in every picture and postcard, as some were of very inferior quality. I have edited the punctuation and have spelled out some things that she abbreviated. For more photographs of the Wylie camps between 1908 and 1915, you can see a collection of Utah State Historical Society photographs online at their website. Go to and search for “Wylie Camping Company,” or just click here.

Enjoy the story of her magical summer.

Diary of a Wylie Savage

Season of 1916

June Eleventh
And now I am really off to Yellowstone.

Dad came to Chicago with me this afternoon, and it was really quite remarkable that two boys who are also going, and to the same camp, sat in front of us on the way up.

Said Goodbye to Mother at home, and Ruth, Auntie Shepherd, and Miss Thompson and a bunch of girls from the Y.W. were at the station.

We had dinner at Henley’s, and I must put down the menu because we got so much for 75 cents.

Chicken and Okra soup and Crackers
Radishes - Olives - Celery
Baked Trout with Sauce
Chicken a la King en-casserole
Mashed Potatoes - Peas - Jelly
Head Lettuce Salad with French Dressing
Creme de Menthe Punch and Wafers.

Dad had the same, but he had lamb for his meat and apple pie for dessert.

A mighty nice passenger agent sold me my reservation for the special car. He told me all about the Pennsylvania party I was going with and introduced me to Miss Johnston, the matron, later. Miss McCartney, the general matron, gets a good deal of her help from near Beaver Falls and Newcastle, Pennsylvania, because Beaver Falls was formerly her home although now she spends her winters in California. Miss Johnston, who is the matron for our camp, looks something like Hallie Thomas’ mother.

After Dad had impressively said good-bye and committed me to Miss Johnston’s especial care like I was sixteen, I took off my hat and then went out on the platform of the observation car. It was filled with girls, and it didn’t take long to find out that we were all going to Yellowstone.

One sweet little girl with yellow hair did her best to introduce everybody, and I met Esther Baxter whose invitation to share her “birth” I had declined on the advice of the family. She is quite a chunk, and I’m afraid we wouldn’t have been comfortable. Anyway, she has someone else.

There are two boys across the aisle who are giggling their heads off.

Monday June Twelfth
I slept poorly and staid in bed late with the result that I got into the usual crush in the dressing room. After I did get dressed, I went out on the observation platform, and there were the Pittsburgh boys who were on when we left Elkhart. I had thought that they were going Northern Pacific, but I guess they got that confused with North Western when I asked them.

After sitting out there a little while, I wrote a letter on car stationery to the folks and then went and had breakfast. In spite of the fact that we are in a standard Pullman, most of the kids have lunch baskets. I’m just as well pleased though. I’d rather live on two meals a day and have them appetising than eat the best of lunches on a train after the first day.

After breakfast, I went back to the observation car and started to read. The curly headed boy came and sat beside me. His name is Millard Mecklem and he is known as Mird. He had a volume of Robert Service’s poems, and we laughed and shuddered over “The Cremation of Sam McGee,” and “Devilish Dan McGree.”

His friend, whose name is Fred Stroeter, was asleep in the chair next to me on the other side. Mird seems to be irrepressible, for every once in a while he would come over and sit on Fred to wake him up. Once Fred picked him up and carried him to the other end of the car. Then he came back and started to talk to me, whereupon Mird came back and started all over again, and Fred went back to sleep.

Later I talked to a Wellesley college girl whose name is Margaret Pearson. She is going to the Canyon. She teaches in the Beaver Falls High school. Another dear girl is Edna Parkinson, who is also going to Canyon.

The little light haired girl who did the introducing last night is Martha McNary, and she is Miss Johnston’s niece and is to be in the newsstand at Geysers. Some of the other girls are Elsie and Garnet Rhodes, and Perla and Vessie Caughey and Dorothy Loeffler and Cora Cunningham. Also Martha McIlvain, who is nearly across from me. Just across are two boys, Archer McCartney and ------- McClellen who go to Riverside.

