Diary of a 1908 Wagon Journey to Yellowstone & Life in Rural Wyoming

These are the summer 1907 and summer 1908 diaries of Charles S. Hoff, who is out of his comfort zone in Boulder, Wyoming. He moved to Boulder from California earlier in 1907 after the death of his wife, and he asks himself at one point why he stays. We don’t know exactly why he chose Boulder – perhaps just to get away. At the beginning of the diary, he describes life in rural Wyoming. He then embarks on an epic wagon journey to visit Yellowstone National Park.

Table of Contents

Selected Passages
Selected Images
The Diary (Preview and Reading Links)


SUMMER 1907 – PART 1 (July 1 to August 12)

In 1907, our diarist is a homesick and lonely man, even though he has friends. He misses his deceased wife terribly after her death earlier in the year. He also misses his living family, and he lives for letters from home (which he gets).

In the first part of his 1907 diary, he writes about his daily life and his community’s daily life. Some of that daily life includes extraordinary events. For example:

An automobile from Denver shows up on July 29 (first one ever in that town). Another one shows up on August 9. Then on August 11: “Another automobile came in today. Getting to be a common thing.” That car didn’t have enough gasoline to get itself back to the R.R. “He took the citizens of the place for a ride, four at a time. I was included. It was a grand day for the people.” 

SUMMER 1907 – PART 2 (August 13 to September 4)

In the second part of the 1907 diary, he takes a job 12 miles out of town mowing hay for 16 days for $2/day. He talks about what it’s like to do that gig (how the work is done, life in a tent, how the men in the camp wagon next door keep him “desperate and awake” most of the time with their card games and whiskey, the mower being mired in mud after days of rain, an abundance of sage chickens, ducks, and trout to eat). 


In the 1908 diary, he is enthralled by the natural beauty and wonders of Yellowstone. Yep, he’s off on a trip to Yellowstone National Park from August 19 to September 27 with Henry and Henry’s wife and son (also Henry), some other friends, and horses and a wagon. They see amazing animals and scenery and natural phenomena, have a few crazy experiences, meet a cowboy, and deal with the logistical problems of a road trip (greasing the wagon, fixing the harness, trying to get the horses shod). We (the reader) learn about road food and the sights/activities in Yellowstone. Who knew you can cook gooseberries and black currants on the road?


Throughout both diaries, he is gently pious. His piousness is very personal. Though he dearly wishes others could understand what he understands, he’s not pushy. His faith gives him great personal comfort.

About his wife: “Those that live in Christ never say goodbye for the last time. What a blessed thought,” he says. And: “O God, help me to be faithful that I may meet her in the future where there will be no more parting.”

About himself: “If I could live it over what a vast improvement I could make. And how I would appreciate some of the opportunities . . . I thank God for health and for the present privileges and for an appetite for spiritual things.”

He’s also gently critical.

When a lady preacher comes to town: “There did not seem to be much spirit about her talk.”

About a drunken street brawl in the middle of the night that was witnessed by two little children: “I felt so thankful that my children were brought up under different surroundings. O how I pity children that have such parents.” 

His sense of humor is also gentle: When one of “the boys” was going up to Pinedale: “I sent a quarter with him to get some quinine but he forgot the quinine and spent the money.”

He helps his neighbors as a matter of course, helps organize a Sunday school, and assists in making ice cream for the Socials.

When he’s at home in Boulder he goes a-fishing a lot, alone or with friends.

He spends the rest of his free time reading the Bible, napping, going for buggy rides, going to the Store in the evenings to hear the phonograph, reading and writing letters, shooting sage chickens to fry, and reading the dailies (“stale” because they are seven days behind). On Sundays he has a wash and shave (sometimes in a Wyoming hot spring).

When he’s not doing those things he is tending the garden, doing yard work, milking cows, feeding horses, getting kindling, helping to haul loads of hay and loads of logs, grading sage brush, grading town lots, making a doorstep, helping Henry build structures for his farm, sawing wood.

Come August 13, he is “tired of fishing and loafing,” and that’s when he hires out to Mr. Kelog to mow hay for $2 per day.

By September 4, when he’s sick of that, he goes back to Boulder. Now he’s ready to see Boulder as home. Immediately, seasonal chores are upon everybody, such as hauling clay and sand which will be used to fill up the cracks between the logs in the buildings for winter.

He much admires the beauty of the area surrounding Boulder. One day, while a-fishing with Henry, he notes, “A nice breeze from the snow covered mountains feels like the ocean breeze.”

His admiration for the timber up in the mountains is boundless: “I never saw trees and poles from the size of your wrist up to four feet through. Some of them one hundred and fifty feet high. Hundreds of acres of them. So close together you could scarcely get through them. Just as straight as an arrow. It is a wonderful sight.”


The 1908 diary is a complete tour guide for a big chunk of Yellowstone Park. You can look at a Yellowstone map from today while reading this diary and follow their progress. He mentions every river, every place of note, and every attraction. 

Things were different in Yellowstone in 1908, though. On the way in they had to register with the soldiers and get their guns plugged so they couldn’t hunt (and get their guns unplugged by soldiers on the way out). They could fish though – and fish they did! Nettie was the consistent champion fisher. And, apparently, trout cooked right where you catch it is “fine even without salt.”

