Megan Kate Nelson: Writing The West

Megan Kate Nelson is a historian and writer, with a BA from Harvard and a PhD in American Studies from the University of Iowa. She is the author of Saving Yellowstone: Exploration and Preservation in Reconstruction America(Scribner 2022) and her previous book, The Three-Cornered War: The Union, the Confederacy, and Native Peoples in the Fight for the West (Scribner 2020) was a finalist for the 2021 Pulitzer Prize in History. She writes about the Civil War, the U.S. West, and American culture for The New York Times, Washington Post, The Atlantic, Smithsonian Magazine, and TIME. Before leaving academia to write full-time in 2014, she taught U.S. history and American Studies at Texas Tech University, Cal State Fullerton, Harvard, and Brown.

Thank you so much, Megan!!! Check out her social media and website below :)

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Megan Kate Nelson (00:00):

So the more that we can illuminate the past through the lives of people who actually lived it, and to really convey that those people were, they were real, they were in 3D, right? They had emotions, they had... You know, often they were petty. They were ambitious. They, you know, had great ideas. And then they also were, you know, often quite stupid in the things that they were doing. You know? I think that this approach is really important.

Emy diGrappa (00:31):

Hello. My name is Emmy diGrappa. Each week, we bring you stories, asking our guests the question, why? We learn about passion purpose and the human experience. Brought to you by Wyoming Humanities, with the generous support of the Wyoming Community Foundation. This is What's Your Why?
Today, we are talking to Megan Kate Nelson. She is a Colorado-born graduate of Littleton High School. She's a writer and historian. She's living in Lincoln, Massachusetts. And she is a historian who has written about Civil War, U.S. Western history, American culture. And she has a new book out called Saving Yellowstone, which we're really excited to talk about today. So, welcome, Megan.

Megan Kate Nelson (01:36):

Thank you so much for having me, Emmy. It's great to be here.

Emy diGrappa (01:39):

Well, I had to congratulate you for being born and raised in Colorado. Good job.

Megan Kate Nelson (01:43):

(laughs) Thank you. I had much to do with it. Of course.

Emy diGrappa (01:47):

Yes. Yeah. (laughs) Since I'm also a native Colorado, but now I consider myself a Wyoming knight. I really do.

Megan Kate Nelson (01:55):

Yeah. It, it, it's one of those things that identity... I mean, I, I have lived longer in other places than I did in Colorado, but I still consider Colorado and the Mountain West, I think to be my home place. Like every time I go back there, and I was just back there last week, um, every time I land or I drive in, I'm like, ugh, yes, (laughs) the sunshine, the aridity, the elevation. I love it. Like my body just feels at home, right? When I'm back there. So I do love it.

Emy diGrappa (02:28):

What was your journey away from Colorado? And how did you end up living in Massachusetts as your hometown now?

Megan Kate Nelson (02:36):

So I left Colorado basically to go to college. So I went to Harvard, undergrad, and really never came home to live for any extended period of time. Came home for some summers to do some work, but really just spent kind of the rest of my life going from job, to job, to job. So I've lived in a, a lot of different regions. (laughs) I taught high school in Pennsylvania. And then went to graduate school in Iowa. And then took a couple teaching positions in Texas and then in California.
But my husband is a lawyer. And his home base... He's also from Colorado. He's from out in Yuma, in Eastern Plain. So he grew up on a ranch. But then he became a lawyer, a big city lawyer. (laughs) And so now, uh, he started working for a firm in Boston. And followed me around a little bit to, to my teaching jobs, but then ultimately we landed back here. Which, you know, I, I really do love Boston. I consider it kind of my second home. But I really do hate the humidity and the, the gloomy winters. (laughs) And the lack of very tall mountains. (laughs) So, um, yeah, I yearn for Colorado sometimes.

Emy diGrappa (03:47):

Yeah. It's hard because you live in the mountains, you, um, yearn for the ocean at times, and that warm human weather, because I never realized how dry it is here until I-

Megan Kate Nelson (03:58):


Emy diGrappa (03:58):

... you know? To the south or back east or, you know, even to the coast of California.

