THE LANGUAGE OF YELLOWSTONE by KAREN BARNETT

If I were to drop the words “dudes” and “sagebrush” into a conversation, you might picture cow-punchers out riding the range. Those words probably wouldn’t make you think about hotel maids at Yellowstone National Park, would they? But that’s exactly where my mind goes!

 

Elsie Brookes, the heroine of my new novel, Ever Faithful, works as a hotel housekeeper in 1933 Yellowstone in order to save money for her lifelong dream of attending college. These words are slang terms she and her friends would probably utter on a daily basis. While doing research for the story, I spent several days leafing through historic documents in Yellowstone’s Heritage and Research Center [https://www.yellowstone.org/heritage-and-research-center/] located in Gardiner, Montana. The archivist told me that the college kids who worked for the Yellowstone Park Company’s hotels, lodges, and campgrounds back in the 1930s were known as the “savages” and actually had a unique lingo all their own. Rather than calling themselves maids, dishwashers, and waitresses they were pillow punchers, pearl divers, and heavers. Porters were known as packrats, and the good-looking fellows hired to drive the yellow tour buses answered to “gear-jammer.”  

 

Even the visitors were labeled in fun ways. A tourist who booked a trip on the park’s stagecoaches or touring buses was called a “dude” or “dudette.” Those who stayed overnight in the auto campgrounds were “sagebrushers.”

 

I couldn’t wait to start peppering this slang into my characters’ dialogue. But one of the best finds was yet to come. When I discovered the term for romantic relationships in Yellowstone, I knew I’d struck story gold: rotten-logging. Doesn’t that make you picture an adorable couple sneaking away to smooch in the woods?

So when my novel’s hero, Nate Webber, takes Elsie for a romantic walk, the other “savages” would joke that he’s out “rotten-logging with a pillow-puncher.”

Tell me that doesn’t make you smile!

 

How about this song from the Yosemite Park Camping Company songbook? (Shared courtesy of the Yellowstone Heritage Center).

 

Rotten logging, rotten logging,
That’s what we do each night;
Strolling along under Yellowstone skies
Whispering secrets and making up lies.
They may all say, to hug and to kiss is a crime,
But as soon as it’s dark in Yellowstone Park
It’s rotten logging time.

The fun stories and songs made working in Yellowstone’s hotels sound a bit like going to summer camp, though I imagine the labor wasn’t easy. Last month I took my family to the park to celebrate Ever Faithful’s release, and I had a chance to talk with modern-day equivalents to my characters. Many things have changed since the 1930s. When I asked about the slang terms, they all agreed that no one used them anymore, though they could rattle them off without prompting.

As one of the housekeepers at the Old Faithful Inn fixed a problem in our room, I talked to her about what it was like to work in the hotel. She mostly had positive things to say, though I’m sure they’re warned about complaining to the “dudes.” When I asked about her future plans, she gave me a huge smile and told me she’s been working hard and saving her money. She dreams of going to college.

 

I guess some things don’t change.

 

 

To celebrate the release of this new novel, let’s give away a paperback copy of Ever Faithful! (Winner must be 18 years and older and have a US mailing address).

 

 

So, if you were going to sign up for a summer job in a national park, which one would you choose? Please tell me in the comments below!

 

 

 

Bio: KAREN BARNETT is the award-winning author of Where the Fire Falls and The Road to Paradise and five other novels. A former park ranger and outdoor enthusiast, she loves to share her passion for God’s creation in her books. Karen lives in Oregon with her husband, two teens, and three attention-starved dachshunds.

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60 Comments

  1. Just bought my own copy last week looking forward to reading it.

    1. I hope you enjoy it, Kim!

  2. Oh this book sounds so great I really would love to read it. I guess my summer job at the hotel for summer would be a pillow puncher. This is a wonderful informative blog thanks for being on Petticoats and Pistols today

    1. I’m not sure I’d make a great pillow puncher, because I’m not a fantastic bed-maker. Though I suppose they learn fast!

    2. I would prefer gear jammer but I’m not a dude, my second choice would be pilliw puncher. Looking forward to reading your National Park Series.

