"The place where Hell bubbled up"
A History of the First National Park
THE COUNTRY DISCOVERED
Although Yellowstone had been thoroughly tracked by
trappers and miners, in the view of the Nation at large it was really
"discovered" when penetrated by formal expeditions originating in the
settlements of an expanding America.
The first organized attempt to explore Yellowstone
came in 1860. Capt. William F. Raynolds, a discerning Army engineer
guided by Jim Bridger, led a military expedition that accomplished much
but failed to penetrate the future park because of faulty scheduling and
early snow. The Civil War preoccupied the Government during the next few
years. During the late 1860's, however, stories of the area's wonders so
excited many of Montana's leading citizens and officials that several
explorations were planned. But none actually got underway.
Indian trouble and lack of a military escort caused
the abandonment of the last such expedition in the summer of 1869.
Determined that they would not be deprived of a look at the wondrous
region, three members of that would-be ventureDavid B. Folsom,
Charles W. Cook, and William Petersondecided to make the trek
anyway. Folsom and Cook brought with them a sensitivity to nature
endowed by a Quaker up??bringing, while Peterson displayed the hardy
spirit that came from years as a seafarer. All three, furthermore, had
become experienced frontiersmen while prospecting for Montana gold. They
acquired a store of provisions, armed themselves well, then set out on
an enterprise about which they were warned by a friend: "It's the next
thing to suicide."
David E. Folsom
Charles W. Cook, 1869
That caution could not have been more wrong, for
their journey took them into a natural wonderland where they met few
Indians. From Bozeman, they traveled down the divide between the
Gallatin and Yellowstone Rivers, eventually crossing to the Yellowstone
and ascending that stream into the present park by way of Yankee Jim
Canyon. They observed Tower Fall and nearby thermal features and the
Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone"this masterpiece of nature's
handiwork"then continued past the Mud Volcano to Yellowstone Lake.
They pushed east to Mary Bay, then backtracked across the north shore to
West Thumb. On their way home the explorers visited Shoshone Lake and
the Lower and Midway Geyser Basins. The Folsom-Cook-Peterson exploration
produced an updated version of DeLacy's 1865 map, an article in the
Western Monthly magazine in Chicago, and a fever of excitement
among some of Montana's leading citizens, who promptly determined to see
for themselves the truth of the party's tales of "the beautiful places
we had found fashioned by the practised hand of nature, that man had not
By August 1870 a second expedition had been
organized. Rumors of Indian trouble reduced the original 20 members to
less than half that number. Among them were prominent government
officials and financial leaders of Montana Territory, led by
Surveyor-General Henry D. Washburn, politician and business promoter
Nathaniel P. Langford, and Cornelius Hedges, a lawyer. Obtaining from
Fort Ellis a military escort under an experienced soldier, Lt. Gustavus
C. Doane, the explorers traced the general route of the 1869 party. They
followed the river to the lake, passed around the eastern and southern
sides, inspected the Upper, Midway, and Lower Geyser Basins, and paused
at Madison Junctionthe confluence of the Gibbon and Firehole
Riversbefore returning to Montana. It was at this campsite that
they, like their predecessors the year before, discussed their hopes
that Yellowstone might be saved from exploitation.
Some of the members of the 1870 expedition lacked
extensive experience as frontiersmen, and their wilderness education
came hard. At times they went hungry because, according to Doane, "our
party kept up such a rackett of yelling and firing as to drive off all
game for miles ahead of us." One of their number, Truman Everts,
separated himself from the rest of the party and, unable to subsist in a
bounteous land, nearly starved to death before he was rescued 37 days
later. But these problems were understandable. By the end of the
expedition they had demonstrated their backwoods ability. The party had
climbed several peaks, made numerous side trips, descended into the
Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, and attempted measurements and analyses
of several of the prominent natural features. They had shown that
ordinary men, as well as hardened frontiersmen, could venture into the
wilderness of Yellowstone.