Megan Kate Nelson (04:05):

Yeah. And, and you also don't realize when you grow up in the west how green everything is in Vernon in other places. I mean, we're used to the green of the, of the forests and the mountains, but that different kind of green, with the lush green grass and, you know, amazing flowering trees and things that we just didn't have growing up in Colorado. And the abundant water. And the very wide, lazy, slow-moving rivers. Those were (laughs) all so new to me living in other parts of the country. Um, but I still think there's nothing like sitting by the side of a, of a Colorado mountain stream as it's kind of rolling over rocks. And that sound is just so resonant.

Emy diGrappa (04:47):

I love the way you describe that. And it just reminds me that words become pictures. And I love that you use your words as a writer and a historian to create those vivid images in people's minds. And how did that love for history become real in your life?

Megan Kate Nelson (05:07):

It actually became real during summer vacations that we would take by car. I mean, we were just talking about your car trip. Um (laughs) and that sometimes, they could be traumatic, but often, uh, you know, we started taking these car vacations in the early-1980s when I was just a kid. And my parents wanted us to see the nation. They wanted us to see how everything kind of fit together.
And we went to all kinds of different sites. We went to national parks and state parks. We went to historic sites and cities. And really learned about history along the way. So when I became interested in history in college, and then in graduate school, I think I, I just very instinctively gravitated toward environmental history and landscape studies, uh, because I had learned about history in the landscape.
And I had learned about it kind of moving through places and seeing, you know, places as different as Kansas and, you know, the Pacific Northwest and (laughs) the Southwest and New England. And really wanted to be able to tell stories of interesting places. And, and what I ultimately moved toward, uh, was a career writing about strange places. So my, my dissertation was about the Ok- Okefenokee Swamp in Southern Georgia.
And from swamps, I moved to ruins. And then to deserts. And then to the, the geothermal regions, a super volcano of Yellowstone. So kind of weird places that, that people, Americans have really battled for control over, over time. And especially in the 19th century.

Emy diGrappa (06:53):

Well, the other thing I noticed about your writings, especially your books, um, because it's not just that you wrote saving Yellowstone, but you also wrote another one called The Three-Cornered War. And when I read this... I was one of the ways that you describe it as, it's the Union, the Confederacy, and native peoples in the fight for the West.

Megan Kate Nelson (07:14):


Emy diGrappa (07:15):

I don't think a lot of people think about the Civil War as a fight for the West. So talk a little bit about that.

Megan Kate Nelson (07:22):

Absolutely. I mean, these two most recent books are really, they're about two major moments in American history, the Civil War and Reconstruction. And both of those events, most Americans do not associate with the West at all. We associate them primarily with the South.
And so what really interested me when I found out about these battles for the West that took place in New Mexico in 1862, and then I started to investigate them further and found out how much Chiricahua Apache and Navajo peoples were involved in those fights. I was really fascinated by those conflicts themselves, but then also why they've been ignored or erased or, you know, really not very well known, um, in the larger American narrative of the Civil War.
And then that project kind of took me... Saving Yellowstone is a little bit of a sequel to The Three-Cornered War. Um, it does take place in the years afterward, primarily in '71 and '72, uh, and all the action in Three-Cornered War makes the exploration and preservation of Yellowstone possible in the early 1870s.
Um, but they, uh, but I have a similar approach because, I was thinking when I first started thinking about Yellowstone, because I had been reminded that the 150th anniversary was coming up of the passage of the Yellowstone Act, which created the first national park in the world. And so I thought, well, that's a good reason to write a book about Yellowstone.
But then I was (laughs) thinking, well, you know, there have been a lot of books, uh, about this region and the lots of great conservation histories, great books about wildlife biology. And I thought, well, look my angle be. And then I realized, you know, this is taking place during Reconstruction, which is, again, another period of our history. We don't associate with the West, we only associate with the South.
So what would it look like if I, if I thought about Reconstruction in the context of an- totally unexpected place like Yellowstone? Does that change our whole idea of what Reconstruction was? And does it change our idea of what Yellowstone is, uh, and was? And so that really was what was driving me in that project.
And I had similar questions about the Civil War, too. What if we looked at the Civil War from the desert Southwest? How does that change our whole notion of how that conflict played out? Why it occurred in the first place, uh, and, and what resulted from it?

