August 4th, 9:31pm
After two full days in the library, we thought we had a good handle on the vast literature of Yellowstone. After an hour’s conversation with Lee Whittlesey, Park Historian for 16 years, we realize that we’ve only scratched the surface.
Originally from Oklahoma, Lee came to Yellowstone on a family trip. He recalled attending an employee party, and thinking it magical - he had to find a way to be here. After studying law, he felt more compelled to live and breathe history, returning to school to receive a master’s degree in the subject. “The number of big animals. The 10,000 hot springs, geysers, mud pots, and steam vents,” he started. “We have petrified trees. We have the big canyons. We have the tall waterfalls. We have every kind of natural feature that is in every other national park… I could argue that this could be called Yellowstone National Historical Park. Because it’s got the deep history. It’s also got the deep nature and the deep science. The complexity is what has kept me here all these years, because you can’t ever know it all or learn it all.”
With bubbling enthusiasm and an encyclopedic memory, Lee recalled the facts, figures, explorers, characters, and stories of Yellowstone’s near 150-year history. In fact, it was Lee that started the extraordinarily popular “Death In…” genre of books with his book, “Death in Yellowstone.” He told us which stories and books not to miss, and which ones to avoid. We left the meeting in a daze, as excited as ever, but also more intimidated, to tackle the vast collection of stories of Yellowstone National Park.