Far more important, however, was their enchantment
and wonder at what they had seen and their success in publicizing these
feelings. As Hedges later recalled, "I think a more confirmed set of
sceptics never went out into the wilderness than those who composed our
party, and never was a party more completely surprised and captivated
with the wonders of nature." Their reports stirred intense interest in
Montana and attracted national attention. Members of the expedition
wrote articles for several newspapers and Scribner's Monthly
magazine. Langford made a speaking tour in the East. Doane's official
report was accepted and printed by the Congress. All this publicity
resulted in a congressional appropriation for an official exploration of
Yellowstonethe Hayden Expedition.
Henry D. Washburn, 1896
Lt. Gustavus C. Doane
Truman C. Everts
Walter Trumbull's sketch of the Upper Falls of the Yellowstone, made on
the 1870 expedition.
The Hayden Expedition of 1871 on their way into the heart of the
"Annie," the first boat on Yellowstone Lake, was built and launched
during the 1871 expedition.
Hunters with the 1871 expedition bring in a day's kill.
Jackson's self-portrait. He was the official photographer for both the
1871 and 1872 expeditions.
After the 1871 expedition, Hayden published this map of the Yellowstone
Ferdinand V. Hayden (left), who led the 1871 expedition of Yellowstone,
talks with his assistant Walter Paris.
Ferdinand V. Hayden, physician turned geol ogist,
energetic explorer and accomplished nat uralist, head of the U.S.
Geological Survey of the Territories, had been with Raynolds in 1860.
The failure of that expedition to penetrate Yellowstone had stimulated
his desire to investigate the re gion. Aside from being a leading
scientific investi gator of the wilderness, he was an influential
publicist of the scientific wonders, scenic beauty, and economic
potential of the American West. He saw the interest stirred by the
Washburn- Langford-Doane Expedition as an opportunity to reveal
Yellowstone in an orderly and scientific manner. Drawing on the support
of the railroad interestsalways proponents of Western explora tion
and developmentand favorable public reaction to the reports of the
1870 expedition, Hayden secured an appropriation for a scientific survey
of Yellowstone. This expedition was supplemented by a simultaneous
survey by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
The dual exploration in the late summer of 1871 was
more thorough than that of 1870, and it brought back scientific
corroboration of earlier tales of thermal activity. Although a lot of
the material vanished in the Chicago fire of 1871, the expedition gave
the world a much improved map of Yellowstone and, in the excellent photo
graphs by William Henry Jackson and the artistry of Henry W. Elliott and
Thomas Moran, visual proof of Yellowstone's unique curiosities. The
expedition's reports excited the scientific commu nity and aroused
intense national interest in this previously mysterious region.
Members of all three expeditions from 1869 to 1871
were overwhelmed by what they had seen. The singular features of the
area evoked similar reactions in all the explorers. This was the day of
the "robber barons" and of rapacious exploita tion of the public domain.
It was also a time of dynamic national expansion, when the Nation
conceived its mission to be the taming and peopling of the wilderness.
But most of the re gion's explorers sensed that division and exploita
tion, through homesteading or other development, were not proper for
Yellowstone. Its natural curi osities impressed them as being so
valuable that the area should be reserved for all to see. Their crowning
achievement was that they persuaded others to their view and helped to
save Yellowstone from private development.
Hayden, assisted by members of the Washburn party and
other interested persons, promoted a park bill in Washington in late
1871 and early 1872. Working earnestly, the sponsors drew upon the
precedent of the Yosemite Act of 1864, which reserved Yosemite Valley
from settlement and en trusted it to the care of the State of
California, and the persuasive magic of Jackson's photo graphs, Moran's
paintings, and Elliott's sketches. To permanently close to settlement
such an ex panse of the public domain would be a departure from the
established policy of transferring public lands to private ownership.
But the proposed park encompassing the wonders of Yellowstone had caught
the imagination of both the public and the Congress. After some
discussion but surpris ingly little opposition, the measure passed both
houses of Congress, and on March 1, 1872, President Ulysses S. Grant
signed it into law. Yellowstone would be forever preserved from private
greed and "dedicated and set apart as a public park or pleasuring-ground
for the benefit and enjoyment of the people." The world's first national
park was born.
Last Updated: 04-Nov-2009