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Geyser Bob History

 Yellowstone’s Legendary Stage Driver:
Geyser Bob

By Robert V. Goss, Copyright 2016

“A lady once asked Geyser Bob how he got his picturesque name.  “Well,” said the old stage driver, “I clum up on Old Faithful one day and got too near the crater and fell in.”  “How interesting!” commented the lady.  “What happened?”  “Why,” said Bob, pointing to the Beehive Geyser across the Firehole River, “I came out of the Beehive - over there.”  “Well!  Well!  How long did it take?” “Oh,” said Bob, “if I had come straight through it would have taken about ten minutes, but I stopped along the way for a haircut and a shave!” Such is the extraordinary tale imparted by stage driver Robert C. Edgar, aka “Geyser Bob” to one of his charges in Yellowstone National Park. It is one of numerous anecdotes that “Bob” fabricated to amuse and confuse his guests.

Robert "Geyser Bob" Edgar, courtesy Montana State University Special Collections, #509

The hey-day of stage transportation in Yellowstone was between 1883 and 1916. In 1883 the Yellowstone Park Association, who was establishing a series of hotels in the park, contracted with Wakefield & Hoffman to provide stagecoach transportation in the park. There were several changes in operational management until 1898 when the Yellowstone Park Transportation Co. took over with Harry Child as a co-owner. His company was in charge of transportation operations until 1936 when the hotels, lodges, boat, and transportation companies were merged together into the Yellowstone Park Co.  
The stagecoaches were driven by a fascinating set of characters that sported monikers such as, Cryin’ Jack, Scattering Jesus, Pretty Dick Randall, Society Red Malon, old Dad Craft and Big Fred. They related a variety of stories and tales about the park to their charges, not necessarily allowing the truth to get in the way of a good story. One of the greatest prevaricators was the legendary “Geyser Bob” Edgar. Newspaper accounts and books of the era abound with his inventive and spellbinding yarns. As told by one local wag, “Now Bob didn’t always confine himself to the truth; in fact, he handled it sort of recklessly.” Having spent thirty years driving coach in Yellowstone, “Bob” may have labored the longest of any of the drivers in this capacity.

Robert Edgar's Early Life
According Hiram Chittenden, in his book "The Yellowstone National Park", 1915 edition, Robert C. Edgar, alias “Geyser Bob” was born in Liverpool, England on July 13, 1840.  He came to New York with his parents as an infant and lived in the Bowery during his childhood.   Other accounts note that he served his country during the Civil War.  He went west after the war and wound up in the Dakota Territory where he drove a mail stage into Montana and no doubt other local routes.  He lived for a time among the Sioux Indians on the Missouri River and was adopted by one of the tribes, acquiring the name Pose-e-ton-ka.  It was reported he drove there for about 20 years, part of the time from the Northern Pacific RR’s line in North Dakota to Montana.  It is claimed he carried wounds and bullets in him received from Indians and bandits.  He was known as one of the most daring men in the employ of the government in that wild and savage country. The pioneer was able to speak the Indian language and this allowed him to make many friends among them, which greatly aided him in his work as driver through that wild country.

NPRR Map, excerpt from St. Paul to Mont. ca1900
The Northern Pacific Railroad completed their route to the West Coast in 1883, which no doubt spelled the end of mail and passenger stagecoach travel along the main line. Bob certainly would have been exposed to the NPRR’s advertising campaign that extolled the wonders of Yellowstone National Park and may have been lured there by the promise of a job and an exciting new adventure in Wonderland. He reportedly started his driving days in the park in 1883, probably with the Wakefield and Hoffman Stage Line and eventually drove for the Yellowstone Park Transportation Co. 

Another story about how Geyser Bob received his appellation . . .

