By: Peggy L Henderson
The west wouldn’t be the west without its rangers. Many stories have been written about the most famous of the western rangers, namely the Texas Rangers. Sorry, I’m not going to talk about them today. I am going to talk about a different ranger. The National Park Ranger, and how the National Park Service came to be.
Last month I introduced you to Yellowstone National Park, and the events that led up to its creation in 1872. This month, I’m going to talk about the aftermath of that historic event. After Yellowstone became our first national park, Congress set aside exactly zero dollars to fund the park. The first superintendent, Nathaniel P. Langford, was not paid a salary.
Visitors came to Yellowstone almost immediately after its creation, and along with them came the vandals and poachers. Yellowstone’s natural resources, which were the sole reason the park was created in the first place, were being destroyed as poachers killed animals, souvenir hunters broke off pieces of geological formations, and developers established numerous tourist camps.
Langford resigned in 1877, disgusted with Congress and their refusal to help support the park. Along came Phileus Norris, who volunteered for the superintendent position. He was finally able to get Congress to financially help support the park, and he set aside $1000 of the $15,000 he received in 1880 to pay for a “game keeper”, someone who would protect the wildlife of Yellowstone from undue slaughter. Hunting was not regulated within the park’s boundaries until 1877, and not prohibited until 1883. Harry Yount, a civil war veteran, hunter, trapper, guide, and packer, was appointed to the position of game keeper in 1880.
“Rocky Mountain Harry Yount” has been described as “a typical leatherstocking frontiersman. He was rough, tough, and intelligent.” Independent, resourceful, able to subsist on his own, and having familiarity and knowledge of the natural processes surrounding him, Harry Yount has become an archetypal model for the National Park Ranger.
He pointed out in a report that it was impossible for one man to patrol the entire park, and urged the formation of a ranger force. He is credited with being the first national park ranger.
As a result of his report, and his resignation a mere 14 months into the job, the park turned to the US Army for help. In 1886, men from Company M, First US Cavalry, Fort Custer, Montana Territory, came to Yellowstone to begin a - what would be thirty year - military presence in the park. The troops lived in temporary frame buildings near Mammoth Hot Springs Terraces. After enduring five cold and harsh winters, they realized they would not be leaving anytime soon. In 1890, Congress appointed $50,000 for a permanent post, and Fort Yellowstone was completed in 1891.
Soldiers stationed at the fort were ordered to “conduct themselves in a courteous and polite, but firm and decided manner” when carrying out their duties.
In 1912, President Taft in a special message to Congress said: "I earnestly recommend the establishment of a Bureau of National Parks. Such legislation is essential to the proper management of those wonderful manifestations of nature, so startling and so beautiful that everyone recognizes the obligations of the government to preserve them for the edification and recreation of the people." The National Park Service Act was signed on August 30, 1916.
Soon after, soldiers were discharged from the Army to form the first ranks of park rangers. The National Park Service took over protection of Yellowstone National Park, "by arrangement with the War Department, and with its hearty cooperation," on October 1, 1916. The National Park Service assumed full administrative responsibilities in 1918.
|Mammoth Hot Springs, Ft Yellowstone way in background|
During the Army's tenure, they developed regulations that put much emphasis on conservation, and under their watchful eyes, the features and wildlife of Yellowstone National Park were protected from vandalism and extinction. Many of the policies initiated by the army at Fort Yellowstone were later adopted by the National Park Service.
Today, the old post is known as the Fort Yellowstone-Mammoth Hot Springs Historic District, designated as a National Historic Landmark on July 31, 2003. Within the district are the administrative headquarters for Yellowstone National Park. It is located in the northwestern portion of the park on an old hot springs formation.
Numerous buildings continue to stand including the Captain's Quarters, Post Headquarters, Guard House, Hospital Annex, Commissary and Quartermaster storehouses, and several more.
Law enforcement – park rangers hold police powers and enforce national laws and park regulations
Interpretation and Education – park rangers provide a wide range of informational services to visitors
Emergency Response – They are trained in wilderness first aid and participate in search and rescue to locate lost persons in the wilderness
Firefighting – park rangers are often the first to spot forest fires and are trained in wild land firefighting
Scientists and scholars – they are responsible for protecting the natural resources or cultural sights for which they work
In my book, Yellowstone Dawn (Book 4 in the Yellowstone Romance Series), Josh Osborne was my fictional first park ranger.
Here’s the blurb and a short excerpt from the book:
Danica Jensen dreams of a man she knows she can never have. After one brief encounter five years ago, her heart is lost to him forever, and she won’t give up hope of seeing him again. Raised by a bitter father, she’s learned to be strong and resourceful on her own. When a pleasure trip to the newly created Yellowstone National Park turns into a battle for survival, her inner strength is tested like never before.
A woman like Danica doesn’t interest Josh Osborne. He’d be crazy to get involved with a bossy, strong-willed white woman. His mixed heritage has always made people weary of him. He prefers to be on his own, and his role as protector of the nanional park’s game allows for no attachments.
Danica’s dream of ever winning Josh’s heart shatters after a cruel twist of fate changes her life forever. Suddenly forced together, they must confront their deepest secrets. Josh can’t deny his growing respect and admiration for this brave woman, but will the bond they’ve forged be powerful enough to turn his feelings into love? When an unforeseen danger threatens their lives, Josh must protect more than the wild inhabitants of the park.
Josh cursed his own stupidity and carelessness. The poachers he’d been following since discovering their recent site of slaughtered bison must have known he was on their trail. He hadn’t been prepared for the ambush, and only some quick maneuvering and a fast horse had saved his hide earlier today. Men who profited from taking game inside the boundaries of Yellowstone were becoming more brazen. The animals and natural features inside the park were supposedly under the protection of the United States government, but there was no one in this vast wilderness to enforce this law. In an effort to deter the illegal harvesting of game, newly appointed superintendent of the park, and Josh’s cousin, Kyle Russell, had proposed hiring a game keeper to oversee the management of wildlife.
“The position doesn’t pay much right now, and it sure as hell is a lot for one man to take on, but you’d be perfect, cousin,” Kyle had said when he approached Josh with the offer. “It’ll also allow you to stay on the land.”
With the creation of a national park, Josh and Kyle’s homestead that their grandfather had established more than seventy years ago in the Madison Valley would become yet another casualty in the government’s vision of “a public park or pleasuring ground for the benefit and enjoyment of the people.” Josh scoffed. Benefit and enjoyment of which people? Obviously the government excluded those very people who had lived on these lands for thousands of years, and who considered the area sacred. The Shoshone people who used to call these mountains home, along with all other native tribes who migrated through the area, were being systematically purged and pushed onto reservations far away from their homelands.
Josh knew that Kyle could not have foreseen this when he strongly campaigned to get the government to protect this area from settlement and private exploitation. Part of his plan had been to preserve not only the natural beauty and wonders of the area, but also the Shoshone’s ancient homelands. The land would be preserved, but its very first inhabitants were not part of the government’s plan.
Protecting the natural hot water features, and the abundant wildlife in this area proved to be a daunting task. Kyle had his hands full establishing and enforcing rules for visitors. The government set aside very little funds for law enforcement in the park. Josh had readily agreed to oversee the protection of game. Poachers became more numerous every year. The vast numbers of elk and bison were easy targets, as were the bears and wolves. Hundreds, if not thousands, of animals were needlessly slaughtered for their hides and antlers, leaving the meat to rot. Without the means for proper enforcement, there was nothing to stop the poachers. Kyle’s hands had been tied. Until he received approval for a gamekeeper, all he’d been able to do was confiscate the hides, and tell the poachers to leave the area.