Though they were camping (in tents and a wagon), he does mention two hotels. They climbed 498 steps to get to the Canyon Junction Hotel. The view of waterfalls and canyons from up there was amazing, but “after inspecting and criticizing for lack of paint, we started for camp across Cascade Creek.” There’s that sense of humor again.

Another hotel they saw “is the most expensive log structure yet devised by man, it being steam heated. It was opened for public in 1894 at the cost of two hundred thousand dollars…”

About the steam around that hotel: “steam could be seen coming out of the earth in a hundred or more places. Everything is boiling, blubbering, gurgling, seething, stinking and hissing.”

They saw elk, antelope, deer, and pelicans. They saw “three bear feeding at the hotel slop hole,” and, at another location, “we were too late to see the bear fed.” The few grizzlies they saw seemed “timid.”

Upon meeting a fenced-in meadow full of buffalo: “They came to the fence and bunched up as though they were glad to see us.”

He names and describes every natural disaster site or war event site in Yellowstone that they visited.

He does the same for every geyser, hot spring, mud spring, waterfall, chasm, canyon, bridge, river, lake, etc., they come across. He also describes petrified trees, extinct hot spring cones, steam coming out of the earth, Obsidian Cliff (the road in that area was built using heat and then cold water to shatter the glass), Five Sisters, Devil’s Elbow, Devil’s Fireplace, Devil’s Kitchen, Devil’s Frying Pan.

And, apparently, the cones created by Chocolate Springs resemble a skunk.

One night they actually camped “about one hundred yards east of Old Faithful geyser, so named on account of his faithfulness in spouting every hour for many years.”

One of their funniest adventures on the Yellowstone trip involved boiling their clothes in a geyser, and then not being able to get the clothes dry because of rain and snow. “We find this geyser is dandy but it does not work as our geyser table says…”

They also boiled their dinner in said geyser that day.

There are also some stories about the trip home from the Park, and sketches of the towns they passed through: Idaho Falls is “quite a city.” They saw sugar factories. Roasting ears were 15 cents a dozen. They had a “Missouri dinner” of “corn and hog” on one stop. They spent a night camping with hobos.

One imagines they made it home on time to help with hauling clay and sand for plugging up log buildings for winter once again.

Selected Passages

July 2, 1907 – In part:

There has been a horse race in town today. Did not go out to see it. I went over to the Store to hear the phonograph. They have a good one. They have some good music, but little church music. They sang one piece Nearer My God To Thee. This suited me the best. That is the language of my heart.

July 3, 1907 – In part:

They commenced to celebrate this morning at Pinedale, a little place twelve miles from here. Bronco riding, horse racing, dancing, wrestling, climbing greased pole, greased pig, and other things too foolish to mention.

There is a blacksmith shop just across the street from my window. They have been being there for two days shoeing some horses to work on the ditch. They are very fractious. They had one today. Had to throw him and tie him to shoe him. And then he would try to bite them whenever they got near his head.

July 21, 1907 – In part:

They had another dance last night. Kept up a racket all night. I got up at half past four. So much noise. They were just going home, shouting and yelling. They kept coming into the Hotel through the night and kept me awake part of the night.

September 17, 1907 – In part:

There was quite a little excitement in town in the morning. One of the neighbors had company. Two men and a woman came down from the mountains on a visit. Came in a covered wagon. They have a little girl about the size of Hellen.

They left their wagon standing out by the house, and the children of the town all got in it and were having a fine time. The little girl that they brought with them was standing outside on the ground. They had left a gun in the wagon. One of the children got a hold of it and shot it off. The load went through the wagon bed and went so close to the one on the ground that it blew the splinters in her face and arms. One piece hurt her ear pretty bad. The little one fainted. They thought it had killed her, but she got over her faint and they washed the blood off and she is not bad hurt. It was a careless thing to do, to leave the loaded gun in the wagon.

August 27, 1908 – In part:

Camped at old time cabin “98” west of Big Sheep Mountain where Tony Larsen lost his life in a rock slide in ‘07.

We got four sage chickens. Harry got a fine one with his rifle. Harry and I went up the creek to try the fishing. We only got three. While we were gone, Mrs. Hoff and Henry went just above camp and picked some gooseberries and black currants for supper.

September 2, 1908 – In part:

We continued up Snake River to Buffalo Creek. Crossed it on a good bridge, then turned to our left and the Government Road which runs from Lander to the Park. We crossed Pacific Creek. Just about the mouth, drove on up Snake River to Alan’s Ranch. One mile and a half below the mouth of the Jackson Lake were Sheffield Dude Camp and the Moran P.O. and the Government Dam. They have raised the water ten feet.

When we drove up here to camp today, there were several horses hitched to the trees. Seemed to be something wrong. We found that there had been an accident eight miles above here. A man and wife and girl and adopted boy, five years old, were on their way to the park. They were from Pocatello, Idaho. I believe their names were Usher. He accidentally shot himself, killing himself instantly. The girl rode down to the ranch and brought the news. Allens went up last night and brought the body down to Allen’s and packed it in ice. The family and a brother-in-law started for Market Lake with the body. With the team. Expect to ship it from there to Pocatello.

Selected Images

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Preview of Diary of a 1908 Wagon Journey & Life in Rural Wyoming

This preview of Diary of a 1908 Wagon Journey & Life in Rural Wyoming contains entries from August 1908 as the diarist, Charles Hoff, is setting off to Yellowstone.

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