Yellowstone History: Specimen Schmidt


I was recently reading through Geyser Bob’s Yellowstone and came across some interesting information I would like to share with you.

As you probably know, Yellowstone National Park and the surrounding areas were home to a wide array of some unusual and colorful characters.

Among those was a man named August Schmidt. He was of German descent and had immigrated to the United States in 1863 at the age of 26. After serving in the Civil War he spent several years traveling around the western part of this country and he eventually ended up in Cinnabar, Montana. This was a town that was located 3-4 miles north of Gardiner, Montana. It had come into existence because of the Northern Pacific Railroad. It was somewhat of a boom town until 1903 when the railroad continued into the town of Gardiner. With time and the elements, the town of Cinnabar ceased to exist.

Mr. Schmidt earned his living by offering local specimens to the folks traveling to visit Yellowstone. For about 20 years his office consisted of a small table located near the depot. From there he sold articles such as petrified wood, agates and probably deer and antelope horns and anything else of interest he could find in the surrounding area. He lived on a small pension from the government for his service during the Civil War and supplemented this income by selling his “specimens” to the tourists. This earned him the name “Specimen Schmidt”. He could be found at his post at the depot during the months of June through September. During the remainder of the year he could be seen traveling the surrounding areas collecting his “specimens” for the next season and getting them ready to sell. He lived in a small cabin on Cedar Creek.

He made a sign for his stand that read “For Sale – Specimens from Out of The Park.” Acting Park Superintendent Captain George Anderson, heard about Mr. Schmidt and took exception to his sign. He confronted Mr. Schmidt and, and from a story that Jack Haynes a photographer told, the Acting Superintendent handed Mr. Schmidt a severe tongue lashing about selling articles from the park. Mr. Schmidt’s reply was “Captain, I vas careful mid dot sign, you see it says, ‘specimens from out of the park, ‘nod from in the Park.” Schmidt was right; his specimens were from locations outside the park boundary. He never claimed that they came from in the Park. He could not be held responsible if the tourists assumed that they were taken from inside the park boundary. He was, apparently, a shrewd fellow.

It is reported that on occasion, Calamity Jane would join Mr. Schmidt selling a picture of herself and a small autobiography. She was known to hang out in the Horr and surrounding area in the late 1890s to early 1900s.

After the town of Cinnabar closed in 1903, Schmidt spent the remainder of his life at his cabin on Cedar Creek on the Hoppe ranch. His cabin was near the rail line and he would wave to the tourists on the trains as they passed by. He passed away quietly on June 29, 1914. His body was wrapped in an American flag an taken to Gardiner where he was buried in the local cemetery.

And so, ends the story of Specimen Schmidt another of the colorful and somewhat eccentric folks who are just a small part of the history of Yellowstone.

I would highly recommend that you spend some time with Geyser Bob. His website is a virtual treasure trove of information on the history of Yellowstone and the fascinating people who played a part in Yellowstone becoming the amazing place we are privileged to visit today.