Grant and Yellowstone

Illustration of a geyser at Yellowstone National Park.
Castle Geyser at Yellowstone National Park

Library of Congress

by Frank Kohl

In early 1872, President Ulysses S. Grant was nearing the end of his first term. He had experienced both successes and failures, as Grant worked to close the divide left by the Civil War. While the country struggled with Reconstruction, U.S. Geological Survey scientists ventured west to explore an area of extraordinary geothermal activity and geological formations. Hoping to protect the land from exploitation, they gave Congress a comprehensive report, which included photographs and vivid paintings of the astounding, mountainous frontier. Their report and influence by powerful individuals convinced Congress to protect the land.

Landmark Legislation

On March 1, 1872, Grant signed the Yellowstone National Park Protection Act, which made the area “a public park or pleasuring-ground for the benefit and enjoyment of the people.” This landmark legislation created the first National Park and led to the creation of the National Park Service.
Although it is unknown how much influence Grant had on creating the Act, he most likely was an ardent supporter.
While at West Point, Grant read countless novels about frontier life and painted landscapes in art class. Most likely, he was captivated by the expedition’s paintings and adventures.
As a boy, Grant enjoyed “fishing, going to the creek a mile away to swim in summer, . . . skating on the ice in winter, or taking a horse and sleigh when there was snow on the ground.” – Grant, Memoirs

Yellowstone Today

Yellowstone National Park spans over two million acres across Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho. Its geothermal features, including its famed geysers, are regularly on display. The park also contains an unparalleled diversity of plants and animals, including the largest public bison herd in the United States. At night, visitors can camp at his namesake site — Grant Village. His grandson, General U.S. Grant III, attended the Village’s dedication in 1963.

Part of a series of articles titled The Odyssey of Ulysses.

Palo Alto Battlefield National Historical Park, Yellowstone National Park

Last updated: August 4, 2022