Early History of Yellowstone National Park and Its Relation to National Park Policies
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December 18, 1871, the bill to create Yellowstone Park was introduced simultaneously in both Houses of Congress, H. R. 764 by Delegate William H. Clagett, of Deer Lodge, Mont., and S. 392 by Senator Pomeroy, of Kansas.

The speed with which the Yellowstone Park bill proceeded from introduction to enactment into law is surprising. It is true it was not accompanied by any appropriation and was merely the reservation of lands already belonging to the Government. There were, however, projects pending at the same time involving the reservation or transfer of lands totaling about 100,000,000 acres, most of which projects failed. It was just after the Civil War, a period when economy in the National Government was urgent. Nevertheless the bill which was first introduced in Congress December 18, 1871, became law March 1, 1872, only about 10 weeks later.

At this time Helena, Mont., was well represented in Washington. Langford, Everts, and Hauser were in Washington much of the time and Walter Trumbull was clerk of the Senate Committee on Judiciary, of which his father was chairman. Professor Hayden was at the Interior Department.

The Helena Herald of January 16, 1872, contains the following Washington correspondence from the Territorial Enterprise of Nevada, dated January 7, 1872:

"The Hon. N. P. Langford, of Montana, the leader of the famous Yellowstone expedition of 1870 and several scientific and literary gentlemen are 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 for agricultural, mining, or manufacturing purposes, and it is proposed to have its magnificent scenery, hot springs, geysers, and cataracts forever dedicated to public use as a grand national reservation. Congress is to be petitioned to this effect."

At the time the Yellowstone Park was established Congress apparently had before it Joint Memorial No. 5 adopted by the Montana Legislative Council on motion of Councilman Seth Bullock, later noted as a friend of Roosevelt. This memorial asked Congress to add the Yellowstone area to Montana and that it "be dedicated and devoted to public use, resort and recreation, for all time to come, as a great national park, under such care and restrictions as to your honorable bodies may seem best calculated to secure the ends proposed."

That sentiment in Montana was not entirely unanimous appears from an editorial in the Helena Gazette, one of the publishers of which was Col. Martin Maginnis, later Delegate, which said in part: "In our opinion the effect of the measure will be to keep this country in wilderness and shut out for many years the travel that would seek that curious region if good roads were opened through it and hotels built therein. We regard the passage of the act as a great blow struck at the prosperity of the towns of Bozeman and Virginia City which might normally look for considerable travel to this section if it were thrown open to a curious but comfort loving public" (Helena March 1, 1872.) Enterprise indorsed the park as the "grandest park in the world." (Helena Herald, March 22, 1872.)

The Senate bill received the more prompt committee action. January 22, 1872, Senator Pomeroy stated that he had been instructed by the Committee on Public Lands to report back S. 392 and recommend its passage. There being some objection to other business being interfered with at that time, he withdrew the report, presenting it again January 23. After some discussion of the purposes of legislation objection was made to its immediate consideration. A week later, January 30, 1872, it came up for consideration before the Senate in its regular order and was passed.

In the debate Senator Anthony, of Rhode Island, and Senator Tipton, of Nebraska, showed their friendly interest in the legislation and its conservation purposes. Senator Edmunds, of Vermont, and Senator Trumbull, of Illinois, father of Walter Trumbull of the Washburn party, spoke in support of the legislation. The only hostile note came from Senator Cornelius Cole, of California, strange to say, where the State had recently accepted the Yosemite grant from the Federal Government. But he was chairman of the Senate Committee on Appropriations. With trifling amendments the bill was then passed by the Senate.

The Helena Herald of January 31, 1872, under the heading "A National Park," carried an editorial stating that telegraphic dispatches that morning "announce that the bill introduced by Senator Pomeroy, providing for a national park on the headwaters of the Yellowstone," had passed the Senate. It further states that the idea was first conceived "by the party of gentlemen in 1869" and was promoted by the letters of Hedges, the lectures of Langford, the articles by Trumbull, etc.

