SHERIDAN — Don DeJarnett didn’t imagine he’d trek miles off paved paths deep into the woods at Yellowstone National Park as a retiree. However, he did just that in researching his book “Cowboy Tales on the Eaton Trail in Yellowstone,” which published last year.
The book focuses on Howard Eaton, who gave horseback and wagon tours through Yellowstone to his ranch guests in the early 1900s. DeJarnett recreates the history of the Eaton Trail and that time period and explains why Eaton and his crews camped where they did. DeJarnett, who is from Big Horn, brought that history to life in front of about 70 people Tuesday night at the inner circle of the Sheridan County Fulmer Public Library with a presentation and accompanying map illustrations.
After attending Sheridan College, DeJarnett worked as a reporter for several years, including about two years at The Sheridan Press. He then turned to saddle making, which he was doing on the side while a reporter.
DeJarnett also worked on Eatons’ Family Dude Ranch for a few years in the 1950s. The ranch, which Eaton founded with his two brothers, has been located since 1904 in Wolf, about 16 miles east of Sheridan.
DeJarnett started working on the book in 2013 after learning part of the Eaton Trail would be closed due to budget constraints. Parts of trail are now either nonexistent or under different names, so DeJarnett wanted to learn as much about the trail as he could before it was too late.
He wanted to write the book because he had never read about where Eaton traveled and didn’t know much about the man.
“People just pulled ideas out of the air of where he went,” DeJarnett said.
DeJarnett began researching at the Yellowstone archives in Gardiner, Montana, and also spent a lot of time in the Wyoming Room of the Fulmer Library. He also traversed the 157-mile trail three separate times to be sure he had all the correct information and notable areas.
“If I’d have been organized, I would’ve done it all in one trip,” DeJarnett said.
Eaton’s first trip to Yellowstone occurred in 1884. Eaton also sold 15 buffalo to the park in 1902. Beginning in 1906, Eaton took visitors through the park for 20-day trips during summer months, which he continued for about 15 years until his death.
He often led groups of 30, 40 or 60 people. One particularly large expedition had 95 horses and seven wagons.
Eaton started by putting visitors on trains in Ranchester that took them up to Gardiner where they saddled the horses and began the expedition. Eaton wore a white shirt and tie on most exploration days. When he was ready, Eaton would yell “call to mount” and they’d set off.
Eaton also became friends with Theodore Roosevelt and was “probably one of the only guys who could call him ‘Teddy,’” DeJarnett said.
DeJarnett followed the trail as closely as he could. Among other things, he wanted to find all the group campsites and figure out Eaton’s reasons for camping where he did.
“I tried to find each spot and imagine what it would be like,” DeJarnett said. “I took pictures of every spot that I could find. Some of those I had to hike 12 or 15 miles to get to them because there’s no road close to it.”
DeJarnett also went through a ton of Eaton’s correspondences, including Eaton’s journal that he kept while traveling along the trail.
“I got obsessed,” DeJarnett said. “I’d get up in the mornings some times and it was noon all of a sudden. I just — it took over my life, but it was good. I got so many other stories in there, not just Eaton.”
Not all the stories were positive. DeJarnett said some explorers were disrespectful and threw rocks into geysers. Similarly, people tossed trash and older items into hot springs used for bathing.
DeJarnett’s book published in June 2017 and the reception has been largely positive so far. DeJarnett said he has received great response to the book in Sheridan, due in part to the Eatons’ Ranch connection.
Maybe the deep treks into woods were worth it.