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Chapter 4:
The Early Years in Yellowstone: 1882-1886

ON APRIL 1, 1882, ten years and one month after the passage of the Act creating the Park, Patrick H. Conger replaced Norris as Superintendent. [1] Conger had been a Deputy United States Marshal in Dubuque, Iowa, but his appointment as Superintendent of the Yellowstone was due more to the fact that he was an Iowa Republican. Secretary of the Interior S. J. Kirkwood was a Republican; he was also from Iowa. Conger was faced by a problem unknown to the two Superintendents who preceded him, a problem that frustrated his attempts to enforce the few regulatory rules: monopoly power in the Park. His administration was a stormy one, fraught with charges of incompetence and maladministration. Unfortunately, some historians have given too much credence to the reports of his enemies and paid too little attention either to his refutation of the many malicious charges made against him or to the political atmosphere in which such charges were made.

In the fall of 1882 the Northern Pacific Railroad had laid track as far west as Livingston, Montana Territory, and a branch line south to the Park was anticipated. Since this transportation promised an increase in the number of tourists, concessions within the Park became more attractive. Henry M. Teller of Colorado had been appointed Secretary of the Interior by President Arthur, and under his auspices, in 1882, a tentative agreement was reached granting exclusive privileges on 4,400 acres of Park land to Carroll T. Hobart of Fargo, Henry F. Douglas of Fort Yates, Dakota Territory, and Rufus Hatch, a New York stockbroker. [2] The new Superintendent established a basis for the later enmity between him and the expectant lessees when, asked by the Secretary for his opinion on the advisability of granting the proposed lease, he replied with some foresight that he thought the lease covered entirely too much ground, it would in the future be worth "a very large sum of money because of increased tourism, and the public would be "restive" if all the proposed privileges were granted to a single party or corporation. [3]

The proposed lease would have given a ten-year monopoly for the erection of hotels, the operation of a stage line, and the construction of telegraph lines within the Park. The lease would be granted to a newly formed corporation, the Yellowstone National Park Improvement Company, which would pay an annual rental of two dollars per acre.

The Act establishing the Park had authorized the Secretary of the Interior to grant ten-year leases "of small parcels of ground" for the erection of hotels. When the Hobart-Hatch lease was proposed by Secretary Teller in 1882, some members of the Senate thought that 4,400 acres failed to qualify as a small parcel of land and directed the Secretary to transmit to the Senate available information pertaining to leases in the Park. In doing so Teller deliberately ignored Conger's written opposition and defended the proposed lease, claiming that since "no means to protect the curiosities within the park from injury" had been stipulated in the organic Act, such leases were proper and necessary to provide the needed protection "with the least possible expense to the government." Prompted by Conger's adverse opinion, Senator George C. Vest of Missouri, in a report from the Committee on Territories, maintained that the entire business was contrary to the Act establishing the Park. The proposed monopolistic lease was therefore defeated, but the antagonism between Conger and C. T. Hobart increased with later developments. [4]

Lieutenant-General P. H. Sheridan toured the Park in the summer of 1882 and in his annual report to the War Department he attacked the Hobart-Hatch contract, regretting "exceedingly to learn that the National Park had been rented out to private parties," and advised the extension of the boundaries of the Park. He made another suggestion that materialized four years later. Noting that large numbers of deer, elk, moose, and mountain sheep had been slaughtered in the Park, he stated: "If authorized to do so, I will engage to keep out skin hunters and all other hunters, by use of troops from Forts Washakie on the south, Custer on the east, and Ellis on the north, and, if necessary, I can keep sufficient troops in the Park to accomplish this object." [5] His remarks were seconded by the Governor of Montana Territory, John Schuyler Crosby, who further suggested the appointment of an "engineer officer of the Army" as general superintendent of the Park with means to lay out roads and make improvements; this officer should be vested with authority to "call upon the military stationed in the neighborhood" for aid in enforcing such laws as might be passed for protection of the Park. [6] The Inspector General of the Army, Brigadier General D. B. Sacker, thought that a single troop of cavalry assigned to duty in the Park during the summer months would afford all the protection needed against fire and vandalism, and the assignment of such a unit could be accomplished with little expense to the War Department and none to the Department of the Interior. [7]

In response to Sheridan's plea that some action be taken toward protecting the Park, and fearing that the area might be transferred from civil control if some remedial action were not soon taken, Senator George C. Vest [8] undertook the leadership of the movement in Congress for national park development and protection. He secured the adoption of a resolution by the Senate on December 12, 1882, calling upon the Committee on Territories to review possible legislation needed to afford protection to the Park. On January 5, 1883, as Chairman of this committee, he reported a bill (S. 2317) to amend the original Park Act of 1872. Noting that the annual appropriation for the Park was too small to furnish the Superintendent with a sufficient number of men to adequately protect the Park, Vest proposed the "employment of one or two companies of cavalry," as suggested by General Sheridan, to "exclude the mercenary wretches" who were then reportedly killing the game within the Park. The bill as submitted extended the area of the Park, placed it within the criminal jurisdiction of the Montana Territorial courts for offenses against life or property, and created within the Park a police jurisdiction for the arrest, examination, and punishment of violators of regulations made by the Secretary of the Interior. A similar bill was introduced in the House, but no action was taken on either. [9]

