In 1871 the Hayden expedition set out to survey the sources of the Missouri and Yellowstone Rivers, the area that was soon to become the nation’s first national park. Thomas Moran joined as artist of the team and depicted many of Yellowstone’s geologic features and landscapes. These depictions later proved essential in convincing the United States Congress to establish Yellowstone as a national park.
Thomas Moran was born in Bolton, Lancashire in England in 1837. In 1844 his family moved to Baltimore and later settled in Philadelphia. Around the age of 16, Moran began his artistic training as an apprentice in a wood engraver’s shop. After two years Moran left his apprenticeship to begin a full-time painting career.
Like many American artists of his time, Moran studied abroad in Europe, focusing on the works of European masters, particularly landscape artist J.W. Turner in the National Gallery in London. Moran soon established himself as a well-respected painter, engraver, and illustrator. He produced images for several publications, including Scribner’s Magazine and it was through his association with Scribner’s that he first learned of the Hayden Expedition. He agreed to join the expedition at his own expense, and with the support of Jay Cooke and Company, owners of the Northern Pacific Railroad, Moran was welcomed as a member of the survey team. The Northern Pacific Railroad had a vested interest in Moran, as they were looking to popularize the area in the interest of expanding their railroad westward.
During the forty days he spent in the area, Moran documented over 30 different sites. His sketches along with William Henry Jackson’s photographs captured the nation’s attention and forever linked the artist with the area. In fact, his name became so synonymous with Yellowstone that he was often referred to as Thomas “Yellowstone” Moran.
In 1978, Thomas Moran’s diary, autobiography, art supplies, as well as several personal effects such as eyeglasses, pistol, holster, and sketchbook were acquired by Yellowstone National Park from Jefferson National Expansion Memorial who acquired them from Yosemite National Park. Yosemite received them in 1926 from Ruth B. Moran, Thomas Moran’s daughter. In addition, there are twenty-two original Moran paintings in Yellowstone’s collection. Prints of these watercolors are on view at the Albright Visitor Center in Mammoth Hot Springs, Yellowstone National Park.
Below, you may explore Thomas Moran’s diary as it has been transcribed. As you will notice, Moran’s diary begins in the middle of a sentence on what is thought to be the second page. It is suspected that a first page exists, because it was included in an earlier transcription; however, its location remains a mystery.