Thursday, March 1, 2018

President Ulysses S. Grant Creates Yellowstone National Park [otd 03/01]

Geyser cone, Fire Hole Basin, 1871.
W. H. Jackson photo, Library of Congress.
On March 1, 1872, President U. S. Grant signed the bill that authorized creation of Yellowstone National Park.

As far back as 1825, American fur trappers had become familiar with the geothermal wonders of this area. It has been established, however, that "Colter's Hell" – first reported by Mountain Man John Colter – was east of the future Park.

In August of 1836, Mountain Man Osborne Russell [blog, Dec 20] trapped many streams feeding into Yellowstone Lake and the river. His Journal records a graphic impression of the geothermal features: “We fell into a broken tract of country which seemed to be all on fire at some distance below the surface.”

To cross one stretch, they followed an elk trail, where “Our horses sounded like travelling on a plank platform covering an imense [sic] cavity in the earth whilst the hot water and steam were spouting and hissing around us in all directions.”

One horse’s hind hoof broke through and released a jet of steam, but they otherwise crossed safely. Russell said, “The whole place was covered with a crust of Limestone of a dazzling whiteness formed by the overflowing of the boiling water.”

In 1871, Dr. Ferdinand Hayden made an extensive survey of the region. He urged William H. Clagett, Delegate to Congress from Montana Territory, to find a way to preserve the area’s wonders for future generations. Clagett, later President of Idaho’s Constitutional Convention, introduced legislation to establish Yellowstone National Park – generally considered the first national park in the world.
Stagecoach and hot springs in Yellowstone.
Photo credited at to Milwaukee Public Museum.
Creation of the Park had an immediate impact in eastern Idaho. Within a year, a wagon road led into the western portions of the designated park area. Soon, excursion parties began shuttling into the Park, entering from Idaho or from central Montana to the north

After 1880, railroad companies began major advertising campaigns to lure tourists to the Park. Easterners could take the Northern Pacific into Montana, or ride a Union Pacific branch line to Eagle Rock (today's Idaho Falls) or the Market Lake station a few miles further north. From there, they would stage into what became the town of West Yellowstone, Montana. Excursion coaches then took them through the Park.

West Point graduate Hiram M. Chittenden (he retired as a Brigadier General) made a significant, but perhaps less-known contribution to the Park. The Army Corps of Engineers assigned him to duty there in 1891-1892 and again in 1899-1905. During those times, he oversaw construction of the road layout that is largely still in use today. His crews also laid deep beds of crushed stone to replace the old rutted dirt tracks.

UP Yellowstone Route tourist decal, ca. 1930.
Early in the Twentieth Century, the railroad extended its tracks first to Ashton, Idaho and then, in 1909, all the way to West Yellowstone. The Union Pacific, parent company for the branch line, advertised its Park excursions all over the country. The Trenton, New Jersey, Evening Times carried (May 25, 1910) a typical blurb: “A vacation outing you will never forget. Yellowstone National Park is the wonder region of America. … direct to Yellowstone Station, at the very edge of the park … ”

As automobiles grew in popularity, rail traffic declined and the lines were eventually discontinued.

Today, a substantial portion of tourists traveling the Interstates through Idaho, and stopping at its motels, list Yellowstone National Park as their destination.
References: [B&W], [Brit], [Hawley]
Rae Ellen Moore, Just West of Yellowstone, Great Blue Graphics, Laclede, Idaho (© 1987, Rae Ellen Moore).
Osborne Russell, Aubrey L. Haines (Ed.), Journal of a Trapper, University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln (1965).
West Yellowstone History, West Yellowstone Tourism Business Improvement District (2010).

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