Romance of the National Parks



"There ought to be no private ownership in any portion of that region (the Yellowstone), but the whole of it ought to be set aside as a great National Park."

—Cornelius Hedges, quoted in Langford's Diary of the
Washburn-Doane-Langford Expedition, September 20, 1870.

FOR many centuries, although a comparatively new creation geologically speaking, the Yellowstone country existed unseen, unnamed, in the heart of a continent unknown to the civilized peoples of the world. Any prehistoric occupancy of the area which may have existed certainly left no scars of use and no tradition among the Indians. Jurisdiction to the great Northwest Territory came with the Louisiana Purchase, but there existed little knowledge of the vast domain on the part of either the seller or the buyer. The Lewis and Clark Expedition, authorized by President Jefferson to explore and hold for the young Republic the great country acquired from the French, passed within fifty miles of the present Yellowstone National Park, but from the Indians at Mandan, where they spent the winter, they heard nothing of the fabulous headwaters of the Yellowstone. Whether this was due to ignorance or to reticence in mentioning what may have seemed to them manifestations of the Evil Spirit is not known. The Blackfeet, Crow, and Shoshone Indians who hunted, trapped, and fished in what we now know as Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming, probably penetrated the park on occasion, but generally avoided the region, perhaps because of its inaccessibility and its short season free from snow and bitter weather, but possibly because the boiling cauldrons and the spurting jets of steam appeared to them, like the thunder and lightning, as exhibitions of the wrath and power of the gods. The early Indian guides who entered with various exploration parties seemed unfamiliar with the terrain, but their exclamations indicated that to them the geysers and springs and paint pots were thoroughly bad.

The only Indians known to live in the Yellowstone country were the Sheepeaters, a tribe of small, poor, and peaceful Indians who had little property in the way of horses, clothing or permanent abodes. For food they had the mountain sheep, and they fashioned primitive utensils and weapons from obsidian.

Today the Indians no longer roam the plains. They live stodgily in the reservations which have been grudgingly granted them by the white man. They eat food from the white man's tin cans. No longer are obsidian spearpoints and utensils of any use. The Indians adopted the white man's weapons, and with firearms they have united with the white man to exterminate to a pitiful protected remnant the bison which once furnished them meat and excitement. And so we inherit the beauty of Obsidian Cliff, seen by thousands of tourists every summer in Yellowstone National Park, and no doubt worth more in revenue as an object of natural art than it ever was as an obsidian quarry.

Though Lewis and Clark missed the Yellowstone and all of its wonders, John Colter, one of their party, turned back and came into the country in 1807, probably the first white man to enter its sacred precincts. But Colter's tales seemed so "tall" to those who heard them that the country came to be known as "Colter's Hell"—a mirage in reverse action, as it were. Discredited as were his "romances" about what he had seen, he did in 1810 furnish important information for the map of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, then in course of preparation. His route of 1807, which revealed the Teton Mountains, Jackson's Hole, the source of the Snake River, the Yellowstone Lake and River, proved of much more importance to posterity than the more spectacular escape from the Indians once depicted so commonly in the geography and history books.

Except for a few trappers during the heyday of the half century which saw the exploitation of the wild fur-bearing animals in America, the Yellowstone remained uncontaminated by man. Serenely its craggy mountains lifted their peaks skyward, covered with soft blankets of snow for most of the year, their slopes strewn with bright blossoms during the short, mild summers. High on the Great Divide the headwaters of the Snake and Yellowstone trickled in little nearby rills, one toward the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic, the other to the Colorado and the Pacific. And nestling on the east side of the Divide were the blue waters of Lake Yellowstone, with its irregular forested shores, less than five miles from Shoshone, Lewis, and Heart Lakes, yet unnamed, on the other side of the Divide. The brightly colored yellow stone canyon and falls, though unknown to the great American public, had an Indian name which was first translated into French and then into English, Yellow Rock or Yellow Stone. The hot springs boiled, the paint-pots bubbled, and the geysers spouted steam with none to observe. The lovely colors of the pools and the intricately fragile deposits formed and reformed, their secret beauty unseen and unheralded.

