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Presidential Statement

Author's Preface


Part I

Part II

Part III



Yellowstone National Park:
Its Exploration and Establishment

Part III: The Park Movement
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The Great Canon and Lower Falls of
the Yellowstone
The Great Cañon and Lower Falls of the Yellowstone,
from Ferdinand Hayden's Geological Surveys of the Territories (1872)

The Park Movement

The field work of the Geological and Geographical Survey of the Territories was terminated at Fort Bridger, Wyo., on October 2, 1871, and Ferdinand V. Hayden was back in Washington, D.C., before the end of the month. A letter which reached him there on the 28th probably served to acquaint him with an idea of which he seems not to have been aware—the idea that it was desirable to reserve the Yellowstone region and its wonders for public use, rather than allow its superlatives to pass into private ownership and control. The proposition was essentially the same as those earlier suggestions advanced by Thomas F. Meagher (1865), David E. Folsom (1869), and Cornelius Hedges (1870), but, in this case, it helped to shape a course of action which accomplished the objective.

The letter which came to Hayden's hand was written by A. B. Nettleton on the stationery of "Jay Cooke & Co., Bankers, Financial Agents, Northern Pacific Railroad Company," [1] and it said:

Dear Doctor:

Judge Kelley has made a suggestion which strikes me as being an excellent one, viz.: Let Congress pass a bill reserving the Great Geyser Basin as a public park forever—just as it has reserved that far inferior wonder the Yosemite valley and big trees. If you approve this would such a recommendation be appropriate in your official report? [2]

The Judge Kelley from whom Nettleton received that suggestion was William Darrah Kelley, a Philadelphia jurist who entered Congress on March 4, 1861, as a Republican representative from Pennsylvania, serving in all the Congresses until his death on January 9,1890. Judge Kelley had come under the influence of Asa Whitney in 1845 and, thereafter, was a constant supporter of the idea of spanning the Nation with iron rails. His familiarity with the Yellowstone region was gained from Lieutenant Doane s published report from which he divined the peculiar importance of that area. Being influential in the affairs of Jay Cooke & Co., and familiar with the firm's advertising campaign, he preferred to advance his suggestion through Nettleton rather than directly in Congress.

Judge Kelley's suggestion was forwarded to an influential man. Though Hayden had not previously evidenced any but a scientific interest in the Yellowstone region, he recognized the propriety of reserving its wonders and acted immediately—which is the more surprising considering the pressure he was then under (an official report to be written before the end of the year, a pile of deferred paper work on his desk, and two important magazine articles to write; [3] all that, when his wedding day was only weeks away !).

Hayden's positive response—an assurance that he would present Kelley's suggestion in his official report—led Jay Cooke to write at once to W. Milner Roberts, the Northern Pacific engineer then locating the main line through Montana, as follows:

It is proposed by Mr. Hayden in his report to Congress that the Geyser region around Yellowstone Lake shall be set apart by government as a reservation as park, similar to that of the Great Trees & other reservations in California. Would this conflict with our land grant, or interfere with us in any way? Please give me your views on this subject. It is important to do something speedily, or squatters & claimants will go in there, and we can probably deal much better with the government in any improvements we may desire to make for the benefit of our pleasure travel than with individuals. [4]

The engineer's reply, which was telegraphed from Helena, Mont., on November 21, advised: "Yours October thirtieth & November sixth Reed Geysers outside our grant advise Congressional reservation." [5] Jay Cooke's letter of November 6 has not been located, hence its import is unknown; however, the foregoing exchange is sufficient to reveal important origins of the movement to create a Yellowstone Park.

Evidently, Cooke did not wait to hear from Roberts before actively involving the Northern Pacific in the park movement. On November 9, 1871, the Montana press noted:

Hon. N. P. Langford,—who, by the way, has been back here [Helena] only a few days,—yesterday received a dispatch from Gov. Marshall of Minnesota to return immediately to Minnesota as important business concerning the Northern Pacific Railroad awaited him. Mr. Langford took the Overland coach this evening for Corinne. [6]

Before Langford's arrival in Washington, D.C., about November 14, the Northern Pacific Land Office in New York City received a telegraphic reply from Jno W. Sexton, a member of the directorate of Jay Cooke & Co., informing that Scribner's Magazine had "published nothing of Langford's except article in June Scribner Have no copies here." [7] The inquiry was preparatory—undoubtedly the opening move in that publicity campaign which put the Langford article and selected Jackson photographs in the hands of influential congressmen.

