Early History of Yellowstone National Park and Its Relation to National Park Policies
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The first real exploring expedition in the Yellowstone Park region, of which anything like a complete and authentic report is preserved, was that of David E. Folsom and C. W. Cook and William Peterson, the latter being an employee of Folsom on his ranch. This expedition was entirely unofficial, and, while Folsom, who headed it, was a man of standing, integrity, and capacity, he feared to give general publicity to his story, even among Montana people, not expecting to be believed. He did write up the trip and offered it for publication, but was turned down by eastern magazines, such as Lippincott's, with the reply that they did not publish fiction. His article finally was published in the Western Monthly, of Chicago, in their July, 1870, issue, and so is preserved to us, although essential parts were deleted by the editors. No national movement or interest resulted directly from the Folsom-Cook expedition. His personal reports to Hauser, Langford, Washburn, and others at Helena seem to have been accepted by them, and no doubt had much to do with their determination to make their expedition the following year. Langford says in his "Vigilante Days," that the information secured from Folsom led to the organization of the Washburn exploring expedition in August, 1870.

Folsom, Langford, and Hauser had come to Montana together with the first Fisk expedition, headed for the Salmon River gold fields, arriving at Fort Benton in June, 1862. Hauser went on to Gold Creek where he arrived in August, 1862, and Langford to Grasshopper Creek, later called Bannack. At the time of the Yellowstone expedition Folsom was 31. He was considered a good surveyor. He was later county surveyor, county treasurer, State senator, and member of the commission that built the State capitol at Helena. He was the Republican nominee for Governor of Montana in 1900.

Charles W. Cook had reached Montana in 1864.

Expecting a military escort, a party was made up in 1869 for exploration of the Yellowstone region. Disappointed in securing the military escort, and with numerous rumors of Indian hostilities, all of the party lost their desire to go except Folsom, Cook, and Peterson. The attempting of this difficult and dangerous expedition by these three men, without escort, and their complete success, should give to this expedition more prominence than it has heretofore had.

This is especially true since it was clearly from this expedition of 1869 that the first suggestion for a national park to preserve these wonders resulted. In his preface to "The Folsom-Cook Exploration of the Upper Yellowstone in the Year 1869," published by him in 1894, Nathaniel P. Langford says:

"Before we left Helena Mr. Folsom furnished us with a map showing his route of travel and imparted to us much valuable information, and, as we afterwards learned, discussed with General Washburn the project of creating a park, but I do not find that he ever published through the press his views on this subject."

In a note to the third revision of Chittenden's work, page 73, is the statement:

"In the manuscript of his article in the Western Monthly was a reference to the park idea; but the publishers cut out a large part of his paper, giving only the descriptions of the natural wonders, and this reference was cut out with the rest."

While Folsom did not have the position or the contacts to enable him to advance the park idea nationally, or the technical talent in his party to give weight nationally to the report of the discoveries by his party, the fact remains that the Folsom-Cook expedition was the first definitely intended exploration of the Yellowstone National Park region; that his publication in the Western Monthly in July, 1870, was the first publication of such a report; and that he was the first to suggest that this wonderful region be set aside as a public park.

The publication of the report in the July, 1870, issue of the Western Monthly, published by the Lakeside Publishing Co., of Chicago, is entitled "The Valley of the Upper Yellowstone by C. W. Cook." (See Appendix D.) In 1894 Nathaniel P. Langford republished this article under the title "The Folsom-Cook Exploration of the Upper Yellowstone in the year 1869, by David E. Folsom." Every reference to the article, except the signature in the Western Monthly, speaks of it as having been written by Folsom, and Director Albright informs me that Mr. Cook told him that the article was written by Folsom. In his introduction to his book "Discovery of Yellowstone Park, 1870," containing his own diary during that expedition, Mr. Langford says:

"The office of the Western Monthly was destroyed by fire before the copies of the magazine containing Mr. Folsom's article were distributed and the single copy which Mr. Folsom possessed, and which he presented to the Historical Society of Montana, met a like fate in the great Helena fire. The copy which I possessed and which I afterwards presented to that society, is doubtless the only original copy now in existence."

In this Mr. Langford is slightly confused. The Folsom article, as above stated, appeared in the July, 1870, number of the Western Monthly, and the fire did not occur until September. The regular edition of the Western Monthly for July was therefore distributed and appears in the bound copy of volume 4, covering July to December, 1870, which I have referred to in the Library of Congress. The surplus of the edition, however, was destroyed in the great fire, which came a few weeks later, so that when demand for the Folsom account was increased after the return of the Washburn expedition in September, 1870, the publishers could not supply it. In the bound copy referred to at the Library of Congress has been included a slip headed "Explanation," and which reads in part as follows:

"The great fire which consumed the Drake and Farwell Building on Wabash Avenue, on the 4th of September last, destroyed the printing office in which the Western Monthly was published. The October number of the magazine was at that time nearly completed, and—manuscripts, proof sheets, matter in type, and stereotype plates—was entirely destroyed. * * * it is believed that the readers of the magazine will be satisfied with this explanation of the reason why the October number did not reach them."

In the spring of 1873 Superintendent Langford, with the approval of the Department, appointed Mr. Folsom assistant superintendent of the park, both Langford and Folsom serving without pay.

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Last Updated: 09-Dec-2011