The land of enchantment seemed to hold its own protection. Its marvels were shunned by the belligerent tribes of the surrounding country; the lowly Sheepeaters seemed hardly conscious of the marvels which were near them. They left the country as they found it. The trappers caught abundant beaver and other fur-bearing animals on the plains at lower altitudes where they could set their traps in winter, when the fur was at its best. Even the gold rush to California in '49 brought no travelers into the high Yellowstone country. The wagon routes lay north or south of this seemingly impenetrable mass of mountains. In time, mining developed in Montana and other nearby States, but there was little prospecting in these snow-mantled mountains at the crest of the continent.

About the time that persistent rumors concerning the marvels of the Yellowstone might have stimulated exploration, the Civil War, which almost rent the Union in twain, came along and utilized on one side or the other all the bold spirits who might otherwise have organized expeditions into this strange country.

Although Captain Raynolds, of the Corps of Topographical Engineers, U. S. A., had, in the company of Bridger, skirted the high Yellowstone country in 1859, his report was not issued until after the close of the Civil War. In September of 1869, Messrs. Folsom, Cook and Peterson, although they failed to secure a military escort, set out to discover what actually did lie in the upper Yellowstone country. They threaded the Missouri River to Three Forks, then went by way of Bozeman and Fort Ellis to the Yellowstone, and along that river to the falls and to the lake. They crossed the mountains to Shoshone Lake and finally reached the Lower Geyser Basin. They saw the Fountain Geyser, traveled along the Firehole River to Excelsior Geyser and Prismatic Lake. Mr. Folsom wrote an account of the trip which was published in July, 1871, in the Western Monthly of Chicago.

The most famous and significant expedition into the Yellowstone was the Washburn-Doane-Langford party, which made the pack train trip in 1870. Not only did the members of this expedition see the principal features of the Yellowstone high country, but they left ample records of what they saw, and they came home with a new idea, an idea which was to create a new form of land-use in the United States.

There were nine civilian members of the party, including General Henry D. Washburn, surveyor general of Montana, who had served in the Civil War; Judge Cornelius Hedges, a distinguished member of the Montana bar; Samuel T. Hauser, a civil engineer and president of the First National Bank of Helena, afterwards Governor of Montana; Walter Trumbull, assistant assessor of internal revenue, and a son of United States Senator Lyman Trumbull of Illinois Truman Everts, assessor of internal revenue for Montana, and Nathaniel P. Langford, who was collector of internal revenue for Montana, and who was designated as the official diarist of the trip. General Washburn was chosen captain of the party. A military escort from Fort Ellis was furnished on the order of Major General Hancock. General Chittenden, in his book published in 1895, stated that General Sheridan, who passed through Helena prior to his departure for the scene of the Franco-Prussian War, "spent some time in arranging for a military escort to accompany the party." In spite of the fact that nearly all of the men under Major Baker were in the field fighting Indians, Langford recorded that five men under the command of Lieutenant Gustavus C. Doane of the Second U. S. Cavalry were detailed, and "we are satisfied." As finally organized, there were nine civilians, six soldiers, two packers, two cooks, and thirty-five horses and mules.

Langford has given us an intensely human account of the day-by-day doings of the party, but the official report of Lieutenant Doane, which was transmitted by Secretary of War Belknap to the Committee of Territories of the United States Senate and published as Senate Document No. 51, 41st Congress, third session, contains the most complete, detailed, and penetrating descriptions to be found.

On the sixth day out, the party came to Tower Fall, where, Lieutenant Doane wrote: "A view from the summit of one of (the rock) spires is exceedingly beautiful; the clear icy stream plunges from a brink 100 feet beneath to the bottom of the chasm, over 200 feet below, and thence rushes through the narrow gorge, tumbling over boulders and tree trunks fallen in the channel. The sides of the chasm are worn away into caverns lined with variously tinted mosses, nourished by clouds of spray which rise from the cataract; while above, and to the left, a spur from the great plateau rises above all, with a perpendicular front of 400 feet. . . . Nothing can be more chastely beautiful than this lovely cascade, hidden away in the dim light of overshadowing rocks and woods, its very voice hushed to a low murmur, unheard at the distance of a few hundred yards."

GEYSERS IN YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK Photograph—J. E. Haynes, Courtesy—Portfolio, American Planning and Civic Association

On the eighth day they came in sight of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, "its perpendicular sides, wherever visible, of . . . yellow sulphuric tint . . . and its crest on either side of the river, mantled with heavy timber, extending beyond in an unbroken forest as far as the eye could reach." From here they saw their first column of steam, "rising from a dense woods to the height of several hundred feet."

