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Collection Mapping the National Parks

Yellowstone, the First National Park

Among those who played key roles in establishing Yellowstone as the Nation's first national park was Ferdinand Vandiveer Hayden. His accomplishments in 1871-72 were the high point of a long and distinguished career in public service.

Detail of Preliminary survey of burned areas, Yellowstone National Park and adjoining national forests, 1988.

The Yellowstone area was almost the last unexplored region within the coterminous United States when Hayden led his expedition into the Yellowstone area in 1871. Westward migration had passed it by, and even the discovery of gold in nearby Montana failed to stimulate the exploration of Yellowstone.

Hayden's historic expedition was preceded by two expeditions which fired the imagination in that largely unknown region. The Folsom-Cook group penetrated the Yellowstone county in 1869, followed by the Washburn-Langford-Doane Expedition in 1870. Lieutenant Gustavus C. Doane, who served as leader of the military escort of the second expedition, filed a detailed report that was published as a Congressional document and became a landmark of the Yellowstone story.

Detail of Tower Falls and Sulphur Mountain, Yellowstone. c1875. Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division. Reproduction Number: LC-USZC4-3246

Hayden organized his Yellowstone expedition with the support of a $40,000 appropriation from Congress. In early June 1871, a team of Thirty-four men and seven wagons set out from Ogden, Utah. Among the group were a mineralogist, a topographer, two artists, including Thomas Moran, and a photographer. The artists and photographer proved to be invaluable to the expedition for their paintings and photographs served as dramatic and effective testimonials in favor of establishing the park.

The Yellowstone Basin proved to be an ideal open-air laboratory because it is foremost a geological area, containing an extraordinary variety of natural features including important clues to mountain-making and volcanic processes. Each of the scientists accompanying the expedition found unique opportunities for observation and study.

Hayden and his party examined several geysers and "boiling springs" and gave them names such as Thud Geyser, Mud Puff, Architectural Fountain, Catfish, the Bathtub, Dental Cup, Punch Bowl No. 2, and Beehive. Examining the mud springs and geysers was hazardous and could be a painful experience, as Hayden discovered:

"The entire surface is perfectly bare of vegetation and hot, yielding in many places to slight pressure. I attempted to walk about among these simmering vents, and broke through to my knees, covering myself with hot mud, to my great pain and subsequent inconvenience."

The most important product of the expedition, in addition the paintings and photographs, was a 500-page report by Hayden detailing the findings of his party. Hayden presented this report, the photos, sketches, and paintings to Senators,

Detail of Yellowstone Lake. c1875. Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division. Reproduction Number: LC-USZC4-3249

Congressmen, his superiors in the Department of the Interior, and nearly everyone else who could possibly influence the founding of a park. He also published articles in magazines with national circulation and spent much personal time and effort trying to convince Congress to establish the park.

On December 18, 1871, a bill was introduced simultaneously in the Senate, by Senator S.C. Pomeroy of Kansas, and in the House of Representatives, by Congressman W.H. Claggett of Montana, for the establishment of a park at the headwaters of the Yellowstone River. Hayden's influence on Congress is readily apparent when examining the detailed information contained in the report of the House Committee on Public Lands: "The bill now before Congress has for its objective the withdrawal from settlement, occupancy, or sale, under the laws of the United States a tract of land fifty-five by sixty-five miles, about the sources of the Yellowstone and Missouri Rivers, and dedicates and sets apart as a great national park or pleasure-ground for the benefit and enjoyment of the people."

When the bill was presented to Congress, the bill's chief supporters convinced their colleagues that the region's real value was as a park area, to be preserved in its natural state. The bill was approved by a comfortable margin in the Senate on January 30, 1872, and by the House on February 27.

Radar mosaic, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, 1968.

On March 1, President Grant signed the bill into law, establishing the Yellowstone region as a public park and setting a major conservation precedent. The Nation had its first national park; an area of exceptional beauty was set aside for the enjoyment of generations to come, and a tradition of preserving similar areas was established.

Ferinand Vandiveer Hayden and the Founding of the Yellowstone National Park: United States Geological Survey, 1973.

Elizabeth U. Mangan
Head, Technical Services Section
Geography and Map Division
Library of Congress