Timeline of Human History in Yellowstone

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Black and white drawing of a carved point
Hell Gap point, made 9,600–10,000 years ago

NPS illustration

Paleoindian Period

~11,000 years ago

A Clovis point from this period was made from obsidian obtained at Obsidian Cliff.

10,000 years ago

Folsom people were in the Yellowstone area as early as 10,900 years ago—the date of an obsidian Folsom projectile point found near Pinedale, Wyoming. Sites all over the park yield paleoindian artifacts, particularly concentrated around Yellowstone Lake.

9,350 years ago

A site on the shore of Yellowstone Lake has been dated to 9,350 years ago. The points had traces of blood from rabbit, dog, deer, and bighorn sheep. People seem to have occupied this site for short, seasonal periods.

 

Archaic Period (8,000–1,500 years ago)

Beginning 9,000 years ago until 1,000 common era (CE), people leave traces of camps on shores of Yellowstone Lake. Note: CE (Common Era) replaces AD.

7,000 years ago

Vegetation similar to what we find today begins to appear. Projectile points begin to be notched.

3,000 years ago

Oral histories of the Salish place their ancestors in the Yellowstone area.

1,500 years ago

Bow and arrow begins to replace atlatl (throwing spear); sheep traps (in the mountains) and bison corrals (on the plains) begin to be used in the Rocky Mountain region.

 

500–1700s CE

1400

Oral histories of the Kiowa place their ancestors in the Yellowstone area from this time through the 1700s.

1450

Little Ice Age begins.

1600s

North American tribes in the southwest begin acquiring horses in the mid- to late 1600s. Ancestors of the Crow may have come into Yellowstone during this time.

1700s

Lakota Sioux begin exploring the Yellowstone area.

 

Late 1700s–1840s CE

Late 1700s

Fur traders travel the rivers into the Yellowstone region. Tribes in the Yellowstone area begin using horses.

1804–1806

The Lewis and Clark Expedition passes within 50 miles of Yellowstone.

1807–1808

John Colter likely explores part of Yellowstone.

1820s

Trappers return to Yellowstone area.

1834–1835

Trapper Osborne Russell encounters Sheep Eaters in Lamar Valley.

1840s

Trapper era ends.

 

1850s–1871 CE

1850s

Little Ice Age ends, climate begins to warm.

1860

First organized expedition attempts but fails to explore the Yellowstone Plateau.

1862

Gold strike northwest of Yellowstone.

1869

Folsom–Cook–Peterson Expedition.

1870

Washburn–Langford–Doane Expedition; Old Faithful Geyser named.

1871

First Hayden expedition.

 

1872–1900 CE

1872

Yellowstone National Park Protection Act establishes the first national park.

1877

Nez Perce (Nee-me-poo) flee US Army through Yellowstone.

1883

Northern Pacific Railroad reaches the north boundary of the park.

1886

The US Army arrives to administer the park. They stay until 1918.

1894

Poacher Ed Howell captured; National Park Protection Act (Lacey Act) passed.

 

1901–1917 CE

1903

President Theodore Roosevelt dedicates arch at the North Entrance by laying its cornerstone at Gardiner.

1906

The Antiquities Act provides for the protection of historic, prehistoric, and scientific features on, and artifacts from, federal lands.

1908

Union Pacific train service begins at West Yellowstone.

1915

Private automobiles are officially admitted to the park.

1916

The National Park Service Organic Act establishes the National Park Service.

 

1918–1939 CE

1918

US Army turns over park management to the National Park Service.

1929

President Hoover signs first law changing park’s boundary.

1932

President Hoover expands the park again (by executive order).

1933

Civilian Conservation Corps established, works in Yellowstone through 1941.

1934

The National Park Service Director’s Order prohibits killing predators.

1935

The Historic Sites Act sets a national policy to “preserve for future public use historic sites, buildings, and objects.”

 

1940–1959 CE

1948

Yellowstone receives one million visitors.

1949

Nineteen snowplane trips carry 49 passengers into the park in winter.

1955

Mission 66 initiated. The first concession-run snowcoach trips carry more than 500 people into the park in winter.

1959

Magnitude 7.5 earthquake strikes on August 17 west of Yellowstone, killing campers in Gallatin National Forest and affecting geysers and hot springs in the park.

 

1960–1975 CE

1963

The Leopold Report is issued.

1966

The thermophile Thermus aquaticus is discovered in a Yellowstone hot spring.

1970

New bear management plan begins, which includes closing open-pit dumps in park.

1971

Overnight winter lodging opens in park and continues yearly.

1975

Grizzly bear listed as threatened species in the lower 48 states.

 

1976–2000 CE

1988

Public Law 100-443 protects hydrothermal features in national parks from geothermal development on adjacent federal lands; Summer of Fire: more than 790,000 acres affected by fires in Yellowstone.

1991

Clean Air Act Amendments require air quality monitoring at sites including Yellowstone, a Class I airshed.

1994

Congress enacts a law allowing a percentage of park entrance fees to be kept in the parks.

1995

Wolves are restored to the park.

1996

Federal buyout of gold mine on Yellowstone’s northeast border is authorized.

1998

The National Parks Omnibus Management Act is passed.

 

2001 CE–Present

2002

National Academy of Sciences confirms effectiveness of Ecological Process Management (aka natural regulation).

2007

Yellowstone's grizzly bears removed from federal threatened species list.

2008

Scientific review panel recommends an increase in lake trout removal operations on Yellowstone Lake.

2009

Grizzly bears returned to threatened species list. Bioprospecting final EIS completed; Science agenda established for Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.

2011

Grey wolves removed from the endangered species list in MT, ID, OR, and WA. Remain listed in WY.

2016

National Park Service Centennial.

 
Rocks covered in lichen arranged in the shape of a tall fire ring on a mountain top

Park History

Learn about Yellowstone's story from the earliest humans to today.

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.

Last updated: May 31, 2018

Contact the Park

Mailing Address:

P.O. Box 168
Yellowstone National Park, WY 82190-0168

Phone:

(307) 344-7381

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