At this point Lieutenant Doane confessed surprise and amazement. "We had all heard fabulous stories of this region, and were somewhat skeptical of appearances." After the trip was over Cornelius Hedges remarked, "I think a more confirmed set of skeptics never went out into the wilderness than those who composed our party, and never was a party more completely surprised and captivated with the wonders of nature."

But in the next few days of exploration when they saw so many remarkable sights, they were awed by the Falls and the Canyon of the Yellowstone as a superb spectacle. Said Lieutenant Doane: "Both of these cataracts (Upper and Lower Falls) deserve to be ranked among the great waterfalls of the continent. . . . Every cascade has a language and an idea peculiarly its own, embodied, as it were, in the flow of the waters. Thus the impression on the mind conveyed by Niagara may be summed up as 'Overwhelming power'; of the Yosemite, as 'Altitude'; of the Shoshone Fall, in the midst of the desert, as 'Going to waste.' (Alas! No longer going to waste since the power development displaced its beauty.) So the upper fall of the Yellowstone may be said to embody the idea of 'Momentum,' and the lower fall 'Gravitation.' In scenic beauty, the upper cataract fall excels the lower. It has life, animation, while the lower one simply follows its channel; both, however, are eclipsed, as it were, by the singular wonders of the mighty canyon below. This deepens rapidly; the stream flowing over rapids continually."

The ground on the brink rises also to the foot of Mt. Washburn, an eminence named for General Washburn, as, according to Cornelius Hedges, "he was the first to climb its bare, bald summit, and thence reported to us the welcome news that he saw the beautiful lake that had been the proposed object of our journey."

From then on, the expedition saw and perforce had to believe the unbelievable. Day after day, the climax of the marvels seen the day before reached new heights of beauty and of incomprehensibility. They were all practical men, living under practical frontier conditions. They had to accept the evidences of their senses. Fortunately, too, more than one of the number proved to be apperceptive to natural beauty and to possess the soul of a poet.

Curiously enough, even from these distinguished gentlemen of undoubted standing, the facts seemed too fabulous for the American public to accept. Dr. Holland, the editor of Scribner's (later Century) Magazine, sent to Mr. Langford a number of uncomplimentary criticisms of his articles in the May and June issues of 1871.

One reviewer said: "This Langford must be the champion liar of the Northwest." Langford confessed to a feeling of satisfaction when a letter was published later in the summer, written by a member of the U. S. Geological Survey, containing the words: "Langford did not dare tell one-half of what he saw."

Langford paid his respects to the falls and the canyon. The stupendous scene had on him a profound emotional effect. He wrote in his Diary: "The scenery surrounding the canyon and falls on both banks of the Yellowstone is enlivened by all the hues of abundant vegetation. The foothills approach the river, crowned with a vesture of evergreen pines. Meadows verdant with grasses and shrubbery stretch away to the base of the distant mountains, which, rolling into ridges, rising into peaks, and breaking into chains, are defined in the deepest blue upon the horizon. To render the scene still more imposing, remarkable volcanic deposits, wonderful boiling springs, jets of heated vapor, large collections of sulphur, immense rocks and petrifications abound in great profusion in this immediate vicinity. The river is filled with trout, and bear, elk, deer, mountain lions and lesser game roam the plains, forests and mountain fastnesses.


"The two grand falls of the Yellowstone form a fitting completion to this stupendous climax of wonders. They impart life, power, light and majesty to an assemblage of elements, which without them would be the most gloomy and horrible solitude in nature. Their eternal anthem, echoing from canyon, mountain, rock and woodland, thrills you with delight, and you gaze with rapture at the iris-crowned curtains of fleecy foam as they plunge into gulfs enveloped in mist and spray. The stillness which held your senses spellbound, as you peered into the dismal depths of the canyon below, is now broken by the uproar of waters; the terror it inspired is superseded by admiration and astonishment, and the scene, late so painful from its silence and gloom, is now animate with joy and revelry."

The descriptions of the springs, geysers and other marvels were given in great detail. Lieutenant Doane presented workmanlike word pictures of all that they saw. Langford must have written late each night after the day's explorations. According to Langford's entry on September 1: "Six miles above the upper fall we entered upon a region remarkable for the number and variety of its hot springs and craters. The principal spring, and the one that first meets the eye as you approach from the north, is a hot sulphur spring, of oval shape, the water of which is constantly boiling and is thrown up to a height of from three to seven feet. . . . Farther along the base of this mountain is a sulphurous cavern about twenty feet deep, and seven or eight feet in diameter at its mouth, out of which the steam is thrown in jets with a sound resembling the puffing of a steamboat when laboring over a sandbar, and with as much uniformity and intonation as if emitted by a high-pressure engine. From hundreds of fissures in the adjoining mountain from base to summit, issue hot sulphur vapors, the apertures through which they escape being encased in thick incrustations of sulphur. . . . . There are nearby a number of small sulphur springs.

