Some national parks preserve the history of old military forts. In Yellowstone the opposite is true. Our military fort once preserved the national park. As the world’s first national park, Yellowstone was established in 1872 over 40 years before the National Park Service was created.
With limited funds and staffing, the park fell victim to vandals, squatters and poachers. In 1886 Congress refused to appropriate any funds to administer the park, so in desperation, the park turned to the army for help. The U.S. Cavalry soon arrived and began to restore order. The cavalry was headquarted at Mammoth Hot Springs. A few soldiers were sent to outposts where they could patrol the rest of the park on horses. In the winter, soldiers patrolled on skis.
After living in temporary buildings for five harsh winters the army realized they might be staying awhile, and so they began to build a permanent post. Many of the wooden clapboard and stone buildings in Mammoth Village are the historic army offices and quarters.
In 1916 the National Park Service was created. Two years later the park service took over management of Yellowstone employing many of the military personnel already stationed in the park. Park rangers modeled much of their early duties after the army personnel who protected Yellowstone for 32 years. Though we no longer sound the canon or rise to reveille, our uniforms still resemble those of the military.
Park administrative headquarters remain in Mammoth and the historic army buildings are still used for offices and staff housing. One of the large stone buildings is now the Albright Visitor Center. Built in 1909, it was originally the bachelor officers’ quarters. You can tour the historic district with a ranger, or on your own, using the self-guiding tour brochure available at the visitor center. Fort Yellowstone is a reminder of the critical role the army played in preserving the first national park during its formative years.