"The real version, as told by the old fellow, was that he was continually pestered by questions of tourists.  One day a cultured lady from the East, who was receptive to any story told of the park, plied Bob with innumerable questions.  She asked Bob if any one had ever fallen into a geyser and lived.  ‘I told her that one time I was walking near the Giant geyser at Old Faithful basin and slipped in,’ said Bob.  ‘The water carried me through the channel underground so fast that I did not have time to get burned and washed me up into the crater of Old Faithful and then threw me out.  The lady believed the story and thought it was so good that she pointed me out as a world’s wonder and the boys christened me ‘Geyser Bob.’” [Anaconda Standard; 1913]

Staging in Yellowstone
When Bob began driving coach in Yellowstone around 1883, life became considerably less violent than in the wild Dakota days, although there were five stagecoach holdups in the park between 1887 and 1915. Accidents were not uncommon, but Bob claimed “he never lost a trip” in his 30 years of driving in the park. In the April 1898 issue of the Overland Monthly and Out West magazine, there is an excellent article entitled “Knights of the Lash,” authored by journalist and former American Civil War correspondent Ben C. Truman in 1888. By that time Bob had already gained his sobriquet of 'Geyser Bob'. The Anaconda Standard reported in 1913 that, “The name [Geyser Bob] stuck to the veteran and tourists began to ask to be given Geyser Bob as their driver . . . His crude mannerisms only made him a greater favorite.  He was as gruff to a member of the President’s cabinet, a multi-millionaire or foreign royalty as to the most common tourist.  He was typical of the old-time West, which he saw in his wildest times, and he knew no class distinctions.  On numerous occasions some of the moneyed tourists felt that they had been offended by the curt answers of Bob.”
It is said that Geyser Bob was a teetotaler, perhaps an anomaly amongst the rough and tumble “Knights of the Lash.” In that 1898 article, Ben Truman declared, "Bob never indulges in anything frowned upon by the Prohibitionists - not even beer.  He said to me once when I offered him a bottle of beer: 'I never drink whisky or beer.  Water is good enough for me.  Even hogs don’t drink rum, you know, why should men and women?'  But if any person had attempted to deprive Bob of his cigars or fine cut there would have been a ‘kick’ in the Yellowstone that would have made the denizens thereof imagine that the ‘formations’ near the Mammoth Springs hotel had been struck by a double back-action cyclone.  Bob is fifty-seven years old and weighs 190 pounds and is as good natured as a drug-store cat."  

Overland Monthly and Out West Magazine, Vol. 31, April 1898
“Knights of the Lash.”

"It is said he got his name from the fact that he once slipped and had one of his feet badly burned in a geyser.  Others maintain that he won it from the fact that he often told tourists he had once fallen into a geyser crater and was thrown out of Old Faithful geyser 100 yards away.”  [The Anaconda Standard; 1913]

Another and more expansive version claims that “many years ago he fell into Old Faithful and emerged nineteen months later in the mud geyser, away across the mountains and the woodlands.”  [The Gardiner Wonderland, 8/21/1902 - “Dudes Are Amused”]

The Anaconda Standard reported in 1913 that, “Geyser Bob probably was the recipient of more tips than any driver who ever held reins in the park. The old fellow many times received tips of $50 and $100 for a single trip.” He had the reputation of having conducted more notable personages through Wonderland than any other driver. As he approached his 60th year of life, handling the 4-horse stagecoaches apparently became too much for the old veteran and the company transferred him to running the surreys and smaller outfits. He was still a popular driver and was often specifically requested as a driver.
As Bob grew older, no doubt the intense Montana winters took a toll on him. He had accumulated some savings over the years and decided to journey south to spend the winters in balmy, sunny southern California. It was a move that many of the notable Yellowstone employees and concessioners indulged in, including Charles Hamilton (Hamilton’s Stores), the Henderson family (Cottage Hotel), the Klamers (OF Lower Store), Jenny Henderson Ash (Mammoth general store), and the Trishman sisters (Mammoth-Canyon general stores).

