The Early Years, 1872-1915

Capturing America’s Imagination

This is part one of two parts of the story of Yellowstone‘s Early Years.

1872 — On March 1, President Ulysses Grant signs into existence the world’s first national park, Yellowstone National Park. The 2.2 million acres of wilderness was “set apart as a public park or pleasuring ground for the benefit and enjoyment of the people.” Nathaniel Langford, one of the most outspoken proponents of the national park idea, is appointed the first superintendent of the Park. He was immediately assigned the task of making a “thorough exploration” of the Park, and decided to make his investigation as a guest of the Hayden Survey party, which was returning to Yellowstone for further research. Langford thus spent a memorable summer in the newly commissioned Yellowstone Park. (1: p.172-192)

1873 – 1882— The nation and government leaders seek to grapple with the “national park” issue and that which it entailed. The Yellowstone region was visited by the few fortunate who could afford to make the trip and were hearty enough to brave the elements of the great outdoors. Opportunists seek to take advantage of the attraction of Yellowstone Park. (2: p. 58-59) Read about the involvement of Jay Cooke and the Northern Pacific Railway.

1883 — President Chester Arthur took a camping tour of Yellowstone, brought Yellowstone Park to a new level of awareness among the nation’s citizens. The nation became concerned that opportunists are exploiting the Park. (1: p.277-282) The National Hotel at Mammoth Hot Springs is built. The massive structure is 414 fee long. It loses money from the beginning, and in time is mostly torn down and rebuilt into its current incarnation. (1: p.272-273)

1886 — The Secretary of the Interior comes to realize the hopelessness of trying to keep opportunists from ruining the Park in the face of recent Park superintendents who appear unconcerned about vandalism and poaching. The Interior department asks the US Army to intervene, and Yellowstone comes under military jurisdiction, which gradually brings order to the Park. (2: p.59) Also, Lt. Daniel C. Kingman conceives of the so-called “Grand Loop” which became the main roadway through the Park.

1890-91 — The Lake Hotel near Yellowstone Lake and a rudimentary hotel near Old Faithful Geyser are built. The latter is not destined to last. (2: p.60)

1894 — The Lacey Act is passed by Congress, giving full protection to wildlife in Yellowstone Park (except wolves and coyotes) and paving the way for future wildlife and environmental movements. (2: p.60)

A “Winter Expedition of 1894” sets out to count and photograph the number of bison:

“The party consisted of Captain Scott, Lieut. Forsyth, Scott Burgess, Robert Burns, Photographer Haynes, and three non-commissioned officers.  On Norwegian skis, with packs of sleeping bags, provisions and camera, they proceeded directly to the Hayden Valley via Norris and the Grand Canyon.  They found eighty-one buffaloes in the valley, seventy-three in one herd; and numerous groups of elk …

The second day they discover the “cache” of a poacher, very much to their surprise.  It consists of a canvas tepee, sleeping bag, provisions and toboggan and six buffalo heads suspended in a tree.  A trace of fire in the tepee led them to believe that the poacher was in the vicinity, and to capture him was the next move.  Some five miles from camp they heard five or six rifle shots in rapid succession.  Hastening through the timber to an opening they came directly upon the poacher.  He had driven six of the buffaloes into the deep snow and slaughtered them all.  Fortunately, it was snowing hard, and the approach of the scout was not noticed by the poacher or his dog until the arrest was made.  He was taken to the Lake Hotel and from there to the guard house at Fort Yellowstone.  In addition to the twelve buffaloes that were killed by this poacher a small herd of seven was seen in the Pelican Creek country, making less than 100 in the Park.  Elk were seen in great numbers in the foothills of Mount Washburn, on Specimen Ridge, along the east fork of the Yellowstone, on Slough Creek and the Yellowstone River to Mt. Everts.  Small bands of mountain sheep, deer and antelopes were seen on Mt. Everts.  The open water of the Yellowstone between the lake and falls was alive with ducks and swans.  Red foxes and coyotes were numerous and an occasional black fox and footprints of mountain lions and bears were seen.  The party in about thirty days traveled over 300 miles.” (As recounted in Hayne’s Guide)

1895 — Official yearly visitor counts begin. 5,438 people visit Yellowstone this year.

1902 — The original Fishing Bridge is built by engineer Hiram Chittenden.  The name Fishing Bridge was applied to it in 1914.

1903— President Theodore Roosevelt visits Yellowstone and is awed at the beauty and wildness of the Park. By now, the railroads are catering to Yellowstone tourists, taking visitors by the carloads to the Park. (2: p.60)

1903-1904 — The most famous structure  in Yellowstone, the Old Faithful Inn, is built. The unique building is constructed of native logs and rhyolite (volcanic rock) and built during the winter season.

1908 — Between Old Faithful and Spring Creek Canyon, one bandit successfully holds up sixteen vehicles and robs the occupants.

1910-1911— The Canyon Hotel is built on the rim of the Canyon, constructed during the winter season. Four decades later it burns down. (2: p.60)

1912 — National Geographic magazine publishes a feature story on America’s National Parks. It recommends that the visitor take 5 1/2 days to see the Park, a time frame typical of stagecoach tours of the Park.

1915 — The first automobile passes through the gates of Yellowstone Park – a Model T Ford. (2: p.62)

References cited are from Aubrey L. Haines, The Yellowstone Story, Volumes 1 and 2, 1977 editions.

Continue to the next chapter in Yellowstone‘s history:
The Age of the Automobile, 1916-1971: Yellowstone, America’s Pleasuring Ground