Unable to obtain the desired Congressional action, Vest informed the Secretary of the Interior that he had reason to believe that timber was being illegally cut and that game was being killed to fulfill contract obligations. He demanded that such actions be immediately stopped. [10] Teller at once notified Conger that the regulations heretofore in force regarding the Park were amended so as to "prohibit absolutely the killing, wounding, or capturing at any time" of game animals within the Park; fishing was henceforth to be done by hook and line only. No longer was it legal to hunt or trap within the Park "for purposes of procuring food for visitors or actual residents." [11] The Secretary's statement and the revised rule were published in the Bozeman Avant Courier, February 22, 1883, by G. L. Henderson, who was then acting as Assistant Superintendent of the Park during Conger's absence, and Senator Vest was immediately informed of the Secretary's actions. [12]

Remedial action against vandals was sought from another quarter when the United States Attorney for Wyoming Territory wrote to the Attorney General suggesting that a Grand Jury, soon to be impaneled in the Territory, be authorized to investigate the acts of vandalism "said to be common in the Park. At the same time the Governor of Wyoming Territory implored the Secretary of the Interior to make some provision whereby the Judge of the Third Judicial District of Wyoming Territory would be allowed to hold court "within or near the Park in Uinta County" since the usual sessions of the Court were so far removed from the scene of violation that "by the time the officers get there the parties and witnesses have left the country." [13] No action was taken on either of these requests.

Realizing that he could hardly make an investigative body out of the Senate Committee on Territories, Vest presented a resolution of February 17, 1883, for the appointment of a special committee of five Senators who would:

. . . examine and report to the Senate . . . what is the present condition of the Yellowstone National Park and what action has been taken by the Department of the Interior in regard to the management of said Park. . . . Also what legislation . . . is necessary to protect the timber, game or objects of curiosity . . . and to establish a system of police and to secure the proper administration of justice therein. . . .

He further requested that the Secretary of the Interior "take immediate action for the protection" of the Park, and to that end "he is requested to call upon the proper military authorities for such force as may be necessary to accomplish such purposes." The Senator maintained that Park Superintendent Conger was not to blame for the deplorable conditions in the Park; the trouble was that neither sufficient money nor men were available to rectify the situation. [14] The resolution was debated, but no further action was taken. [15]

Though Senator Vest failed to form an investigative committee, he had directed Congressional attention toward the West and the Yellowstone Park. When the House Committee on Appropriations reported the sundry civil bill, with the usual $15,000 appropriation for the Park, the bill included a new clause which would prevent the Secretary of the Interior from allowing any "exclusive privileges or monopoly" to any person or corporation. Congressman Anson C. McCook of New York offered an amendment to prohibit the Secretary from making any leases within the Park, voided leases already made, and directed the Secretary of War "to make necessary details of troops to prevent trespassers or intruders entering the park with the objects of destroying the game therein or for any other purpose prohibited by law." McCook called attention to Sheridan's proposals of the previous November and observed that, while men engaged in the "indiscriminate slaughter of game" paid but scant attention to civil authorities, "they have a profound respect for the power of the General Government as represented by the officers and men of the Army." Congressman John A. Reagan of Texas stated, in support of McCook's amendment, that whenever leases were let for "hotels, for gardens, or for grazing lands," jobbery was sure to occur. [16]

When discussion of the McCook amendment resumed, Congressman James H. Blount of Georgia rose in support and stated that he did not believe McCook meant the Park to remain permanently under the control of the War Department; it was his understanding that the measure was but a temporary expedient. The only way Blount could see to prevent the establishment of a monopoly and stop the depredations was to put the Park "in the hands of the War Department." Congressman Frank Hiscock from New York, the only member of the House to oppose the amendment, withdrew his objection and the McCook amendment was accepted. [17]

The amended sundry civil bill came before the Senate on March 1, 1883, and the Yellowstone Park appropriation was increased from $15,000 to $40,000. Senator Vest proposed another amendment providing that $2,000 of the appropriation would be paid annually to a Superintendent and $900 to be paid to each of ten Assistant Superintendents, "all of whom shall be appointed by the Secretary of the Interior, and reside continuously in the park." The Vest amendment, after brief debate, was accepted. After the payment of the stipulated salaries, the remainder of the $40,000 appropriation was to be expended on the construction of roads and bridges under the supervision of an Army engineer appointed by the Secretary of War. The McCook amendment was stricken and a paragraph was inserted in its place authorizing the Secretary of the Interior to lease small plots of ground "not exceeding ten acres in extent" for a period not exceeding ten years. Such leases were not to be granted within one-quarter of a mile of any of the geysers or of the Yellowstone Falls, and all previous leases were declared invalid.

The lease provisions of the amended bill brought forth sharp criticism. Senator Preston B. Plumb of Kansas thought the visitors to the Park should be made to "rough it" and wanted to abolish that part of the bill providing for hotel leases. In the opinion of Senator John J. Ingalls, also of Kansas, the Park was getting to be "a good deal of an incubus"; he thought it would be best for all concerned if the government were to survey and sell the entire area. The Senator deplored the fact that moneys had already been spent laying out "roads that nobody uses," and could not understand why the government had entered "into the show business in the first place." While these two Senators were in a minority at that time, their type of protest might later have grown into majority opinion except for the provident inclusion of an other amendment.

This addition, indeed was to save not only the Yellowstone National Park but the whole future national park system of the United States. This amendment provided that:

The Secretary of War, upon the request of the Secretary of the Interior, is hereby authorized and directed to make the necessary details of troops to prevent trespassers or intruders from entering the park for the purpose of destroying the game or objects of curiosity therein, or for any other purpose prohibited by law, and to remove such persons from the park if found therein.

