Colter's Hell

 On the northern edge of modern-day Cody, Wyoming, is the Shoshone River . . .

and where it flows, there is the strong smell of . . . rotten eggs!  

Early mountain man and explorer John Colter first recorded his impressions of this area from his solo explorations when he separated from the Lewis & Clark Expedition, in 1807.  His vivid descriptions resulted in the nickname "Colter's Hell".  

The river rolls through a volcanically active region, with the smell coming from the sulphurous emissions of steam vents and a mineral spring that actually comes up into the river. That smell led to area Indians naming it the "Stinking Water River".  

The Crow Indians had been, for many years, frequent visitors to the Stinking Water.  Around 1860, the tribe had established a permanent camp for the sick, and, as they welcomed members of other tribes, there was a strict “no fighting zone" policy.  There are many tales told of animals bathing injured limbs in the warm waters and of various tribes visiting the area before the coming of the white man.  The name was changed to the Shoshone River, in 1901 by the Wyoming State Legistlature – no doubt to enhance the image of the place!​

Founding of Cody

  The town of Cody was founded in 1896 by a group of business men/investors headed by William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody. 

While visiting Sheridan, Wyoming, in 1894, Cody’s son-in-law Horace Boal pointed out this area from the top of the Big Horn Mountains, and suggested Cody join a group of Sheridan businessmen already interested in founding a town here.  Buffalo Bill saw the beauty of the region, its proximity to Yellowstone National Park, the abundance of game and fish, and the available land for ranching and farming -- all that was missing was sufficient water to enable ranchers and farmers to make a living in this high desert country. The Shoshone River did run through the area, however, which meant there was potential for bringing more water to the land. By 1895, the Shoshone Land and Irrigation Company was formed, made up of George T. Beck, William F. Cody, Nate Salsbury, Harry Gerrans, Bronson Rumsey, Horace Alger, and George Bleistein.  In the fall of 1895 work began on the Cody Canal which would carry water from the Southfork of the Shoshone River east to the town. In May, 1896 Beck and surveyor Charles Hayden laid out the town at its present location.

George Beck

The Governor, as the townspeople usually referred to him early on, invested a great deal of money in the birth of the town. 

George Beck was the town founder who lived here and oversaw its development. The Burlington railroad, headquartered in Lincoln, Nebraska, was interested in building a spur line to Cody from Toluca, Montana -- on the line running from Billings, Montana to southern Wyoming. In order to make sure that Cody became the terminus of the line, the Shoshone Land and Irrigation Company sold the majority of the town lots to the railroad company, and dropped the “Land” from their company name.  The first edition of the Cody Enterprise was published in 1899 and is still publishing today. The town of Cody was incorporated in 1901, the same year that the Chicago, Burlington. & Quincy railroad arrived on the north side of the river. In 1909, Park County was separated from Big Horn County by the Wyoming State Legislature and Cody was named the county seat.

Buffalo Bill Dam

 Everything changes . . . 

Both the building of the Buffalo Bill Dam, with its flooding of the small community of Marquette in 1910, and the Yellowstone earthquake of 1959 affected the geothermal features of Colter’s Hell and strength of the DeMaris Hot Springs.  Used first by the Indians, many generations of Cody families enjoyed swimming in the warm waters of the springs and remember the site fondly, even though it is no longer a health attraction.