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 is hereby reserved and withdrawn from settlement, occupancy, or sale under the laws of the United States, and dedicated and set apart as a public park or pleasuring ground for the benefit and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.
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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