Friday, July 22, 2016

The National Park Service turns 100!

By Peggy L Henderson

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the National Parks system. And it all started in Yellowstone… with the US Army.

In 1872, President U.S. Grant signed into law the Yellowstone National Park Protection Law, making Yellowstone the nation’s first national park. Protecting a large area of land was a big deal, because during that era, it was all about expansion. The new law states “…the headwaters of the Yellowstone River…is hereby reserved and withdrawn from settlement, occupancy, or sale … and dedicated and set apart as a public park or pleasuring ground for the benefit and enjoyment of the people.” 
However, there were problems. Lawmakers didn’t think that maintaining the park would cost the government anything. The first superintendent, Nathaniel Langford, was unpaid in his position.  He did what he could to protect wildlife and the natural features. Without money, he couldn’t hire anyone to enforce the laws within the park.
When the second superintendent, Philetus Norris,  took over in 1877, Congress appropriated money to “protect, preserve, and improve the Park.”
Roads were constructed and a “gamekeeper” was hired to get rid of vandals and poachers. He was succeeded by three superintendents who were ineffective at protecting the park. Even with ten assistants, they could not properly police the park and couldn’t stop the destruction of wildlife.

The army posing in front of the Liberty Cap at Mammoth Hot Springs where Ft Yellowstone was built

In 1886, Congress refused to appropriate money for Yellowstone. The Secretary of the Interior therefore called on the help from the Department of War. So on August 20, 1886, the US Army took control of Yellowstone. They didn’t expect to stay long, but they were so effective in keeping law and order in the park, that they remained for 30 years.
On May 11, 1891, the army received approval for a permanent base, and began constructing Fort Yellowstone inside the park. Prior to this date, the Army had operated out of Camp Sheridan, located at the base of the Mammoth Terraces.

Mounted cavalry at Ft Yellowstone

The army, comprised of Company M of the US cavalry, enforced regulations inside the Yellowstone Park boundaries, guarded the major attractions, patrolled the interior, and got rid of troublemakers. Their main role turned out to be apprehending poachers. Poachers slaughtered deer, elk, and bison, threatening their extermination. The maximum punishment at the time for poachers was eviction and banishment from the park.

In 1894, the cavalry arrested one persistent poacher, Ed Howell for killing bison when there were only several dozen left in the park. A journalist was present at the arrest, and sent a report and photographs to his newspaper in the east. His story created a national outcry, and within two months, Congress passed the Lacey Act, giving the army greater authority for protecting animals and features in the park.

The image that spurred the Lacey Act (soldiers with confiscated bison heads from poacher Ed Howell)

While the army was great at protecting the park, they couldn’t do much when it came to answering visitor questions about the area. Furthermore, 12 other national parks had since been established in the US, all under different administration.
Finally, on August 25, 1916, Woodrow Wilson signed the National Park Service Organic Act, creating an agency that would manage all national parks. The first national park rangers, many of whom were veterans of the army, took over in Yellowstone in 1918.

early NPS image, ca 1929

Peggy L Henderson
Western Historical and Time Travel Romance
“Where Adventure Awaits and Love is Timeless”

Award-Winning Author of:
Yellowstone Romance Series
Teton Romance Trilogy
Second Chances Time Travel Romance Series
Blemished Brides Western Historical Romance Series
Wilderness Brides Historical Romance Series


  1. I've always wanted to visit Yellowstone and you keep "rabble-rousing" and increasing that desire. Thanks for sharing, Peggy, and for all the great information you've given readers--and thanks for your great books!

  2. Thanks for sharing a bit of the history of Yellowstone Park, Thank goodness the Army was called in to protect the park. That guy who killed the bison deserved to be strung up!

  3. Thank goodness for Park Rangers! Their expertise is invaluable and I like that they have the authority of any law officer. It took a journalist to make things roll in the right direction.
    It truly amazes me at the way people just don't care about wild life. I want to ship them off to another planet where there is nothing but rocks for them to look at.
    Great post, Peggy. Protecting National Parks and the living things in them is something I care deeply about.

  4. Thank goodness the parks were preserved back then. Can you imagine what they'd be like today if not? Thanks for the post, Peggy.

  5. I'm glad we have a dedicated park aficionado among us. These vintage photos are priceless, but I've enjoyed your own photos of the park just as much. I don't know any acquaintance that know nearly as much.
    Thanks for sharing all this with us...and congratulations on all your great novels set in Yellowstone.
    Years ago, we were on a bus tour to national parks. We'd been last in the Black Hills and Mount Rushmore, and headed west to Yellowstone, where we would spend one night.
    There were 40 of us, and half were from the UK. This was later spring. All the women wore tank tops or spaghetti strap tops with shorts. The stood or sat in the sun every chance they got "to get a tan." I wore a light jacket.
    Finally, at Yellowstone, when a late spring cold front blew down. The next morning, the bus driver hurried us through breakfast and loading, because, he said, the Park thought they might have to shut down the exits and entrance. Sure enough, halfway to our exit, the snow was pretty thick. The driver said, I can stop for ten minutes...anyone want to play in the snow? Every UK person did, and made snowballs, etc. Luckily they had bought sweat shirts and hoodies in the gift shop in the inn. The driver got a call--get out now! The snow is getting thicker. They were about to close the exit which meant we'd have to stay on the side of the road for...who knows how long. We made a run for the border! And made it.
    But these from the UK were complaining loudly that no where in the travel brochures did it mention snow in Yellowstone! They were incensed.
    Sorry. I got carried away. But I have a tendency to remember funny stories.

  6. Quite an interesting history, thanks, Peggy! I've been fortunate enough to be in Yellowstone in the winter, taking an awesome guided tour on snowmobiles and rode throughout the beautiful park in the summer on motorcycles.

  7. Quite an interesting history, thanks, Peggy! I've been fortunate enough to be in Yellowstone in the winter, taking an awesome guided tour on snowmobiles and rode throughout the beautiful park in the summer on motorcycles.


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