Thomas Moran, Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, 1872 oil on canvas, 213.4 x 365.8 cm (84 x 144 in) Department of the Interior
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.
of the route lay through a magnificent forest of pines & firs all growing straight as a ships mast, & growing but a few feet apart. passed over the debris of a great land slide. where the whole face of the Mountain had fallen down at some time, laying bare a great cliff some 500 feet high. The view of the lake, as we approached it, was very beautiful. It is a small pool formed by the widening of stream at this point, it is not more than half a mile in any direction. The Mountains surrounding it are about 11,000 feet high & about 3000 ft. above the level of the lake having snow still upon them The foot hills are all heavily
timbered with pine & fir, which appear to be the only trees that grow upon the Mountains in the west. After descending to the shore of the lake, some of the party fished in it & caught a few of the finest trout that I have yet seen. After a rest of about 3 hours all the party started back for camp excepting Jackson Dixon & Myself, we having Concluded to remain over until the next day for the purpose of photographing & sketching in the Vacinity. Made a large fire & cooked our supper of Black tailed deer meat. which I enjoyed hugely after riding &
nearly all day. For the first time in my life I slept out in the open air. during the night it rained a little but not enough to wet us to any extent. got up early enough in the morning to get our Breakfast, & commence photograping as soon as the sun rose. The outlet of the lake is through an immense gorge in the Mountains bordered with great cliffs & peaks of Limestone some of them isolated & forming spendid foreground Material for pictures. sketched but little but worked hard with the photographer selecting points to be taken & e. Felt used up about 12 O clock & started back to the camping ground where we prepared our dinner & rested an hour
Jackson got 13 negatives during the day. which considering the difficulties quite a feat I think. started Back for camp at 3½ Oclock. clouds began to gather & a rain set in in the Mts all around us but did not fall heavily on us. Jackson’s pack mule & traps got pretty well shaken up in the return by having to force a passage between trees not wide enough apart to allow free passage of the pack. when about half way back Dixons horse got his foot fast between two fallen trees & in his frantic efforts to extricate himself he struck Dixon who had dismounted to help him square on the top of the head with his fore foot, peeling his scalp & hurting him considerably. The view from
The Mountains south east of our Camp & on the road to the lake looking toward the Yellowstone Country glorious, & I do not expect to see any finer general view of the Rocky Mountains. We got back to Camp at 7½ p.m & after supper went over to our tent where most of those then in Camp were collected & listened to some[The bottom half of this page is missing and the lower portion of page 6 is visible below.]
15th left Ellis for Yellowstone Camp trail Creek July 16 Left camp on trail creek in Company with Stephenson, Jackson & Dummy, for the Crow Agency. stayed at the Agency all night. we were each presented with a Buffalo robe by Major pease. July 17 Left the Agency at 12 Oclock. did some photography in the Lower Canon & reached Boettlers ranch at 1½ oclock that night after a severe ride in the dark of 35 miles from the Agency. July18th remained in camp at Boettlers July 19th Left Boettlers in Co with Jackson, Dixon, Ellick, Jose, & Crissman. reached the Middle Canon in the afternoon. Camped for the night. did some tale fishing
photographed & sketched some next morning.July 20. Left the Middle Canon & went as far as the devils slide on Cinnabar Mt. where we camped for the night. July 21 Sketched & photos in the morning. The main party passed us in the forenoon. went on in the afternoon as far as the Hot springs on Gardners RiverJuly 22 in Camp at Hot Springs July 23 in Camp at ” ” July 24 in Camp at. Left in the afternoon & went as far as day light allowed & camped in a small Ravine near the Yellowstone
July 25 Left camp in the Ravine early & touched the Yellowstone at the Bridge Thence to Tower Falls.July 26 Remained at Tower Falls sketching & photographingJuly 27 Left Tower Falls. Halted at noon on Mt. Washburne. Arrived at Yellowstone falls in the evening.July 28. Sketching & photographing about the Falls.July 29 photographing & sketching around the Falls & CanonJuly 30 still at the Falls.
July 31st Left the falls reached crater Hill. large Sulpher spring & many mud springs left at noon & camped at the mud volcanoAug 1st photo & sketching at mud volcano. Left mud volcano at noon & reached the Yellowstone Lake where the whole party & Escort were encamped.Aug 2nd made photographs & sketches of the Lake & river in forenoon. followed the main Camp in the afternoon to the Hot springs on the Border Border of the Lake. 30 miles through Heavy timber & was lost for several Hours at night in a dense
forest on a mountain side covered with fallen trees. got into Camp at 10½ OclockAug 3rd Moved Camp a few miles farther round the Lake to the Hot springsAug 4th remained all this day at the same Camp. did some sketching about the springs. took the Boat to the springs farther round the lake & had a hard pull to get back as the Lake was rough & the wind against us.Aug 5. Camp moved to the springs visited yesterday
Aug 6th Jackson Dixon & Myself started out to find the Madison Lake to get a photograph of it. but after travelling through heavy forests until two oclock, gave up the search & got back to Camp at eveningAug 7th In camp all day. photo some of the springs. in the evening Lieut. Doane Arrived from Ellis with an order for the Return of the Escort to the fort Grugan & Tyler invited Me to Return with them & as the Wonders of the Yellowstone had been seen I concluded to return 4 Biscuits a day for last 5 [?]
Aug 8th Set out with Jackson Smith, & the Escort across the Country for the Geysers on fire Hole River. led by Doane. struck the river 9 miles below the Geysers & CampedAug 9th Went to the Geysers Helped Jackson during the day & returned by myself to Camp.Aug 10th started down the Madison & camped on a dull spot on the edge of the River near a bit of Burnt timber. after passing through the upper Canon with the great cliff in it
Aug 11th Moved across the country & Reached the -first- 2nd Canon of the Madison & Camped in it. It is a grand canonAug 12. passed out of the Canon. into the open country & camped near the Basaltic ridge.Aug 13 Reached the Ranches & camped on the Road to Virginia City near Haydens old campAug 14 Camped at Bradleys Ranch on warm spring creek. gold [?]Aug 15 Camped on a small