The History of Yellowstone - Creating the 1st National Park - My Yellowstone Park

How a Campfire Talk and a Painting Saved Yellowstone

Author:
Publish date:
Thomas Moran's "The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone" presented to Congress

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

It began, they say, where a lot of good ideas do - by a campfire

The members of the Washburn-Langford-Doane expedition of 1872 were on the final leg of what had been an amazing journey through the Yellowstone country. Now, sated with a meal and the comradeship that only comes from weeks in the mountains together, they sat around a crackling fire, watching sparks spin off into the night air.

It was September 19, 1870, and they were at the place where the Firehole and Gibbon rivers join to form the Madison. In a few more days, they would head down the Madison in the direction of Virginia City, Montana. Perhaps somewhere not far off, a bull elk bugled its challenge to the night, or a coyote yipped.

Photograph of Yellowstone. 1871, by William Henry Jackson. Camp on Mirror Lake during the Hayden Geologic Expedition of 1871

Photograph of Yellowstone. 1871, by William Henry Jackson. Camp on Mirror Lake during the Hayden Geologic Expedition of 1871

What Would Become of Yellowstone?

The conversation turned to what the men had seen over the past month, to the scenic wonders of Yellowstone country and to what would become of those wonders. In those years after the Civil War, more and more people were pushing into Wyoming and Montana in search of their futures. Perhaps, speculated a few at the fire, great fortunes would be made by building resorts and such near some of the great geysers they had seen. There was money to be made in Yellowstone country, to be sure.

But then, the story goes, a man named Cornelius Hedges offered a suggestion that was recounted by Nathaniel Langford: "Mr. Hedges then said that he did not approve of any of these plans-that there ought to be no private ownership of any portion of that region, but the whole ought to be set apart as a great National Park, and that each one of us ought to make an effort to have this accomplished."

Two years later, the idea came to reality and Yellowstone National Park came into existence. Whether or not you believe in the campfire idea-and some historians doubt its veracity-the idea of a national park certainly was a good one. If it was hatched that fine September evening in 1870 or not is a matter of some debate, but regardless, there was enough foresight among those early explorers of the region to set it aside for all subsequent generations to enjoy.

Hot Springs of the Yellowstone painting by Thomas Moran, 1872.

Hot Springs of the Yellowstone painting by Thomas Moran, 1872. 

Convincing Congress With Paintings, Photographs, and Surveys

The actual formation of the park was the work of many men, including William H. Clagett, a territorial delegate to Congress who introduced a bill into the House of Representatives in December 1871. Clagett and others lobbied hard for the creation of the park. F.V. Hayden, the famous surveyor who had explored Yellowstone as well, arranged for a display of geological specimens in the Capitol, along with some photographs taken by the remarkable William H. Jackson and sketches by the famous artist Thomas Moran.

On March 1, 1872, after much hard work by many people, President Ulysses Grant signed S. 392 into law, creating the nation's first national park.

Related

Yellowstone Tourism in the 1900s

Early Day Travel Was Hard on Tourists

Yellowstone had poor trails and no roads in early days. Travelers went by horse, rail and stagecoach until cars hit the scene in early 20th century.

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.

Danger sign at the West Thumb in Yellowstone

Unnatural Deaths in Yellowstone - And How to Avoid Them

The second edition of Lee Whittlesey's popular book "Death in Yellowstone" was released with 60 new tales of demise.

Roosevelt Gate: For the Benefit and Enjoyment of the People.

Roosevelt Arch at Yellowstone's North Entrance

Enter Yellowstone National Park from the north entrance and you’ll get a chance to see (and take a picture next to) the iconic Roosevelt Arch.

Officers Row has some of the 35 remaining structures from the 1890s to the early 1900s when the U.S. Army oversaw Yellowstone National Park. Photo by Sheffieldb via Flickr

Historic Fort Yellowstone Remains in Park Today

U.S. Army cavalry men protected the park from poachers and those looking to exploit its natural resources before the National Park Service 32 years later.

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.

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.

This 1894 photo of Yellowstone soldiers posing with bison killed by a poacher led to national public outcry and spurred Congress to give the Army the power to prosecute park violators. Photo by NPS

The Photo that Saved the Bison in Yellowstone

A 1894 photo of Yellowstone soldiers posing with bison killed by a poacher led to national public outcry and spurred Congress.