How did Yellowstone Get its Name?

Updated: Nov 22, 2020

I've lived in the Yellowstone region my entire life and only now decided to look up this fun fact! 😂 So, how did Yellowstone get its name?


The river has actually been known by a version of Yellowstone since before white people ever arrived in the region. In the early 1800s, prior to the Louisiana Purchase, white fur traders traveled this far west to run their traplines. It shouldn't surprise you to know that many of these trappers were French.



Some of these French-Canadian trappers asked the Minnetaree, who lived in what we call eastern Montana, what they called the river. The Minnetaree called it "Mi tse a-da-zi" or literally translated, Rock Yellow River. Now my Grandparents say that this was for the sulfur which is so common in Yellowstone along the different vents. The internet tells me that it may actually have been for the yellowish color of the rocks in the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.


Either way, the trappers went their way calling the river "Roche Jaune" or "Pierre Jaune" until the English came along and translated that to Yellowstone or Yellow Rock river. Lewis and Clark used both French and English variations of the river's name in their expedition journals.


As the years went by, Yellowstone just seemed to stick and pretty soon it wasn't just the river called by this colorful monicker but the wonderland of nature that it ran through.


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