The Running Encyclopedia
Though people have lived in the Yellowstone National Park region for at least 10,000 years, it was only “discovered” in 1807 by mountain man John Colter. People scoffed at his descriptions of the famous geysers and other features as “fire and brimstone.” Succeeding descriptions by other men during the following decades received similar dismissals.
An expedition led by geologist Ferdinand Hayden in 1871 established the reality of Colter’s observations. Its members included noted landscape painter Thomas Moran and photographer William Henry Jackson. Hayden immediately realized the potential of the area. Aided by the stunning images Moran and Jackson produced, he persuaded Congress to set aside the area as a national park—the first in the United States and perhaps the world. President Ulysses S. Grant signed the bill establishing the park on March 1, 1872.
It was hardly an instant success. The new park’s remoteness and lack of amenities made it accessible only to the hardiest of travelers. Only about 300 people visited it in the first year.
Compounding the problem of access was the disapproval of many people who lived near the park. They wanted to continue to hunt its wildlife and cut down its trees for lumber as well as begin to mine its minerals.
It was difficult to exercise any control over the situation. Congress refused to provide more than a pittance for the park’s protection.
A key development came in 1886 when US Army General Phil Sheridan, acting on his own authority, ordered troops to take control of Yellowstone Park. They built Camp Sheridan (later renamed Fort Yellowstone) inside the park boundaries. Though their presence helped curb poaching and mining, they had little authority to punish offenders.
George Bird Grinnell, publisher of Forest and Stream magazine and founder of the Audubon Society, had long promoted the park even though he lived in New York City. He linked up with rising politician (and future president) Theodore Roosevelt to take advantage of a notorious poaching incident in 1894 and help pass the Lacey Act the same year. The new law provided “teeth” to prosecute lawbreakers.
By then, travel to Yellowstone had become a little easier. Railroads dropped off visitors near the park entrance. They boarded stagecoaches which took them to newly established lodging facilities. And by 1916, when Yellowstone became part of the newly established National Park Service, automobiles were making the park much more accessible. Today more than 3 million people thrill to Yellowstone’s natural wonders every year.
Jim Whiting was a voracious reader when he was a kid, and now he has turned into a voracious writer. He writes books on adventure, sports, history, and most of all, he writes about people. One of his biography series is "Modern Role Models," featuring such popular titles as David Beckham, Jeff Gordon, and Tim Duncan. For more information on the series, click here.
MLA 8 Citation
Whiting, Jim. "The Birth and Growing Pains of the First National Park."
Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 8 May 2018, www.nonfictionminute.org/
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