The bill, thus amended, passed the Senate and was agreed to by the House. [18]

Congress had plainly set forth its intention in regard to leases by inserting the statement, "nor shall there be leased more than ten acres to any one person or corporation" into the bill. Nevertheless, only six days after its passage, Secretary Teller intentionally evaded the meaning of the law while staying within its literal bounds. On March 9, 1883, a lease totaling ten acres was granted to the Yellowstone National Park Improvement Company, the same organization that had failed three months earlier in its attempt to lease 4,400 acres of Park land. The land granted by the new lease was divided into seven parcels, of a little more than one acre in size, each located at or near one of the seven major points of interest in the Park. Since all of the choice hotel locations were now in the control of the Improvement Company, it was evident that the Company was safely entrenched as a monopoly in the Park. Secretary Teller admitted as much when he stated that it was for the best interest of the government, the Park, and the public, that the number of persons permitted "to engage in the business enterprises in the Park" be held at an absolute minimum. [19] Firmly established in the Park, the Improvement Company constructed a large hotel at Mammoth Hot Springs and rumors and charges concerning the inefficiency of the Superintendent commenced.

The ten Assistant Superintendents provided for in the appropriation bill could be hired at the beginning of the new fiscal year, but in the meantime Superintendent Conger reported that owing to the vigilance of his present assistant and his gamekeeper, "the killing of game in the Park is partially stoped [sic]," and discounted various reports of the slaughter of game as having been "immensely exaggerated." [20] A few weeks later, however, no less a personage than Buffalo Bill Cody, in a letter to the New York Sun, pleaded for the protection of the game found within the Park, adding that the indiscriminate killing of game "does not find favor in the West as it did a decade or so ago." [21]

By the end of June, 1883, ten Assistant Superintendents had been appointed by the Secretary of the Interior at the designated salary of $900 per annum; they paid for their transportation to the Park and their subsistence while on duty there. These men were, for the most part, totally unsuited to the rigorous service demanded of them, having obtained their positions through political influence. Born and brought up in the East, they had little understanding of the duties they were supposed to perform. The few who attempted to enforce the regulations and to protect the Park from vandals found their efforts "laughed at" by the trespassers, for the only penalty for violating the regulations was confiscation of the violator's "outfit," which at times was limited to his wearing apparel. [22]

Superintendent Conger had requested that the Secretary of the Interior furnish him and his assistants with a quantity of circulars containing the laws, orders, and regulations governing the Park; he planned to distribute them to tourists, so that none could "plead ignorance as an excuse for a violation of the Law." [23] Unfortunately, more than a knowledge of the Park regulations was necessary to end the destructive vandalism, for one visitor blandly told of killing ducks, badgers, birds of all descriptions, and indeed, shooting at everything that came into his sight, before casually adding, "it is against the law to shoot anything but bears in the Park." Nor satisfied with violating the game regulations, the same visitor related that, when visiting Old Faithful Geyser, his party "threw a tomato can" into the famous geyser just before its eruption, left their "names with date in several places" on the geyser formations, and inscribed "Detroit Safe Co." at another place. [24]

The Superintendent's problems were not confined to apprehending tourists, however. The already unfriendly relationship between the officers of the Improvement Company and Conger were further exacerbated when Conger, contending that any person had the right to transport passengers in the Park, found himself in opposition to the company's claim that it alone held the franchise for the transportation of its hotel visitors. C. T. Hobart, General Manager of the Improvement Company, retaliated by complaining to Secretary Teller that the roads in the Park were in a sad state of disrepair, that professional hunters were plying their trade with impunity throughout the Park, and that meat illegally obtained by such men was stored in the cabins of Assistant Superintendents who had been hired to prevent such depredations. Conger retorted that these and other allegations impugning his character and efficiency were false and without foundation, but admitted that his new assistants were hampered in the performance of their duties by the lack of legislation and moneys with which to equip and house them. [25]

In an attempt to learn what was actually going on in the Park, M. L. Joslyn, Acting Secretary of the Interior, instructed W. Scott Smith, special agent of the General Land Office, to visit the Park while en route west and, without disclosing his official connection with the Department of the Interior, investigate and report upon the management of the Park. Smith's report was a scathing denouncement of Conger and his administration. The Superintendent had "either failed to comprehend the importance of the duties of his office," Smith reported, "or had intentionally disregarded the same," never having attempted "to execute some of the most important instructions of the Department." Conger and his assistants had failed to inform visitors of the regulations and had evidently shut their eyes to the fact that professional hunters were working throughout the Park to supply the Improvement Company with fresh meat. The secret investigator was surprised to find no Assistant Superintendents patrolling the geyser basins to prevent vandalism and his astonishment was further increased when he was informed by visitors that "they had purchased very fine and choice specimens" directly from some of the Superintendent's assistants. Smith declared that the assistants who were hired to protect the curiosities were responsible for "acts of vandalism . . . more outrageous than those perpetrated by visitors," and concluded his report with, "I think the interests of the Government demand a more active, energetic and competent Superintendent than the present one. Mr. Conger is well advanced in years and . . . he does not . . . combine the qualifications required to make an efficient Superintendent. [26]

