Geyser Bob's Yellowstone Park History Service
Serving the Greater Yellowstone & Surrounding Gateway & Historic Communities
Wylie Camping Co.
Wylie Way Zion & Grand Cyn
Shaw & Powell Camps
Holm Camping Company
Frost & Richard
David Curry Camping
Yellowstone Park Camps Cos.
RC Bryant Camping
Old Faithful Camps
Bassett Brothers
George Huston
Smaller Camps
Wylie Camping Co.

Copyright Robert V. Goss 2014


The Wylie Camping Company, with its humble beginnings in 1883, arose to become the premier camping experience in Yellowstone National Park until 1917. Originated by William Wallace Wylie, the operation, with its goal of providing for a safe, comfortable, and enjoyable camping experience, became the standard to emulate by other camps companies in Yellowstone and other western national parks. Sold by Wylie to AW Miles and HW Child in 1905 the company continued to expand and improve the Wylie Way operations through 1916. After that time a mandated consolidation of the camping, hotel, and transportation companies by the National Park Service forced the merger of the Wylie and Shaw & Powell companies into a new organization that became known as the Yellowstone Park Camping Company. Through a succession of ownership and management changes the new company was eventually absorbed into the Yellowstone Park Company in 1936. (See my Yellowstone Park Camps Co. page)

William Wylie, a native of Ohio and later a school principal and superintendent in Iowa, moved to Bozeman Montana in 1878 to accept a position as school superintendent. His wife Mary and their children joined him the following year.  In 1880 he conducted his first commercial camping tour of Yellowstone with paid visitors.  He undertook two tours that summer and continued to explore and tour the park the next several summers.

Mary Ann (Wilson) Wylie & William Wallace Wylie
Photos courtesy Museum of the Rockies Online Archive, Bozeman, MT

In 1881 WW Wylie and Henry Bird Calfee began lecture tours promoting the wonders of Yellowstone with Oxy-Hydrogen lighted photographic slides.
St. Paul Daily Globe, 22Dec1881
In 1883 Wylie embarked on 10-day park tours using moveable camps, spending the night in various locations as he and his guests explored the multitude of scenic wonders.  He named his business the Wylie Camping Company in 1893 and received permission from the Interior Dept. to establish semi-permanent camps at various locations along the grand loop. However, he was only allowed annual permits, with no guarantees of permissions for the following seasons. Although his business generally increased in size every year, it was difficult to obtain investment funds for improvements without any security of future operating ability. Finally after several years of political maneuverings, Wylie managed to secure a longer-term lease for his operation and permission to establish permanent camps.

In 1882 Wylie published his guidebook entitled, "The Yellowstone National Park, or the Great American Wonderland."
Bozeman Avant-Courier, 31Aug1883

Undated photo of a Wylie Lunch Station, probably at Gibbon Falls.
 By 1898 Wylie had set up permanent camps at Apollinaris Springs (moved to Swan Lake Flats in 1906), Upper Geyser Basin (near Daisy Geyser), Yellowstone Lake Outlet (current Lake Lodge site), and Canyon (on Cascade Creek).  Lunch stations were established at Gibbon Falls and West Thumb.  Wylie’s camping system became popular with the traveling public as it was a less expensive way for tourists to be able to tour the park, and without the necessity of having to 'dress up,’ as was considered proper in the hotels.  A 7-day Wylie tour cost only $35.00 while the hotels charged $50 for a 6-day tour at the hotels. The camps featured a nightly campfire with songs and entertainment that helped provide a sense of camaraderie among the guests.  

Wylie camp at the Upper Geyser Basin, located on and around the hill next to Daisy Geyser.

In 1897 WW Wylie leased the Park Hotel in Gardiner MT for his tour headquarters. The Northern Pacific RR had been serving Cinnabar MT (about 5 miles north of Gardiner) since 1883 and the hotel allowed his guests coming to the park by train accommodations before or after their park tour. The rail lines were extended to Gardiner in 1903 and the Wylies prepared for this event by constructing a new hotel for his guests on Main St. opposite the WA Hall Store. The Wylie Hotel was a permanent fixture in Gardiner until early in 1935 when it was destroyed by fire. Following suit, competitors Shaw & Powell Camping Co. also operated a hotel in Gardiner, located on E. Park St. It too suffered the ravages of fire and was destroyed in 1950 (the site is now occupied by the Town Cafe & Motel).

