As artist-in-residence, I curated an exhibit at the Madison Museum: letters from three eras of Yellowstone visitors (on foot, by horse-drawn carriage, and by automobile), a range of writing implements from the quill pen to the laptop computer, and a display of photographs by Mode Wineman, taken while he was a member of Calvin Coolidge’s party, in 1927.
I also wrote letters every day, to family and friends, and hung a different one on the wall each morning alongside the historical artifacts. It was fun to watch tourists come across the new letter amidst the old ones, then glance around guiltily as they realized that the personal details they were reading corresponded with a person who was living in the same moment as themselves. Twice my own letters were stolen from the museum, which I considered a gratifying critical response.
Here’s the most important sentence from the first recorded letter mentioning the Yellowstone region, from trapper Daniel Potts to his brother in Philadelphia, July 8, 1827 (courtesy Yellowstone National Park Archives):
“Write me immediately on the receipt of this . . . giving me the price of Beaver.”