First Accurate Written Account of Yellowstone Geography

Mining engineer David E. Folsom, and friends Charles Cook and William Peterson, first accurately documented the Yellowstone landscape in 1869.
Original Washburn survery of Yellowstone in 1869

That a 30-year-old mining engineer wrote the first accurate account of Yellowstone’s geography may not seem like a big deal. But had David E. Folsom and his friends Charles Cook and William Peterson not crossed through the Montana territory into present-day Yellowstone in September 1869, the country’s largest national park might not exist.

According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Folsom's 1869 handwritten manuscript begins: "The headwaters of the Yellowstone, although occasionally visited by small parties of prospectors and mountain men, and being within a few days ride of Virginia City, is still to the world of letters a terra incognita."

Folsom’s account also includes the trio’s adventures fishing in Yellowstone Lake, measuring the height of Yellowstone Falls and exploring the geyser basin.

When the three friends penned their descriptions of the bubbling geysers and huge waterfalls, many publishers refused to print it, saying that the discoveries seemed too incredible to be true. But the editors at a small Chicago monthly were intrigued, and in June 1870, the Western Monthly published their story.

And the country took note.

Two government expeditions, the Washburn-Doane-Langford expedition of 1870 and the Hayden scientific expedition in 1871 set out because of Folsom’s account, and soon after, in 1872, Congress deemed the Yellowstone area the world’s first national park.

Although two original versions of Folsom’s Western Monthly article burned, the last remaining copy is housed in a fireproof vault in the archives of the Montana State University library.



John Colter - The Mystery of the Stone and the Legend of the Run

Is the stone a fake or does it mean Colter was the first Yellowstone explorer. Also read about Colter's run from Blackfeet Indians which inspired a movie.

Steam from Geysers beside Yellowstone Lake

Lost in Yellowstone, The Misadventures of Truman Everts

In 1870, Truman Everts went on a Yellowstone Expedition. He got lost two times then started a forest fire. So of course we offered him a superintendent job.

Little Bighorn Memorial

Yellowstone Country Is Indian Country

Yellowstone National Park area is full of Indian lore and reservations to explore.


Ghosts of Yellowstone

With geysers hissing and the earth gurgling, it’s no wonder that Yellowstone National Park is home to its share of ghost stories.

Stagecoach at the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel in Yellowstone

The History of West Yellowstone

The trip E.H. Harriman, president of the Union Pacific Railroad, and Frank J. Haynes, president of Monida & Yellowstone Stage Line, made to Yellowstone National Park in 1905, led to the existence of the town of West Yellowstone.

Philetus Walter Norris in his trapper clothing

Yellowstone's First Park Superintendents

Horace Albright, Nathaniel Langford, and Philetus Norris were essential to the success of Yellowstone National Park, and quite the characters.

Shoshoni Tipis Sheepeater Tribe

Legend of the Sheepeater Indian Tribe in Yellowstone

Yellowstone was the permanent home of one Native American tribe, but racism bred untrue rumors and tales.

Dan Wenk

Q&A with Yellowstone's Superintendent Dan Wenk

Superintendent Dan Wenk reminisces about the last century and shares thoughts about the challenges and opportunities for the next century.

Thomas Moran's "The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone" presented to Congress

How a Campfire Talk and a Painting Saved Yellowstone

Around a campfire in 1872 the Washburn-Langford-Doane expedition first suggested establishing a national park in Yellowstone country.