Snow is accumulating and ski trails in West Yellowstone are groomed and busy. Teams from around the west are practicing for competitions and recreational skiers are out enjoying the beauty of the trails in a way all their own. The Rendezvous Race, hosted here the first weekend of March each year, is the culmination of cross country ski racing in our region and, as the name implies, it is a “reunion of old timers and new comers alike who have trained and skied on our trail system for years or who are skiing here for the first time.” It is like a big ski party with a theme!
My thought for today is “What is in a name?”
In this case, the historic Rendez Vous of fur trapper era occurred toward the end of summer. Large groups of outfitters, trappers, traders, local native people and more, after a summer of trapping furs, met in a designated location that was decided the year before. Goods were traded for furs. The furs eventually would end up in Vancouver or St Louis typically by pack train. Jim Beckworth is often quoted when describing the atmosphere of a rendez vous
It may well be supposed that the arrival of such a vast amount of luxuries from the East did not pass off without a general celebration. Mirth, song, dancing, shooting, trading, running, jumping, singing, racing, target-shooting, yarns, frolic, with all sort of extravagances that white men or Indians could invent were freely indulged in. The unpacking of the medicine water contributed not a little to the heightening of our festivities.
Many names in the Greater Yellowstone have interesting origins. Yellowstone itself is named for the longest unregulated river in the lower 48 states. It’s true headwaters are to the southeast of the park boundaries on the flanks of Yount’s peak. As it flows north, through Yellowstone Lake
and Hayden Valley, it eventually falls over the 2 greats falls of the Yellowstone Canyon and continues north. It eventually flows into the Missouri River in northeaster Montana. Many believed the name came from the yellow colored altered rhyolite walls of the Yellowstone’s “Grand Canyon” . In fact, that is not the case. It is now generally thought the fur trappers of 1790s era misunderstood, not knowing the language well, the Crow Indian name for this river (Elk River in Crow). In the Crow language the name must have sounded to them like rock river or yellowrock river. It is reported that a 1797 map showed the name of the river as “R. des Roche Jaune” ( river of yellowrock). Today we visit the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone and the name seems to be perfectly fitting.
Another park in the GYE encompases the Teton Mountain Range, Grand Teton National Park. Early mountain dwelling Shoshone people referred the these mountains as “Teewinot” translated to “many pinnacles”. Another early term for the mountains was “hoary headed fathers”. By the 1820s fur trapper Wilson Hunt referred to these mountains as the “Pilot Knobs” as they were seen for many days and served as guiding landmarks. By this time, the mountains were already called by some “Grand Tetons” which is a French word for Great Breasts. Many believe it was given by Iroquois or French Canadian trappers from the Pacific NW.
Two great rivers have their headwaters in the GYE. One is the Missouri and another is the Snake.
I’ve referred to these in previous newsletters. Two of the main headwaters of the Missouri flow from Yellowstone NP. One is the Madison River and the other is the Gallatin River. In April 1805 Meriwether Lewis and William Clark continued their travels upstream on the Missouri with their “Corps of Discovery” after their first winter with the Mandan Indian people in current day North Dakota. July 25, 1805 they arrived to the official headwaters of the Missouri, near present day Three Forks, MT. Here the Madison River, Gallatin River and Jefferson River (which flows from very far SW Montana) join to form the Missouri.
In savvy move they named these 3 rivers for significant political personalities who were instrumental in making this journey happen. The president at the time was Thomas Jefferson who had a great interest in exploring everywhere west of the Appalachian Mountains included in the Louisiana Purchase. His interest in establishing a transcontinental trade route had a long history. His dream was to find a possible water route between the coasts. . James Madison, the secretary of state at the time, helped come to an agreement with France to purchase all lands in the Louisiana Territory for $15 million dollars.
Albert Gallatin as Secretary of State at the time was able to find funding for the Louisiana purchase without increasing taxes and encouraged the launching of the Corps of discovery.
The Snake River which flows into the Columbia and eventually into the Pacific has its headwaters in SW Yellowstone Park. The Snake is not named for a reptile but for a tribe of Indian people who’s sign language for themselves was a serpentine motion of the hand, possibly showing they considered themselves the “grass-weaver people”. These are the Shoshone people and they were living in the Snake River region when encountered by early French trappers, who misinterpreted the sign language, called them the Snake people. The mighty Snake flows from SW Yellowstone, though Jackson Lake and Grand Teton National Park and eventually through the Snake River plain in Idaho to the Columbia.
A feature most people think of when thinking of Yellowstone and that is Old Faithful Geyser. Because Yellowstone was the first National Park, some even think of this as a symbol of all national parks. This specific geyser was first documented by the Henry Washburn expedition in 1870. Members of this expedition gave this icon its same because of the regularity of it’s eruptions.
3 more names I will mention are Idaho, Montana and Wyoming. All the land considered part of Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem is within these 3 states. Boundaries of Yellowstone National Park reach across all 3 states as well, although 96 percent is in Wyoming. So I’ll start with Wyoming, the cowboy state, also known as the equality state. The name was adopted from two Delaware Indian words, MECHEWEAMI-ING. To the Indians it meant “at the big plains,” or “on the great plain,” certainly appropriate for Wyoming. A Valley in Pennsylvania was first called Wyoming. The Cowboy state, of course, comes from the wide open spaces and vast numbers of ranches and pride in the “cowboy” way of life. Wyoming women were granted the right to vote in 1869 so there would be enough voting citizens to meet the population requirement for statehood, hence the Equality State. In 1920 the town of Jackson elected a town council that was all women! (the petticoat rule!)
The elected marshall was a woman as well as were all the town administrators at that time. One even ran against her husband and won! The headlines in the Jackson hole Courier that morning of 1920 were “Women now run bad men’s town” !
The name Idaho is not as clear. Many believe it’s a made up name that doesn’t really mean anything, although other’s claiming it was a Native American Shoshone phrase: “E Dah Hoe (How),” supposedly meaning “Gem of the Mountains.” Idaho is known as the Gem State, but many call it the Potato State or “spud state” with so many potatoes grown in Idaho.
My favorite reminder of this is passing the Spud drive in theater in Driggs Idaho!
Montana is a word derived from the Spanish word meaning “mountainous.” The western portion of the state is dominated by the rugged Rocky Mountains. The eastern part of the state is not as mountainous, but wild open prairie. Another nickname “Treasure state” comes from it’s history of mining, but another name is the “Big Sky”, which is well deserved.
One last word origin to share is the word Buffalo. Is it Buffalo or Bison? Buffalo has been used in North America for years. The genus species (latin/ binomial nomenclature) of this critter is Bison bison. Buffalo comes from the French for beef animal or ox, “boeuf”. And Bison comes from the Greek word for beef animal or ox. So, it’s splitting hairs, unless you are writing a scientific paper in which case one would use the word “Bison”. Myself, I like to use both words in the same sentence. Whichever you prefer, that critter is now our “National Animal”. A majestic choice!
As we move ahead in 2020 toward Thanksgiving, we remember all we are grateful for in our lives.
My most sincere wishes to all of you for good health and peace in your lives. Here’s to hope for the preservation of all things wild.
If you have questions or want to contact me send a note to Lesliehstoltz@gmail.com