By: Peggy L Henderson
I am so honored to be a member of Cowboy Kisses, and excited about my first posting. Today also happens to be my birthday, so for my topic I chose to talk about the birth of something that I feel is of great importance to our nation, and also the entire world – namely the birth of the national park idea. The nation’s (in fact, the world’s) first national park, Yellowstone National Park, was signed into law by President Ulysses S. Grant on March 1, 1872.
|National Park Mountain, Madison Junction|
If you’ve ever been to Yellowstone, and sat at one of the Ranger campfire programs at Madison Junction, the ranger will almost always point behind him or her, to a tall mountain across the valley. The mountain is named National Park Mountain, and legend has it that this is where the national park idea was born. It is said that Henry Washburn, Nathaniel Langford, and Cornelius Hedges camped in the valley just beneath the mountain during their expedition through the area in 1870, and came up with the grand idea of preserving the wonders they saw – the geysers, hot springs, canyons, rivers and lakes – for everyone to enjoy for generations to come. They wanted the area set aside as a nation’s park.
Whether this conversation actually occurred, and in that precise location, is up for debate, but it makes for a nice campfire story. So what did lead to the birth of the national park idea?
Lewis and Clark, during their expedition in 1805, missed the area that is now the park. In 1806, John Colter, who was part of the expedition, set out with a group of fur trappers, and some historical accounts say he is the first white man to have seen the area and its geysers. He described a place of “hell and brimstone” that most people dismissed as delirium. Those who heard of his tales called this imaginary place “Colter’s Hell.”
Over the years, more fur trappers entered the Rocky Mountains, and more and more reports found their way back to civilization of a place with boiling mud, steaming rivers, and petrified trees. These fantastical stories were believed to be just that – men’s tall tales who had been in the wilderness too long.
In 1856, mountain man Jim Bridger reported observing boiling springs, spouting water, and a mountain of glass and yellow rock. But since Bridger had a reputation as a “spinner of yarn,” his reports were also ignored.
The first detailed exploration of the Yellowstone area came in 1869, when three privately funded explorers trekked through what is now the park. The members of the Folsom party kept detailed records and journals, and based on their information, a group of Montana residents organized the Washburn/Langford/Doane Expedition of 1870. Henry Washburn was surveyor-general of Montana at the time.
|Nathaniel P. Langford|
The group included Nathaniel Langford, who later would be known as “National Park Langford.” They spent a month exploring the region, collecting specimens, and naming sites of interest (Old Faithful, anyone?) Another member of the group, lawyer Cornelius Hedges, proposed that the region should be set aside and protected as a national park. Other prominent men also made similar suggestions that “Congress pass a bill reserving the Great Geyser Basin as a public park forever.”
In 1871, Dr. Ferdinand Hayden, a geologist, organized the first government sponsored exploration of the region. The Hayden Geological Survey of 1871 included numerous scientists, as well as photographer William Henry Jackson, and artist Thomas Moran. Together, they compiled a comprehensive report on Yellowstone, which helped convince Congress to withdraw the region from public auction. The Act of Dedication Law was signed by the President Uysses S. Grant on March 1st, 1872.
|Hayden Expedition (W.H. Jackson photo)|
The Act of Dedication
AN ACT to set apart a certain tract of land lying near the headwaters of the Yellowstone River as a public park. Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That the tract of land in the Territories of Montana and Wyoming …. is hereby reserved and withdrawn from settlement, occupancy, or sale under the laws of the United States, and dedicated and set apart as a public park or pleasuring ground for the benefit and enjoyment of the people; and all persons who shall locate, or settle upon, or occupy the same or any part thereof, except as hereinafter provided, shall be considered trespassers and removed there from… Approved March 1, 1872.
I love Yellowstone - it’s beauty, diversity, and history. There is just no place like it on earth. It’s what inspired me to write my current series, the Yellowstone Romance Series. Book 3, Yellowstone Awakening, is my fictional account of events that would have prevented the national park form becoming a reality. I would like to share an excerpt from the book. For my research, I read the congressional transcripts of the debates about the park. The names of the senators mentioned in the excerpt, and their opinions (not taken verbatim) are historically accurate.
The blurb for Yellowstone Awakening, Book 3 in the Yellowstone Romance Series:
A tender, heartfelt love story . . .
A man willing to risk everything, including his life and all he’s worked for, to free the woman he loves from an impossible situation.