There is a dearth of information regarding the course of events in Washington from the time of Langford's arrival until legislation proposing establishment of a national park in the Yellowstone region was introduced on December 18. However, an item which appeared in a local newspaper on the 7th gives some indication of the thinking prior to that date. According to the editor,

The great falls and wonderful geysers of the Upper Yellowstone, now receiving universal attention, should be forever set apart as a resort for the scientific students and pleasure seekers of the world; and for the convenience of protective local legislation, they should be included within the boundaries of Montana Territory. They are situated beyond our lines and within the jurisdiction of Wyoming; but are practically a barren heritage to our sister Territory, for the reason that rugged, and in winter altogether impassible, mountains separate them from her capital and chief cities. . . . From this side, the Great Falls may be reached and all the surrounding wonders and curiosities explored at any month of the year. . . . As nearly the entire length of the Yellowstone river is in Montana, it is eminently right and proper that its fountains should also be. Congress should donate the extreme Upper Yellowstone, with its mighty cataracts and other marvels to this Territory, to be set apart and protected under appropriate local legislation, as a resort for pleasure and scientific investigation forever. Has not Montana thrown as much gold into the commercial channels of trade and commerce as California had, up to the time that the valley of the Yosemite was thus granted to her by the General Government? And we are satisfied our neighbors of Wyoming would be too reasonable and generous to object to the grant, in the face of the fact that natural circumstances render the prize utterly worthless to them. We understand our wide-awake Delegate will introduce a bill, the present session, asking for appointment of a commission to readjust our boundary, so as to include the Upper Yellowstone, and we suggest to Messrs. Beck and Vivion, our representatives in the Legislature, that a co-operative memorial would be very proper. [8]

It is suggested that the idea presented in the foregoing article—that Montana should be given the Yellowstone region as a grant from the Federal Government, as the State of California had been given the Yosemite Valley—was the original intent of the men who undertook, early in December, the framing of legislation to effect such reservation. However, it was soon evident that the precedent set by the Yosemite grant did not apply because the area Montana wanted lay beyond its boundaries, in Wyoming Territory. It was equally evident that to take from the one for the benefit of the other would not only create trouble between neighbors, but also set a precedent no thinking politician would care to have lurking about lest his own environs somehow fall victim to it. As Hampton has pointed out, "The only way to preserve the area and withhold it from settlement was to place it directly under Federal control." [9]

Regardless of the impropriety of the Yosemite Grant Act as a precedent, its usefulness as a model was not missed. The bill drawn for the consideration of the 42d Congress at its second session has so many points of similarity with the earlier legislation that there can be little doubt from whence it was taken. The parallelism of the two acts is shown in the excerpts arrayed below, which are also in their natural order:


. . . the said State shall accept this grant upon the express conditions that the premises shall he held for public use, resort, and recreation; shall be inalienable for all time;

. . . but leases not exceeding 10 years may be granted for portions of said premises.

. . . all incomes derived from leases of privileges to be expended in the preservation and improvement of the property, or the roads leading thereto. . . .


. . . is hereby reserved and withdrawn from settlement, occupancy, or sale. . . and dedicated and set apart as a public park or pleasuring-ground for the benefit and enjoyment of the people. . . .

The Secretary may, in his discretion, grant leases for building purposes for terms not exceeding 10 years, of small parcels of ground. . . .

. . . all of the proceeds of said leases, and all other revenues that may he derived from any source connected with said park, to be expended under his direction in the management of the same, and the construction of roads and bridle paths therein.

