Excerpted from The Guide to Yellowstone Waterfalls and Their Discovery, by Paul Rubinstein, Lee H. Whittlesey and Mike Stevens This “chastely-beautiful” water-fall was called “Little Falls” by fur trappers. Jim Bridger himself gave that information to Father Jean DeSmet who showed it on an 1851 map.
Tower Fall was named in 1870 by a member of the Washburn party, probably Samuel Hauser, who wrote in his diary: “Campt near the most beautiful falls – I ever saw – I named them ‘Tower falls’—from the towers and pinnacles that surround them.” Prospector A. Bart Henderson had seen it in 1867, noting as did Hauser that it was “the most beautiful falls I ever saw.” Robert Strahorn in 1880 called it “one of the most beautiful falls to be found in any country,” and in 1908, Mode Wineman averred that it was “a thing of hidden beauty in the wilderness.” N.P. Langford called it “one of the most beautiful cataracts in the world.” Lt. Gustavus Doane accompanied the 1870 party, and his reaction is probably the best known of early ones: “Nothing can be more chastely beautiful than this lovely cascade, hidden away in the dim light of overshadowing rocks and woods, its very voice hushed to a low murmur unheard at the distance of a few hundred yards. Thousands might pass by within a half-mile and not dream of its existence, but once seen, it passes to the list of most pleasant memories.”
According to Langford, the party argued around its campfire as to whether the name of the falls should be “Minaret” or “Tower.” While “Minaret” initially won the vote, subsequent accusations that the proposer had a girlfriend named “Minnie Rhett” resulted in a new vote that gave the nod to Tower. We include some historical comments on Tower Fall here, complete with their comparisons to other waterfalls:
Immediately about the head of the falls the rocks were worn into curious and fantastic shapes, looking, in daylight, like spires or steeples, rising from thirty to sixty feet above the falls; but, in the moonlight, reminding one of the portal of an old castle, or a number of the fabled genii standing ready to hurl adventurous mortals into the gorge below, which was en-veloped by the shadows of the night in impenetrable darkness. — WALTER TRUMBULL, 1870
From between two of these turrets the stream makes its final leap… and then, as if satisfied with itself, flows peacefully into the Yellowstone. We attempted to compare it with the famous Minnehaha, but those who had seen both said there was no comparison. It was not as terrible in its sublimity as Niagara, but beautiful and glorious. You felt none of the shrinking back so common at the Great [Lower] Fall, but rather, as you stood below and gazed upon its waters broken into white spray, you felt as though you wanted to dash into it, and catch it as it fell. —HENRY WASHBURN, 1870
…one of the greatest beauties of the valley…on either side the somber brecciated columns stand like gloomy sentinels. —DR. F.V. HAYDEN, 1871
Great towers, shapely as cathedral spires, rise on either side, with slender fingers, like the minarets of a mosque, strangely colored, forming royal setting for the water, which, from two hundred feet above, falls into the boiling chasm. The surroundings are much like those of Minnehaha Falls, only here is greater majesty. —ALMON GUNNISON, 1883
NOTE: A boulder that balanced precariously on the lip of Tower Fall (at least since William Henry Jackson photographed it in 1871) finally fell from its perch in 1986.
TOWER FALL FACTS
GPS Location: 548443 4971117
Plunge Height: 132 feet
Tower Creek Map: -Tower Junction, Wyoming/Montana
Access: 2.2 miles south of Tower-Roosevelt Junction between Tower-Roosevelt Junction and Canyon Village. Viewpoint is roughly 100 yards from parking area.
GET THE BOOK
The Guide to Yellowstone Waterfalls and Their Discovery, by Paul Rubinstein, Lee H. Whittlesey and Mike Stevens, provides information and photographs of over 200 waterfalls that were never before discovered. Plus, the book includes stunning photos and information about Yellowstone Park’s 50 known waterfalls. A major benefit of this book are the historical accounts behind many of the waterfalls’ discoveries. This is a must-have for waterfall and Yellowstone Park enthusiasts. The Guide to Yellowstone Waterfalls and Their Discovery, published by Westcliffe Publishers, is available at area bookstores.