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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


John W. Barlow
John W. Barlow, 1838 - 1914. (National Archives)

The Barlow Expedition of 1871

In the early 1870's indifference to the uncharted wilderness near the headwaters of the Yellowstone gave way to enthusiasm as the marvelous tales of trappers and traders were confirmed. Accounts brought back by the privately organized Folson—Cook—Peterson exploration of 1869 raised interest to a high pitch and led to the famous semiofficial Washburn—Langford—Doane Expedition of 1870. Publicized through the brilliantly written report of Lt. Gustavus C. Doane and the popular lectures of Nathaniel P. Langford, the discoveries of Henry D. Washburn and his party prompted the government to field two major expeditions in 1871. One, sponsored by the U. S. Geological Survey, was under the leadership of Ferdinand V. Hayden, who had accompanied Raynolds some years earlier. The other, commanded by Capt. John W. Barlow, chief engineer of the Military Division of the Missouri, had orders from General Sheridan to explore and map the Yellowstone region.

An 1861 West Point graduate who was thrice brevetted during the Civil War and a future Chief of Engineers, Barlow went west in 1870, fresh from river and harbor duty on Lake Champlain. Like Raynolds, he entered Yellowstone as a first-time explorer. His party, which included another Engineer officer, Capt. David P. Heap, a topographer, a photographer, and a draftsman, worked in tandem with Hayden's, sharing the same military escort and following the same route much of the way. The combined expeditions set out from Fort Ellis, near Bozeman, Montana, the staging area for the Washburn party in 1870, and approached the park from the north entrance at Gardiner. Chittenden traced the subsequent movements of the two groups:

At the very outset of their journey they branched off from the Washburn route at the mouth of the Gardiner River, and, by ascending this stream, discovered the wonderful formations now known as Mammoth Hot Springs. From this point, the parties traveled eastward to Tower Creek; thence over Mt. Washburn, and past the Canyon and Falls, to Sulphur Mountain, Mud Geyser, and the Lake; thence by a new route across the mountains to the Upper Basin; thence east across the mountains again, past Shoshone Lake [labeled Madison Lake on Barlow's map] to Yellowstone Lake; thence around the head of this body of water to its outlet; thence across the country, by separate routes, to the mouth of Soda Butte Creek; and thence down the East Fork [Lamar River] to Baronett Bridge (which had been built only a few months before), and out of the park by way of Mammoth Hot Springs. [16]

Although the two parties jointly uncovered many marvels, including Mammoth Hot Springs, Barlow separated from Hayden at certain key points and broke new ground. While on his own, he discovered Heart Lake and Fairy Falls, named Mounts Sheridan, Hancock, and Humphreys, made the first recorded sighting of a number of geysers, and explored virgin territory around the headwaters of the Snake River and along the East Fork of the Yellowstone. His map of the entire region, based on triangulation and astronomical observation, was by far the most accurate to date. When he and Hayden turned homeward in the late summer of 1871, the discovery of Yellowstone was virtually complete.

A direct result of their combined endeavors was the Act of 1 March 1872, which set Yellowstone apart "as a public park or pleasuring ground for the benefit and enjoyment of the people." [17] Although neither man published his official findings before the vote was taken, both men helped push the legislation through Congress, Hayden by lobbying in Washington, Barlow by rallying support in the Midwest. Exemplifying Barlow's effort was a supplement, featuring highlights of his forthcoming report, carried by the Chicago Evening Journal on 13 January 1872. Hailed as "remarkable" and "highly interesting," accounts of his visit to "the land of wonders" lent momentum to the movement for the first national park.

Despite the loss of his specimens and photographs in the great Chicago fire, Barlow's report, printed as a Senate document in the spring of 1872, was a solid scientific achievement. And although Barlow deferred to the earlier prose of Lieutenant Doane in several instances, his own style was such a pleasing blend of the technical and the artistic, especially in the section devoted to a "General Description of the Great Geyser Basin," that later writers often deferred to him.

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