Emy diGrappa (09:40):

How do you do your research on something like that? Because-

Megan Kate Nelson (09:44):


Emy diGrappa (09:44):

... since a lot of the writings, like you were saying, are, you know, from the Southern perspective, that the Civil War was in the south and it was, you know, um, not in the west, but when you look deeper and you see that a lot of the things that were happening in the south were actually happening across the United States, but-

Megan Kate Nelson (10:06):


Emy diGrappa (10:07):

... those records aren't very well known.

Megan Kate Nelson (10:10):

They're not, but they are there. I mean, this is what's, what's interesting about it. I mean, the... Usually, Civil War historians go first to this massive collection of documents called the Official Record of The War of the Rebellion, or we just call it the OR. And that contains all of the military records, all the orders, all the reports, all of these things. And there is a section for New Mexico.
And so I started there and then branched out into the published diaries and letters of soldiers and officers who were involved in those fights. Um, and then also the published accounts and oral histories from Navajo and Chiricahua Apache people of the conflicts in this region during that time.
And then in 2014, I set out in my car, I drove from, uh, Boston to Denver and visited my family, and then started a huge research trip that took me about two and a half months. And I went from Denver to Santa Fe to Marcia in Southern New Mexico, across to Tucson. Uh, did a bunch of research there and then came back through and went into Texas.
And so, I was able to visit, not only archives and libraries, but also historic sites. And I was able to go to almost all of the places in Three-Cornered War and see them, 'cause many of them are preserved spaces. Many of them are state parks, you know, run by a whole host of, of (laughs) different agencies. But, uh, I was able to see them in person, which was amazing. Because I think for someone, for anyone who does environmental history or landscape studies, it's really important to be there kind of on the ground to see, uh, you know?
And, and it's not the same exact landscape as it was in the 19th century, but it is, in many places, quite close because many of the sites in, in Three-Cornered War in the Southwest had not been developed. And so there was a pace of natural change, but much of what I was seeing on the ground was actually pretty close, uh, to what, uh, people were seeing in the 1860s.
That plan of mine, that methodology of, of going to the place, it got completely derailed by the pandemic for Saving Yellowstone. So I was actually not able to go to Yellowstone until I was done with a draft of the book. So, uh, I did not go until September of (laughs) 2021, uh, 'cause I wa- I just wasn't able to get out there. And, but luckily, I still, I was still able to make changes, uh, to the text after I visited and was back on the ground and could see how all the different parts of Yellowstone kind of fit together, um, because it has so many different elements to it.
Um, and, so that was really important, that I was able to actually go. Um, but that's a, that's a major part of my, my approach and my method, is to, to go to these places and, and kind of sit in them for a while and walk around for a while and just kind of get to know them as places.

Emy diGrappa (13:14):

How did you do your research about native peoples and Yellowstone, and their connection, and, and what it had to do with, you know, The Three-Cornered War, especially?

Megan Kate Nelson (13:25):


Emy diGrappa (13:26):

You know, like you were saying, the Navajos were involved in that.

Megan Kate Nelson (13:29):

Yeah. So as a non-native scholar, I feel it is my responsibility to really privilege indigenous sources.

Emy diGrappa (13:37):


Megan Kate Nelson (13:37):