Kyle Russell has worked with prominent men, led scouting expeditions through the Yellowstone country, and irritated more than a few Indian braves, but he will never duplicate his father’s legendary accomplishments. Captured by a group of Crow warriors, his plans of escape are derailed when a lone white woman is brought into camp.
Kate Ellen Devereaux is on the run. Her guardian is dead, and she is lost in the Yellowstone wilderness. Found by an Indian war party, she is brought into their camp and thrown at the feet of a white captive. If he has plans of escape, she won’t be left behind.
Kyle’s father may be a legend in the territory, but he never had to deal with an eastern lady full of secrets, a woman who disrupts Kyle’s plans to see the Yellowstone area turned into a national park. Convincing her that they are destined to be together may be a greater challenge than gaining support for the park movement. Kate can’t afford to show interest in any man, regardless of her growing attraction to her backwoods rescuer. Will her ultimate reason for rejecting him spell doom for their growing love, and the national park idea, or can Kyle find a way to rescue both?
“There is no industrial value to an area such as the Yellowstone, except for pleasure seekers,” Senator Cole continued.
Kyle recognized Senator Walter Trumbull, the senator from Illinois, who had listened with great interest to Kyle’s accounts of the area several days ago.
“Senator Cole,” Trumbull spoke in a loud and clear voice. “The region of the country that holds the Yellowstone area contains the most wonderful geysers on the face of the earth. The Rocky Mountains will most likely never be inhabited for agricultural reasons. Why shouldn’t we protect the land from those individuals who would seek to profit from it by snatching up land grants for personal financial gain? The Northern Pacific Railroad proposes to run tracks through the area, which would forever alter the landscape of this magnificent place.”
Kyle smiled. Cole seemed visibly shaken by Trumbull’s words. It was time to make an impression. He pushed himself away from the wall he leaned against, and slowly walked down the aisle that separated two sections of chairs. Heads turned, and men murmured as he reached the front of the room. Dressed in fringed buckskins, a faded blue cotton shirt, with several leather pouches hanging off his neck and shoulder, his hunting knife and tomahawk hanging off his belt, Kyle knew he made quite an impression on these refined easterners. Most of them had probably never been more than twenty miles from the nearest big city. Langford had told him he would draw attention this way, and that was the intent and purpose.
“Who is this?” Senator Cole spoke indignantly, looking Kyle up and down with disdain on his face. “You can’t come in here and interrupt this meeting.” He looked up and scanned the room. “Someone remove this . . . this savage.”
“I’m here by invitation of Senators Trumbull and Pomeroy, and Mr. Nathaniel Langford,” Kyle spoke calmly.
Trumbull moved forward to shake his hand. “I’m glad you were able to make it, Mr. Russell.” He, too, scanned the room. “May I present Mr. Kyle Russell, a man who has lived in the area called the Yellowstone region his entire life. He is a knowledgeable scout and interpreter of the area. He would like to share some of his thoughts about preservation of the land.” The burly senator with his graying mutton chops held out his hand for Kyle to shake.
Kyle felt, rather than saw, Senator Cole stare at him. Kyle turned to face his audience. All eyes were on him, some expressing keen interest, others annoyance. He held each man’s gaze briefly, before he started speaking.
“I’ve listened to, and heard a lot of arguments both for and against the Yellowstone region deserving of government protection,” Kyle said slowly. “I have already met many of you these past few days, and you know my position. I know you all have seen Dr. Hayden and his exhibits, and viewed Thomas Moran’s paintings and Henry Jackson’s photographs. All I will add to that is none of those visuals can do justice to experiencing the region first hand.”
Kyle paused, observing many of the men nodding their heads in agreement. He glanced briefly at Senator Cole, standing off to his right, then searched out the other members who pledged to vote against the park idea for a share in the profits promised to them by Hiram.
“When Mr. Langford originally asked me to come here,” he continued, raising his voice for emphasis, “I was supposed to talk about the geysers, and other wonders of the region.” Kyle’s gaze fixed on one particular senator who visibly perspired and squirmed in his seat. “Personally, I would like to see the government protect that land, especially from greedy individuals who see it not for its beauty, but for the monetary value.”
The senator Kyle stared at wiped at the sweat on his forehead with a white handkerchief. Kyle enjoyed watching the man squirm. It was time to delivered his final punch.