  3. Welcome Karen- You have me very intrigued. I visited Yellowstone 2 years ago and waited on the semi-circles bench for Old Faithful to greet me. He is one impressive geyser. It amazed me how right before he gushed hundreds of people emerged to see his beauty.
    The Inn at Old Faithful is very impressive, we didn’t stay there but did walk around downstairs in the lobby.
    Very interesting the slang they used back then.
    If I was going to work in a National Park I’d want to be a tour guide. I imagine everyday would be something new to see, even though you may give the same tour day in & day out, no day would be the same.
    Thanks for sharing such grand info of Yellowstone. Have a wonderful day & weekend!

    1. Avatar

      I should have known we would both pick Tour Guide!

    2. That would be my vote, too! I’m not great at making beds or washing dishes–but I can talk and tell stories!

  4. I have been to Yellowstone National Park. I never knew about the slang. What a wonderful thing. I would like to be a guide.

    1. My family actually went on one of the historic yellow bus tours. The tour guide was fantastic!

  5. Avatar

    Great story. I love old facts about things like this. I think I would be a tour guide. I’ve done to much pillowpunching in my life already. I was a pillowpuncher for 16 years and that’s way to long. Hugs and thank you.

    1. I struggle to make my own bed, so I think I’d make a lousy pillow puncher. Hahaha! Thank you, Charlene.

  6. I guess I would have to be a pillow puncher. Your book sounds fantastic and I would love to read it.

  7. I enjoyed this ost. I think I would be a pillow puncher. I need to get this book.

    1. Thank you, Cathy! I don’t think I’d survive long as a pillow puncher. Haha!

  8. It was interesting hearing about the words they use. I would be so lost if I overheard their conversations. If I worked at a park, I would probably work at a hotel too, maybe a maid since my waitressing skills were tested when I was younger and I did excel at it. But I was a good bartender. if they had a bar, I might work in it.

    1. They have bars now, but I’m not sure about 1933 when Ever Faithful is set. I know national Prohibition ended in 1930, but I don’t know if Yellowstone was still “dry” or not in that era.

  9. Thank you for sharing your interesting post! I love Yellowstone! I would be a dudette!

  10. What a fun blog to read! I’ll not think of Yellowstone in the same light again. The poem was so fun too. Loved your thoughts and also an opportunity to win a book. Thank you! History … how we can learn so much fr9m it!

    1. Thanks, Kathy! It does make you think differently, doesn’t it?

  11. Great post about Yellowstone. Guess i would be a pearl diver.

    1. Thanks, Estella! You’re the first one to volunteer for that post. My daughter’s best friend took a dishwashing job this summer in a local restaurant. It’s too bad they don’t still use that term!

  12. Avatar

    Fun blog! If I were to work at a National Park I would want to be a tour guide. I’d love teaching the history, interacting with the tourists and answering their questions. I’ve yet to get to go to Yellowstone or that area of the country so I love reading about that area in books. Books are my only form of vacation because I’m disabled and my income doesn’t afford me the benefit of true vacations. I have MS and I’m very heat intolerant and I’d love to live up in that part of the country instead of where I live in hot and humid East Texas. I’d love the opportunity to read your book I haven’t read one of your books as of yet. These terms used are too funny! I have to say though that “rotten-logging” doesn’t sound romantic to me though. Lol Best of luck with your new novel!

    1. Thanks, Stephanie! I worked as a park ranger for several years led a lot of guided hikes and such. It IS fun to interact with the visitors and help open their eyes to the incredible wonders around them. I’m sure you’d be great at that!

  13. What a fun post! Since I love looking at nature but am not a very outdoorsy girl I would like to give lectures about the wonders of the national parks ;-).

    1. Thanks, Sally! That’s basically what I did as a national park ranger years ago. It’s a very fun job!

  14. Such a fascinating post which I enjoyed greatly. Being a tour guide would be a wonderful experience.

  15. Interesting and captivating history. I would enjoy the job of a dudette. Thanks for this chance to learn so much about a beautiful place.