The Wylie Hotel in Gardiner.
 YNP Archives Photo #9555

Of course Wylie was not alone in the camping business – there was competition aplenty: David A. Curry (of later Yosemite fame) conducted camp tours out of covered wagons from 1892-98; Shaw & Powell began a moveable camps operation in 1898; Frost & Richard operated from Cody WY in the early 1900s; Tex Holm ran out of Cody in 1906; Marshall Brothers camps from Livingston MT; Lycan Camping Co. from Gardiner, along with many other small operators. But Wylie and Shaw & Powell became the main competition in the camping world of Yellowstone. In 1901 Wylie accommodated 1371 guests during the season.

The Wylie Camping Company continued to prosper yet Wylie seemed to lack the financial backing to expand and improve his operation and compete with the profusion of rival camping companies. By 1905 he had been struggling in the business for 25 years and opposition from the hotel company and Northern Pacific RR had been badgering him since the early days. In addition, many of the Acting Park Superintendents (under jurisdiction of the US Army) viewed the camping companies as a necessary evil at best. It was probably a constant effort for Wylie to persevere in face of the opposing forces. Now about 57 years old, he no doubt wearied physically from his annual efforts. So, later in the fall of 1905, Wylie announced that he was selling his beloved operation. AW Miles, a prominent Livingston business purchased 1/3 of the company shares, while AL Smith purchased the other 2/3 for silent partner HW Child, who was owner of the Yellowstone Park Association hotels and the Yellowstone Park Transportation Co.

Above: 1905 letterhead with WW Wylie as Manager.                        
Right: 1906 letterhead after sale; off-season office now in Livingston.
(Courtesy YNP Archives, Letter Box 13) 

The new company was called the Wylie Permanent Camping Company and now, seemingly  blessed by Interior, received a 10-year lease for operations – the very thing Wylie had unsuccessfully lobbied for these many years. Within the next two years camps were added at Tower Junction, near the Yellowstone River, and Riverside, just east of West Yellowstone which would serve incoming visitors from the soon-to-be established Union Pacific railhead in town. The Apollinaris camp was moved to the south end of Swan Lake Flats. During this next decade the operation would be popularized as the “Wylie Way” of touring Yellowstone. Now with solid financial backing the new company proceeded to upgrade and improve operations at all the camps. They also commenced an active and aggressive advertising program under the auspices of Howard Hays, who in later years presided over the Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Park Co. and gained ownership of the Glacier National Park Transportation Co.  

Top: Roosevelt Camp near Tower Jct.                       
Middle: Riverside Camp, near West Yellowstone.       
Bottom: Swan Lake Flats Camp. YNP Archives 02817

Click Here to View 1908 Map Showing Wylie Camp Locations

Camp brochures were published every year expounding on the wonders of camp life in Yellowstone. A brochure from 1908 describes five and six-day tours costing $35.00 and $40.00 respectively. Four-room tents, along with tents having two beds and tents with single beds were available with board floors and rugs. Every tent had a wood stove, beds with fine mattresses, and "good clean sheets, blankets, quilts, etc." The tent canvas was candy-striped and meals were served in large dining tents with white table cloths and dishes.  Each camp also featured milk houses, cold storage, warehouses, photographer's dark rooms, swings, and hammocks. Transportation was provided in seven and eleven-passenger Concord coaches, or five-passenger Mountain Wagons.  Evening entertainment was provided in the form of a large campfire with singing, storytelling, games, and fresh cooked popcorn. In later years dining tents were raised a foot above ground with wooden floors and support posts, with wainscoting along the walls. Capacity was about 80 guests and recreation tents were also featured nearby.

Deseret Evening
News (UT)

In 1912 a Wylie Camp was established at Sylvan Lake on Sylvan Pass, along the route from Cody WY and the East Entrance to Lake Hotel, utilizing a lodge site that had used by Tex Holm’s operation. This move allowed the company to gain access to visitors from the Chicago, Burlington, & Quincy RR (CB&Q) depot in Cody. The travelers could enter the park through the east entrance and then exit by either the north or west entrances. The following year the camp was moved to a more convenient location down the mountain near the entrance of the park and called Cody Camp, even though Cody was 50 miles distant. 1915 was a banner year for the camps and hotel operations as the Panama-Pacific Exposition was being held in San Francisco. Travelers from all over the country flocked to the event that summer. With railroad access to Yellowstone from both the UPRR, NPRR, and CB&Q RR, visitors could easily stop along the way to or from the coast to visit Wonderland. The Wylie company shared this business boon with Shaw & Powell, the Old Faithful Camping Co. (Hefferlin brothers of Livingston), and Tex Holm, all of whom had established permanent camps by this time.
Excerpts concerning the Old Faithful display at the Panama-Pacific Exposition at San Francisco.
From a 1915 Union Pacific RR brochure, "California and the Expositions." 