Both Hampton and Goetzmann have cast Langford and the Montana group as initiators of the park movement. [10] But in truth several interests came together at this time. Hayden, prompted by Nettleton's transmittal of Representative Kelley's suggestion, was thinking in terms of public reservation, and he had important connections with Representative Henry L. Dawes, a powerful figure in the House and one of the guiding hands of the earlier Yosemite legislation. Langford had been summoned to Washington by his brother-in-law in behalf of Jay Cooke and Northern Pacific interests. Delegate Clagett wanted to advance Montana"s interest in the Yellowstone. Cornelius Hedges, although not in Washington at this or any other time in 1871, as his diary reveals, was working in Montana in this cause. All played important roles in forwarding an idea that successive explorations had inspired and popularized and that Jay Cooke and associates had appropriated as useful for their purposes. All these forces united to produce a bill to set aside the Yellowstone country, first on the Yosemite model, and then, as the political perils of that became apparent, as a national park.

Considerable weight has been given to William Horace Clagett's latter-day statement regarding the origin and events of the movement which led to the establishment of Yellowstone National Park. [11] His observations so frequently differ from the facts that they require some mention here as prelude to consideration of the legislative effort on behalf of the Yellowstone region.

Essentially, Clagett exaggerated his own role, picturing himself as the originator of the park idea and the foremost laborer for its attainment. In support of the first, he says:

In the fall of 1870, soon after the return of the Washburn-Langford party, two printers at Deer Lodge City, Mont., went into the Firehole basin and cut a large number of poles, intending to come back the next summer and fence in the tract of land containing the principal geysers, and hold possession for speculative purposes, as the Hutchins family so long held the Yosemite valley. One of these men was named Harry Norton. He subsequently wrote a book on the park. [12] The other one was named Brown. He now lives in Spokane, Wash., and both of them in the summer of 1871 worked in the New Northwest office at Deer Lodge. [13] When I learned from them in the late fall of 1870 or spring of 1871 what they proposed to do, I remonstrated with them and stated that from the description given by them and by members of Mr. Langford's party, the whole region should be made into a National Park and no private proprietorship be allowed.

He goes on to say, on the basis of that remonstrance, that "so far as my personal knowledge goes, the first idea of making it a public park occurred to myself," to which he adds, "but from information received from Langford and others, it has always been my opinion that Hedges, Langford, and myself formed the same idea about the same time."

On the other point, that he took the lead in getting the park established, Clagett says:

I was elected Delegate to Congress from Montana in August, 1871, and after the election, Nathaniel P. Langford, Cornelius Hedges and myself had a consultation in Helena,' [4] and agreed that every effort should be made to establish the Park as soon as possible. . . . In December, 1871, Mr. Langford came to Washington and remained there for some time, and we two counseled together about the Park project. I drew the bill to establish the Park, [15] and never knew Professor Hayden in connection with that bill, except that 1 requested Mr. Langford to get from him a description of the boundaries of the proposed Park. There was some delay in getting the description, and my recollection is that Langford brought me the description after consultation with Professor Hayden. I then filled the blank in the bill with the description, and the bill passed both Houses of Congress just as it was drawn and without any change or amendment whatsoever. [16]

Clagett's account of his connection with the Yellowstone Park legislation ends with the statement, "Langford and I probably did two-thirds, if not three-fourths of all the work connected with its passage." The improbability of that will be evident as the bill is followed through the legislative toils.

Clagett says he "had a clean copy made of the bill and on the first call day in the House, introduced the original there, and then went over to the Senate Chamber and handed the copy to Senator Pomeroy, who immediately introduced it in the Senate.'" Again, Cramton comments:

The proceedings as reported in the Congressional Globe do not seem to me to conform to Mr. Clagett's recollection as to Pomeroy. Senator Pomeroy was the first one to introduce a bill that day in the Senate and the order of introduction of bills came very early in the day's proceedings. While that order of business likewise came early in the House, Mr. Clagett was not the first one to introduce a bill in the House, but followed quite a number of others. It is evident he could not have introduced the bill first and then gone over to the Senate to give a copy to Senator Pomeroy in time for Senator Pomeroy to take the action he did. [17]

A search was made for the original Senate bill in the hope that it might throw some light upon the question of authorship, but the document appears not to have been saved. Likewise, the file of Senator Pomeroy's Committee on the Public Lands is barren of even a mention of the Yellowstone bill. [18]

Clagett's attempt to have his bill referred to the Committee on Territories (it was sent to the Committee on the Public Lands on the motion of Representative Stevenson) ended his efforts on behalf of the legislation—insofar as the public record is concerned. However, there is no reason for doubting a later statement that, between Hayden, Langford, and Clagett, "there was not a single member of Congress in either House who was not fully posted by one or the other of us in personal interviews." [19]