When the contents of Special Agent Smith's report were made known to him, Conger vehemently denied any wrongdoing and blamed the entire report upon the malice of the Vice-President of the Improvement Company. [27] This was given some support by one of his assistants. Having noticed a reference in the St. Paul Press, December 17, 1883, charging Conger with incompetence, Assistant Superintendent D. E. Sawyer wrote that the whole trouble could be traced to the insidious reports of Hobart, who resented Conger's refusal to allow the Improvement Company to "monopolize the whole park." Sawyer charged the Improvement Company with killing game for their hotel tables, adding, "they claim to have permit from Sec. Teller to kill for their own use . . . we have never been advised by the Secretary what priviledge [sic] they have, no copy of their lease has ever been furnished us." Referring to Conger, Sawyer maintained that "no man was ever more zelous [sic] in seeing that every law is lived up to and carried into effect than himself," and, after noting that there existed no law whereby the Park officials could make arrests, no penalties established and no courts of justice within the Park, he asked the plaintive question, "will you tell me in the name of heven [sic] what more we can do?" [28]

Conger apparently thought that the existing rules and regulations were comprehensive enough to achieve the purpose for which they were designed if only the Superintendent were supplied with the necessary legal machinery . . . to compel obedience to them." He had no legal power to arrest and detain anyone charged with a violation of the rules, nor was there any penalty attached to a conviction for such offenses. He wrote Teller that "some legislation is needed immediately to correct and remedy the existing state of things" in the Park, since, without it, an order from the Secretary or the Superintendent was "just about as effective as was the ancient Popes bull."[29]

The legislation requested by the Superintendent and obviously needed by the Park officials was refused by Congress. At the opening of the 48th Congress in December, 1883, Senator Vest introduced a bill to revise the Yellowstone Park Act. It provided for the punishment of offenses and extended the laws of the Territory of Montana over the Park. For jurisdictional purposes, the Park was declared to be a part of Gallatin County, Montana Territory. The bill conferred on the Superintendent and his assistants the powers and duties of United States Marshals. The Vest bill was brought before the Senate on March 4, 1884, and, after considerable debate, passed the following day. [30]

During the second session of the 48th Congress, the House considered the Senate bill as amended by the House Committee on Territories. The most important of these amendments were meant to reduce the size of the Park and change the judicial jurisdiction from Montana to Wyoming Territory. These amendments were agreed upon on the House floor, and the bill passed, only to die in a conference held by a joint committee. [31]

If protection was not to be afforded the Park at this time, improvements were, and the development of the Park road system was already underway. In the appropriation bill approved March 3, 1883, [32] Congress had stipulated that $29,000 of the $40,000 appropriation would be expended, under the supervision and direction of an engineer officer detailed by the Secretary of War, in the construction and improvement of roads and bridges within the Park. Accordingly, on July 6, 1883, 1st Lieutenant Dan C. Kingman, Corps of Engineers, "in addition to other duties as Chief Engineer Officer, Department of the Platte," was ordered to the Yellowstone National Park. [33] Lieutenant Kingman's appointment brought the first systematic direction and development of improvements, the first division of authority, and the first increment of military personnel to the Park. All had an effect upon the development of the national park system. Kingman's contributions were not limited to road and bridge construction, however, for he, with others, vehemently opposed the entrance of a railroad into the Park.

A proposal for the construction of a railroad line in the Park had been presented to Congress in 1882, but no action had been taken. [34] Rumors circulated that certain parties were interested in laying track into the Park; they were given substance when the railroad financier Jay Cooke visited the Clark Fork mines on the northeast boundary of the Park and promised the miners that they would soon be connected with the main line of the Northern Pacific by a branch line that would run through the National Park. Cooke City came into existence as a result of this visit and promise. [35] An article in the Madisonian, a Virginia City newspaper, stated that an engineer in charge of a survey party for the Utah and Northern Railway was laying our a route through the Park. Superintendent Conger immediately protested and maintained that a railroad would prostitute the Park. [36] Lieutenant Kingman was aware of the several railroad plans and earnestly recommended that such action "be deferred for a few years at any rate," eloquently maintaining that if the Park's valleys were to be scarred by railroads, its hills pierced by tunnels, "its purity and quiet . . . destroyed and broken by the noise and smoke of the locomotive . . . it will cease to belong to the whole people and will interest only those that it helps to enrich." [37] The conflict thus begun lasted for more than ten years before the railroad interests were finally defeated, but it is to the credit of Conger and Kingman that they recognized and opposed the danger.

More material threats to the preservation of the Park were facing Conger, however, for the new Assistant Superintendents were proving to be unreliable and inefficient. They were characterized as being about as "useful in protecting game . . . as a Sioux Indian would be in charge of a locomotive," [38] and one observer, noting that most of them were "boys under age," thought that "a prairie wolf would frighten them out of their pants." [39] A more voluble contemporary portrayed the Assistant Superintendents as being.

. . . a herd of irresponsible imbeciles . . . a lot of poor relations and hangers on of officials who have doubtless had them pensioned off in this manner with scant hope that they will some time come into conflict with a cowboy, a wild indian, or at least wander so far away as never more to be heard from. These employees are largely made up of inefficient young fellows, ignorant of the ways of the west, and utterly incompetent to perform the duties for which they are ostensibly employed. . . . A couple of cowboys could put the whole brigade to flight with blank cartridges. [40]