And so for Three-Cornered War, I was using oral histories, hand histories, and material culture that was coming directly out of Navajo Nation and from the voices of Navajo people and also Navajo historians who had chosen to make their stories public and make that history public, which I'm profoundly grateful for. Because, you know, they, they do not have to, and many of their stories, they hold, they hold pretty close and, and I understand why they wouldn't want to share those.
And I had the same approach with saving Yellowstone. The primary indigenous figure in that book is Sitting Bull or Tatanka Iyotake, uh, who is, uh, a Hunkpapa Lakota chief. And mo- I think most Americans would be familiar with him. Probably, mostly because of the Battle of the Little Bighorn or Greasy Grass.
And it's the argument of the book that actually Sitting Bull kind of starts on the road to that conflict in this moment, uh, in his defense of his homelands as part of this, this push to preserve Yellowstone, um, on the part of the federal government and on the part of the Northern Pacific railroad.
And so for my research into Sitting Bull and the Hunkpapa, I looked at indigenous sources, at, uh, the histories written by Lakota historians, and also the descendants of Sitting Bull. Uh, there are also other works out there by Robert Utley, by Heather Cox Richardson, you know, historians who have done, uh, work on this historical moment in the 19th century in the Northwest, in this, what they called the, the Great Northwest at this point, sort of from the Great Lakes to the Rocky Mountains.
But in, in all cases, I used and relied upon indigenous sources first. Because, you know, these are their histories and they know them best. And so luckily, again, I had access, either through publications or through digital resources. I had access to these accounts that the Lakota people had told about their own history. So that was extremely useful. Especially useful as I was, you know, sort of trapped in my own living room in Boston (laughs) and not able to go and, and, you know?
I, I had also been planning to go to several of the Lakota reservations along the Missouri River and to make the drive, um, from the Missouri all the way to, to Yellowstone, you know, through the heart of Lakota traditional homelands. Um, but I was not able to do that either. So, yeah, just another reason that the pandemic totally sucked, right? For, I mean, in so many ways. Um, but yeah, for, for historians, writing books in this moment, it was bad in that particular way as well.

Emy diGrappa (16:27):

What, what was your great aha moments when you were researching, uh, Saving Yellowstone to what it was then-

Megan Kate Nelson (16:36):


Emy diGrappa (16:38):

And to what it is now?

Megan Kate Nelson (16:39):

Yeah. I had a couple of those moments. One was that the, the stories of these three completely different individuals, Ferdinand Hayden, the scientist explorer who's kind of trying to make his reputation by exploring Yellowstone in this moment, Jay Cooke, who's an investment banker from Ohio, who ends up in Philadelphia, also very interested in Yellowstone because he wants to run his railroad tracks right north there and bring tourists there. And then also Sitting Bull, you know, who is defending his people and his homelands from these incursions and from, um, particularly the Northern Pacific surveyors.
So the fact that these, these narratives were all interrelated and these men were kind of circulating around each other and, and their lives were kind of interesting and in parallel, because they were around the same age. Sitting Bull was a little bit younger than the other two. And Sitting Bull was actually also born with the greatest advantages. He was born into a, a family of leaders, um, of the Hunkpapa people. He was kind of brought up and advised by both his father and his uncle who were great war chiefs.
Ferdinand Hayden was the most hards scrabble. He was born into poverty. A child of divorce. But both of them, all three of these men were kind of had emerged as leaders in their communities at this moment. And, and all three of them were invested in the future of, of Yellowstone.
So that was one thing that was... I'm always interested when people who you might not ever think of together in one place are, are actually connected in an interesting way. And then there were these weird moments where, for example, Hayden was coming back from Yellowstone and he has to change trains in Chicago, which has just burned to the ground a couple of days before in the Great Chicago Fire. So that amazing moment, which we think of as a very pivotal moment, um, for American cities enters the narrative in an interesting way.
And then also, kind of at the same moment that the U.S. Congress is giving Hayden $40,000 to go to Yellowstone in March of 1871, they are also inserting a writer into an Indian Appropriations Act, which says that they're no longer going to make any treaties with any tribal nations. Uh, which fundamentally changes the face of U.S-Indian policy, because that means they're no longer going to recognize their sovereignty. And that they're going to try to make peace agreements with them, um, but those agreements will not be binding, legally, and they will not have the weight of a treaty. And that means they will pretty much be moving directly to warfare, uh, in the wake of a failed peace agreement.
So all the, you know, there were, there were interesting surprising connections between people, and then also interesting and surprising connections between actions that people were taking a, and, and events that were occurring almost simultaneously. So it's always interesting for me to think about those in connection with one another.

Emy diGrappa (19:48):

Well, as a historian, you're looking back, but at the same time, you know, history is current, it's yesterday.

