Nefarious entrepreneur on Yellowstone Lake

E.C. Waters created a nascent business on Yellowstone Lake in 1891 with a prosperous passenger steamship, the Zillah. In 1905, he launched a larger ship (named after himself). Two years later, he was banned from the park because of his belligerent behavior and poor stewardship.

Ferdinand Hayden, a geologist and surveyor whose exploration of the Yellowstone area in 1871 was instrumental in establishing the park, warned the US Congress and President Grant that there are people who will come and “make merchandise of these beautiful specimens”.

E.C. Waters was the nightmare Hayden imagined when he wrote those words. Waters arrived in 1891, when the park was still in its infancy, and he was one of the first entrepreneurs to make money off of the natural resources available in Yellowstone National Park. He created a nascent business on Yellowstone Lake with a prosperous passenger steamship, the Zillah, in 1891.

To increase his business, he created a wild game show full of buffalo and other wild animals, exported from the mainland and left to struggle on Dot Island in Yellowstone Lake.

E.C. Waters’ Yellowstone Lake Boat Company was so successful that by 1904 the 125-passenger Zillah transported nearly 4,000 people. But there were clear signs that foretold of his demise; he was cantankerous and insubordinate with authority, inhumane to the animals in his “zoo,” and so unscrupulous that he would often extort unexpected return fares from passengers who visited Dot Island.

Park records show many complaints against him for not paying employees, cutting lumber without permission, and poaching. The bison and elk under his care lived in deplorable conditions.

[Waters also requested to build an elevator to the bottom of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone!]

He bought a second, larger vessel in 1905 and modestly named it the E.C. Waters. The 500-passenger steamship was bigger than anybody in Yellowstone had ever seen. However, because of the animosity between Waters and the authorities, the Park refused to license the new ship as a commercial ferry. Waters fiercely complained but had to hire someone to watch the ship for the winter of 1906. Compounding Waters’ troubles, the man he hired to pilot his boat died of a heart attack as he took the boat to Stevenson Island on Yellowstone Lake. Thus, the E.C. Waters never took another cruise and was abandoned on Stevenson Island, falling into disrepair.

In 1907, Park Superintendent Samuel Young posted a notice which read,

“E.C. Waters, president of the Yellowstone Lake Boat Company, having rendered himself obnoxious during the season of 1907, is … debarred from the park and will not be allowed to return without permission in writing from the Secretary of the Interior or the Superintendent of the park.”

Visitors can see the skeletal remains of the E.C. Waters on Stevenson Island when they take a tour on Yellowstone Lake.