The Assistant Superintendents were aware of the poor esteem in which they were held by the general public and some, after spending a few months in the wild surroundings, fled back to their homes in the East, to be replaced by other inexperienced political appointees. Some remained, but a note of resignation and despair pervaded their thinking. One of the more conscientious assistants wrote that "tourists as a rule continue to test the power of the Geysers by throwing timber in them, this and the neglect of many campers to extinguish their fires gives me all I can do." Echoing the sentiment of many Senators and Congressmen, this man tersely advised his superior to "Let the Military have charge of the Park." [41] At least one assistant was not discouraged, and, writing about a man he knew to be responsible for the slaughter of game within the Park, Edmund L. Fish knew that "nothing can be done now but if we should be empowered to enforce the laws . . . I should dearly love to snatch the son of a Bitch bald headed." [42] What he needed, he said, was legal power to reach them poachers and arrest them for violation." He would have willingly taken "the part of a detective" in order to "straighten out their crookedness," but as it was, he could "see no [illegible] in it for what could I do if I caught them in the very act." He ended his letter with a plaintive cry, stating that he was "getting very anxious for power to act like a man and not like a sneak in Park matters" and hoped that Conger could soon "send good news from Congress."[43]

Unfortunately the "good news" was not forthcoming and the Park management continued to be berated by the press for allowing depredations to continue. [44] One supporter of the harried Superintendent blamed the insidious newspaper releases condemning Conger upon the "so-called Park Improvement Co. who desire to control the entire park for their own benefit," and maintained that Conger was a good Superintendent, doing all that he could with a worthless group of Assistants over whom he had no control of appointment or discharge. [45] Another, speaking for "all of the old timers and frontiersmen" who were in the vicinity of the Park, thought that Conger had "done all he possibly could with the power he had." [46]

Even Secretary of the Interior Teller realized that Conger and his assistants needed further power if they were to stop vandalism and the slaughter of game, and he finally requested Congress to take some action. [47] Congress, however, refused to consider the request, and supporters of the Park were forced to look elsewhere for help. The first effort to solve the vexing problem of the absence of an enforceable legal code was made by the Territory of Wyoming, which included about 98 per cent of the Park. On March 6, 1884, its legislature passed a law that extended the laws of the Territory over that section of the Park lying within the Territorial boundaries, authorized the Governor to appoint two Justices of the Peace and two Constables upon the recommendation of the Park Superintendent, and provided penalties for the defined misdemeanors of trespass and vandalism. An appropriation of $8,000 was provided "to carry this law into effect and to assist and aid the Government of the United States in keeping and maintaining the park as a place of resort." [48] Thus supported by legal machinery, a conscientious and efficient Superintendent (like Conger), if backed by an equally efficient group of assistants, might have been able to bring law and order to the area. Such was not to be the case.

In a terse letter, dated July 12, 1884, Secretary Teller informed Conger that "In view of the unsatisfactory condition of affairs in the Park and the improbability of improvement," he was requested to tender his resignation "to take effect on the appointment and qualification" of his successor. [49] Rufus Hatch and other officers of the Improvement Company, with whom Conger had so often disagreed, were named as having "a hand in securing Conger's removal." Surprisingly, the editor who had previously castigated Conger for his alleged lack of law enforcement now came forth in his defense, expressed "deep feelings of regret at his removal," and published a letter, signed by sixty residents of the area, commending Conger for his forthright administration. [50]

Conger's short administration had not been a successful one, but this was due more to the lack of enforcement procedure and the poor calibre of his assistants than to malfeasance on his part. He had correctly and courageously opposed the powerful influence of the Improvement Company; he had taken a similar stand against the railroad interests. He can perhaps be justly criticized for ineffectiveness, but he was neither dishonest nor corrupt. Unfortunately, his successor was both.

Robert E. Carpenter was appointed Park Superintendent on August 5, 1884, and assumed his duties on September 10, when he relieved Conger. [51] His appointment was purely political, [52] and Carpenter looked upon his new office as a source of profit for himself and his friends. The only beneficial step taken by him was the forcible removal of homesteaders who had illegally "squatted" within the Park. In this he had the full backing of the Department of the Interior; the Secretary even advised him that if he found such ejection impossible with the force at hand, the Secretary would invoke the assistance of the Army. [53] This was not needed, however, as Carpenter simply burned the settlers' dwellings and thus forced their evacuation. [54] When he returned to Washington, the new Superintendent joined forces with members of the Improvement Company and lobbied Congress for the passage of a measure designed to grant vast tracts of land within the Park to private parties for commercial purposes. The Superintendent's complicity in the scheme was exposed when it was discovered that his name appeared on the claim notices and that he had selected for himself the most desirable tracts. [55] When Acting Secretary of the Interior M. L. Joslyn attempted to defend Carpenter, claiming that the charges against him were "frivolous and unworthy of consideration," the editor of the Livingston Enterprise gloated with "satisfaction to know that in a few weeks [when the federal administration changed hands] Mr. Joslyn will be relieved from the necessity of taking cognizance of such frivolous matters as the business of the interior department," adding that Joslyn "has always been the tool of the Park Improvement Company." [56]

With the advent of the Cleveland Administration in Washington, Henry M. Teller was superseded by L. Q. C. Lamar as Secretary of the Interior. The ever alert Senator Vest immediately recommended that Carpenter be removed from the superintendency and that a Mr. Magoffin be named in his place. Defenders of the Republic opposed the recommendation on the grounds that Magoffin had been a Confederate; Vest then requested the appointment of Colonel D. W. Wear, who had been a "Colonel of a Federal Regiment, is in the prime of life, accustomed to field sports of all kinds, and a thoroughly honest man." [57] Colonel Wear, at that time a member of the State Senate of Missouri, was notified of his appointment "vice R. E. Carpenter to be removed," on June 1,1885, and was commissioned Superintendent on June 20, 1885.[58]