Yet another version: "One of his numerous versions of the origin of his nickname is the following:  Early in his career as Park driver he was asked by a tourist why his face was so red for one of his apparently temperate habits.  He explained that he was once looking into the empty crater of a geyser which had just ceased erupting.  Slipping on the wet formation he fell into the crater, far down into the hot interior, but was immediately blown out in a renewed eruption.  His brief bath in the boiling water permanently lobsterized him in appearance.  Thereafter on the trip his passengers called him Geyser Bob, and the name clung to him ever afterward."  [The Yellowstone National Park - 1915 Edition, Hiram Chittenden]

Tall Tales, Whoppers & Yarns

About the Magical Powers of Alum Pool
(Supposedly near Old Faithful, although a search of park literature turns up no current information about that pool. However, Alum Creek in Hayden Valley reportedly held the same ‘shrinkative’ powers and was the source of many other ‘tall-tales’ in the park.)  "One day as Bob approached Old Faithful with his coach full of naïve tourists, he related this story:  'This pool [Alum Pool] is so strong with alum that it is used to sprinkle the park roads to shorten the distance between hotels. That’s how strong its puckering powers are, ladies and gentlemen.  Right in this pool a stage coach containing seven passengers and drawn by four big horses were so shrunk up by the power of the alum when the coach was pulled out on the opposite shore the tourists had dwindled to dolls, the stage coach to the size of a baby carriage and the horses to Shetland ponies.'”
[Anaconda Standard; 1913]
  Shrinking Shoes and Buttoning-Up Bob
“Some up-to-date Chicago ladies were among Bob’s charges, and he told them all about how a young lady who had bathed her feet in Mammoth Springs had reduced their size so she was able to wear a No. 3 shoe, when No. 7s were formerly the size required.  One bright little lady eyed Bob suspiciously for a moment and then suggested if he would soak his head in those springs a time or two he would probably be able to wear a No. 1 hat.  Let it be said to Bob’s credit that he has never from that day to this told any ‘fairy tales’ to lady tourists, but is as silent in their presence as an Egyptian mummy.” 
[The Gardiner Wonderland; 6/5/1902 - How Lady Tourist Silenced “Geyser Bob.”]

Sneaky and Sinister Serpents
“The yarn that Geyser Bob liked to tell best was of the timid eastern lady tourist who expressed a deadly fear of snakes.  Her continued expression of fear on this score made Geyser Bob nervous and he determined to give his questioner a real scare.  As Bob drove his surrey past the terraces above Mammoth Hot Springs he suddenly halted the team.  Nervously he handed the lines to the timid tourist.  Bob walked silently up and down the road and without saying a word, returned to the rig.  The curious woman had to ask what he was doing, and Bob replied: ‘Last time I came up here a big snake jumped up and bit the wagon pole.  His bite was so bad that the pole swelled up so much that it forced one of the horses over the cliff.’  ‘That lady never asked me another question,’ said Bob when he told the story to the tourists.  It was his way of informing people in his coach that he did not want to be a question box.”  
[Anaconda Standard;/1913]

Beer Baseball - A True Story
In 1908, the Livingston Enterprise reported an account of Geyser Bob participating in a unique event. The article described a beer baseball game played in Gardiner between the ‘Fats’ and the ‘Leans,’ where a single earned one beer and reaching third base merited three beers. Famed sand artist Andrew Wald was the ‘bartender’ and manned the keg of beer located at first base. The game was umpired by none other than the famous stagecoach driver and storyteller “Geyser Bob.” Although lasting only two innings due to rain, the game was nonetheless exuberantly regaled as, “one of the most exciting played in Montana.” The Leans triumphed by a score of 14 to 6. Of course, even without the rain storm, after twenty round trips past third base, it is likely the teams may have been too befuddled to compete effectively through additional innings.

