Editor’s note: This is the third of five articles tracing the emergence of the Yellowstone Trail through Adams County and Hettinger, ND, in an effort to increase awareness of this historical roadway and to focus on the important part that Hettinger and Adams County, ND, played in that effort.
With dedication to J. W. Parmley’s dream and by using their own teams, tools and equipment and their own hard labor, local citizens built the road, the Yellowstone Trail (YT), from Minneapolis, MN, to Seattle, WA, and later all the way to Plymouth, MA. It only needed to be mapped and marked.
Through a system of assessments, local trail associations raised money to maintain the roadway and its markings and the Trail became official, while the parent association
set up travel bureaus, supplied travelers with maps, told of weather conditions and listed gas stations, cafes and hotels along the route. They also encouraged towns to provide campgrounds for travelers and were known to hold events on the trail, such as races, which encouraged community and traveler interaction.
The standard mark of the Yellowstone Trail was a yellow band with a black arrow pointing toward Yellowstone Park (look for these on the highway signs placed by the Dakota Buttes Visitors Council on Highway 12 in Adams County), but each community along the Trail was free to choose its own markings. Some areas used cement posts. Others painted a foot-wide band of yellow five feet above the ground on existing telephone or telegraph poles.
To mark the Trail through southwestern North Dakota and west of the Missouri River in northwestern South Dakota, cone-shaped, natural sandstone rocks were placed vertically into the earth. Many of these rocks were originally painted chrome yellow with the words Yellowstone Trail lettered in black on the rocks. In Adams County, three of those original stones remain, one in Haynes and two in Hettinger (one is on the corner of the Hettinger Community Development Office and one is outside of C & N Cafe on Highway 12). Others are waiting to be discovered.
Travelers on the Trail, which most often followed section lines (see photo), watched for foot-high metal bands bent around fence posts. When they came to an embossed “L” for left, they turned left. When they came to an embossed “R” for right, they knew they had to turn right to stay on the Yellowstone Trail. It was travel by trust. Two of these original metal bands can be seen on the Yellowstone Trail kiosk at the Dakota Buttes Museum in Hettinger.
By the 1920s, conditions on the Trail had improved so much that YT secretary/treasurer O.T. Peterson of Hettinger wrote that the trail through Adams County was in “fair condition,” a high compliment in the early 20th century, and cars could “drive through the entire county in high gear without once dropping into intermediate or low.”
The dream was now marked and the long anticipated roadway in use.