Megan Kate Nelson (19:57):


Emy diGrappa (19:57):

So, how do you continually keep that conversation so that people are realizing just how important history is? And how we, a lot of times, you know, we talk about how students don't know enough about our history and, and how, how we teach history, how do we want them to love history. How do we make it interesting and current for them?

Megan Kate Nelson (20:22):

Well, I think one way to do it is to convey that history through people. I think one of the mistakes that we make is that, often people just think of history is a list of dates and memorize, and that... And, and even just a list of events, you know? The Revolutionary War happened during this period. Then the War of 1812. Then this Mexican-American War. You know, and you think of it just in these, in those kinds of terms.
But I think it's pretty clear from how much we love novels and television shows and film that what people are most attracted to is the stories of actual people. And so the more that we can illuminate the past through the lives of people who actually lived it, and to really convey that those people were, they were real, they were in 3D, right? They had emotions, they had, you know, often they were petty. They were ambitious. They, you know, had great ideas. And then they also were, you know, often quite stupid in the things that they were doing. You know?
I think that this approach is really important. Um, and, and I really love writing about people. I, s- I didn't, at the beginning of my career. I had a very traditional academic approach in my first two books. They're very idea-driven, very argumentatively-driven. But then when I started writing about people in The Three-Cornered War, interweaving their stories together, and then I continued to do so with Saving Yellowstone, I just really love it.
Like I love delving into their lives and trying to figure out why they were doing what they were doing. And I think this is an, an instinct for most people. That's, that's how we want to learn about history. Right? I also think that we have more work to do kind of on the ground in historical places, um, because... It is quite amazing Yellowstone, you know, it was preserved in, in 1872. And there's infrastructure in there with the roads through the park, the big, the two big loops.
Those loops roughly follow indigenous trails that had been there already, that Hayden followed when he, you know, explored the region. You know, he's, he was making a, a big, you know, buh-ha-ha out of the fact that he was jumping off into the wilderness, but then he was always saying, oh yeah, and then we followed this trail, you know? Up the side of the White Mountain, which is what they called Mammoth Hot Springs. And, uh, (laughs) like, well, who do you think made that trail? Like of (laughs) course. There are people here. (laughs) This is not an- unoccupied wilderness.
But I think that too often, and I just saw this too, and I hate to throw President Obama under the bus, but he, there's this new national parks documentary out that's on Netflix. And, you know, it's, it's beautiful and wonderful. And the, the scenes are amazing. And the places they visit are just astounding. Um, but there's no history in it.
And, and so wilderness and natu- uh, national parks are seen as having no history, of just being pure wilderness. They sort of emerge out of nothing, you know? (laughs) But that is obviously not true. And I think in our national parks, we need to have more sign posting, more engagement with the actual history of the park itself to kind of go along with the, the great scientific information that's already there, and the, the interest that everyone has in all of the charismatic megafauna, you know? The bears and the wolves and the, the elk and, and the bison in particular.
And I think that Yellowstone National Park, for its one 50th, is actually striving to do that. They, they have announced, you know, new plans to create a native history center at Old Faithful to, there's going to be a crow village established for most of the, the visitation kind of cycle that's gonna begin here in about a month, um, at the Northern Entrance and Gardena. I would love to see, I mean, how cool would it be if you were driving through and if you had a Yellowstone app on your phone. It would sort of ping you when you are driving by an important historical site, uh, you know, like a p- a place where Hayden's expedition had camped or a place where indigenous peoples had stopped on the way to, you know, on the way through Yellowstone to hunt bison.
And so you're just getting that really great sense of the place, of the history of the place while you're moving through it. I mean, I think that's, that's also something, it's fairly easy to do and, you know, Yellowstone is still an incredibly popular place. It sort of vaulted up to the third most visited national park during the pandemic. Uh, it has, is setting, uh, visitation records every year. And people still wanna go. It's on a lot of people's bucket list.
And I think this is the way that you kind of give visitors, not only a sense of that wonder and the, you know, the, a sense of how this place came to be, geologically, but also how it came to be historically.

