Sunday, July 12, 2015

September 2013: Yellowstone, Doing the Right Thing

Grave of Mattie S. Culver

There is a serene little grave at the Nez Perce Picnic Area on Fountain Flats in the Lower Geyser Basin in Yellowstone National Park.  The inscription reads,

Mattie S.  
Wife of 
E.C. Culver
March 2, 1889
Aged 30 Years

I have known about Mattie's Grave for many years.  My family picnics at that site most years on Yellowstone trips and I have introduced many people, family and friends to this location.

Mattie was the wife of E.C. Culver, the winter proprietor of the Marshall Hotel at Fountain Flats.  For a long time I believed it to be the Fountain Hotel, but discovered recently there were two hotels in close proximity to each other.  The Marshall Hotel came down shortly after the Fountain Hotel went up.  The Fountain Hotel came down shortly after the Old Faithful Inn went up.  I have seen the evidence in the ground of the Fountain Hotel but have not yet determined the location of the Marshall Hotel.  I would like to do so.

Mattie died of tuberculosis and because she died in March when the ground was still frozen, her body was stored in two whiskey barrels, end to end until the ground thawed enough to bury her.  I always pay my respects to Mattie when I go to the Nez Perce Picnic Area.

When I was about fourteen, I had some friends that were seasonal workers in West Yellowstone.  They are the ones who introduced me to Mattie's Grave.  They told me of the hotel that used to be there.  They also told me that when dishes or plates were broken in the restaurant, the workers would throw them into Nez Perce Creek or the Firehole River.  Then they showed me how you could wade out in the creek and pick up the white "rocks" and they would be pot shards.  They also told me they had found forks, knives and spoons at that location.

I was fourteen years old and didn't really know better, and I took two pieces of broken plates home with me.  It didn't dawn on me that I had done anything wrong.  Where is the line between trash and archaeology?  I kept those two fragments for many years and as I grew older, I began to feel guilty for having them.

Two pot shards from Nez Perce Creek in Yellowstone

I had them displayed in my office and would look at them periodically.  I decided I needed to put them back where I found them, thirty-seven years earlier.  We planned a trip with friends to go swim at the Firehole and when we were done, I made a side trip to Mattie's Grave and waded into The water near the confluence of Nez Perce Creek and the Firehole River and threw the plate fragments back.  I felt good about that.  I still feel good about that.  I had felt guilty for thirty years or so about that.  Now I feel right about it.  It was the right thing to do.

Me and the pot shards at the confluence of Nez Perce Creek and the Firehole River

Wading out

First shard going home

The wind up for shard number two

Goodbye pot shard, hello peace.
I'm glad I did this.  It was the right thing to do.

1 comment:

  1. Hello Gary! David Viney here, from the Playmill Theater 1975 - 1976 seasons. I love your stirring tribute to Maddie, and remember going there with you and my Mom Sarah all those years ago (I think we may have been the seasonal workers you mentioned). I imagine I have spent at leat a couple of hundred days of my life there reflecting on the impact her solitary gravestone makes on people.

    The Marshall Hotel was actually in the flats right across from the entrance to the picnic area where Maddie's grave is located, quite close to the river. For many years you could still see some of the bricks from the hotel around the hot pool on the slight rise to the South of the road.

    It is great to see you and your family are well and still living in the area we both love, this specific blog brings many good memories back to me, as I have thought fondly of all of you over the years, and of course still make sure I find my way to the Playmill when I am in West Yellowstone.

    I have great memories of those years in West, and the kindnesses you and your family showed to me. I was again reminded of John and Trudy's courtship the 1976 season, and was pleased to see they are back again this year at the Playmill, carrying on the old traditions.

    I am sorry for you and your family's loss of your father in 2007, I remember reading his obituary shortly after his death. He was a great man personally, and a creative force that has molded untold amounts of people's lives that he had taught and touched.

    It is nice to see you and your family, and I will be interested in continuing to read your blogs. Since I remember you as being a little quiet, with just the right thing to say that would always surprise people with it;s directness and wit, it is very entertaining to see the fantastic usage of phrase you have these days!

    Thank you again for bringing warm thoughts of all those years ago back, and I hope to maybe cross paths in the future.

    David Viney