"About one hundred yards from these springs is a large hot spring of irregular shape, but averaging forty feet long by twenty-five wide, the water of which is a dark muddy color. Still farther on are twenty or thirty springs of boiling mud of different degrees of consistency and color. . . . The mud in these springs is in most cases a little thinner than mortar prepared for plastering, and, as it is thrown up from one to two feet, I can liken its appearance to nothing so much as Indian meal hasty pudding when the process of boiling is nearly completed, except that the puffing, bloated bubbles are greatly magnified, being from a few inches to two feet in diameter. In some of the springs the mud is of a dark brown color, in others nearly pink, and in one it was almost yellow. . . .

"All of these springs are embraced within a circle the radius of which is from a thousand to twelve hundred feet, and the whole of this surface seems to be a smothered crater covered over with an incrustation of sufficient strength and thickness to bear usually a very heavy weight, but which in several instances yielded and even broke through under the weight of our horses as we rode over it. . . . Under the whole of this incrustation the hottest fire seemed to be raging, and the heat issuing from the vents or from the crevices caused from the breaking in of the surface is too intense to be borne by the gloved hand for an instant."

Even in the midst of the incredible performances in the basins, Langford found words of admiration for Yellowstone Lake. Said he: "Yellowstone Lake, as seen from our camp tonight (September 3, 1870), seems to me to be the most beautiful body of water in the world. In front of our camp it has a wide sandy beach like that of the ocean, which extends for miles and as far as the eye can reach, save that occasionally there is to be found a sharp projection of rocks. The overlooking bench rises from the water's edge about eight feet, forming a bank of sand or natural levee, which serves to prevent the overflow of the land adjoining, which, when the lake is receiving the water from the mountain streams that empty into it while the snows are melting, is several feet below the surface of the lake. . . . From our camp we can see several islands from five to ten miles distant in a direct line. Two of the three 'Tetons,' which are so plainly visible to travelers going to Montana from Eagle Rock bridge on Snake River, and which are such well known and prominent landmarks on that stage route, we notice tonight."

Along the Yellowstone River the party had followed Indian and game trails for the most part, but when they struck out to follow the borders of the lake around the south side they were obliged to find their way through forests where the down timber had never been cleared—and never is a long time! On the 7th of September Langford and Doane went on a scouting tour to determine the best line of travel to follow in passing around the lake. Langford remarked in his Diary: "There is just enough excitement attending these scouting expeditions to make them a real pleasure, overbalancing the labor attendant upon them. There is very little probability that any large band of Indians will be met with on this side of the lake, owing to the superstitions which originate in the volcanic forces here found."

He climbed a mountain where he thought "the view from the summit of this mountain, for wild and rugged grandeur, is surpassed by none I ever before saw. The Yellowstone basin and the Wind River mountains were spread out before us like a map. On the south the eye followed the source of the Yellowstone above the lake, until, twenty-five miles away, it was lost in an immense canyon, beyond which two immense jets of vapor rose to a height of probably three hundred feet, indicating that there were other and perhaps greater wonders than those embraced in our prescribed limit of exploration. On the north the outlet of the lake and the steam from the mud geyser and mud volcano were distinctly visible, while on the southeast the view followed to the horizon a succession of lofty peaks and ridges at least thirty miles in width, whose jagged slopes were filled with yawning caverns, pine-embowered recesses and beetling precipices, some hundreds and some thousands of feet in height. This is the range which Captain Raynolds, approaching from the east, found impassable while on his exploring tour to the Yellowstone in the year 1860. . . .

"The valley at the base of this range was dotted with small lakes. Lakes abound everywhere—in the valleys, on the mountains and further down on their slopes at all elevations. . . .