    1. My family had fun being dudes and dudettes on our recent trip to Yellowstone. 🙂

  16. What fun it would be to be a tour guide especially on outdoor jaunts/hikes or even on one of the coaches. Otherwise I’d be punching pillows so I’d know how to make a bed fast as I rarely make up ours!

    1. They still do stagecoach trips in the park, too. I want to do that someday.

  17. I’d want to be in education for k uh ds in the park.

    1. They definitely need educators!

  18. Great post. I think it would be fun to work at one of the historical parks that does “living history” where the people doing presentations dress and act as a character of the time period the park represents. When we visited Fort Laramie the “soldier” stayed in character no matter what question an audience member asked. I do think that would be a very different experience from working at Yellowstone or Glacier or any of the other parks.

    1. I’ve always thought that would be fun, too!

  19. Your post was so informative. I would have loved to have the job as a pillow puncher. Sounds unique and different. Your books are a delight.

  20. I think I would sign on to be a medic. My goal would be to help patch up tourists from their minor mishaps so they could get back to enjoying their stay! Just now finishing my second read through of “Where the Fire Falls.” Looking forward to reading the other two books in your National Parks some time.

    1. That’s a good one, Mary! I’m sure there’s a lot of demand for medics. 🙂 Both Yosemite and Yellowstone have small hospitals, too.

  21. Hi, I would sign up to be a tour guide, I think that would be very interesting! This book sounds like a pretty good read. I would love to read it , I really love the cover also. Thank you for sharing the pictures and teaching us some things. Have a Great weekend. God Bless you.

    1. Thanks, Alicia! I’m always happy to pass along things I’ve learned.

  22. I think I’d like to work in the souvenir shop and get a chance to find out where everyone is from, although working with the public can be trying at times!

    1. There are a lot of those jobs at Yellowstone. I was amazed at how many shops they have in the park!

  23. My summer job would be fire watch. To be in the high place gazing at all the beauty while looking for signs of a fire.

    1. Great job for an introvert, right? Lots of time to ponder the view.

  24. What a fun post! I would love to have been a hotel desk clerk or possibly a waitress. You get to meet a lot of interesting (and not so interesting) people and hear a little of their life story.

    1. And I loved chatting with all the Yellowstone staff on our most recent visit. They’re really a great bunch this year!

  25. Welcome today or rather yesterday. LOL I would love to go to Yellowstone. I would love to work in the shops where I could meet people and share some of the history of the park. I love Yellowstone. Especially the wildlife.

    1. It’s such an incredible place. The great thing about working in a park is that you get to spend all your off hours there, too!

  26. When I was much younger, I wanted to work in a National Park. I really wanted to go to Montana or Wyoming and be a Park Ranger. My Mom talked me out of that idea! I’d still love to go out West someday, though!1

    1. I worked as a park ranger career for about five years (seasonally). It was a really fun job!

  27. I have just recently read The Road to Paradise and loved it! I am really looking forward to reading Ever Faithful. I was at Yellowstone many years ago and it was beautiful! Seeing as I am not outdoorsy, if I would have worked in a National Park, I’m afraid I would have to be a pillow puncher, pearl diver, or heaver.

    1. I’m so glad you enjoyed The Road to Paradise, Colleen! I still miss those characters!

  28. I’ve been a sagebrusher many times. We took our kids camping in every state west of the Mississippi (except Alaska and Hawaii), and Yellowstone is still a favorite for everyone. I’ve run commercial dishwashers at a church camp, so I’m inclined to say pearl diver…until I think about them probably not having the equipment that makes it relatively painless. So, maybe an undercover dudette checking the quality of service?

    1. I bet you have some wonderful camping memories from all of those trips! We splurged on our Yellowstone trip this year and stayed at the Old Faithful Inn. So I guess we were dudes this time!

  29. We have been to Yellowstone twice and will likely go again. If I were to work at Yellowstone, I would like to work with the Park service doing nature programs for adults and children. It is such a special place in so many ways. It is a shame if people go there and don’t learn just how special it is. Thanks for the information on their slang. It is an interesting part of the history of the place we would rarely discover.

  30. I’d be the Bean Counter!

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