By: Peggy L Henderson
In 1870, an expedition set out into Yellowstone to document the wonders of the area that so many fur trappers had talked about, but not many people wanted to believe. It was called the Washburn-Langford-Doane expedition, which consisted of nineteen men and forty horses.
One unlikely man who joined this strenuous expedition into the wild, uncharted territory of Yellowstone was a 54-year-old former assessor for the territory of Montana by the name of Truman Everts. For him, it was the chance of a lifetime to explore where not many men had gone before.
By September, the expedition reached Yellowstone Lake and were getting ready to head back to Helena. Often during the expedition, the party would split up as various groups went to explore different areas. It wasn’t uncommon for members of the party to separate from the main group for a day or two, but they always met up again.
One day, while the main party made their way through thick timber between Heart Lake and Yellowstone Lake, Everts became separated from the group. This didn’t cause much alarm for anyone, since it often happened. Even Everts wasn’t worried about it. He made camp and figured he’d meet up with the party again the following morning.
The next day, he set off in the direction the party had been traveling, certain that he’d meet up with them for breakfast. He became disoriented, however, in the forest. He also made one serious mistake – he got off his horse and didn’t tie the animal properly while he tried to find a way through a particularly dense area. The horse ran off, carrying all his gear and supplies - blankets, guns, everything. He had only the clothes on his back, a couple of knives and a small opera glass.
This was only the beginning of a series of unfortunate events for Truman Everts in one of the most amazing survival stories ever. He became completely disoriented at this point. Rather than heading toward Yellowstone Lake where he might have met up with his party, he went further south, where he encountered snow and rain. Due to the bad weather, he camped in a thermal area to keep warm, He managed to catch a small bird to eat, but nothing else, and after being lost for eleven days, he was able to finally make fire using his opera glass.
He lost his two knives that he’d carried, but once again was able to improvise using a belt buckle and fishhook out of a pin. He lost these items when he accidentally started a small forest fire and severely burned himself.
Everts’ party had waited for him for several days and sent out a search team, but as the days passed and the weather got worse, they had to start heading back to civilization. They left food for Everts in various locations, but Truman never found them.
For 37 days, Everts stayed alive eating nothing but the roots of elk thistle, which is today known as Everts Thistle. He walked, crawled and struggled his way around Yellowstone Lake and down the Yellowstone River.
In mid-October, he was finally found by two men – Jack Barronnett and George Pritchett, who were offered $600 to go out and search for him by Everts’ former companions to find and bring back his body for proper burial. Noone expected to find him alive. Barronett almost shot him, thinking he was a bear crawling among the rocks. Everts was delirious, covered in burns and frostbite, and weighed in at around 55 pounds.
One man stayed with Everts to nurse him back to some strength, while the other made a 75-mile trip back to Helena, Montana, to get help. When it was time to collect their reward, Everts refused to pay his rescuers, saying he could have made it out alive by himself, and said they had been offered the money for a body, not a live man.
Everts gained a lot of publicity for his harrowing tale and was even honored by being offered a job: first superintendent of the new Yellowstone Park in 1872. He turned the job down, because there was no salary for the job. A year after his ordeal, he published an account of his survival journey titled “Thirty-Seven Days of Peril”. He lived until 1901, dying in Maryland at the age of 85, apparently none the worse for wear from being lost in the first national park.
Peggy L Henderson
Western Historical and Time Travel Romance
“Where Adventure Awaits and Love is Timeless”
Award-Winning and Best-Selling Author of:
Yellowstone Romance Series
Teton Romance Trilogy
Second Chances Time Travel Romance Series
Blemished Brides Western Historical Romance Series
Wilderness Brides Historical Romance Series