When the bill went to the House it was allowed to remain on the Speaker's table until February 27. In the meantime the House committee on January 27 had asked from the Interior Department a report on the Clagett bill. In making the request to the Secretary of the Interior Representative Dunnell referred to "the bill to set apart some land in Wyoming Territory" and said, as chairman of the subcommittee on the bill he "would be pleased to receive the report made by Professor Hayden or such report as he may be able to give us on the subject." This original letter is now in National Park Service files. Hayden prepared a statement which was transmitted by Secretary Delano, January 29, 1872. The House committee authorized a favorable report, Representative Dunnell accepted and used as the committee report the draft prepared by Professor Hayden. This he did not have opportunity to file until February 28, after the Senate bill had passed the House.

February 27 during the consideration of business on the Speaker's table the House took up S. 392. Mr. Scofield, of Pennsylvania, a member of the Committee on Public Lands and later an associate justice of the United States Court of Claims, moved that the bill be referred to the Public Lands Committee. Representative Henry L. Dawes, of Massachusetts, expressed the hope that the bill be put upon its immediate passage as a meritorious measure. Mr. John Taffe, of Nebraska, a member of the Committee on the Territories, moved that the bill be referred to that committee. Mr. Scofield withdrew his motion "at the request of the gentleman from Massachusetts," and no further action was taken on the Taffe motion. Mr. Hawley, of Illinois, and Mr. Dunnell, of Minnesota, stated the favorable action of the House Public Lands Committee, and Mr. Dawes stated the purpose of the legislation. Notwithstanding no speech was made directly in opposition to the passage of the bill, opposition developed upon the vote. On a division there were ayes 81, and noes 41. Mr. Morgan, of Ohio, demanded the ayes and nays, and on the roll call there were 115 ayes, 65 nays, and 60 not voting.

Morgan had been the Democratic nominee for Speaker against Blaine and was now evidently the minority leader. He had been brevetted brigadier general in the Mexican War, had served as minister to Portugal, and had been commissioned as brigadier general in the Union Army of the Civil War. He had presented credentials as a Democratic member elect to the Fortieth Congress, serving from March 4, 1867, to June 3, 1868, when he was succeeded by Columbus Delano, who had contested the election. Then he was elected to the Forty-first and Forty-second Congresses. Delano became Secretary of the Interior and reported favorably upon this legislation to which Morgan now proved to be hostile.


Analysis of the roll call vote shows that, the vote being demanded by the minority header, the division was largely on party lines, possibly due only to the fact that partisanship ruled more strongly in legislation then than now.

In any event, the Republicans being in power, there were voting for the bill 97 Republicans, 15 Democrats, 1 Conservative, 1 Conservative Democrat, and 1 Independent Democrat. Of these 18, 5 came from New York, 3 from Maryland (former home of Clagett and Everts), 2 each from Delaware and Illinois, and 1 each from Nevada, Kentucky, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and Alabama.

Against the bill were 52 Democrats, 11 Republicans and 2 Liberal Republicans. Of the latter 13, two each came from Indiana and Connecticut, and one each from Nebraska, California, Pennsylvania, Kansas, New York, South Carolina, Georgia, Missouri, and Illinois.

The vote for the bill included—

Ames, Oakes (Republican), Massachusetts, later prominent in transcontinental railroad promotion.

Archer (Democrat), Maryland, whose father and grandfather preceded him in Congress.

Banks (Republican), Massachusetts, who was first elected to the Thirty-third Congress as a Coalition Democrat, to the Thirty-fourth by the American Party and elected Speaker, to the Thirty-fifth as a Republican, as a Union Republican to the Thirty-ninth, and as a Republican to the Fortieth, Forty-first, and Forty-second, was defeated as a Liberal and Democrat for the Forty-third, elected as a Liberal Republican to the Forty-fourth and Forty-fifth and to the Fifty-first as a Republican. He had gained fame in the Civil War as a major general.