Another part of the campaign to influence the legislators was carried on by Hayden, who "brought with him a large number of specimens from different parts of the Park, which were on exhibition in one of the rooms of the Capitol or in the Smithsonian Institution (one or the other), while Congress was in session," [20] and he is also credited with exhibiting the specimens and explaining the geological and other features of the proposed park. Unfortunately, neither Hayden nor Langford left an adequate record of his activities during this period, and, except for the brief statement just quoted, an assessment will have to rest on the statement of historian Chittenden, who says of their work: [21]

Dr. Hayden occupied a commanding position in this work, as representative of the government in the explorations of 1871. He was thoroughly familiar with the subject, and was equipped with an exhaustive collection of photographs and specimens gathered the previous summer. These were placed on exhibition and were probably seen by all members of Congress. They did a work which no other agency could do, and doubtless convinced every one who saw them that the region where such wonders existed should be carefully preserved to the people forever. Dr. Hayden gave to the cause the energy of a genuine enthusiasm, and his work that winter will always hold a prominent place in the history of the Park. [22]

Mr. Langford, as already stated, had publicly advocated the measure in the previous winter. He had rendered service of the utmost importance, through his publications in Scribner's Magazine in the preceding May and June. Four hundred copies of these magazines were brought and placed upon the desks of members of Congress on the days when the the measure was to be brought to vote. During the entire winter, Mr. Langford devoted much of his time to the promotion of this work. [23]

Truman C. Everts, who had just come into prominence through the appearance of his article, "Thirty-seven Days of Peril," in Scribner's Monthly (November, 1871), entered the Washington scene early in January, but the only evidence yet found to indicate a connection with the park movement is his letter transmitting a set of Jackson's photographs to J. Gregory Smith, president of the Northern Pacific Railroad. [24]

A latter-day effort to turn Thomas Moran into "The Father of National Parks'" hints that he, also, was involved in promoting the park movement; [25] however, there is no factual basis for such an interpretation. His great painting, an 8- by 15-foot oil developed from a sketch of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone as he saw it from Grand View in 1871, was yet incomplete at the time the Yellowstone Act was signed into law. In a letter to Hayden shortly thereafter he wrote:

I have been intending to write to you for some month's past but have been so very busy with Yellowstone drawings, & so absorbed in designing & painting my picture of the Great Cañon that I could not find the time to write to anybody. The picture is now more than half finished & I feel confident that it will produce a most decided sensation in Art Circles. . . . I east all my claims to being an Artist, into this one picture of the Great Cañon & am willing to abide by the judgement upon it. [26]

Whether or not the public came to look fondly upon Hayden's guest as Thomas "Yellowstone" Moran, the fact remains that he was not among those who labored significantly to establish our first national park.

Before considering the progress of the Yellowstone legislation, it is appropriate to note the paucity of editorial comment upon such a novel proposal. Only two Western newspapers appear to have grasped the significance of it—the Deer Lodge New North-West (Montana) and the Virginia City Daily Territorial Enterprise (Nevada). The former, after calling the Yellowstone region "a very Arcana Inferne," suggested that

. . . to it will come in the coming years thousands from every quarter of the globe, to look with awe upon its amazing phenomena, and with pen, pencil, tongue and camera publish its marvels to the enlightened realms. Let this, too, be set apart by Congress as a domain retained unto all mankind, (Indians not taxed, excepted), and let it be esto perpetua. [27]

The Territorial Enterprise, with less flamboyance noted:

The Hon. N. P. Langford of Montana, the leader [sic] of the famous Yellowstone Expedition of 1870, and several scientific and literary gentlemen, is engaged in an effort to have the Yellowstone region declared a National Park. The district, of which some features have been described in Scribner's Monthly, is said to be unadapted to agriculture, mining or manufacturing purposes, and it is proposed to have its magnificent scenery, hot springs, geysers and cataracts forever dedicated to public uses as a grand national reservation. Congress is to be petitioned to this effect. [28]

NEXT> The Park Movement continues...


Last Modified: Tues, Jul 4 2000 07:08:48 am PDT

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