"This range of mountains has a marvelous history. As it is the loftiest, so it is probably the most remarkable lateral ridge of the Rocky range. In the expedition sent across the continent by Mr. Astor, in 1811, under command of Captain Wilson P. Hunt, that gentleman met with the first serious obstacle to his progress at the eastern base of this range. After numerous efforts to scale it, he turned away and followed the valley of Snake River, encountering the most discouraging disasters until he arrived at Astoria. . . . I have read somewhere . . . that the Indians regard this ridge of mountains as the crest of the world, and that among the Blackfeet there is a fable that he who attains its summit catches a view of the 'Land of Souls' and beholds the 'Happy Hunting Grounds' spread out below him, brightening with the abodes of the free and generous spirits."

TWO VIEWS OF OLD FAITHFUL, YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK Photographs—Department of the Interior, Courtesy—Portfolio, American Planning and Civic Association

The next day the party zigzagged over fallen timber—"a terrible day for both men and horses." It was while traversing this trackless forest, with the attendant difficulties of urging on the pack train and extricating the horses when wedged between trees, requiring readjustment of the packs, that Mr. Everts became separated from the party for thirty-seven days of peril until he was rescued by a scouting party some time after the return of the expedition. After vain searching and delay until provisions began to run short, the expedition pushed on around the thumb of the lake to the Upper and Lower Geyser Basins on the Firehole River. They came upon and named Old Faithful, then, as now, erupting steam and hot water at regular intervals. In announcing the start on the 16th of September for the search of the Firehole basin, Mr. Langford remarked: "Our journey around Yellowstone Lake in close proximity to the beach is doubtless the first ever attempted; and, although it has been attended with difficulty and distress, these have been to me as nothing compared with the enjoyment the journey has afforded, and it is with the greatest regret that I turn my face from it homewards."

But the form of the future was not yet quite cast. Langford remarked on the evening of the 16th in his Diary, concerning the lake: "It is dotted with islands of great beauty, as yet unvisited by man, but which at no remote period will be adorned with villas and the ornaments of civilized life. The winds from the mountain gorges roll its placid waters into a furious sea, and crest its billows with foam. Forests of pine, deep, dark and almost impenetrable, are scattered at random along its banks, and its beautiful margin presents every variety of sand and pebbly beach, glittering with crystals, carnelians and chalcedony. . . . . It possesses adaptabilities for the highest display of artificial culture, amid the greatest wonders of Nature that the world affords, and is beautified by the grandeur of the most extensive mountain scenery, and not many years can elapse before the march of civil improvement will reclaim this delightful solitude, and garnish it with all the attractions of cultivated taste and refinement."

Twice they crossed the main divide and encountered snow, and what with the loss of one of their number, short rations and the accumulated fatigue of the journey, the members of the expedition were low in their minds. Imagine their revivification when they came upon Old Faithful and the many other geysers and springs which they named. Many of these names survive to the present day. Langford commented: "The water in some of the springs presents to the eye the colors of all the precious gems known to commerce. In one spring the hue is like that of an emerald, in another like that of a turquoise, another has the ultramarine hue of the sapphire, another has the color of the topaz; and the suggestion has been made that the names of these jewels may very properly be given to many of these springs."

But now the form of the future was to be cast. On Tuesday, September 20, Langford recorded in his Diary: "Last night, and also this morning in camp, the entire party had a rather unusual discussion. The proposition was made by some member that we utilize the result of our exploration by taking up quarter sections of land at the most prominent points of interest, and a general discussion followed. One member of our party suggested that if there could be secured by pre-emption a good title to two or three quarter sections of land opposite the lower fall of the Yellowstone and extending down the river along the canyon, they would eventually become a source of great profit to the owners. Another member of the party thought that it would be more desirable to take up a quarter section of land at the Upper Geyser Basin, for the reason that that locality could be more easily reached by tourists and pleasure seekers. A third suggestion was that each member of the party pre-empt a claim, and in order that no one should have an advantage over the others, the whole should be thrown into a common pool for the benefit of the entire party.

"Mr. Hedges then said that he did not approve of any of these plans—that there ought to be no private ownership of any portion of that region, but that the whole of it ought to be set apart as a great National Park, and that each one of us ought to make an effort to have this accomplished. His suggestion met with an instantaneous and favorable response from all—except one—of the members of our party, and each hour since the matter was first broached, our enthusiasm has increased. It has been the main theme of our conversation today as we journeyed. I lay awake half of last night thinking about it;—and if my wakefulness deprived my bedfellow (Hedges) of any sleep, he has only himself and his disturbing national-park proposition to answer for it.

