Creating a wonderland: The origin story of Yellowstone National Park
Have you ever visited Yellowstone National Park? Spanning three states, Yellowstone was the first national state park created in America, if not the world. Renowned for its unique wildlife and roaring geysers, the park has been praised for its rich archaeological history and diverse ecosystem. Read on to find out how Yellowstone National Park was created.
Yellow rock river
Before Yellowstone National Park was founded, the land belonged to the Native Americans. For approximately 11,000 years, the territory was utilized by the Native Americans for hunting and fishing. In fact, an obsidian arrowhead that was discovered in the 1950s near Yellowstone pointed to the Clovis culture as its previous residents. Native Americans used the large quantities of obsidian found in Yellowstone to create cutting-edge tools and weaponry. In 1805, travelers with the Lewis and Clark Expedition explored the region and found that the Nez Perce, Crow, and Shoshone tribes were living there. While the members of the Lewis and Clark Expedition had heard about the legend of Yellowstone, they did not bother to visit it.
By 1806, John Colter of the Lewis and Clark Expedition decided to leave the team to join forces with a fur trapper group. He spent a year with the trappers and ended up observing the Yellowstone area during winter in 1807. Once there, Colter examined a natural geothermal area in the park. In 1809, Colter was attacked by the Crow and Blackfoot tribes in the Yellowstone region. Afterward, he described the area as a land of “fire and brimstone.” Many people refused to believe Colter’s account, and called the mythological place “Colter’s Hell.” For the next four decades, several adventures had traveled through the Yellowstone area, but their contemporaries refused to acknowledge their tales of bubbling mud and boiling rivers.
By 1856, Jim Bridger had discovered the glassy mountains and gushing waters of Yellowstone. As a well-known mountain man, Bridger’s claims were dismissed because he was thought to be a “spinner of yarns.” But in 1859, military surveyor Captain William F. Raynolds spent two years exploring the northern Rockies. The next year, Raynolds and his escort Jim Bridger tried to traverse the Continental Divide in Wyoming. Due to a thick layer of snow, they were unable to cross the divide. However, if they had been successful, they would’ve been the first official team to survey the Yellowstone area. Yet, the Civil War exploded at this point, which delayed future expeditions until the end of the 1860s.
During one fateful voyage to Yellowstone, Montana official Truman Everts accidentally split up with his group. After a while, Everts’ party assumed that he was dead. In fact, Everts was still alive – but he had lost his horse along with the majority of his supplies. He was forced to survive for a month in the wilderness of Yosemite. While Everts was lost, he dined on thistle, suffered snowy storms, and got scalded by hot springs. Once he was finally discovered 37 days later, he only weighed 90 pounds. Everts was also stricken by frostbite, and appeared to be “nothing but a shadow.” By the time he healed from his injuries, Everts had penned a book called Thirty-Seven Days of Peril. His publication served to help Yellowstone to become a national park.
In 1869, the Cook–Folsom–Peterson Expedition came across the Yellowstone River, which guided them to Yellowstone Lake. At that time, the men kept a detailed record of their journey, which led another group of explorers to examine the region in more detail. The following year, the Washburn–Langford–Doane Expedition took 30 days to travel through Yellowstone. Cornelius Hedges, one of the Washburn explorers, penned many articles about Yellowstone in the Helena Herald newspaper from 1870 to 1871. Regional scholars implored the state government and Congress to declare the region a national park. Even Congressman William D. Kelley agreed that Congress should enact a law that would declare the Yellowstone area as “a public park forever.” Thus, the idea of Yellowstone National Park was born!
President Ulysses S. Grant declared Yellowstone an official national park on March 1, 1872, when he inked The Act of Dedication. The so-called Yellowstone National Park Protection Act proclaimed that “the headwaters of the Yellowstone River … is hereby reserved and withdrawn from settlement, occupancy, or sale … and dedicated and set apart as a public park or pleasuring-ground for the benefit and enjoyment of the people.” Sprawling across Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho, the gorgeous park features the Old Faithful geyser and serves as part of the South Central Rockies forests.
When Yellowstone was first established, it was managed by the Secretary of the Interior. Things changed when the U.S. Army was assigned to protect the park from 1886 to 1916. However, the National Park Service took control of Yellowstone Park in 1917. Since then, Yellowstone has proven to be full of historical discoveries, as archaeologists have examined over 1,000 sites in the region. The park’s Obsidian Cliff, as well as five other structures, have become National Historic Landmarks. In October 1976, Yellowstone National Park was appointed as an International Biosphere Reserve. Then, Yellowstone was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in September 1978. By 2010, a quarter was actually minted in the park’s honor by the America the Beautiful Quarters Program. Though Yellowstone was briefly impacted by the influx of tourism, America’s national treasure is here to stay.