Newspaper Article Regarding Tex Holm & Wylie
                         Wylie Ad Union Postal Clerk Journal, 3May1912


YPTCo Letterhead from 1923, with HW Child as President & Treasurer and son-in-law Wm. Nichols as Ass't to President.

Business settled back to normal in 1916, with the major change being that private automobiles now shared the roads with horses and stagecoaches – a combination not mutually beneficial by any means. The following year the horses were permanently put out to pasture and the noisy smoke-belching autos took over the roadways. 1917 was a momentous year in other ways for the park concessioners. The Park Service/Interior decided to put an end to the various competing camps and transportation companies. Monopolies were created that would allow for simpler management by the NPS and with expectations that eliminating the competition would allow for a greater ability for the companies to earn and invest money into the improvement of their facilities and operation.
1916 Wylie ad - Note that they are
now catering to the motoring public
01Jul1916 Salt Lake Tribune

The varied transportation outfits were consolidated into the Yellowstone Park Transportation Co. (YPTCo) under the direction of Harry Child, who already owned the hotel operations. He was force to give up his shares of the Wylie camps. 117 new White Motor Co. buses were ordered for the new season to replace the now-unemployed horse assemblage. The Wylie and Shaw & Powell companies were merged together into the Yellowstone Park Camping Co., with 51% of shares owned by AW Miles and the rest by Shaw & Powell. Transportation would be provided by YPTCo. The other camps companies were basically shuttered from the park. All the camps were closed except the former Shaw & Powell camp at Upper Basin (Old Faithful), the Lake Outlet Wylie camp, Canyon Shaw & Powell camp (current Uncle Tom’s Trail area), Tower (Roosevelt) Wylie camp, and the Riverside camp. The Riverside camp would soon be shut down and construction of a new lodge and tent cabins at Mammoth began in 1917.

 It was the end of an era in Yellowstone and the cultural landscape would be changed forever. The tent camps were gradually transformed into more formal lodge operations. The tent houses were eventually converted into wood cabins and rustic log lodges were erected at each site to provide for meals, recreation, entertainment, and quaint lobbies where guests could gather around a crackling fire to swap adventures and tell tall tales.  

(See my Yellowstone Park Camps Companies page for additional info)

Mammoth Camp

Canyon Lodge

Lake Lodge

Old Faithful Lodge

Roosevelt Lodge

(Click on photos to enlarge and click on Lodge titles to access my Hotel & Lodge pages)

William and Mary Wylie eventually retired to Pasadena CA. This pause in their business life was not to last for long.  With urging by the newly-established National Park Service in 1917, the Wylie family resurrected the Wylie Camping Company in Zion NP and at the North Rim of Grand Canyon NP to serve the tourists that were only just beginning to discover these new Wonderlands of the Southwest. The Wylies of course faced the same financial limitations as they had in Yellowstone. They ultimately relinquished control of the Zion camp in 1923 and Grand Canyon after the 1927 season to the powerful monied-interests of the Union Pacific and the Utah Parks Co. Once again, retirement was short-lived. In 1928, Mary Ann (Wilson) Wylie, age 73, slipped away to be with her Maker. William Wylie, suffering from cancer, followed her to the grave on February 7, 1930, at about 82 years of age. Both are interred at Mountain View Cemetery, Alta Dena, California.

Little remains of the permanent camps in Yellowstone. There are no brochures,  monuments or plaques to note their former glory or existence. And yet, countless millions of visitors have strolled by or driven past these sites with no comprehension of their rich history. However, intrepid and knowledgeable explorers can still wander about and find traces of these historic sites and imagine themselves back in those days of yesteryear and perhaps visit the ghosts of former days.

For more detailed information on the camping companies and Harry Child's involvement with the Wylie company, see:
"When Harry Got Taken: The Early Days of the Yellowstone Camps."
by Mark Barringer, Annals of Wyoming magazine, Oct 1997.

Copyright Robert V. Goss 2014

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