By Peggy L Henderson
The west wouldn’t be the west without its rangers. Many stories have been written about the most famous of the western rangers, namely the Texas Rangers. Sorry, I’m not going to talk about them today. I am going to talk about a different ranger. The National Park Ranger, and how the National Park Service came to be.
After Yellowstone became our first national park on March 1, 1872, Congress set aside exactly zero dollars to fund the park. The first superintendent, Nathaniel P. Langford, was not paid a salary.
Visitors came to Yellowstone almost immediately after its creation, and along with them came the vandals and poachers. Yellowstone’s natural resources, which were the sole reason the park was created in the first place, were being destroyed as poachers killed animals, souvenir hunters broke off pieces of geological formations, and developers established numerous tourist camps.
Langford resigned in 1877, disgusted with Congress and their refusal to help support the park. Along came Phileus Norris, who volunteered for the superintendent position. He was finally able to get Congress to financially help support the park, and he set aside $1000 of the $15,000 he received in 1880 to pay for a “game keeper”, someone who would protect the wildlife of Yellowstone from undue slaughter. Hunting was not regulated within the park’s boundaries until 1877, and not prohibited until 1883.
Harry Yount, a civil war veteran, hunter, trapper, guide, and packer, was appointed to the position of game keeper in 1880.
“Rocky Mountain Harry Yount” has been described as “a typical leatherstocking frontiersman. He was rough, tough, and intelligent.” Independent, resourceful, able to subsist on his own, and having familiarity and knowledge of the natural processes surrounding him, Harry Yount has become an archetypal model for the National Park Ranger.
He pointed out in a report that it was impossible for one man to patrol the entire park, and urged the formation of a ranger force. He is credited with being the first national park ranger.
As a result of his report, and his resignation a mere 14 months into the job, the park turned to the US Army for help. In 1886, men from Company M, First US Cavalry, Fort Custer, Montana Territory, came to Yellowstone to begin a - what would be thirty year - military presence in the park. The troops lived in temporary frame buildings near Mammoth Hot Springs Terraces. After enduring five cold and harsh winters, they realized they would not be leaving anytime soon. In 1890, Congress appointed $50,000 for a permanent post, and Fort Yellowstone was completed in 1891.
Soldiers stationed at the fort were ordered to “conduct themselves in a courteous and polite, but firm and decided manner” when carrying out their duties.
In 1912, President Taft in a special message to Congress said: "I earnestly recommend the establishment of a Bureau of National Parks. Such legislation is essential to the proper management of those wonderful manifestations of nature, so startling and so beautiful that everyone recognizes the obligations of the government to preserve them for the edification and recreation of the people." The National Park Service Act was signed on August 30, 1916.
Soon after, soldiers were discharged from the Army to form the first ranks of park rangers. The National Park Service took over protection of Yellowstone National Park, "by arrangement with the War Department, and with its hearty cooperation," on October 1, 1916. The National Park Service assumed full administrative responsibilities in 1918.
During the Army's tenure, they developed regulations that put much emphasis on conservation, and under their watchful eyes, the features and wildlife of Yellowstone National Park were protected from vandalism and extinction. Many of the policies initiated by the army at Fort Yellowstone were later adopted by the National Park Service.
Today, the old post is known as the Fort Yellowstone-Mammoth Hot Springs Historic District, designated as a National Historic Landmark on July 31, 2003. Within the district are the administrative headquarters for Yellowstone National Park. It is located in the northwestern portion of the park on an old hot springs formation.
Numerous buildings continue to stand including the Captain's Quarters, Post Headquarters, Guard House, Hospital Annex, Commissary and Quartermaster storehouses, and several more.
Duties of the park ranger today include:
Law enforcement – park rangers hold police powers and enforce national laws and park regulations
Interpretation and Education – park rangers provide a wide range of informational services to visitors
Emergency Response – They are trained in wilderness first aid and participate in search and rescue to locate lost persons in the wilderness
Firefighting – park rangers are often the first to spot forest fires and are trained in wild land firefighting
Scientists and scholars – they are responsible for protecting the natural resources or cultural sights for which they work