Wednesday, September 18, 2013

How Yellowstone National Park Came To Be

 By Sarah J. McNeal author of the Wildings of Wyoming series including HARMONICA JOE'S RELUCTANT BRIDE, FOR LOVE OF BANJO and upcoming short story, A HUSBAND FOR CHRISTMAS to be released in the first anthology of Prairie Rose Publications.

I’ve only visited Wyoming once, but it only took that once to impress me for a lifetime. The beauty of its rolling hills and the majesty of the Teton Mountains still live in vivid color in my memory. Even though I live in North Carolina, I write westerns all of which are located in the fictional town of Hazard in the genuine state of Wyoming. Not only do I love the wild beauty of Wyoming, but I also admire its diverse and fiercely independent people. And a big plus, Wyoming is home of the first national park, Yellowstone.


After reports from homesteaders and trappers traveling through Wyoming came to the attention of the public with their descriptions of boiling mud, fountains of water shooting toward the heavens and diverse populations of wildlife, explorers began to come to the state to see what the fuss was all about. Keep in mind that the popular trend for any new lands was viewed by Americans as something for profit or exploitation.

After his first exploration of Yellowstone attempt failed, Ferdinand V. Hayden put together a second expedition to the Yellowstone region he named The Hayden Geological Survey of 1871 backed by the federal government. His report included numerous photographs by William Henry Jackson and paintings by Thomas Morgan along with comprehensive documentation in the hope of convincing the United States Congress to withdraw this portion of Wyoming from public auction and protect it. On March 1, 1872, President Ulysses S. Grant signed the Act of Dedication law that made Yellowstone the first national park. He did not want to see the same thing happen to Yellowstone that happened to Niagara Falls where commercial exploitation ruined the natural beauty of the park. He knew Yellowstone was a national treasure and its value would only increase with time.


                                                                THE ACT OF DEDICATION

AN ACT to set apart a certain tract of land lying near the headwaters of the Yellowstone River as a public park. Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That the tract of land in the Territories of Montana and Wyoming ... is hereby reserved and withdrawn from settlement, occupancy, or sale under the laws of the United States, and dedicated and set apart as a public park or pleasuring ground for the benefit and enjoyment of the people; and all persons who shall locate, or settle upon, or occupy the same or any part thereof, except as hereinafter provided, shall be considered trespassers and removed there from ...
Approved March 1, 1872.

Signed by

James G. Blaine, Speaker of the House

Schuyler Colfax, Vice President of the United States and President of the Senate

Ulysses S. Grant, President of the United States

(Quoted from Wikipedia)


Nathaniel Langford was appointed as superintendant over Yellowstone National Park, but received no salary, staff or funding to enforce the law. Of course, there was an outcry from developers to make the park smaller and allow development of property and attempts were made by entrepreneurs to build establishments to make money off the public, and animal populations of buffalo, mule deer and elk dropped from inappropriate and illegal hunting. After Langford was forced to step down, Philetus Norris volunteered for the position.  Finally, Congress saw the need for the superintendent to receive a salary and appropriated a small amount of funding for the park. Norris used the money to expand access to the park with crude roads and facilities.

In 1880, Harry Yount, who had once taken part in Hayden’s exploration of the park, became gamekeeper to prevent poaching and vandalism. He is thought of today as the first national park ranger. The headwater of the Yellowstone River was named Yount’s Peak in his honor.

Even after three superintendents had taken over the park, it was still difficult to maintain its pristine wilderness. Visitors to the park had only rudimentary roads and facilities which required the use of horses to traverse. Then, in 1908, the park got the attention of the Union Pacific Railroad.  Visitation increased dramatically with the railroad, but after World War II its popularity dropped off and finally ceased in the 1960s. The railroad ties were used to make trails, one of which was named the Yellowstone Branch Line Trail.

Sadly, Native American tribes were excluded from the park. Norris, a hero in other ways, disappointed me when I learned he had built a fort in Yellowstone to prevent the Native Americans from entering.

The park remained in peril from poachers until the United States Army arrived at Mammoth Hot Springs in 1886 and built Camp Sheridan, later renamed Fort Yellowstone. Under the Lacy Act, the army was effectively able to build permanent structures and protect the park. The National Park Service was created in 1916 and, by 1918, there was no further need for the army’s presence in the park.