"Our purpose to create a park can only be accomplished by untiring work and concerted action in a warfare against the incredulity and unbelief of our national legislators when our proposal shall be presented for their approval. Nevertheless, I believe we can win the battle.

"I do not know of any portion of our country where a national park can be established furnishing to visitors more wonderful attractions than here. These wonders are so different from anything we have ever seen—they are so various, so extensive—that the feeling in my mind from the moment they began to appear until we left them has been one of intense surprise and of incredulity. Every day spent in surveying them has revealed to me some new beauty, and now that I have left them, I begin to feel a skepticism which clothes them in a memory clouded by doubt."

Langford closed his Diary with an entry on September 27 at Helena, Montana: "My narrations have excited great wonder, and I cannot resist the conviction that many of my auditors believe that I have 'drawn a long bow' in my descriptions. I am perfectly free to acknowledge that this does not surprise me. It seems a most natural thing for them to do so; for, in the midst of my narrations, I find myself almost as ready to doubt the reality of the scenes I have attempted to describe as the most skeptical of my listeners. They pass along my memory like the faintly defined outlines of a dream. And when I dwell upon their strange peculiarities, their vastness, their variety, and the distinctive features of novelty which mark them all, so entirely out of the range of all objects that compose the natural scenery and wonders of this continent, I who have seen them can scarcely realize that in those far-off recesses of the mountains they have existed so long in impenetrable seclusion, and that hereafter they will stand foremost among the natural attractions of the world. Astonishment and wonder become so firmly impressed upon the mind in the presence of these objects, that belief stands appalled, and incredulity is dumb. You can see Niagara, comprehend its beauties, and carry from it a memory ever ready to summon before you all its grandeur. You can stand in the valley of the Yosemite, and look up its mile of vertical granite, and distinctly recall its minutest feature; but amid the canyon and falls, the boiling springs and sulphur mountain, and, above all, the mud volcano and and the geysers of the Yellowstone, your memory becomes filled and clogged with objects new in experience, wonderful in extent, and possessing unlimited grandeur and beauty. It is a new phase in the natural world; a fresh exhibition of the handiwork of the Great Architect; and, while you see and wonder, you seem to need an additional sense, fully to comprehend and believe."

The Washburn-Doane-Langford expedition laid before the reading world a description of a little known and seldom explored region, as it penetrated, probably, beyond any former explorations. But its historical significance lies in the birth of a new idea—an idea closely connected with democracy—the idea of the common ownership of land and resources, dedicated to the use and enjoyment of the people. This idea is the more remarkable that it overlaps the era of individual enterprise on the part of the American people—an era in which the Federal Government was still making persistent efforts to push public lands into private ownership. The idea, too, of recognizing enjoyment as of importance was novel, for the people of the United States were, for the most part, still strongly in thrall to the Puritan objective of hard work. It was distinctly a new thing to recognize communion with Nature as desirable.

Since the expedition of 1870, many scientific parties have conducted research in the Yellowstone and have published their findings. There were the famous expeditions under Hayden, Powell, King, and Wheeler. There was the expedition of the Engineer Corps of the Army, with Captains Barlow and Heap in charge. This expedition was accompanied by Thomas Moran, whose pictures made the Yellowstone famous, and by W. H. Jackson, who brought back many authentic photographs. Jackson at 96 is still hale and hearty, and visits the Yellowstone and Tetons annually. Dr. Hayden visited the region again in 1872 and again in 1878, which resulted in the publication in 1883 of a comprehensive report by Dr. Hayden and his associates.

In an introduction, written to precede a reprint of his Diary in 1905, Mr. Langford stated that the question has frequently been asked him, "Who originated the plan of setting apart this region as a National Park?" Mr. Langford's statement follows: "I answer that Judge Cornelius Hedges of Helena wrote the first articles ever published by the press urging the dedication of this region as a park. The Helena Herald of November 9, 1870, contains a letter of Mr. Hedges, in which he advocated the scheme, and in my lectures delivered in Washington and New York in January of 1871, I directed attention to Mr. Hedges" suggestion and urged the passage by Congress of an act setting apart that region as a public park. All this was several months prior to the first exploration by the U. S. Geological Survey, in charge of Dr. Hayden. The suggestion that the region should be made into a National Park was first broached to the members of our party on September 19, 1870, by Mr. Hedges, while we were in camp at the confluence of the Firehole and Gibbon Rivers, as related in this Diary. After the return home of our party, I was informed by General Washburn that on the eve of the departure of our expedition from Helena, David B. Folsom had suggested to him the desirability of creating a park at the grand canyon and falls of the Yellowstone. This fact was unknown to Mr. Hedges—and the boundary lines of the proposed park were extended by him so as to be commensurate with the wider range of our explorations."

