Yellowstone Park established

Yellowstone Park established


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President Grant signs the bill creating the nation’s first national park at Yellowstone.

Native Americans had lived and hunted in the region that would become Yellowstone for hundreds of years before the first Anglo explorers arrived. Abundant game and mountain streams teeming with fish attracted the Indians to the region, though the awe-inspiring geysers, canyons, and gurgling mud pots also fascinated them.

John Colter, the famous mountain man, was the first Anglo to travel through the area. After journeying with Lewis and Clark to the Pacific, Colter joined a party of fur trappers to explore the wilderness. In 1807, he explored part of the Yellowstone plateau and returned with fantastic stories of steaming geysers and bubbling cauldrons. Some doubters accused the mountain man of telling tall tales and jokingly dubbed the area “Colter’s Hell.”

Before the Civil War, only a handful of trappers and hunters ventured into the area, and it remained largely a mystery. In 1869, the Folsom-Cook expedition made the first formal exploration, followed a year later by a much more thorough reconnaissance by the Washburn-Langford-Doane expedition. The key to Yellowstone’s future as a national park, though, was the 1871 exploration under the direction of the government geologist Ferdinand Hayden. Hayden brought along William Jackson, a pioneering photographer, and Thomas Moran, a brilliant landscape artist, to make a visual record of the expedition. Their images provided the first visual proof of Yellowstone’s wonders and caught the attention of the U.S. Congress.

Early in 1872, Congress moved to set aside some 2 million acres of public land straddling the future states of Wyoming, Montana and Idaho as America’s first national park. President Grant signed the bill into law on this day in 1872. The Yellowstone Act of 1872 designated the region as a public “pleasuring-ground,” which would be preserved “from injury or spoilation, of all timber, mineral deposits, natural curiosities, or wonders within.”

For a nation bent on settling and exploiting the West, the creation of Yellowstone was surprising. Many congressmen gave it their support simply because they believed the rugged and isolated region was of little economic value. Yet the Yellowstone Act of 1872 set a precedent and popularized the idea of preserving sections of the public domain for use as public parks. Congress went on to designate dozens of other national parks, and the idea spread to other nations around the world.

READ MORE: The National Park Service


Frequently Asked Questions: History

Did other national parks exist before Yellowstone?
Some sources list Hot Springs in Arkansas as the first national park. Set aside in 1832, forty years before Yellowstone was established in 1872, it was actually the nation’s oldest national reservation, set aside to preserve and distribute a utilitarian resource (hot water), much like our present national forests. In 1921, an act of Congress established Hot Springs as a national park.

Yosemite became a park before Yellowstone, but as a state park. Disappointed with the results 26 years later in 1890, Congress made Yosemite one of three additional national parks, along with Sequoia and General Grant, now part of Kings Canyon. Mount Rainier followed in 1899.

As an older state park, Yosemite did have a strong influence on the founding of Yellowstone in 1872 because Congress actually used language in the state park act as a model. It’s entirely possible that Congress may have preferred to make Yellowstone a state park in the same fashion as Yosemite, had it not been for an accident of geography that put it within three territorial boundaries. Arguments between Wyoming and Montana territories that year resulted in a decision to federalize Yellowstone.

Can I access the collections online?
The Yellowstone Research Library’s catalog is available through the Wyoming Library Databases consortium (http://wyld.sdp.sirsi.net/client/en_US/yrl/?dt=list) and the National Park Service’s libraries (https://www.library.nps.gov). Records that are available online are linked through the library catalog. Finding aids for processed archives collections may be accessed online. The Yellowstone Research Library is working to digitize more of the library’s collections. The library’s digitization project, “History of Gardiner,” is available on the Montana Memory Project website: http://montanamemory.org. Electronic files of published scientific articles are available in the Data Store on the Integrated Resources Management Applications (IRMA) website, https://irma.nps.gov/Portal.

Can I see the collections when I visit?
Yes, anyone with a research question may conduct research in the Heritage & Research Center in Gardiner, Montana. An appointment is required for archives and museum collection research. The library is open to the public on a regular schedule. Please see the Archives, Library, and Museum Collection webpages for current hours.

What if I don't have a research question?
Free public tours of the Heritage and Research Center are Wednesdays at 2 PM, from May 31 to September 6, 2017. Tours last about one hour. Space is limited to 10 participants, so please call (307) 344-2264 to reserve a slot.


Park Information

When the first visitors to Yellowstone tried to report what they saw, news magazines responded, “Thank you, but we do not print fiction.” Peppered with colorful hot springs, mudpots, and breathtaking waterfalls, it is easy to understand how one might think it otherworldly. Nothing else on Earth is quite like Yellowstone--and there is something for everyone, from children to grandparents.

Established in 1872 and located primarily in Wyoming, Yellowstone National Park was America's first national park. To this day, Yellowstone remains one of the country's most popular national parks with millions of annual visitors. Yellowstone spans almost 3,500 miles, and extends into parts of Montana and Idaho, making it one of the largest national parks in the US.

Yellowstone National Park sits on top of a dormant volcano and is home to more geysers and hot springs than any other place on earth. Wonders abound at this truly unique national park, from sites like the Yellowstone Grand Canyon to wildlife like America’s largest buffalo herd, grizzly bears, and wolves. Approximately 50 percent of the world’s hydrothermal features are at Yellowstone National Park, creating an effect that makes the ground appear to be on fire. The most famous of all the geysers is Old Faithful, one of the most popular and recognized natural wonders in the United States.


President Grant signs the bill creating the nation’s first national park at Yellowstone.

Native Americans had lived and hunted in the region that would become Yellowstone for hundreds of years before the first Anglo explorers arrived. Abundant game and mountain streams teaming with fish attracted the Indians to the region, though the awe-inspiring geysers, canyons, and gurgling mud pots also fascinated them.

John Colter, the famous mountain man, was the first Anglo to travel through the area. After journeying with Lewis and Clark to the Pacific, Colter joined a party of fur trappers to explore the wilderness. In 1807, he explored part of the Yellowstone plateau and returned with fantastic stories of steaming geysers and bubbling cauldrons. Some doubters accused the mountain man of telling tall tales and jokingly dubbed the area “Colter’s Hell.”

Before the Civil War, only a handful of trappers and hunters ventured into the area, and it remained largely a mystery. In 1869, the Folsom-Cook expedition made the first formal exploration, followed a year later by a much more thorough reconnaissance by the Washburn-Langford-Doane expedition. The key to Yellowstone’s future as a national park, though, was the 1871 exploration under the direction of the government geologist Ferdinand Hayden. Hayden brought along William Jackson, a pioneering photographer, and Thomas Moran, a brilliant landscape artist, to make a visual record of the expedition. Their images provided the first visual proof of Yellowstone’s wonders and caught the attention of the U.S. Congress.

Early in 1872, Congress moved to set aside 1,221,773 acres of public land straddling the future states of Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho as America’s first national park. President Grant signed the bill into law on this day in 1872. The Yellowstone Act of 1872 designated the region as a public “pleasuring-ground,” which would be preserved “from injury or spoilation, of all timber, mineral deposits, natural curiosities, or wonders within.”

For a nation bent on settling and exploiting the West, the creation of Yellowstone was surprising. Many congressmen gave it their support simply because they believed the rugged and isolated region was of little economic value. Yet the Yellowstone Act of 1872 set a precedent and popularized the idea of preserving sections of the public domain for use as public parks. Congress went on to designate dozens of other national parks, and the idea spread to other nations around the world.


7 Things You Didn't Know About Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone was born on March 1, 1872 -- making it the world’s first national park. When President Ulysses S. Grant signed the Yellowstone National Park Protection Act into law, it protected more than 2 million acres of mountain wilderness, amazing geysers and vibrant landscapes for future generations to enjoy. As we celebrate Yellowstone’s birthday, check out these interesting facts about our iconic national park.

1. Half the world’s hydrothermal features are found at Yellowstone. Yellowstone National Park preserves more than 10,000 hydrothermal features -- an extraordinary collection of hot springs, mudpots, fumaroles, travertine terraces and -- of course -- geysers. Microorganisms called thermophiles -- meaning “heat loving” -- live in these features and give the park its brilliant colors.

Grand Prismatic Spring at Midway Geyser Basin paints an incredible picture in vibrant blues, yellows and oranges. Photo by Natalia Ornia (www.sharetheexperience.org).

2. Old Faithful isn’t as reliable as its name. Sprinkled amid the hot springs are the rarest fountains of all -- geysers -- and Yellowstone has more than anywhere else on earth. The most famous: Old Faithful, which got its name in 1870 for its regularity. During the last few decades, the average interval between eruptions has lengthened, causing some to question its faithfulness. While this geyser has never erupted at exact hourly intervals, its eruptions are somewhat predictable. Plus, Old Faithful erupts more frequently than any of the other large geysers -- around 17 times a day.

Old Faithful's shows last between 1.5 to 5 minutes and can reach a height of 184 feet. Photo by Jim Peaco, National Park Service.

3. “Share the road” takes on a whole new meaning at Yellowstone. Beyond its geysers, Yellowstone is world-renowned for its bison herds. It’s the only place in the U.S. where bison have lived continuously since prehistoric times. Rush hour here is a little different with bison often causing traffic jams -- nicknamed bison jams -- as cars wait for the animals to cross the road. Learn more interesting facts about Yellowstone’s bison.

Traffic jams mean something different at Yellowstone. Photo by Daniel Kleiman (www.sharetheexperience.org).

4. Yellowstone’s history dates back 11,000 years. Human history in the region goes back more than 11,000 years. The earliest intact archeological deposits in the park were discovered at a site on the shore of Yellowstone Lake. The first American to explore the area was John Colter, a veteran of the Lewis & Clark expedition. After years in the wilderness, Colter began to tell others of the area’s incredible geothermic activity. Few believed these fantastic stories and mocked the region, calling it “Colter’s Hell.”

A steamy sunrise at Grotto Geyser. This weirdly shaped cone erupts about every eight hours, splashing to a height of 10 feet. Photo by Neal Herbert, National Park Service.

5. Yellowstone is a supervolcano. One of the world’s largest active volcanoes lies beneath Yellowstone. The first major eruption of the Yellowstone volcano occurred 2.1 million years ago and covered more than 5,790 square miles with ash. That's among the largest volcanic eruptions known, and marks Yellowstone as a supervolcano (a term used to describe any volcano with an eruption of more than 240 cubic miles of magma). While the volcano is still active, it’s been about 70,000 years since the last lava flow. With the U.S. Geological Survey and University of Utah, the National Park Service established the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory in 2001 to monitor volcanic and seismic activity in the area.

Pictured here is Great Fountain Geyser, one of the great geysers of Yellowstone. Photo by Greg Chancey (www.sharetheexperience.org).

6. Yellowstone is home to the largest concentration of mammals in the lower 48. Yellowstone’s wildlife is abundant and diverse with an estimated 300 species of birds, 16 types of fish and 67 species of mammals -- the largest number of mammal species in the contiguous United States. The list of mammals includes grizzly bears, wolves, lynx, fox, moose and elk. But remember, no matter how cool the animals are, you shouldn’t approach them. Park rules state that you must stay at least 100 yards from bears and wolves and at least 25 yards from other large animals.

A red fox leaping for its dinner at Yellowstone National Park. Photo by Gerald Wilders (www.sharetheexperience.org).

7. Yellowstone has its own Grand Canyon. The Grand Canyon isn’t just in Arizona -- there’s also the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. Created by erosion from the Yellowstone River, the canyon is more than 1,000 feet deep, 1,500-4,000 feet wide and roughly 20 miles long -- it also provides endless views. One of the most photographed views in Yellowstone is the canyon from Artist Point, and we can definitely see why!

A view of Lower Falls and Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone from Artist Point by Diane Renkin, National Park Service.


Primary Documents in American History


Rules and regulations of the Yellowstone national park. Department of the interior. Washington, D. C.
May, 4, 1881.
Washington, 1881.
Printed Ephemera Collection Portfolio 238, Folder 3a.
Rare Book & Special Collections Division.

An act establishing Yellowstone National Park was signed into law by President Ulysses S. Grant on March 1, 1872. Officially titled "An Act to set apart a certain Tract of Land lying near the Head-waters of the Yellowstone River as a public Park," this landmark legislation created the first national park.

    . This landmark legislation creates the first national park.
  • Yellowstone Park Act: Debates and Proceedings. Excerpted from the Congressional Globe: Containing the Debates and Proceedings of the Second Session Forty-Second Congress with an Appendix, Embracing the Laws Passed at that Session. Pp. 159, 484, 520, 697, 1228, 1282, 1416.
  • The Yellowstone Park. House Report No. 26. From The Reports of Committees of the House of Representatives for the Second Session of the Forty-Second Congress. 1871-72.
  • Report of the Superintendent of the Yellowstone National Park to the Secretary of the Interior for the year 1872. (This is the first superintendent's report on the first national park.)
    - S.392, "A Bill to set apart a certain tract of land lying near the Head-waters of the Yellowstone River as a public park," was introduced in the Senate. - The Senate debated, amended, and passed S. 392. - The House of Representatives debated and passed S. 392 by a vote of 115 to 65. - U.S. Statutes at Large, Vol. 17, Chap. 24, pp. 32-33. "An Act to set apart a certain Tract of Land lying near the Head-waters of the Yellowstone River as a public Park."

This collection documents the history, cultural aspects and geological formations of areas that eventually became National Parks. The collection consists of approximately 200 maps dating from the 17th century to the present, including 25 maps of Yellowstone National Park.

Jump Back in Time: Painter Thomas Moran Was Born on February 12, 1837

Thomas Moran's paintings of Western landscapes inspired Americans to save their wilderness areas as national parks.

Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers

  • "A Great National Park." The True Northerner. (Paw Paw, Michigan), January 12, 1872
  • "The Yellowstone Park. What California Thinks of It." Mower County Transcript. (Lansing, Minnesota.), April 11, 1872.
  • "The Yellowstone National Park." The Charlotte Democrat. (Charlotte, North Carolina), May 28, 1872.

February 12

February 12 marks the birth of painter Thomas Moran (1837-1926).* His depictions of Western landscapes inspired Americans to conserve and cherish spectacular wilderness areas as part of their national heritage. In the summer of 1871, Moran joined the U.S. Geological Survey of the Territories. Headed by Ferdinand V. Hayden, this scientific exploration of lands along the Yellowstone River in northwestern Wyoming and southeastern Montana included a painter and a photographer.

Conservationists, civic leaders, and government officials submitted testimony before Congress in favor of the establishment of the National Park Service on April 5 and April 6, 1916.

Black, George. Empire of Shadows: The Epic Story of Yellowstone. New York: St. Martin's Press, 2012. [Catalog Record]

Cramton , Louis C. Early History of Yellowstone National Park and Its Relation to National Park Policies . Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1932. [Catalog Record] [Full Text]

Haines, Aubrey L. Yellowstone National Park: Its Exploration and Establishment . Washington, D.C.: National Park Service, 1974. [Catalog Record] [Full Text]

-----. The Yellowstone Story: A History of Our First National Park. 2 vols. Rev. ed. Niwot, Colo.: University Press of Colorado, 1996. [Catalog Record]

Merrill, Marlene Deahl, ed. Yellowstone and the Great West: Journals, Letters, and Images from the 1871 Hayden Expedition. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1999. [Catalog Record]

Nabokov, Peter and Lawrence Loendorf. American Indians and Yellowstone National Park: A Documentary Overview. Yellowstone National Park, Wyo.: National Park Service, Yellowstone Center for Resources, 2002. [Catalog Record] [Full Text]

Schullery, Paul. Myth and History in the Creation of Yellowstone National Park . Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2003. [Catalog Record]

Pecorella, Jane. Yellowstone, Our First National Park. New York: Rosen, 2003. [Catalog Record]

Whitman, Sylvia. This Land is Your Land: The American Conservation Movement. Minneapolis: Lerner Publications, 1994. [Catalog Record]


Act Establishing Yellowstone National Park (1872)

Yellowstone Net has an extensive collection of historic articles and documents to explore. From the Lewis and Clark Expedition, John Colter and the Hayden Expedition. View historic documents and historic photos.

Also, be sure to order this year’s Yellowstone History Journal, the first-ever journal devoted exclusively to the history of Yellowstone National Park.

Forty-Second Congress of the United States of America

At the Second Session,
Begun and held at the City of Washington, on Monday, the Fourth day of December, one thousand eight hundred and seventy-one.

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, lying near the headwaters of the Yellowstone River, and described as follows, to wit, commencing at the junction of Gardiner’s river with the Yellowstone river, and running east to the meridian passing ten miles to the eastward of the most eastern point of Yellowstone lake thence south along said meridian to the parallel of latitude passing ten miles south of the most southern point of Yellowstone lake thence west along said parallel to the meridian passing fifteen miles west of the most western point of Madison lake thence north along said meridian to the latitude of the junction of Yellowstone and Gardiner’s rivers thence east to the place of beginning, 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 therefrom.

SEC 2. That said public park shall be under the exclusive control of the Secretary of the Interior, whose duty it shall be, as soon as practicable, to make and publish such rules and regulations as he may deem necessary or proper for the care and management of the same. Such regulations shall provide for the preservation, from injury or spoliation, of all timber, mineral deposits, natural curiosities, or wonders within said park, and their retention in their natural condition. The Secretary may in his discretion, grant leases for building purposes for terms not exceeding ten years, of small parcels of ground, at such places in said park as shall require the erection of buildings for the accommodation of visitors all of the proceeds of said leases, and all other revenues that may be derived from any source connected with said park, to be expended under his direction in the management of the same, and the construction of roads and bridle-paths therein. He shall provide against the wanton destruction of the fish and game found within said park, and against their capture or destruction for the purposes of merchandise or profit. He shall also cause all persons trespassing upon the same after the passage of this act to be removed therefrom, and generally shall be authorized to take all such measures as shall be necessary or proper to fully carry out the objects and purposes of this act.


Where is Yellowstone National Park?

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Yellowstone National Park is in the northwest region of the United States.

The park covers 3,472 square miles. Even though the official address is to the state of Wyoming, Yellowstone is actually in three states. The majority Yellowstone (96%) is in Wyoming. A small section of the park (3%) to the north and northwest is in Montana. And a small section of the park (1%) to the west is in Idaho.

Yellowstone has five entrances: north, northeast, east, south, and west. The park is enormous, which is why it’s a good idea to figure out what you want to see and know which entrance is closest to those sights.

Yellowstone has eight developed visitor areas with visitor centers, lodging, and museums. These include: Mammoth Hot Springs, Tower-Roosevelt, Canyon Village, Fishing Bridge, West Thumb, Grant Village, Old Faithful, and Madison. Undeveloped, wild areas include Lamar and Hayden valleys. Both are wildlife-watching havens.

Other national parks are within a day or two drive from Yellowstone. Many people do road-trip vacations that include multiple parks. The most popular are Yellowstone plus Grand Teton National Park (Yellowstone’s neighbor to the south), Yellowstone plus Glacier National Park (a day’s drive to the north), and Yellowstone plus Badlands National Park, Mount Rushmore, and Devils Tower National Monument (one-to-two day’s drive to the east).

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Pssst. Want to receive a printed insider’s guide to Yellowstone, where to stay and what to do? Order our free stunning Yellowstone Trip Planner filled with an inspiring itinerary, gorgeous photographs and everything you need to plan your dream vacation.


Stunning Vintage Photos Show the History of National Parks

In 1916, a National Geographic expedition in southeast Alaska explored the "Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes," as explorer Robert F. Griggs called the volcanically active area. It would become Katmai National Monument.

Here are ten surprising facts about Yellowstone and its enduring legacy, from the new National Geographic book The National Parks: An Illustrated History. (Also check out the new special Wild Yellowstone on Nat Geo Wild on Sunday, December 6 at 9/8c.)

1. Three years before the establishment of the park, when explorer David E. Folsom first sighted Yellowstone Lake in 1869, he called it “a scene of transcendental beauty.” Other wondrous features abounded, including canyons, thermal basins, and rock formations that “bore a strong resemblance to an old castle.”

2. Folsom and his fellow explorer Charles W. Cook wrote an account of their expedition but had trouble selling it because magazine editors believed it too far-fetched.

3. When members of the 1870 Washburn-Doane Expedition to Yellowstone returned home thin and haggard, a witness said all but one appeared unfit to be seen on the street. Yet all the men talked excitedly, as if they’d discovered a children’s fairy tale.

4. Painter Thomas Moran of the 1871 Hayden Expedition sold his 7’x12’ canvas painting Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone for $10,000—to Congress. It was the first landscape painting ever featured in the U.S. Senate lobby.

5. When Yellowstone National Park was established, Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana were not yet states. As such, the park proposal received little opposition from regional governments and business interests. According to one far-sighted congressman, the park would be “a breathing place for the American lungs.”

6. At first, Americans thought one national park was enough. But Yellowstone had power. It became a source of national pride, and it attracted people from all over, creating its own economy. And so the idea grew into what we have today: thousands of national parks around the world.

Five Must-See Attractions in Yellowstone

7. In the beginning, Yellowstone was administered by the U.S. Army. Not until 1916 was the U.S. National Park Service (NPS) established. For decades the park was managed to increase visitor satisfaction, which included stocking non-native species of fish and killing out the wolves to increase the numbers of elk and other grazing animals (which the public wanted to see at the time).

8. In the early 1950s professor A. Starker Leopold (eldest son of author/ecologist Aldo Leopold) told his graduate students that given the steady evolution of science-based management on public lands, one day the NPS will let forest fires burn. None of his students believed him. Some 35 years later, in the summer of 1988, the NPS let the Yellowstone fires burn.

9. During that fiery summer, businesses in the park complained that letting the fires burn would disfigure and blacken the park and ruin tourism. It did not.

Yellowstone received more visitors in 1989 than in any other year that decade. Burned pine bark proved nutritious for elk. Grizzlies prospered. Aspen seedlings appeared everywhere. And over the next eight years white bark pine seedlings appeared in all 275 study plots monitored by the NPS.

10. The 1995 re-introduction of wolves into Yellowstone (after a 70-year absence) proved to be a miracle, of sorts. “An ocean of elk and bison awaited them,” wrote Montana writer Rick Bass.

In snapping the park’s ecology back into balance, the wolves gave countless other species greater vitality. Elk no longer behaved like feedlot cattle. They were elk again, agile and alert. Streamside vegetation rebounded. Bright little songbirds returned.

“There is color in the land again,” wrote Bass. “Or perhaps it was always there, like a pigment in the soil, but was simply rendered imperceptible for awhile.”

Check out the new book The National Parks: An Illustrated History from National Geographic and the new special Wild Yellowstone on Nat Geo Wild on Sunday, December 6 at 9/8c.


Watch the video: Yellowstone Park 4 Old Faithful - Wyoming USA


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