When President Ulysses S. Grant signed the bill establishing Yellowstone in 1872, it became the first national park in the world. Today it is one of the crown jewels of our National Park System and is high on the "bucket list" of most Americans for a visit, at least once in their lifetime. Generally, the tourist will allot two to three days to "do" this park, and they will certainly hit the high spots: Old Faithful geyser, the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone with its thundering waterfall, and tantalizing glimpses of its wildlife. But, what if you could spend the entire summer in Yellowstone--not just once, but twice? What memories and sights would you have stored up?
In May of 1935, when I was three-going-on-four, my dad took a temporary assignment at the fish hatchery in Yellowstone National Park. The hatchery and staff housing were situated on the shore of cobalt-blue Yellowstone Lake. I had the privilege of tagging along with my father when he had to go on errands to various parts of this park full of wonders: the steaming geyser fields, the wildlife, the magnificent scenery.
Main Hatchery Building--2007
The cabins for Lake Hatchery staff--as they appeared in 1983.
|Our home for those summers was one of the cabins situated behind the hatchery. Today, the cabins and the rest of the Lake Hatchery buildings, all constructed in the National Park Service "rustic" style are designated as an Historic District.|
HISTORY OF THE YELLOWSTONE LAKE FISH HATCHERY
By the early 20th Century, a number of hatcheries were established in the park by the U.S. Bureau of Fisheries including hatcheries at Yellowstone Lake and Soda Butte Creek. The current Lake Fish Hatchery replaced an earlier hatchery at Lake. These hatcheries not only produced stocks for the park, but also took advantage of the great spawning stock of Cutthroat trout to supply eggs to hatcheries around the U.S. Between 1901 and 1953, 818 million trout eggs were exported from the park to hatcheries throughout the U.S.
The hatcheries and stocking operations had both positive and negative impacts on the quality of angling in Yellowstone National Park in the first half of the 20th Century. Many native populations were displaced by non-natives, but there was quality brown and rainbow trout fishing in the Firehole, Madison and Gibbon river drainages. Stocking and hatchery operations had had an overall negative impact on the Yellowstone cutthroat and Westslope cutthroat populations and in 1953 the National Park Service began closing the hatcheries and stopping stocking operations. The last fish stocked for the benefit of anglers was in 1955 after some 310 million fish had been released in park waters since 1889. The last hatchery was closed in 1957.
The district was originally under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, but with the cessation of hatchery operations, it is now owned by the National Park Service. The hatchery messhall became the office for the southern district of the park. The former bunkhouse also became Park Service offices. The Lake Hatchery was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on June 25, 1985.
The hatchery grounds were filled with entertainment for a little girl. I was at the tea partying age and now, I had the hatchery mess hall cook to dote on me! I don’t think the mess hall diners ever saw the smaller pieces of the mess hall china, like the little butter plates and cream pitchers--I had them all to play with! And, someone arranged for me to have an empty bear-trap box as my playhouse. I wish I could find a snapshot of me, and my Yellowstone tea-party chums, sipping “tea” from the mess hall dishes, while ensconced in a big bear-trap box, turned on its side!
1935Barbara, in front of our cabin
Barbara and "Buck" a "bear dog"
Alphonse Kemmerich, at Spring Creek National Fish Hatchery, Underwood, WA
My father, Alphonse Kemmerich, devoted a good bit of his memoirs to his experiences
during the summers of 1935 and 1937 at Yellowstone. Here's one excerpt.
Feeding the Bears
We also went down on at least two occasions to the bear feeding grounds located several miles outside of the Canyon Hotel area where the Park Service had constructed a large open amphitheater with a stoutly-built cyclone fence. This was on a slight slope so everyone could sit on log benches and get a good view of the big concrete feeding platform, about 100 yards down the hill.
The garbage collection trucks would dump the day’s collection of garbage and everybody was put inside the fenced area where there were at least half a dozen rangers with high-powered rifles to act as guards. Within a short period after the garbage was dumped, the grizzlies would start to emerge from the wooded areas surrounding there. They would go out on the platform to get their daily rations.
On one trip I recall, I think there were 56 grizzlies and one black bear on the platform at one time. That was probably the largest collection of grizzlies in the 19th or 20th centuries, anywhere in North America.
One of the very best bear stories I ever heard involved those young men.
The nearby Yellowstone Lake Hotel was a popular spot then, especially on weekends when they held dances. The young bachelors who lived and worked at the hatchery would go over to the dances, and often took a short cut through the dense pine forest between the hotel and hatchery.
On a Saturday night, one of the fellows was walking home, after the dance, through that dark pine forest when suddenly, he dimly saw a figure standing in the trail, blocking his way. He thought some of the other young men were playing another prank, dressed up in one of the bear hides that were stored at the hatchery. Deciding to “teach them a lesson,” he approached the upright figure and punched his fist right into what he thought was the other man’s midriff. Instead, he hit not somebody's solar plexus, but the deep furry chest of a grizzly bear!
It must have been hard to know who was more surprised--him or the bear! The bear let out a grunt, but by then, the young man was racing along the path, hardly touching the ground until he was safely back at the hatchery.
summers later, in 1937, my father was again assigned to the hatchery at
Yellowstone. He arrived at the park in May, before Winter had
really loosened its grip on the park. He spent the first two
months of the season opening up all the hatchery buildings after
thelr long, cold hibernation. There were also a couple
outlying cabins used for taking eggs at more remote locations.