The evidence would indicate that Cornelius Hedges was the first to make known the concept of a great national park for all the people. Probably, as in the case of many inventions, the idea may have been in the air and caught up by different persons, almost simultaneously. Whether Dr. Hayden heard of the project from some of the Washburn expedition or whether some such idea was forming in his own mind, we may never know.

Once the idea was conceived, the next step was to bring about its realization. There were two great obstacles to this. Legislative bodies are prone to be conservative. They hesitate to try new plans, except in time of revolution when educational campaigns have assumed an emotional appeal. The idea of a national park provided by the Federal Government was new indeed; but the description of the region, however faithful, could hardly be expected to carry conviction to a Congress composed then, as now, of many town lawyers and few who had participated in pioneering explorations.

Every bit of help which could be mustered was needed. Langford went to Washington in the winter of 1871-72. He delivered lectures there and in New York. Before he left Montana for the East, he, Cornelius Hedges, and the newly elected delegate to Congress from the Territory of Montana adopted a tentative plan of action. Langford and Delegate Clagett apparently drew the act of dedication, except for the boundary descriptions which they secured from Dr. Hayden. Mr. Clagett introduced the bill into the House on December 18, 1871. Senator Pomeroy introduced it into the Senate. As is usual, after the bill was referred to the Committee on Public Lands in each house, the chairman of the sub-committee in the House having the bill in charge, addressed a letter to the Secretary of the Interior, who, on January 29, 1872, endorsed the measure. With the letter came a brief report by Dr. Hayden, who was in a strategic position. A scientist of note who had, on behalf of the Federal Government, visited the area in person, secured convincing scientific data, specimens, and numerous photographs, could hardly be disbelieved. Dr. Hayden was enthusiastic. He and Langford visited personally practically every member of Congress. Four hundred copies of Langford's articles in the May and June Scribner's Magazine were placed on the desks of members of Congress at the psychological date when the bill was to be voted on. The result was that the Senate passed the bill on January 30, the House on February 27, and on March 1, 1872, President Grant signed the bill.

The wording of the act is little short of a masterpiece. The described area is by the act "reserved and withdrawn from settlement, occupancy or sale under the laws of the United States, and dedicated and set apart as a public park or pleasuring ground for the benefit and enjoyment of the people." The park was to be under the exclusive control of the Secretary of the Interior, who was directed to make regulations which "shall provide for the preservation from injury or spoliation of all timber, mineral deposits, natural curiosities or wonders within said park, and their retention in their natural condition." Thus was a policy declared at the outset—a policy of conservation applied to a new kind of area. The act included guidance for the sort of administration which should be set up and for the sort of facilities which it was thought would be required. The Secretary was authorized, in his discretion, to "grant leases for building purposes, for terms not exceeding ten years, of small parcels of ground, at such places in said park as shall require the erection of buildings for the accommodation of visitors," and "all of the proceeds of said leases, and all other revenues that may be derived from any source connected with the park" were "to be expended under his direction in the management of the same, and the construction of roads and bridle-paths," and "shall provide against the wanton destruction of the fish and game found within the park, and against their capture or destruction for the purposes of merchandise or profit." Though it has been necessary to amend the act in order to develop a responsible administration and settle many troublesome problems, today the original act is still the guiding star for the administration of Yellowstone National Park.

Neither Delegate Clagett nor Mr. Langford seems to have known of it, but it transpired that Dr. Hayden, in order to muster votes for the bill, must have made promises that Congress would not be called on for some time for funds for the park. Such promises are not unknown, even in recent legislation! At any rate, no money was forthcoming from Congress. Mr. Langford served as superintendent of the park for five years without pay and with no money for protection or development. His assistant superintendents also served without pay. In the 1905 introduction to his Diary, Mr. Langford stated that in the second year of his services as superintendent, some of his friends in Congress proposed to give him a salary sufficiently large to pay actual expenses. But, he declared, "I requested them to make no effort in this behalf, saying that I feared that some successful applicant for such a salaried position, giving little thought to the matter, would approve the applications for leases; and that as long as I could prevent the granting of any exclusive concessions I would be willing to serve as superintendent without compensation." It was, perhaps, during this period that Langford's friends suggested that his initials N. P. stood for "National Park," and he sometimes wrote in the Spencerian script of the day, "National Park" Langford.

