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This photo of Ed Van Dyke is dated 1880, but is more likely from the 1920s. (Photo courtesy of Billings Public Library)

Edward Van Dyke was a prospector, trailblazer, homesteader, infamous poacher and renowned hunting guide. 

Born in upstate New York, he made his way west in 1876 with the dream of becoming an Indian fighter. After vagabonding around the upper Missouri and Yellowstone Rivers he ultimately found himself in the booming mining settlement of Cooke City. Here Van Dyke worked odd jobs as a camp boy until he had accumulated enough money to buy his own string of horses and do a little prospecting for himself. 

In 1883 Van Dyke blazed a mountain trail from the upper Clarks Fork to Red Lodge. The previous year a party commanded by General Philip Sheridan had briefly ascended the Beartooths from the vicinity of Cooke City before dropping down into the Big Horn Basin south of Mount Maurice. Van Dyke’s new trail altered this earlier path to instead descend Rock Creek straight into Red Lodge. 

The route young Edward forged became known as the Van Dyke Trail. For decades it was the most direct route from the Yellowstone River Valley to Cooke City and the upper Clarks Fork. 

When the Beartooth Highway was constructed in the early 1930s it largely followed the route of the well-trod Van Dyke Trail. Remnants of the old mountain byway can still be seen zigzagging off the plateau from the Rock Creek overlook parking lot. 

Van Dyke’s mountain trail was far from the only source of his notoriety. He was also famed for his hunting skills, talents which he did not always put to good use. In both 1890 and 1891 Van Dyke was caught poaching buffalo in Yellowstone Park. His case greatly contributed to the effort to better protect the Park’s wildlife from the exploitations of market hunters. 

Given the mounting enforcement of game laws both within the Park and throughout Wyoming, Van Dyke wisely transitioned to market hunting of a different kind. Western guides with knowledge of local wildlife and topography were in demand among wealthy Eastern hunters and foreign tourists seeking to experience the raw frontier. 

Van Dyke was one of the first local outdoorsmen in the area to stumble upon the realization that he could potentially earn a living by selling his hunting skills. Later in life Van Dyke gave himself credit for creating the outfitting industry in both Red Lodge and Cody. 

As a hunting guide and outfitter, Van Dyke was extremely well regarded, but was simultaneously known for being rather eccentric. Perhaps the isolation of his remote homestead in the Crandall area and the prolonged periods spent on lonely trails made him a bit odd. 

Malcolm Mackay, a wealthy transplant from New York City and avid western hunter, once hired Van Dyke to guide a hunt for grizzly up Crandall Creek. While impressed with Van Dyke’s hunting abilities, Mackay later described his guide as “not just right” and “a bit slippery.” He was repulsed by Van Dyke’s slovenly manners, his constant consumption of tea, his tendency to sleep until almost noon and his long-winded storytelling. 

Perhaps Van Dyke’s relative obscurity among residents of Wyoming is the result of his strong economic ties to Red Lodge. While Van Dyke lived, homesteaded and primarily hunted in the mountains of northwest Wyoming, his outfitting business was targeted at the early railroad depots in southern Montana. 

It might be apt for Wyoming to claim Van Dyke and his historic renown, maybe except for the whole infamous poaching thing. 

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