I cannot close this blog without mentioning a personal hero of mine, John Muir, a naturalist and conservationist who is greatly responsible for the recognition of Yellowstone’s unique and diverse natural wonders. He was an unusual man who loved God’s creation. He explored the vast wilderness of Yellowstone without any special equipment except his own enthusiasm and ingenuity. Without proper climbing shoes, he created his own by hammering nails through the soles to create traction for mountain climbing. I intend to write more about him later.

For many who may never travel to Wyoming and see its wonders, it is still satisfying to know that it exists, that wild creatures run free there and a natural silence falls over the landscape uninterrupted by the building of houses, skyscrapers or roads. It is a place we can keep in our dreams and hold in our hearts.


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  1. Lovely post, Sarah. You write about Yellowstone with such reverence, it almost sounded poetical.
    I love Yellowstone. It deserves all the protection it can get--it is truly a spiritual place.
    We stayed in the Lodge right by Old Faithful. The weather had been warm and nice for our entire trip, but while in the lodge, a late spring cold front swept down, and our tour bus guide got us on the road out a little early. By the time we reached the exit, an inch or two of snow covered the ground. At one point, the bus driver asked if we wanted him to stop a few minutes to experience the snow (half the bus were visitors from the UK)--and take photos. I didn't go out there, but about half the bus did. The bus driver started a snowball fight, and the entire event was hysterical. The UK visitors talked about that throughout the remaining week we had together.
    Just as we exited the park, they closed it--too much snow and dangerous.
    That was a memorable trip.
    And John Muir--I know what you mean. He was a genius and obviously loved Yellowstone.

  2. Sarah, what a lovely description of the park. I have never been to Yellowstone. That was one place my dad always wanted to see, too. You have such a beautiful way of describing it, and thank god there were those who realized it needed to be preserved for the future!

  3. I love Yellowstone, too. Wonderful place. It's no wonder Jim Bridger's account of catching a fish in one stream, then dunking it in another to cook it, wasn't believed by the public. Same with trappers Meeks and Potts. It took another 40 years for Congress to send Hayden to officially confirm previous reports.

    I haven't been there for ten years--time to go back. There's no where on earth like it.

  4. I've wanted for years to see Yellowstone. My mom visited before I was born and loved it. I still hope to make it there. Nice post.

  5. Great post, Sarah! I love, love, love Yellowstone, and its history (that's why I chose to write an entire romance series set there). There is just no other place like it in the world. Thanks to Hayden and his geological survey, along with artist Thomas Moran and photographer William Henry Jackson, proof was finally before Congress that such a place existed. Thanks to President Grant for signing the Act of Dedication, making it officially the nation's (and the world's) first national park. It underwent some growing pains, and the army paved the road for the establishment of the National Park Service in 1916.

  6. Wonderful post, Sarah! Yellowstone is indeed a national treasure. Pres. Grant was far from a great president, but he did a great thing by signing the Act of Dedication.

  7. Ohmagosh, I forgot I posted. It snuck up on me. I really apologoze for my tardiness in responding

  8. Celia, what a wonderful, fun trip that must have been. I guess the weather can be unpredictable there. I'm going to write about John Muir in my Western trail Blazer blog. He's such an interesting character and a hero of mine.
    hank you so much for coming.

  9. Cheryl, I guess you can see why I love Wyoming so much for my stories. Even though I love calling North Carolina home, Wyoming made such an impression on me with its beauty and its free spirited people that I enjoy writing about it.
    Thank you for commenting. I am so sorry for replying so late.

  10. Hey Jacquie. No one really believed all those rumors of such a beautiful and mysterious place. They thought it was all hooey. Thank goodness Hayden verified the rumors as true.
    Thank you for dropping by.

  11. Caroline, you must go, even if it's only once in your life. It's like the Holy Grail of nature. If you go, you will be awe-struck by the wonders of Yellowstone. But even if you never get there, it's good to know it's there, a pristine wilderness of unimaginable beauty where wildlife runs free.
    Thank you so much for coming by and leaving your lovely comment.

  12. Peggy, if Grant didn't so another thing in his whole life, I am forever grateful he made Yellowstone a national park to be enjoyed and appreciated for generations to come. I could gush about it forever.
    Thank you for coming by and commenting. I really appreciate it.

  13. Lyn, I agree with you that the one great thing Grant did was make Yellowstone a place we could all love and enjoy.
    The men who explored and reported on its beauty and wonders certainly deserve their place on history, too.
    Thank you so much for coming.


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