West Yellowstone Is Open For Business
As soon as word was out about the coming of the train, ideas for businesses at the end of the line began to sprout. The area now occupied by West Yellowstone was part of the Madison National Forest. Forest officials carved out a six-block area for merchants who could provide necessary goods and services to the railroad and its passengers. Leases were available for $10 per year. Four enterprising men, Joe Clause, Sam Eagle, Charles Arnet, and L.A. (Dick) Murray were the initial lease holders. Their new companies greeted that first passenger train on June 11, 1908.
Just what were these enterprises? Eagle and Arnet both operated general stores. Both were familiar with Yellowstone tourists from their previous endeavors. Eagle had worked in the park as a bartender and fishing guide. Arnet had owned businesses in Gardiner, just outside the north entrance to Yellowstone. Joe Clause had offered horse and wagon trips into Yellowstone National Park from Henry’s Lake in Idaho. He moved his storefront into town for the convenient location at the park entrance and to serve the tourists arriving there by train. Dick Murray was a local homesteader who saw the arrival of the train as an opportunity to build a hotel, and later a pool hall and dance hall. He had formerly provided hay for the livestock in the park.
Other businesses followed in quick succession. Some, such as the blacksmith shop and the veterinarian, provided support for the stagecoach lines. Others added more services for the tourists. In 1909, The Bryant Way, a camping company from Salt Lake City, opened a hotel, mainly to offer their camping guests an overnight stay indoors before they began their tours of Yellowstone. The Madison Hotel was the first lodging that catered to the needs of travelers demanding more sophisticated accommodations. Now the town had everything a tourist could need for comfort and entertainment!