Beveridge (Republican), Illinois, governor 1873-1877.

Bigby (Republican), Georgia, later president Atlanta & West Point Railroad.

Biggs (Democrat), Delaware, governor 1882-1891.

Bingham (Republican), Ohio, who had been special judge advocate at the trial of the Lincoln conspirators and one of the House managers of the Johnson impeachment and was minister to Japan 1873-1885.

Blair (Republican), Michigan, Civil War governor.

Boles, Thomas (Republican), Arkansas, father of Thomas Boles, former superintendent of Hawaii National Park and now superintendent of Carlsbad Caverns National Park.

Burdett (Republican), Missouri, commissioner, General Land Office, 1874.

Clarke, W. T. (Republican), Texas, former major general in Union Army.

Coburn (Republican), Maryland, who had been appointed as first secretary, Territory of Montana, but resigned at once and later appointed associate justice supreme court of that Territory and served 1884-85.

Conger (Republican), Michigan, Senator 1881-1887.

Cox (Democrat), New York, later minister to Turkey.

Duell (Republican), New York, Commissioner of Patents 1875-1877.

Farwell (Republican), Illinois, Senator 1882-1891.

Frye (Republican), Maine, Senator 1881-1911, President protempore, member 1898 Peace Commission.

Garfield (Republican), Ohio, President 1881.

Hale (Republican), Maine, declined appointment as Postmaster General 1874 and Secretary Navy 1877, Senator 1881-1911.

Hambleton (Democrat), Maryland, president Chesapeake & Ohio Canal 1853-1854.

Hoar (Republican), Massachusetts, member Electoral Commission 1877, Senator 1877-1904.

McNeeley (Democrat), Illinois, died in 1921, probably the last to die.

Rusk (Republican), Wisconsin, governor 1882-1889, Secretary of Agriculture 1889-1893.

Sargent (Republican), California, Senator 1873-1879, minister to Germany 1882-1884.

Twichell (Republican), Massachusetts, president Atchison Topeka & Santa Fe 1870-1874.

Wheeler (Republican), New York, Vice President 1877-1881.

Among those voting against the bill were:

Barnum (Democrat), Connecticut, later Senator.

Beck (Democrat), Kentucky, later Senator.

Kerr (Democrat), Indiana, Speaker Forty-fourth Congress.

Rainey (Republican), South Carolina, first negro elected to Congress. Served December 12, 1870, to March 3, 1879.

Roberts (Republican), New York, Treasurer of United States 1897-1905.

Slater (Democrat), Oregon, Senator 1879-1885.

Tyner (Republican), Indiana, Postmaster General 1876-77.

Voorhees (Democrat), Indiana, Senator 1877-1897, defeated previously by General Washburn.

Whithorne (Democrat), Tennessee, Senator 1886-87.

Winchester (Democrat), Kentucky, later minister to Switzerland.

Passage of the bill through the House brought this editorial from the Helena Herald February 28, 1872.


"Our dispatches announce the passage in the House of the Senate bill setting apart the upper Yellowstone Valley for the purposes of a National Park. The importance to Montana of this congressional enactment can not be too highly estimated. It will redound to the untold good of the Territory inasmuch as a measure of this character is well calculated to direct the world's attention to a very important section of country that to the present time has passed largely unnoticed. It will be the means of centering upon Montana the attention of thousands heretofore comparatively uninformed of a Territory abounding in such resources of mines and of agriculture and of wonderland as we can boast, spread everywhere about us. The efficacy to this people of having in Congress a Delegate able, active, zealous, and untiring in his labors as well as in political harmony with the General Government is being amply demonstrated in the success attending the representative stewardship of Mr. Clagett. Our Delegate surely is performing deeds in the interest of his constituents which none of them can gainsay or overlook and these deeds are being recorded in the public's great ledger and in the hearts of us all."

The bill was promptly signed by President Grant, becoming law March 1, 1872.

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Last Updated: 09-Dec-2011