Thomas Moran’s Diary

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
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