Park History

A rock structure on top of a mountain with peaks in the background
People have spent time in the Yellowstone region for more than 11,000 years. Rock structures like this are evidence of the early presence of people in the area.

NPS / Robin Park

 

The human history of the Yellowstone region goes back more than 11,000 years. The stories of people in Yellowstone are preserved in objects that convey information about past human activities in the region, and in people’s connections to the land that provide a sense of place or identity.

Today, park managers use archeological and historical studies help explain how humans left their mark in times gone by. Ethnography helps us learn about how groups of people identify themselves and their connections to the park. Research is also conducted to learn how people continue to affect and be affected by places that have been relatively protected from human impacts. Some alterations, such as the construction of roads and other facilities, are generally accepted as necessary to accommodate visitors. Information on the possible consequences of human activities both inside and outside the parks is used to determine when restrictions are needed to preserve each park’s natural and cultural resources as well as the quality of the visitors’ experience.

 
 
Scan of an historic Haynes postcard showing Roosevelt Arch

History & Culture

Explore the rich human and ecological stories that continue to unfold.

Brown and gray columns of rock make up a cliff that towers up to a deep blue sky.

The Earliest Humans in Yellowstone

Human occupation of this area seems to follow environmental changes of the last 15,000 years.

Dead branches leaned up against a tree in a conical shape form a wickiup.

Historic Tribes

Many tribes have a traditional connection to this region and its resources.

Rifle and powder horn with a map etched on side resting on fur.

European Americans Arrive

In the late 1700s, fur traders traveled the Yellowstone River in search of Native Americans with whom to trade.

Man sits on a box in front of a canvas tent while another man stands next to him.

Expeditions Explore Yellowstone

Formal expeditions mapped and explored the area, leading to the nation's understanding of the region.

Historic Moran water color of hot springs with group standing in distance

Birth of a National Park

Learn about Yellowstone's early days as a national park.

Modern Management

Managing the national park has evolved over time and dealt with some complex issues.

Visitors standing on a boardwalk and taking pictures of the orange thermophiles of Grand Prismatic.

Today's National Park Service

The National Park Service has grown to manage ~83 million acres in all 50 states, the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, Guam, and American Samoa.

A group of people in a field

Timeline of Human History in Yellowstone

The human history of the Yellowstone region goes back more than 11,000 years.

 

Resources

Bartlett, R. 1974. Nature’s Yellowstone. Tucson: University of Arizona Press.

Bartlett, R. 1985. Yellowstone: A wilderness besieged. Tucson: University of Arizona Press.

Carr, E. 2007. Mission 66: Modernism and the national park dilemma. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press.

Clary, D. 1993. The place where hell bubbled up: A history of Yellowstone National Park. Moose, WY: Homestead Publishing.

Cook, C.W., D.E. Folsom, and W. Peterson. 1965. The Valley of the Upper Yellowstone: An exploration of the headwaters of the Yellowstone River in the year 1869. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press.

Culpin, M.S. 2003. For the benefit and enjoyment of the people: A history of concession development in Yellowstone National Park, 1872–1966. YCR-CR-2003-01. NPS, Mammoth, WY.

Davis, L.B. 1996. The Obsidian Cliff plateau prehistoric lithic source, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming. Denver: National Park Service Selections Series, No. 6.

Everhart, W. 1983. The National Park Service. Boulder: Westview Press.

Frison, G. 1978. Prehistoric hunters of the high plains. New York: Academic Press.

Haines, A. 1996. The Yellowstone story: A history of our first national park. 2 vols. Niwot: University Press of Colorado.

Haines, A. 1974. Yellowstone National Park: Its exploration and establishment. National Park Service.

Janetski, J.C. 2002. Indians of Yellowstone Park. Revised edition. Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press.

Keller, R., and M. Turek. 1998. American Indians and national parks. Tucson: University of Arizona Press.

Langford, N.P. 1972. The discovery of Yellowstone Park. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.

Leopold, A.S. et al. 1963. Wildlife management in the national parks. https://www.nps.gov/parkhistory/online_books/leopold/leopold.htm

Merrill, M. 1999. Yellowstone and the great West: Journals, letters, and images from the 1871 Hayden Expedition. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.

Nabokov, P. and L. Loendorf. 2004. Restoring a presence: American Indians in Yellowstone National Park. Norman: University of Oklahoma.

National Park Service. Management Policies 2006. https://www.nps.gov/policy/mp/policies.html

National Park Service. 1998. Director’s Order 28: Cultural Resource Management. https://www.nps.gov/parkhistory/online_books/nps28/28contents.htm

National Park System Advisory Board. 2001. Rethinking the national parks for the 21st Century. https://www.nps.gov/policy/report.htm

Quinn, R. 2004. Weaver of dreams: The life and architecture of Robert C. Reamer. Bozeman, MT: Ruth and Leslie Quinn.

Reinhart, K. and J. Henry. 2004. Old Faithful Inn: Crown jewel of national park lodges. Emigrant, MT: Roche Jaune Pictures, Inc.

Schullery, P., editor. 2010. Old Yellowstone Days. Boulder: Colorado Associated University Press. (Orig. pub. 1979.)

Schullery, P. 2004. Searching for Yellowstone. Houghton Mifflin. (Orig. pub. 1997.)

Schullery, P. 1995. Yellowstone’s ski pioneers. High Plains Publishing Company.

Smith, J. F. 2016. Engineering Eden: The True Story of a Violent Death, a Trial, and the Fight over Controlling Nature. New York: Crown Publishers.

Strong, W.E. 1968. A Trip to Yellowstone National Park in July, August, and September of 1875. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press.

Weixelman, J. 2001. Fear or reverence? Yellowstone Science 9(4).

Whittlesey, L.. 2006. Yellowstone place names. Wonderland Publishing Co.

Whittlesey, L.H. and P. Schullery. 2003. Myth and history in the creation of Yellowstone National Park. Lincoln/ University of Nebraska.

Last updated: June 5, 2018

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Mailing Address:

PO Box 168
Yellowstone National Park, WY 82190-0168

Phone:

307-344-7381

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