Having A Wee Bit o’ Fun
Regarding a fellow named Hall from Washington who was in the park and preached a sermon at Old Faithful: “Wall, us drivers had heerd tell as how this Hall was puverful smart at sermonizin’, so we all piles up ter the chapel.  I ain’t much of a judge, but I think it was about as ordinary a piece o’ preachin’ as I ever heerd.  Never heerd a shout from the amen benches, an’ not a soul got religion, an’ I don’t think much of a parson as can’t stir up more excitement than that.  So my pal, Geyser Bob, he was there an’ said ‘I bet I know a feller as can empty that whole room quicker than a coyote can kick.’  ‘All right,’ sez I, and I knowed there was going’ ter be some fun, but I was a bit afraid that Bob was a goin’ to shoot.  But he didn’t.  He just yells in the door, ‘The Beehive is spoutin!’ an’ inside of ten seconds there wasn’t but six people in the house besides the preacher, an’ he sez quick as a wink, fer I think he wanted ter git out himself: ‘Brethern, I think we better adjourn the meeting ter see the Beehive.” [San Antonio Daily Light; 10/24/1891 - “Celebrities in Yellowstone Park.”]

Petrified Parable
Bob was crossing Hayden Valley with a party of tourists.  ‘Do you see that range of mountains on your right?’ asked Bob.  ‘Folks, that is Specimen Mountain, everything petrifies there.  The trees, pine cones and everything there.  Once there was an elk walking down a steep ridge.  He came to a ravine and tried to jump it and he petrified in the air and is still there.’  This was a little too strong for his party.  One of them spoke up, ‘Bob, didn’t you know that couldn’t be?  The gravity would have brought the elk down.’  ‘Well,’ said Bob, ‘I don’t know what the hell gravity is, but it was petrified too.’”   [Randall, L.W. (Gay), “Footprints Along the Yellowstone,” The Naylor Co.]
  The Fastidious and Intelligent Bear
“Arriving at the Canyon hotel, Bob always told his party that the bunkhouse used by the drivers was the scene of wonderful animal intelligence.  He related that one night when a driver, returning late to the bunkhouse used by the drivers, crawled into his bunk he felt a bear in his bed.  Too frightened to move, the driver lay in the bunk until morning, when bruin crawled out.  Each night the bear returned.  One night bruin was missed.  Inquiry showed that the custodian of the bunks had forgotten that day to change the blankets, as the custom was each week, and the bear, disgusted at this lack of attention, refused to return and sleep in unwashed bedding.”   [Anaconda Standard; 1913]

Park Stage at Mammoth Hot Springs,
Detroit Photographic 8801

Departing Stages at the Lake Hotel,
Detroit Photographic 8814

Who or What Was a Stage Driver?                                                                                         
Known by many names, such as “Knights of the Lash,” a “Jehu” or “Whip,” he generally was a skilled operator and treated accordingly and often was much more esteemed than the millionaire traveler sitting next to him. In the vast majority of cases it was indeed a ‘he.’  Although the rare woman coach driver wailed the whips along the alternatively dusty, muddy, snowy, bumpy and oft-time primitive roads of the West. One famous driver in California - Charlie Parkhurst, drove coach for over 20 years and reportedly shot two bandits, lost an eye from a horses’ kick, chewed tobacco, smoked, drank and gambled with the boys. Upon his death ‘Charlie’ turned out to be ‘Charlene’, much to everyone’s surprise. Some of the Jehus were young and green, but most were grim and grey professionals. Some never indulged in wine or spirits, some occasionally partook and others could not keep their teams on the road unless they stopped to have a “couple of fingers” along the way.

