Home Science and Nature Vermont’s Truman Everts: Unlikely Pioneer in Yellowstone

Vermont’s Truman Everts: Unlikely Pioneer in Yellowstone

His career change from tax collector to explorer didn't go so well


Two hardy Vermont men, Truman Everts and Henry Washburn, helped conquer the wilderness of Yellowstone National Park, but it’s a stretch to say they won. The park killed one of them and nearly killed the other.

Perhaps a lesson was learned: political appointees don’t make good explorers. Everts was a hopelessly nearsighted 54-year-old tax collector and a lousy woodsman. Washburn had been appointed surveyor general of Montana but didn’t have the most robust constitution.

The Old Faithful geyser

Truman Everts

In 1864, Truman Everts of Burlington was appointed tax assessor for the Montana territory. The 1861 income tax, the nation’s first, paid for the Union military in the Civil War. It also launched an army of tax assessors and collectors across the nation that kept busy until 1873.

Everts went west and began collecting taxes, informing businesses that they needed to pay fees to the government. He also adjudicated disputes over who owed how much money.

Truman Everts

Truman Everts

Everts, a Republican, backed Abraham Lincoln. After Lincoln’s assassination his brand of Republicanism fell out of favor. The radical Republicans took the majority in Congress and nearly chased Andrew Johnson out of the presidency. The ensuing turmoil disrupted the futures of lots of Republican appointees.

Along with Everts, the Montana tax collector Nathaniel Langford had also run into political difficulty. President Johnson had nominated him to become governor of Montana, but the Republican changing of the guard torpedoed his career.

Another former Vermonter, however, was on the rise. Henry Washburn, originally from Windsor, had been a Civil War general and Republican congressman from Indiana. Ulysses Grant, who led the radicals into control of the White House in 1868, had appointed him surveyor general of Montana.

Henry Washburn

Henry Washburn

Arriving in Montana, Washburn was determined to conduct an expedition to Yellowstone. A former employee, David Folsom, had explored Yellowstone in 1869. He told Washburn about what he had seen while exploring the area. The region’s geysers, hot springs, lakes and mountains made a strong impression on Washburn.

With a small contingent of army soldiers, and private funding, Washburn began to put together his own expedition. It included the two tax collectors, Langford and Everts.

The group set off on August 17, 1870. With two sons of Vermont on board, what could go wrong? Plenty.


It would be charitable to say Everts, the tax assessor, was an unlikely choice as an explorer. He had no hope of seeing without glasses. And at 54 years old, he was the oldest in the group by far.

Everts’ first trouble was sickness. On August 24th and 25th he couldn’t leave camp. Just trying to keep up with the group exhausted him. But that was just a preview of what was to come. On September 9, he got lost. Separated from the group and its army escort, he proved a hapless woodsman.

His first step, upon discovering himself lost, was to climb to the rocks for a better view to see if he could get his bearings. However, he did not bother to tie up his horse. He caught his last sight of the animal as it ran off into the woods carrying all his weapons, bedding, tent and supplies.

Truman Evert's horse abandons him

Truman Evert’s horse abandons him

Truman Everts, Hapless Explorer

While all accounts of the trip described an almost limitless bounty of fish and wildlife, Everts couldn’t catch anything to eat other than a bird. At night, he slept near the hot springs to stay warm, which worked well enough until one night he rolled into the boiling spring. It badly scalded him.

After 11 days, it occurred to Everts to try to use his field glasses lens to start a fire. With the fire at his disposal, he gathered up thistle roots, which he boiled and ate.

Armed with a supply of boiled roots and his fire for warmth, he expanded his range in hopes of finding a way out. The fire posed its own challenges to Everts, however. One night he started a forest fire and burned down his shelter, scorching him in the process.

He would go days without eating. And he would go days without finding water, despite the lakes and streams that surrounded him. He lost his glasses and was treed by a mountain lion. He was down to a reported weight of 55 pounds when his rescuers found him. Everts’ companions, who had given up hope for finding him themselves, posted a reward for anyone who could bring Everts back.

Two miners took on the job of tracking Everts, and 37 days after he got lost, they found him, delirious and skeletal.

Truman Everts meets his rescuers

Truman Everts meets his rescuers

Despite Everts’ dramatic ordeal, the journey was actually harder on his fellow Vermonter Washburn, though his story was less dramatic. The rigorous trip and the cold weakened him, and he died the year after it ended. Friends said he never recovered from the trip.

Aftermath of the Expedition

Grand Prismatic Spring, the largest hot spring in Yellowstone

In the aftermath of the expedition, several participants published their story.  Everts published a detailed account of his odyssey in Yellowstone in Scribner’s Magazine. In it he described his hallucinations, his run-ins with animals and his desperate efforts to survive. Despite the bizarre nature of his adventure, his story helped build support for turning Yellowstone into a park.

With his health restored, Everts continued his political machinations. He declined the unsalaried offer of becoming Yellowstone’s first superintendent, an offer that Langsford accepted. Instead, Everts took an active role in Republican politics, working for Horace Greeley’s quixotic 1872 effort to oust President Grant.

Everts did finally find a way back on to the government payroll, however, in the more sedate capacity working for the post office in Hyattsville, Md.

Truman Everts, Ingrate

Everts was not remembered as a gracious man by his rescuers. First, he refused to pay the reward that his friends had promised on his behalf. And later in life, when one of his rescuers met up with him, he was so rudely received that he said he wished he had let Everts find his own way home.

Mount Washburn with mountain sheep, Yellowstone National Park

Visitors to Yellowstone will encounter three reminders of Vermonters Everts and Washburn. Mount Everts , at 7,900 feet, was named because of its proximity to the spot where Everts was located, though he never got near to climbing it. The Everts Thistle, the plant that he lived off of, was named for him and can still be found in the park.

And of course the Washburn Range and Mount Washburn are named for Henry Washburn, leader of the expedition.

Mount Washburn By Partytimeusa – Own work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=34597438. Grand Prismatic Spring By Frank Kovalchek from USA – Grand Prismatic Spring, Yellowstone National Park, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=34191702. Old Faithful By Grahampurse – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=55467618 This story last updated in 2023.



Kathy Caslin December 4, 2013 - 10:48 am

Really? Discovered? I have a feeling the local native tribes knew the mountains were there. http://nativeamericannetroots.net/diary/688

Truman C. Everts was part of the... - 1sec.eu April 3, 2015 - 10:45 am

[…] Sources: [1] [2] [3]) For more facts, follow […]

Ultrafacts: Truman C. Everts was Part Of The 1870… | JustaFact June 17, 2017 - 8:55 pm

[…] Sources: [1] [2] [3]) For more facts, follow […]

Comments are closed.

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Join our mailing list to receive the latest artciles from the New England Historical Society

Thanks for Signing Up!

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Join Now and Get The Latest Articles. 

It's Free!

You have Successfully Subscribed!