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Historic Roads in the National Park System





Raynold Expedition

Barlow Expedition

Jones Expedition

Ludlow Reconnaissance

Dan C. Kingman

Hiram M. Chittenden


William F. Raynolds
William F. Raynolds, 1820 - 1894. (Lake Survey Center, U.S. Department of Commerce)

The Raynolds Expedition of 1860

When he left St. Louis for the Upper Missouri and Yellowstone country in May 1859, Capt. William F. Raynolds was a stranger to the West. A graduate of the U. S. Military Academy and a veteran of the Mexican War who had served on the Northeastern Boundary and Great Lakes Surveys, the 39-year-old Topographical Engineer [14] sensed his "entire want of previous preparation" for exploring unknown reaches of the Rockies. The territory assigned to him was vast, "more than double the area of Great Britain," and his mission was complex: to ascertain, "as far as practicable, everything relating to . . . the Indians of the country, its agricultural and mineralogical resources . . ., the navigability of its streams, its topographical features, and the facilities or obstacles which the latter present to the construction of rail or common roads...." In spite of unfavorable weather, forbidding terrain, gold fever within his party, desertion by a valuable Sioux guide, a minor mutiny, and the constant threat of Indian attack, Raynolds was generally equal to the challenge. His detailed report and journal recorded only one grave disappointment — his failure to view the Yellowstone marvels recounted by John Colter, Jim Bridger, and other frontiersmen.

In the spring of 1860, after wintering in Wyoming, Raynolds' sizable party, which included Lt. Henry E. Maynadier as key assistant, Jim Bridger as guide, and Ferdinand V. Hayden as naturalist, headed for the junction of the Wind River and the Popo Agie. There, on 24 May 1860, Captain Raynolds and Lieutenant Maynadier separated, intending to reunite at the Three Forks of the Missouri on the last day of June. Lieutenant Maynadier was to descend the Big Horn River and skirt the Absaroka Range of the Rockies, while Captain Raynolds attempted to ascend the Wind River to its source and thence cross to Three Forks, thus cutting almost diagonally across the future park area. Had Raynolds succeeded, he would have been the official discoverer of Yellowstone National Park. However, as excerpts from his report graphically reveal, he failed to negotiate the "aesthetically magnificent, but practically foreboding" mountains near Two Ocean Pass, hampered in his efforts not only by a steep basaltic ridge and deep snow but mainly by his superiors' order that he be north of the British Boundary by 18 July to observe a total solar eclipse. Reluctantly, Raynolds gave up his original plan and proceeded to the Three Forks by heading west and passing down the valley of the Madison. Between them, Captain Raynolds and Lieutenant Maynadier completely encircled the park area without entering it, and had "to content [themselves] with listening to marvellous tales of burning plains, immense lakes, and boiling springs, without being able to verify these wonders."

Field duty in the Civil War and serious illness prevented Raynolds' completing his report until 1867. Meantime, westward migration caused such a great demand for his map that it was published separately in 1864. Showing features of the upper Yellowstone Valley — among them, "Yellowstone Lake" and "Falls of the Yellowstone Lake" and "Falls of Yellowstone" — the map was based on Bridger's descriptions. Despite Raynolds' failure to traverse the area, his expedition was a landmark in the history of Yellowstone National Park. As Chittenden noted, Raynolds' report was "the latest authentic utterance concerning it prior to the date of actual discovery" as well as the "first official recognition in any form of the probable existence of extensive volcanic phenomena in the region of the Upper Yellowstone." [15] Raynolds was correct in assuming as he gazed north into "the most interesting unexplored district" in the country, the region he and his party could not penetrate, that although it remained terra incognita for the moment, its mysteries would "at no distant day . . . be fully revealed."

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