When he reached one of the cabins, he was astounded at what he
found. It seems one or more grizzly bears had decided to do their
hibernating inside the lonely little cabin and in the process they
pretty much destroyed the cabin's interior. Everything was torn up,
furniture broken, and the most impressive evidence of a grizzly's power
was the lid insert from the cast iron cook stove which he found embedded in a rafter!
Noel, in Grama Jessie Pressentin's arms, Pauline and Erma
at our cabin door
Big sister Barbara with new brother, Noel
outside our cabin
park was a popular place, even though the nation was still smarting
from the long Depression. Every day, the long yellow touring cars
would stop at the hatchery and tourists would troop into one end of the
hatchery where a raised platform let them watch the hatchery men as they
worked over wooden trays full of chilly water and little fish.|
At one time that summer, my dad was told that a retired Army Air Corps officer, "Colonel Pickering" and his party would be spending a few weeks on Peale Island, in a remote corner of Yellowstone Lake. A small cabin had been erected on the island for the use of the hatchery "egg harvesters" who lived in the building for about two months each summer while they gathered and shipped fish eggs to the Lake hatchery. Because of its secluded location in the south arm of Yellowstone Lake, this island cabin was also used by "VIP's." To the present time, it houses the President of the United States when he remains in the park overnight.
One day, I went along on the speedboat ride out to Peale Island, to play with the Colonel's two little girls. The Colonel served us all Coca Cola, which he prepared with Coke syrup and soda water from a siphon bottle. I'd never seen either--that was my very first sip of Coke.
Peale Island Cabin
But the really Very Important Person visiting Yellowstone Lake that summer was ex-President Herbert Hoover. He was an avid fisherman, and my dad was assigned to accompany Mr. Hoover on a day of fishing on the Lake. The ex-president seemed to enjoy his outing with Dad, and they had some interesting conversations about the future of industry in the U.S. Hoover talked of how someday the mobile home and travel trailer industries would be big business in this country. He didn't talk of his presidency or his defeat by Roosevelt.
previously received instructions to again proceed to Yellowstone
Park--this time to take charge of all fish cultural activities in the
park during the 1937 season, so I left about May 20 and went up
there. We had a very successful season; we collected more black
spotted trout eggs than had ever been collected at any place where
that species of trout eggs was handled. We also made record
collections of rainbow trout eggs and Montana greyling. All together,
I think our total collections exceeded fifty million eggs that
On August 7 of that year Herbert Hoover came to the park and the Lake Station and wanted to go fishing on the south end of Yellowstone Lake. We took him and three of his party, mining executives from Arizona, down to Peale Island with Ned Tuttle and me accompanying them. Mr. Hoover and I took a rowboat at Peale Island and struck out to do some trolling. We finally wound up on the sandspit where he loved to wet-fly fish. We spent about three hours there and he really enjoyed himself. I don't think he had ever caught as many fish at one time as he did then. He was using barb-less hooks and would release those that weren't injured too severely. We had our lunch together there--a sack lunch had been prepared at the main station before we left. We discussed a number of things, about the conditions throughout the world and in our country. He talked of how someday the mobile home and travel trailer industries would be big business in this country. He was very interesting to talk to. As an individual, he seemed very commonplace.
On returning to the dock at Lake Station Mom and Barbara got to meet the President and then he invited me to have dinner with him and his party at the Lake Hotel. I got our Ford car and Mr. Hoover rode with me and some of the other men to the hotel. We had dinner with him there. Subsequently Barbara received a complete skirt, blouse and sweater set from Mr. Hoover--he had one of his assistants purchase it at Bullocks' department store in Los Angeles and send it to her. Barbara got to wear that when she started school at Underwood that fall.
It was a big day when the package from Bullocks arrived at our home at Spring Creek fish hatchery in Underwood, Washington. When I started first grade that fall, my very special first-day-of school outfit was President Hoover’s gift. I don’t think they had “show and tell” at the Underwood elementary school in 1937. Too bad, I had quite a summer to show and tell about!
Just a few days ago, I had a reminder of that Yellowstone summer in 1937 when I met ex-President Hoover.
The senior retirement center where I now live had an outing to Newberg, Oregon for a "wine country" lunch and tour of the "Minthorn-Hoover" house, built in 1891 and where Herbert Hoover lived for the formative years of his adolescence. Orphaned at 9, when he was 11 years old he was sent to live with his mother's brother, Dr. John Minthorn, a physician in the small Oregon town of Newberg in the northern Willamette Valley. For two and a half years, Hoover attended Friends Pacific Academy, a Quaker institution.
Later he was in the inaugural class at Stanford University graduating in 1895 with a degree in geology. He quickly became a successful mining engineer in Australia. The Minthorn-Hoover House museum displayed photographs of Hoover's successful humanitarian efforts during World War I, when he managed to supply the Belgians with enough food to survive the war and occupation by Germany. He is credited with saving close to 10 million lives—about 2 million in northern France, and approximately 7 million Belgians.
While my father's impression was that Herbert Hoover was a "commonplace" man, his accomplishments were certainly out of the ordinary. I've done a bit of reading about President Hoover and have concluded that history has not played fair with him.
Barbara at Mammoth Hot Springs
Glenn at Mammoth Hot Springs
Barbara Halliday, April 19, 2013
For more information about the Yellowstone Lake fish hatchery, see: