Yellowstone the First National Park

Are you a history buff? Animal lover? Geology enthusiast? Yellowstone National Park has it all.   

There are 429 national parks in the United States. These parks became landmarked to preserve the natural environment and protect the animals. 

After an exploration by a survey team to gather geological data of the Wyoming region for a potential railroad route, called the Hayden expedition, an area was found and said to be so captivating and filled with breathtaking wonders that it needed to be protected from any future development. Survey teams often included artists to assist in documentation, as photography could only capture so much. Colored photography was not genuinely used until 1891, so capturing the different pigments in nature was only possible through an artist’s talent.

As seen below, some of the first captured paintings by the expedition’s artist, Thomas Moran, helped convince Congress to put protections in place for the captivating area. 

(Thomas Moran) 

And so, Yellowstone became the first national park to be protected on March 1, 1872, by President Ulysses S. Grant 152 years ago. There had been state parks dedicated before, but nothing compared to the size or needs of a national park. It mainly falls into Wyoming state, but a small section falls into Montana and Idaho. Many National parks cover a large area, and Yellowstone is among the top 10 largest national parks in the U.S. at 2.2 million acres. This is slightly bigger than the state of Delaware.  

While it was granted as protected land, the challenge now was to assign someone to enforce and manage the area. Congress believed no additional government funds were needed to safeguard the park. While a few individuals were placed as unpaid superintendents over the years, there continued to be an influx of poachers, vandals, woodcutters, and squatters who constantly took advantage of the new park. Congress increased funds slightly in 1878.

However, this was also unsuccessful. Ten assistant superintendents were then authorized to act as police, but this did not stop the destruction. So, the U.S. Army had to step in in 1886. They were able to take charge and enforce the regulations. However, this was known to be a temporary solution, as it is not typically within the Army’s remit to manage a park long-term.  

In 1916, the National Park Service Organic Act was passed, and the NPS team began managing the park in 1918. These rangers included many of the Army’s veterans. This Act outlined their service to promote and regulate any federal national park, monument, and reservation area. Its “purpose is to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wildlife therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.” (NPS) 

(Thomas Moran)

The National Park Service created this purpose to protect all within the park. During the superintendents’ time of power in the park, these men found many artifacts. In the 1930s, one of the rangers also started collecting these artifacts and drew maps of where he saw them. With the significant amount found, professional archeologists started making efforts in the 1950’s to 1960’s to document information. In 1966, the National Historic Preservation Act was passed to inventory all items found and preserve their worth.  

Yellowstone is a treasure of archaeological significance. It contains over 1,800 archaeological sites, from prehistoric quarries and campsites to even the hotels that have been updated and are still utilized today. While many sites have already been found, this is only 3% inventoried. Yellowstone is a vital symbol of conservation. With a rich history that includes Native American tribes and its designation as the world’s first national park, Yellowstone is truly special.   

Long before the Hayden exploration and its designation as a national park, Yellowstone was home to Native American tribes for over 10,000 years. The most well-known tribe in the area was the Tukudika, also known as the Sheep Eaters. Other tribes, such as the Crow, Shoshone, Blackfeet, Nez Perce, and others, lived, hunted, fished, gathered plants, quarried obsidian, and used thermal waters for religious and medicinal purposes.

Their deep connection to the land is vital to Yellowstone’s rich history. One location that ties into the archeological sites with the Native Americans is Obsidian Cliff. This was the primary source of obsidian used to craft arrowheads and other tools, many of which have been found around Yellowstone and other areas across North America.    

Despite being displaced from their ancestral lands when the park was established, these tribes maintain strong cultural and spiritual ties to Yellowstone. A Tribal Heritage Center was built near the Old Faithful Visitor Education Center and often hosts events to engage with visitors. Members of the tribes also continue to visit the park to conduct ceremonies, gather traditional plants, and honor their ancestors. 

(Tied to Nature – Adam Brubaker)

Come explore and discover the wonders of this incredible park with me! There is so much history of the park to share. Book a tour at Tied to Nature.  

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