Retracing a historical adventure: Journal, book recount 1907 Yellowstone roadtrip from Butte

BILLINGS – It’s hard to imagine a better monthlong trip with friends: dancing, camping under the stars, catching large trout and seeing some of the grandest mudpots, geysers and hot pools in the world.

“It was a classic road trip with buddies,” Luke Murphy said.

Yet the adventure from Butte to Yellowstone National Park took place in 1907, its details recorded for posterity in a journal written by a then 23-year-old James J. Murphy – Luke Murphy’s great grandfather.

“The way he talks about it, it’s not really different from today,” Luke noted, equating it to road trips he took with friends in his early 20s.

In a premonition, James’ wife Agnes, upon reading the typewritten account, wrote to her children: “You could really make a good story of this if you wanted to do so. It’s great reading, especially when I remember I was ‘His Hon!’ ”

Sometime this spring, James’ detailed description of his trip will be available to the public.


In 1993, historian and author Douglas Westfall was introduced to the journal by one of James’ great grandchildren – Pat Ward-Llewellyn.

“I was totally intrigued,” Westfall said. “You’re reading the words of a guy on the trail and, odds are, nothing has changed (in Yellowstone).”

Westfall retraced the Butte travelers’ route, compiled a wealth of historical background on the park, used Richard Tolbert’s photographs of places they visited, collected old photos of the period and recorded sounds along the way, all of which he assembled into a book set to be published this spring, “A Century in Yellowstone, From the Journal of James J. Murphy in 1907.”

“I’m not an armchair historian,” Westfall said. “I have to go.”

An outdoorsy Californian who has backpacked since he was a youngster, Westfall said the journal made him feel

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