Book Review: Death in Yellowstone


My aunt and uncle got Death in Yellowstone: Accidents and Foolhardiness in the First National Park, by Lee H. Whittlesey, for me as a gift.  It’s like they know me!  They have spent a couple of summers working in the bookstore near Old Faithful, so I imagine this book was screaming out at them from the shelves until they couldn’t ignore it anymore!

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First, let’s get this out of the way.  Yes, I appreciate the morbid.  It helps me cope; I get it from my mom…  But who wouldn’t want to know about all the strange and grisly ways there are to die in the nation’s first National Park?  Yellowstone was designated as a National Park on March 1, 1872, so that’s almost 150 years of opportunity to die there.  And Whittlesey has done a great job of compiling a comprehensive list of all of the deaths in the park.

There are a lot of ways to die!  He covers drownings, falling into thermals, deaths caused by horses and wagons, falls, deaths caused by wildlife, exposure, poison gases, suicides, murders and more!  Some, like deaths by wildlife, are less common than I would have guessed, with most of those being caused by grizzly bears (which is to be expected).  It also impressed upon me that you should never, ever, go roaming around Yellowstone at night, in the dark.  There are too many opportunities to fall in thermals, to fall off cliffs, to freeze to death (even if it isn’t winter), or to get eaten by a bear!  I mean I knew this already, but apparently there are people who don’t.

The writing style, leaves a bit to be desired; Whittlesey compiles information and presents it in a matter of fact manner, rather than spinning a excellent story.  At points it almost seems that bullets would be his preferred method.  That said, it is still interesting, and I enjoyed where he was able to get additional information about a victim (or a perpetrator) from the folks that knew them.

If you love our National Parks, and have a fascination with the macabre, you are sure to like this book!

3 stars.

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