The new Superintendent immediately set about his task with enthusiasm and vigor. His first act was to suggest that the force of assistants be changed, since he found them to be "very inefficient . . . and utterly unfit for the service" and thought that "a change of the entire force would be beneficial to the proper administration" of the Park. [59] Less than two months after taking office he could report that a man hired by him at his own expense had apprehended two hunters, who were found guilty: one received a fine of $100 and six months imprisonment, the full extent of the new Wyoming law, and the other a fine of $75 and costs. [60] This marked the first prosecution for depredations in the Park. The Superintendent then asked that Edward Wilson, the man responsible for the arrests, be appointed to the position of Assistant Superintendent, along with C. J. Baronette, since he was "compelled to have experienced mountain men to enforce the laws." [61] This request for "mountain men" was renewed a month later when Colonel Wear asked that he be authorized to select those appointed to the post of Assistant Superintendent from Westerners familiar with the ways of the frontier. He thought that Westerners could be "judiciously substituted for any of the Assistants" he presently had, and added that "Whiskey" seemed to be the "besetting trouble" with most of the men then filling those positions. [62] By November he could report the apprehension and conviction of four more poachers. [63]

Members of Congress, unaware of the better protection now afforded the Park, appointed on March 4, 1885, a Special House Committee to investigate Indian education and the affairs of the Yellowstone National Park. This committee met at Omaha the following summer, and after visiting various Indian agencies and reservations, four members of the committee spent five days in the Park. In their report, the junketeering Congressmen laid down what was to become an important statement of Park policy:

The park should so far as possible be spared the vandalism of improvement. Its great and only charms are in the display of wonderful forces of nature, the ever varying beauty of the rugged landscape, and the sublimity of the scenery. Art cannot embellish them. [64]

But the majority of the Committee were not so sure that nature needed protection from the hand of man. The Superintendent and his ten assistants were thought to be of no "special value" in the protection of game, and the committee thought it was improbable that "any of these animals will for any considerable period remain, even in imagination, an interesting feature of this Park." The Congressmen did mention, however, that a small police force would be necessary to protect the forests from destruction "either by fire or the ax." In a minority report, two members of the committee advocated the construction of more roads and the relocation and reconstruction of the old roads; while agreeing that "the most important duty of the 'superintendent and assistants in the Park is to protect the forests from fire and ax'," they believed it was also important to "protect the objects of interest from injury, especially at the hands of the relic hunter and the professional collector of specimens, and the game from injury or destruction." [65] The majority report recommended that Congress recognize the validity of the Wyoming Territorial Act of March 6, 1884, which provided legal machinery for protection of the Park. The report also recommended turning the Park over to Wyoming's jurisdiction when the Territory became a state. [66]

Before the committee filed its report, Secretary Lamar realized that his office would be severely criticized if the report declared conditions in the Park to be what the press had long claimed. He therefore appointed his own committee of one to examine into the conditions of the Park. Special Agent W. Haller Phillips was to direct his attention particularly to existing leases, the question of need for additional hotels, and whether there were at that time any persons living illegally within the Park. [67] Phillips reached the Park on July 26 and remained there until September 6, 1885; two weeks after his return to Washington his report was in the hands of the Secretary. [68]

The question of Park government was raised once again in the Phillips report, which focused upon the somewhat arbitrary administration of justice practiced in the Park under the Wyoming Territorial statute passed the year before. Phillips thought it strange that Congress should have neglected to provide any government for the Park. After carefully reviewing legal precedents, he concluded that a Territorial legislature had no authority to enforce its enactments within the Park. The Wyoming law had never received the assent of Congress. In his opinion, some provisions of the Wyoming law were "highly ridiculous" and other sections were "Draconian legislation." Phillips seemed to be particularly incensed over the fact that some "prominent citizens of Philadelphia" had been arrested and fined for collecting specimens, and that other visitors of "the highest respectability, ladies and gentlemen," had been fined for similar acts of vandalism. Section 12 of the Wyoming law provided that all fees collected by the Justices of the Peace were to be retained by them, and Section 17 allowed the prosecuting witness to keep one-half the fine assessed against an offender. The stimulus of such prospective rewards could lead to wholly "unjustifiable" arrests.

Agent Phillips appended to his report a column taken from the Chicago Tribune, August 22, 1885, dateline Cinnabar, Montana. According to the newspaper report, Judge Payson, member of Congress from Illinois, had been arrested by an Assistant Superintendent for allegedly leaving a campfire smouldering. The case was heard by Justice of the Peace Hall; Payson was found guilty, fined $60 and ordered to pay $12.80 costs. Refusing to be fined by what he considered to be no more than a "kangaroo court," the indignant Congressman posted a $1,000 bond and announced his intention to appeal the judgement to the United States District Court in Wyoming. Here the proceedings took on the aspect of high comedy. Judge Hall, a former woodchopper, called upon the defendant, a former judge, for legal advice and asked him whether he, as Justice of the Peace, had the authority to "remit the fine, or costs, or either." He was advised by the defendant that he indeed had the legal power to remit the fine and "at least so much of the costs as were illegal and excessive." Hall then offered to accept $10 for the fine and to reduce the costs from $12.80 to $4. Payson refused; Hall then offered to take $1 for the fine and whatever the defendant considered "right for the costs." Payson refused to pay any fine, but offered to pay a small sum "for the trouble that the alleged constable has been put to." In such a manner was justice carried out under the Wyoming statute. [69]