Emy diGrappa (25:28):

Yeah. I really appreciate you saying that because I think that does get lost on people. And I think one of the things that, uh, Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Park, where I live, are trying to do is really give the indigenous voice the native voice and really involve the young people of color who live in our communities to become part of that narrative, where it, where it's not just told from one perspective.
And, and that's what I've really learned about, as I've talked to many historians is, you know, history is told from this someone's perspective. And depending on where they're standing, they're telling it. So if it's only a white man telling the story, he has missed a whole bunch of things that were being told by the native American.

Megan Kate Nelson (26:21):

Exactly. Yes. Yeah. And, and those stories need to, to emerge and be counted and, and to be part of the sort of integrated fabric of, of the history of these parks. And also, you know, there's a very rich history of, you know, black Americans, Cowboys, and soldiers coming to the West, to Wyoming and Montana. And then also Chinese-Americans who uh, you know, immigrated, built railroads, worked in mines. You know, very rich history in places like Virginia City, Montana.
And were getting a lot of good historical work on those communities now. And I would love to see that also brought into the stories that we tell, uh, about Yellowstone and about Grand Teton, which I think are, I mean, they are two of the most outrageously beautiful na- national parks I have ever seen. (laughs) I mean, ugh. Yeah. 'cause we went... When we went on our trip in September, we stayed in Jackson and, uh, went up through the park three days through the Southern Entrance. And to be able to drive through Grand Teno- Teton on the way was just such a treat. I mean just gorgeous, gorgeous country.
But yeah, I mean to... And, and I think we can still appreciate everything that nature gives us in that respect while understanding these complicated histories in this, in this place as well. I don't think it takes anything away from our enjoyment of nature to know those histories too.

Emy diGrappa (27:52):

Yeah. I, I agree. I think sometimes we do get caught up in, you know, saving wildlife and, you know, seeing the bears and the moose and the bison and, you know, all that kind of excitement. A lot of times we forget like how did that happen? How is it that we still have the opportunity, you know, to see a bear in the wild.

Megan Kate Nelson (28:16):


Emy diGrappa (28:17):

Not that I wanna see a bear in the wild. (laughs)

Megan Kate Nelson (28:18):

(laughs) That's right.

Emy diGrappa (28:21):

I wanna see him on TV. But... (laughs)

Megan Kate Nelson (28:24):


Emy diGrappa (28:25):

Or from my car window, actually. Yeah.

Megan Kate Nelson (28:28):

Yes. We saw, we saw a mother in her cubs from far away. And that was fine with me. I was like, you go on your way. We will not disturb you at all.

Emy diGrappa (28:39):


Megan Kate Nelson (28:40):

Um, but yeah, we bought, we bought incredibly expensive bear spray with the thought that that would mean we would not actually, it would be some sort of talisman (laughs) that we would never have to use it. And thank goodness we didn't at that time. But, um, and hopefully not ever, uh, in the future either.

Emy diGrappa (28:57):

Well, it must have been really interesting that you're writing this book about Yellowstone right during the pandemic, when the visitation to the parks all over the U.S. is just skyrocketing. People just wanting to get out of their house, wanting to go for a drive. It's, it's too hard to, you know, travel internationally. You know, that must have been kind of a background for you as you're writing this book.

Megan Kate Nelson (29:25):