This afternoon I told fortunes with cards and made myself quite popular. Then I played rum with Martha M. and Mr. McCartney, and 500 with Mart and Garnet.

One of the girls whom they call “Fish” told about the work. We have boys to help us with linen and carrying water, etc., and are sure to be through by noon.

Most of the girls feel as I do that we are embarked on a romantic sort of an adventure, for they all asked the cards if they were to meet their fates this summer.

After supper tonight a bunch of us played “Pit” until we discovered Mird and Perla cheating. That broke up the game.

After we had passed North Platte, Nebraska, we saw a most frightful storm, which looked as if it were going to come rolling over the hills and down on top of us any minute. Dorothy came in from the observation car and sat in my seat and we watched it together, both too scared to say a single word. I don’t want to see anything like it again.

It doesn’t seem possible that we have all known each other such a short time. Some of the people are still a little stand-off-ish, but we really seem quite like a large family.

I was talking to a girl named Frances Cattrell this morning, who is from the University of Wisconsin, and she told me that the head of the school of journalism there is looking for a secretary. I wrote home about it immediately, and I am going to write to him as soon as I get to the Park and apply. If I only had a typewriter, I’d manage better, but anyway I’ll make a stab at it and maybe he will wait until September for me. Miss Cattrell had been offered the place, but she isn’t a typist. She said I could refer to her if I wished. Hope I land it.

June 13—
We were on the last lap of our journey to day. Stopped at Green River, Wyoming about noon and at Ogden at 4 o’clock where our car was switched onto the car that had come up from California and put on the special train for Yellowstone. At Ogden we had time to go up into the town, and I purchased some cards and some amber goggles. Some of the others had ice cream cones.

Tonight I had dinner with Miss McCutcheon who is going to Canyon. She is from Pittsburgh and a school teacher. Taught both Mird and Spooks in school. She says Mird comes from a fine family but that his father, who used to be prosecuting attorney, is going downhill awfully fast. Mird is crazy for an electrical education, but his father will never be able to give it to him. She says he was smart in school but an awfully dirty little boy.

At Pocatello we raced through the town to a drug store to get ice cream as they told us we wouldn’t see any more ice cream all summer. I made the dash with Jimmie and the boy from Newcastle who is traveling as Billie Wilson’s brother, and the latter treated. We needn’t have hurried so, but of course we didn’t know that, for when we got back we had loads of time. Dorothy danced the Highland fling on the station platform, and we danced one steps and things, to the enjoyment of the natives, and then we had a mock wedding with Mart as the bride and Spooks as the groom. They have been calling each other Friend Wife and Friend Husband ever since.

For devilment, after the train started again, some of the gang formed a chain gang and marched through the train. Garnet was sorry she went and so were some of the others, for some of the hotel help had been drinking, and one man made a grab for some of the girls and said he’d come back and see them by and by.

Mart wasn’t feeling well as a result of racing so for the ice cream, and I stayed with her.

We have been singing and giving stunts and cutting up generally. No one wants to go to bed, but the porter is going to make us. It doesn’t seem possible that we didn’t know each other at all three days ago.

McCartney and McClellen are still giggling.

Click here for part 2.


  1. Hi it's Eugenia Elsie Rhodes granddaughter and Garnet Rhodes grand niece.
    Please get in touch!
    These stories are precious to us!

  2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  3. Dear Marci
    Thank you so much for posting this precious story!
    We happened upon it when we did a Google search on my grandmother Elsie and her sister Garnet the other day. My mother's mother Elsie died when she was only 8 years old. We never really got to hear many details of her life. This trip she made across country to Yellowstone with her sister Garnet and your grandmother Beatrice and the while cast of characters on that train, sounded like such an adventure. Beatrice really makes you feel like you're right along there with them with her descriptions and narrative.
    What a precious memory for all of us to enjoy!
    Salutations to "The Wylie Savages" and to Beatrice for putting it all down on paper for future generations experience!
    Thank you
    Genie ~ Eugenia


Comments are welcome but don’t show up until I approve them. If they get lost (and sometimes they do), please try again!