The uniform. In a sea of park visitors, it stands out. It is, like the parks themselves, a piece of history.
The uniform worn by today’s park rangers got it’s start in the fall of 1886, when an influx of U.S. Army cavalry men arrived in Yellowstone to protect the park from poachers and those looking to exploit its natural resources.
Fourteen years earlier, in 1872, Yellowstone had been designated as the nation’s first national park. Originally seen as a temporary assignment – a solution to Congress’ failed attempts to fund the park’s administration – the cavalry would end up operating the park for 32 years.
Construction at Fort Yellowstone began in 1890, just south of the park’s north entrance at Mammoth Hot Springs. Over the years, 34 buildings were erected at the fort. Amongst those were a guardhouse, officer’s quarters, barracks, a hospital, a granary, stables, a post office and a bakery. In 1913, a chapel was the last construction at the fort – built using sandstone acquired from a quarry near today’s Mammoth Campgrounds.
By 1910, there were 324 soldiers living in Yellowstone – not counting families and other civilian employees. In the summer, the cavalrymen would patrol the park on horseback and come winter, they would dismount their steeds and patrol the park on skis.
As the first rangers to patrol the nation’s first national park, the Army set the standards for how national parks are operated today. Throughout their tenure at Yellowstone, the cavalry created the idea of a ranger force. They implemented backcountry patrols, wildlife protection and management programs, and law enforcement procedures – aimed at discouraging the destruction of the park’s natural features.
In 1916, Congress created the National Park Service and by 1918, the cavalry had relinquished control of the park to the new agency.
Today, Fort Yellowstone is comprised of the Yellowstone National Park headquarters, the Horace Albright Visitor Center and staff accommodations.
The fort’s 100-year-old buildings still stand to the attention of present-day park visitors – tangible remnants of a presence that has faded in time, but not in memory. The legacy that the army left behind at Yellowstone lives on. It can be seen today at any one of our national parks. Just look for the uniform.
By April Cumming