As soon as the park was created, applications began to pour in on the Secretary of the Interior for leases and concessions of all sorts. Apparently, many people thought that they could still "take up" land within the park. As soon as the region became known, all sorts of merchants, ranchers, and inn-keepers from far and near applied for licenses to operate concessions. It mattered not that many of them knew nothing of mountain or pioneer conditions.

Hunters also gave much trouble. Even today it is most difficult to withdraw areas from hunting. Hunters seem to believe that they have a vested right to stalk game on publicly owned lands. In the interests of conservation and in the face of the rapid disappearance of game, the States now enforce rigorous laws for open and closed seasons and for licensing hunters and fishermen. Today Yellowstone and all other national parks are game sanctuaries. Commercial fishing is barred and no hunting is allowed, but visitors to the national parks may enjoy the age-old Waltonian fishing pastime under ideally protected conditions. In the seventies, however, the wagon roads which opened up the park brought in many hunters from the vicinity. It was physically impossible to protect an area of over 3,000 square miles of the most rugged character in the country. Were it not for the protection given wildlife in national parks and established refuges, there would be no hunting anywhere!

Mr. Langford, who had been fired by a fine conception and a high sense of service, was frustrated at every turn. He was criticized by the local papers. He was given no help and no funds from Washington. Uncle Sam, having good-naturedly granted, through Congress, the petition of the little band of enthusiasts, apparently had no realization that he had taken on any responsibilities. The act still read well, but the practice was disappointing. Langford's disillusionment was, at the end of five years, almost complete. It seems a miracle that the park project was not abandoned. Only in after years could Langford look back on the service which he and his friends had rendered as leading to the establishment of an enduring national park—the first of its kind in the United States.

In 1877, P. W. Norris of Michigan came into the park as superintendent. His reports to the Secretary of the Interior are most illuminating. He sought appropriations for roads. He was obliged to complain about the depredations of the American tourist. He was succeeded by incompetent and unwise superintendents, most of whom entered upon their duties with no knowledge of the country or climate, and several of whom were involved in scandals concerning concessions and private gain. In 1885, when Congress declined to appropriate money for the administration of the park, the Secretary of the Interior called upon the Secretary of War for troops to patrol the park, as he was authorized to do by an Act of Congress passed in 1883. For more than thirty years soldiers manned the park.

General Hiram M. Chittenden, who served in his early military days as Assistant Officer in charge for the two years, 1891-2, published a book on "The Yellowstone National Park" in 1895. Beginning in 1899, General Chittenden began a second tour of duty in the park, in charge of road-building. His name, therefore, is closely associated with all that is best in the park. His book, which has gone through many editions, remains one of the standard works on Yellowstone. He was responsible for valuable research, was sympathetic with park aims, and believed in preserving the park as nearly as possible in its natural condition.

In 1918, the year after the National Park Service was created, the War Department was relieved of its responsibilities in the park, and on June 28, 1919, Horace M. Albright became superintendent of Yellowstone National Park. During the ten years that Mr. Albright served as superintendent, a new system of administration was developed, the services of park rangers perfected, and the principles of park protection crystallized. A number of serious assaults on the integrity of the park were launched by politicians during this period, but, with the aid of public opinion and conservation organizations, the National Park Service was enabled to withstand all raids on the Yellowstone. When Mr. Albright became Director of the National Park Service early in 1929, he was succeeded by Roger Toll, of Colorado, who served until his tragic death in 1936. He was succeeded by Edmund Rogers, also of Colorado, who is now in charge of the park.

In spite of early difficulties and discouragements, in spite of initial mistakes and neglects, Yellowstone is now firmly established as an outstanding national park in a system of national parks which are created and administered along lines set forth in the act of dedication in 1872. A new and special form of land-use has been inaugurated which meets with favor in the eyes of the American people. They are both landlords and tenants in common of lands administered for their benefit and enjoyment. It was this phrase from the act of dedication that was carved into the entrance gate at Gardiner, where, on April 24, 1903, President Theodore Roosevelt laid the corner-stone:

For the benefit and enjoyment of the people.

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Last Updated: 18-Nov-2009