Phillips commended Superintendent Wear and thought he was thoroughly efficient and "desirous of promoting the interests of the Park," but also thought that the Superintendent was handicapped by having too few assistants. He opposed the granting of a right-of-way through the Park to the railroad interests, or segregation of any portion of the Park for railroad purposes, and suggested several rule changes and more stringent enforcement of the existing ones, particularly the one prohibiting the sale of intoxicating liquors. Phillips also urged that two United States Commissioners be appointed with jurisdiction to try all offenses not above misdemeanors, with Congress providing "the pains and penalties for a violation of the laws or regulations." He ended his pleas for proper legal machinery with the statement, "in a national park, the national laws and regulations should be enforced by a national tribunal." Nine years passed before this recommendation was converted into law, but the Phillips report did serve to bring about a more immediate change in the Park administration. On March 10, 1886, the Governor of Wyoming approved the repeal of the Territorial Park law, and the Park was once again left without any form of effective legal government. [70]

Superintendent Wear had been so persistent in his demands that he be allowed to dismiss assistants who were unfit for duty and replace them with men of his own choosing that by April, 1886, he had achieved a complete turnover of the ten Assistant Superintendents. The inept political appointees were gone, and in their place stood the "stalwart mountaineers" so praised by Wear and Senator Vest. Given time, sufficient appropriations, and additional men as travel to the Park increased, Wear might have been able to provide adequate protection to the Park. But the scandals of his predecessor, the ineffectiveness and later the repeal of the Wyoming Territorial statutes, the penurious nature of Congress, the avowed hostility on the part of some Congressmen toward the Park, the ill repute into which the government of the Park had fallen, and recollection of the several suggestions that troops alone could offer the needed protection for the Park, frustrated Wear's attempts to vindicate civilian administration of the Yellowstone National Park.

When the 49th Congress began its first session in December, 1885, Senator Vest introduced Senate Bill 101, to revise the Yellowstone Park Act and provide the necessary legal machinery for continued civil protection, but he was unable to garner enough support to get the bill up for consideration. He was successful in opposing a bill introduced by Senator Samuel J. R. McMillan of Minnesota to grant a railroad right-of-way through the northern end of the Park, but in so doing he alienated a group of Senators whose support he needed for his own bill.

The Senate received Special Agent W. Hallett Phillips' report on February 1, 1886, and two weeks later the Holman Select Committee reported to the House their findings on the situation in Yellowstone. [71] Both reports served to aid the opponents of Senator Vest, but it was in the House that the civilian administration was most vociferously attacked and finally ended.

The annual appropriation for the Park was included in the sundry civil appropriation bill for the fiscal year ending June 30, 1887, and, as reported by the House Committee on Appropriations, the bill called for $40,000 to be expended in the same manner as had been done in previous years. The House reduced the appropriation for the Park by $20,000 and stipulated that the money be used for road construction only, deleting the provision for the salaries of the Superintendent and his assistants. The purpose of the deletion was to end civil control of the Park and force the Secretary of the Interior to call upon the Secretary of War as provided in the act of March 3, 1883. [72] When apprised of the situation, Secretary Lamar immediately wrote to the chairmen of both the Senate and House Committees on Appropriations suggesting that "the control of the Park . . . be transferred . . . to the War Department" since that Department would have control of the only appropriation available for the Park. [73] Lamar's letter was too late to have any effect on the bill, but in the Senate the original $40,000 appropriation was restored, as was the provision providing for compensation for a Superintendent and assistants. After brief debate the bill was passed by the Senate on July 24, 1886. [74] But the House refused to accept the restored appropriation, [75] and the conference committee's efforts to reconcile the House and Senate positions ended in a deadlock. [76]

Returned to the floor of the Senate, the bill was debated at length. Senator Vest, supporting the original appropriation, stated that "It was never intended [in the 1883 law] that the Secretary of War should put a cordon of troops around the park." In his opinion, soldiers "would be more than useless" for Park protection. He admitted that he had previously endorsed the use of troops but he was now convinced that the change would benefit only speculators who had been unable to control and direct the present Superintendent. He sincerely believed that if the civil administration were replaced by the War Department, it would mean "virtually an end of the Yellowstone National Park."[77]

Senator James B. Beck of Kentucky supported the Vest argument. Senator Preston B. Plumb of Kansas, claiming that a monopoly existed within the Park, thought the entire Park should be "lopped off," later adding that perhaps some of the curiosities should be saved, with the remainder of the area being returned to the public domain. [78] Vest, supported by Senators Dawes and Teller, asserted that while there may have been monopolistic control of the Park in previous years, this was no longer true. Teller, while defending the purpose of the Park and its government under his administration, thought that military control would serve only to "destroy the park," but agreed with Plumb by stating that the government should abandon control over the Park, retaining only "the small points where these large geysers and other things are." [79]

Senator John R. McPherson of New Jersey, supporting the House provision, contended that a military force drawn from the "five thousand soldiers" then in the vicinity of the Park, and who were serving "no purpose in the world," would afford excellent protection to the Park. Vest retorted that the character of the men in the Regular Army was such that any hope for protection would be precluded if the Park were handed over to them, and he claimed that the "government of the park today is in better condition than it ever has been." He then castigated the advocates of military rule as being stooges for the proponents of a railroad right-of-way through the Park, maintaining that he had been told time and time again that unless he withdrew his opposition to the various railroad bills "the park would be broken up." The ending of civil administration would be but the first step in a maneuver to "break it up and destroy it forever." In conclusion, Vest asserted that the present Superintendent was an honest man, that game was increasing while lawlessness was decreasing, and if the House conferees were allowed to have their way, it would be tantamount to repealing the act which created the Park itself. Vest's motion to uphold the Senate's amendment carried and another conference with the House was requested. [80]