The drivers sported colorful nicknames such as Lonesome Red Hank; Kid Orum - The Undertaker;  Ned Laddy Foreman; Pretty Dick Randall; Society Red;  Cryin’ Jack; Big Fred; Scattering Jesus;  Baldy Green; Buffalo Jim; Curly Bill and other such monikers.  During the early days in the West the life of a whip could be perilous.  An article in a 1906 Lincoln, Nebraska newspaper claimed “The stage driver took his chances and counted himself lucky if his skin would hold whiskey without leaky and annoying bullet holes at the end of his run.  The road he must travel was no more than a trail and one of his chief concerns was to keep in it during the wearing night hours.”  [Overland Monthly and Out West Magazine, Vol. 31, April 1898; Lincoln Daily Evening News, 5/19/1906 - Overland Stage Days]

A "fast, skillful driver," 1682, from Jehu, a king of Israel in Old Testanment, who "driveth furiously" (II Kings ix.20).  Online Etymology Dictionary

Yellowstone Park Transportation Co. drivers in 1909. Standing in front og the gardiner horse barn (now Gardiner Bunkhouse). Althoug these men were Tally-Ho drivers, their dress was the same as the coach drivers.
From L to R: Wallie Walker, Harry Lloyd, Al McLaughlin, John 'Daddy' Rash,
Jack 'Johnny' McPherson

Geyser Bob Passes On . . .
On Friday, August 22, 1913, at about age 73, Bob was driving his surrey of tourists around the park on the segment from Old Faithful to Lake Hotel when “he was suddenly taken ill.” Several hours later, Robert “Geyser Bob” Edgar died at Lake Hotel. It has been said the cause was pneumonia. Without warning, Yellowstone and the West lost one of its most picturesque characters, forever depriving wide-eyed tourists of being enthralled with his fantastic yarns. After over 50 years of driving mail coach and stagecoaches, he would flick the lash no more. I think the story of his celebrated life and death can best be told by the following respected tributes that paid homage to one of the more beloved characters in Yellowstone past:

He Passes Away Near Yellowstone Lake,
In Country Where He Lived and Loved Its Many Wonders

News reached Livingston this morning of the death of one of the old landmarks of Yellowstone National Park, the country of thousands of wonders, and the country that gave a home to the deceased. The name of the old pioneer that has passed to his reward is Robert Edgar, but more familiarly known as “Geyser Bob.”

His age is not known, but oldest residents of Livingston and Park county remember “Geyser Bob.”  He was among the first persons they met when locating in Montana from the east, and since that time the acquaintance formed in the pioneer days has long since grown into something more substantial friendship.

“Geyser Bob” was known to “Billy” Mitchell, the latter connected with the Sheriff’s department, and the deputy, when asked how long “Geyser Bob” had lived in this country, he answered this way: “Geyser Bob lived in the park when the geysers went down instead of up, and when the Yellowstone river emptied into the lake instead of into the Missouri.

Deceased spent most of his time driving teams in the park, although according to Judge Harry Dyer, another old friend, the dead pioneer saw much experience, and at one time was agent for Park transportation companies years ago, he meeting tourists and escorting them to the Park entrance.  In fact, according to the judge, “Geyser Bob” was a great entertainer, and it was his pleasure at that time to tell stories of the frontier days and look after the wants of the visitors.  As a story teller, he perhaps had no equal in the state; vast was his experience of the early parts of Montana. Easterners touring the Park would sit and listen to “Geyser Bob’s” quaint yarns for hours, apparently never tiring.

The Park pioneer never married, for he loved too well that freedom which permitted him to get close to nature and which enabled him to never utter a care to tomorrow. He had a wonderful memory, it is said, one in which he was able to immediately call the name of any person he met, maybe years before, all of which endeared him to the heart of the tourist. No one who has visited the Park could afford overlooking privileges; it was a privilege say those who knew him, of meeting “Geyser Bob,” because so full was he of information of nature’s wonderful, that the tourists who did not form his acquaintance missed a treat thereby.

Details regarding the funeral are meager, but it is reported that he will be laid to rest near the spot where life left him - among the beautiful geysers and in the bosom of the towering mountains whose peaks were prettier to him than the tallest and most costly building ever erected. There his remains will rest in nature’s breast until probably the day when all of us shall be summoned to render an accounting of our lives on earth.

