Death in Yellowstone
By: Lee H. Whittlesey

Quick-take: Interesting, but long-winded.

Dan's Review

I recently went on a trip to Yellowstone National Park. Like many other visitors, I was curious about some of the crazy stories from our nation's first national park (est 1872). The tour guide had plenty to tell.

I then stumbled upon this book: Death in Yellowstone. Upon reading a few chapters, I soon realized that this must be the source material for all Yellowstone tour guides to tell visitors.

It is basically a catalog of all the deaths in Yellowstone since its founding... the who, how, and when. And sometimes why, if there is an interesting story behind it. Also included are surrounding areas if it happened very close or was obviously Yellowstone-related.

I must say, it can be a fascinating topic... to an extent. After a few chapters, I started zoning out a lot. It started becoming endless, "Joe Bob, 35, in 1887, fell off his horse and was trampled to death." Repeat for a dozen chapters.

Perhaps because my mind was fresh, but I found the very first chapter interesting. I'd like to think it is also because the types of deaths are unique to Yellowstone: Death in Hot Water. Yellowstone has numerous hot springs. When I say "hot", I mean boiling. Some can be up to 180 degrees F (82 degrees C).

The deaths must be unimaginably painful. The book goes into detail for a few of them. One stuck out for me. It was the same one told by the tour guide.

Dogs are not allowed off-leash in Yellowstone. This is because they are bad at heeding warnings of hot water, and their droppings can introduce nasty germs. Anyway, a man's dog ran and jumped into a scalding hot spring. I think the book said 160. The man ran after it. He was told by several around him, "Don't go in the water!" The man replied, "The hell I won't!" And he dove... completely submerging himself. He never retrieved the dog, but he did manage to get out. They said his skin started falling off from the extreme scalding. His eyes were completely white as he was now totally blind. However, he was oddly calm. He said, "That was dumb of me. How bad am I?" He died the next day.

There are several serious injuries and deaths related to saving dogs from hot pools. This stuck with me because I have 2 puppies that I absolutely adore. I could see myself struggling very hard to ignore their screams if they jumped in. Fortunately, I also know the best answer is to not let that situation ever happen: I simply do not bring them.

There were several deaths by animals. Surprisingly, there were not many deaths by bears. Bears tend to injure, not kill. The most deaths were by the bison (I saw hundreds at Yellowstone). The bison killed because people misjudged how tame they are. The bison suddenly decides it needs to protect its food or children.

This triggered an interesting commentary by the author. Often after animal deaths, a lawsuit follows. The family claims these animals are dangerous and should be put away or there should be more signs. The park resists, basically saying, "This is a protected wilderness. The animals are WILD, and that is the point. If we put signs and fences everywhere, the place will cease to be a nature preserve." The author agrees with that sentiment. It is a difficult balance of keeping the area pure and protecting/warning the visitors.

Lastly, one other interesting tidbit. There was a major fire in 1988. It burned roughly 1/3 of all of Yellowstone. The major takeaway in the book: Nobody died in this event. That is amazing. Major kudos to the firefighters, organizers, etc that worked that fire.

Score: 3/5. I thought it was interesting, but I would have preferred an abridged version covering maybe the top 10 juiciest stories.

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