The House debate on the Yellowstone question was as extended and intense as that in the Senate. Representative D. B. Henderson of Iowa [81] spoke for those who desired to turn control of the Park over to the War Department. Superintendent Wear's two predecessors had been from Iowa, while he was from Missouri. Thus the House debate soon degenerated into a partisan duel between the leaders from those two states. Henderson charged Senator Vest with desiring to keep the Park under civil government only in order to maintain Wear in the superintendency, and ridiculed the "mountaineers" employed by Wear, who, he said, had originated in Illinois and Missouri and "did not know a bear from a jackal or a jack rabbit from a jackass." Wear was wrongfully charged with having an interest in a coal mine near the Park line and lobbying to have that section of the Park segregated, leaving him with title to the mineral land. He was also excoriated for having an interest in the Yellowstone Park Association and for aiding that company to gain a monopoly of the hotel business in the Park. Representative John J. O'Neill of Missouri, replying to Henderson's false charges, claimed that Wear was blameless but that Conger and Carpenter, who were from Iowa and had preceded Wear as Superintendent, were the ones responsible for scandal and corruption in the Park.

Wear subsequently refuted all charges made against him and was strongly supported by the one man who could claim an element of objectivity in the affair. In a personal letter to the Secretary of the Interior, W. Hallett Phillips maintained that Wear was "a man who has done great credit to himself in the administration of the park," and described him as "honest, sober, scrupulously conscientious." He denied the charges made against Wear in the House and believed that the Superintendent "had done more for the park than all those who preceded him." But Congressmen seldom aspire to objectivity and the facts were largely ignored. [82]

The future of the Yellowstone, and with it the future of the National Park system as a whole, came near to repudiation when Representative John A. Reagan of Texas suggested that all the laws setting the territory apart as a park be repealed, all of the men engaged in taking care of it be discharged and the whole area be placed in private hands. He did not think it was the duty of the government to enter "show business" or to provide "imperial parks for the few wealthy persons," and he for one would be happy when the entire enterprise was abandoned. Representative William S. Holman of Indiana, recalling that Mackinac Island had been transferred to Michigan [83] and that Yosemite had been ceded to California, thought that the Yellowstone should be turned over to Wyoming. The debate ended with the House instructing its conferees to insist upon its provision ending the civilian administration. [84]

The appropriations bill was again referred to the conference committee. The House conferees were instructed to limit the appropriation to $20,000 for roads and bridges only, while the Senate conferees were told to withhold consent to abolition of the civilian administration of the Park. The end of the Congressional session was but two days off, 325 men were eager to leave a hot and humid Washington to take care of their political fortunes, and only one point of contention remained between the two branches of the national legislature. Senator William B. Allison of Iowa, reporting for the Senate conferees, stated that "The House of Representatives refused to agree to the Senate amendment, and I believe the very last thing we did before finally separating was to surrender the amendment put on by the Senate in reference to the Yellowstone Park." The civilian administration of the Yellowstone was facing legislative destruction. [85]

Senator Vest was disgusted, but not disheartened. He announced that in the next session of Congress he would introduce a bill to restore the Park to civil government. [86]

The Act of August 4, 1886, [87] did not prevent the Secretary of the Interior from retaining the present force of civilian employees, but it denied him money to pay them. Therefore, on August 6, 1886, the Secretary of the Interior called the attention of the Secretary of War to the act of March 3, 1883, [88] which provided that:

The Secretary of War, upon the request of the Secretary of the Interior, is hereby authorized and directed to make the necessary details of troops to prevent trespassers or intruders from entering the park for the purpose of destroying the game or objects of curiosity therein, or for any other purpose prohibited by law, and to remove such persons from the park if found therein.

The Secretary requested that "a Captain, two Lieutenants and twenty selected mounted men from the Army be detailed for service in the park" for the purposes contemplated in the act, and to perform such other duties in connection with the management and superintendency of the Park as might be required by him. He remarked that since his Department had no funds for such purposes, the War Department would have to furnish subsistence, forage, and transportation for the requested troops. [89]

Secretary Lamar's letter was referred by the Secretary of War to Lieutenant-General P. H. Sheridan, who recommended that "Troop 'M', 1st United States Cavalry, Captain Moses Harris commanding—station Fort Custer, M. T. —be ordered . . . to perform the duties in the Yellowstone National Park that recently devolved upon the Superintendent of the Park and his assistants." [90] Accordingly, Captain Harris and his troop were ordered to proceed at once to the Park, there to take station and report to the Secretary of the Interior. [91] On August 20, 1886, Captain Moses Harris relieved Superintendent Wear of his duties and the era of civilian park administration came to an end.

Looking backward, it appears that Congress acted somewhat precipitately and without full knowledge of the improved conditions brought about by Superintendent Wear and his handful of assistants when it acted to replace the civilian administration with that of the military. Given legislative and financial support, civilian administrators might well have been able to bring success to the nation's first large-scale attempt at conservation and preservation. It is equally possible, however, that the political venality that marked the late nineteenth century might have so transcended the best efforts of a conscientious civilian administrator as to produce complete failure in the Yellowstone venture; a failure that would probably have brought an end to the incipient movement toward a national park system.


How the U.S. Cavalry Saved Our National Parks
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