With his departure, a wave of general sorrow has overspread the country. Tears of friendship are freely flowing, and hundreds of persons in the east and other sections of the country, will learn with sincere regret that “Geyser Bob” is no more.  To use the press phrase, “30” has been sent in for the remarkable man, and the curtain pulled down on his simple, yet not unuseful career. [Livingston Daily Post; Saturday, August 23, 1913]

Geyser Bob's Last Ride
’Geyser Bob,’ the famous stage driver of Yellowstone park, known to a very few by his real name of Robert Edgar, died as he wanted to die. The picturesque character, who was an attraction rated with the geysers and the wonders of the national playground, had often expressed the desire that he die with his boots on. In 30 years he had boasted that he and never lost a trip. Geyser Bob probably established a record for stage driving, for in the 30 years he was in the park the grizzled old man, who at the time of his death had pushed past the 70-year mark, had made the circuit not less than 16 times a year and rolled up a grand total of 100,000 miles. Geyser Bob, who was a gruff old man, at times had made the boast that he would establish a mileage record that would never be reached. In addition to the 100,000 miles recorded in the park, Geyser Bob had driven coaches from North Dakota into Montana for 20 years. His body passed through Butte yesterday for California, where, as the veteran had requested, it will be buried. He died suddenly at the Lake Hotel Saturday. At the time of his death he was driving a party around the park.” 
[Anaconda Standard; 1913]
Funeral Services
The funeral services of "Geyser Bob" Edgar were held in Gardiner on Monday, the body resting in state at the church from 10 o'clock in the morning until 2 in the afternoon. The funeral was the largest attended of any ever held in that quaint city. Twenty-six carriages were in line. The stores were all closed during the afternoon. The floral offerings were many and beautiful. The services were conducted by Rev. J. P. Pritchard. Interment was at the Gardiner cemetery. "Geyser Bob," the oldest driver in the Park, who has driven tourists through for thirty years, was known throughout the state and by tourists from all over the world and his many friends around Gardiner and in the Park liberally contributed floral offerings and literally covered the casket. P. J. Thielen of this city of the Krieger Undertaking company was in charge of the arrangements. 
[Livingston Enterprise; 1913]

After 1916 the stagecoaches and herd of “weed-burners” were somewhat ignobly retired and replaced with a fleet of 117 White Motor Co. buses, operated by the Yellowstone Park Transportation Co.  Some of the stage drivers were able to switch over to become “gearjammers” for these new “auto-stages,” but others, hopelessly lost in the modern technology and realizing that “Whoa” and “Giddyup” would have no effect on these contraptions, could not, or would not make the changeover. 
Geyser Bob was an out-spoken foe of the horseless carriage and did his best to influence the minds of tourists against allowing these abominations into the park. It is probably best that Geyser Bob rode on to the pastures and dusty circuits of the 'great beyond' before the stagecoaches and noble steeds of Yellowstone passed into oblivion and replaced by the noisy, smoke-belching horseless carriages. 

Robert Edgar
Died at
Yellowstone Lake
Aug. 23, 1913
Aged 70 Years
Erected By His Many Friends

L: Gardiner Cemetery Tombstone.
Photo by author.
R: YNPTCo stage number 13.5 in front of the National Hotel in Mammoth. John L Stoddard V10


Robert Edgar, otherwise known as
and by his tribe as Pose-e-ton-ka
Born in Liverpool, England
July 13, 1840.  Departed for
the Happy Hunting Grounds
August 23, 1913 at Yellowstone Park.
'A friend to every man - every man his friend'
God rest his soul."

[The Yellowstone National Park,
by Hiram Chittenden, 1915 Edition]

Copyright 2016 by Robert V. Goss. All rights reserved.
No part of this work may be reproduced
or utilized in any form by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or by an information storage and retrieval system without permission in writing from the author.

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