It really was. And the, in a, in a way it was nice to be able to transport myself, uh, to Yellowstone (laughs) sort of in my imagination as I was writing. And, and, and then also, you know, reading about how people were visiting the park once it reopened, kind of after that first phase of the shutdown, uh, and how much joy people were finding in being there. But then also, you know, how crowded it is. And, and this is one of the other challenges I think for the national parks, is that sometimes they can be loved too much. Right?
Um, and Yellowstone's infrastructure and it's, you know, kind of topography is such that you really can't contain. I mean, I'm not sure how many, how much more vehicular traffic they're gonna be able to, to bring in to the park 'cause... And that's really the only way to see it. I mean, you really... Unless they did bicycles. I would love that. If I could bike around Yellowstone, that would be amazing. Um, and not fear for my life.
Uh, (laughs) right now there's not a broad enough shoulder, uh, to, to make that happen. Um, so it can be a little bit scary. I don't know how people in campers drive through some of those roads. It just seems amazing to me, especially on the kind of northern side near Mammoth.
What I'm hoping for people who read Saving Yellowstone is that, that it will transport them to Yellowstone. And if they have been there in the past, they will recognize all the parts of the park, uh, that Hayden is describing. And, you know, as you're kind of moving with him through those spaces in the book, uh, you feel like you're back there, you know, on your family trip or whenever, whenever you went before.
And my hope is also that, for people who haven't been to Yellowstone yet, that it's a good introduction to that place. And that maybe they'll want to go (laughs) after they finish writing the book because I desperately wanted to go while I was writing it, um, because I was so immersed in that landscape, uh, and in telling the story of, of Hayden's expedition in the first part of the book.
So when I finally did get to go there, it was, it was great to see those places in person again, uh, and to say, oh right, this is what, you know, this is what the Mud Volcano region looks like. The, you know? 'cause Hayden falls in, you know? Kind of breaks through the ground. And uh, he's partially submerged in the Mud Volcano and manages to pull himself out, but not before the, the acid kind of burns the, the boots off his legs.
And so he walks back into camp kind of holding all the different parts, the leather parts of his boots. And his legs were pretty scalded. And he was in some pain on the, on the backside of that trip. So to see the, you know, to see that Mud Volcano region and to understand that this is where that happened, this is, you know, how incredibly fragile that crust is, just remarkable.
And then also, you know, I was, I was finishing up the book, uh, you know, after the, the January 6th insurrection. And so that whole idea of political chaos I think also made me think a lot of Reconstruction, because that period was similarly chaotic and similarly kind of explosive in, in many of its events. Um, and a lot of the same arguments about the federal government's role. Like what should the federal government be doing to protect and provide for the people?
So it wa- it was actually a very interesting moment to be writing about Yellowstone and about Reconstruction in kind of 2020 and 2021. I mean, really, just a remarkable moment in American history now that, that really makes us reflect on this moment in the past, the early 1870s.

Emy diGrappa (33:08):

I know it just makes you think the past is the present and the present is the past.

Megan Kate Nelson (33:08):


Emy diGrappa (33:13):

And we keep, you know, we keep circling.

Megan Kate Nelson (33:16):


Emy diGrappa (33:16):

And the world keeps getting smaller. Well, it's been so great talking to you. And tell... I want you to tell everyone how to find out about you.

Megan Kate Nelson (33:16):


Emy diGrappa (33:25):

And they should definitely read your book, so amazing, Saving Yellowstone.

Megan Kate Nelson (33:25):


Emy diGrappa (33:30):

So give us your, you know, all your Facebook, website, wherever we can find you.

Megan Kate Nelson (33:36):

Yes. Absolutely. Well, if you know my full name, you can find me anywhere because my website is And on Twitter and Instagram, I am @megankatenelson. Uh, and on my website, you can find links to, um, a lot of talks that I have given, um, and other interviews, and then also links to buy the book in any format. It's, I, it's delightful. It's available in hard cover. It's also available in ebook and audiobook, if that's the way, uh, you prefer, uh, to, to kind of move through your books. And in fact, a, a friend of mine listened to the audio book while his family was driving, not to Yellowstone, but to Grand Canyon. That I think would be great. If you are headed to a national park this summer, listen to the audio book of Saving Yellowstone.

Emy diGrappa (34:26):

Okay. So I'm gonna, um, say goodbye to Kate. I mean, Megan Kate. Sorry. (laughs) And, but I wanna just tell everyone out there that she, not only is a writer, a historian, she's also a road cyclist. And my favorite part, we might have to do a whole podcast on this, is that she's a cocktail enthusiast.

Megan Kate Nelson (34:49):

Thank you, Emmy. Have a great day.

Emy diGrappa (34:51):

You too. Thank you for joining us for this episode of What's Your Why? Brought to you by Wyoming Humanities with support from Wyoming Community Foundation and generous supporters like you. To learn more, go to, subscribe and you'll never miss a show.