A Brief History of Yellowstone National Park

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The first humans came to Yellowstone about 11,000 years ago. A Clovis point, which was made of obsidian and was used for hunting animals, was found by scientists to prove this theory. Prehistoric people sharpened obsidian on both sides into a leaf-shape point and fastened it to the end of a wooden spear.

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Native Americans lived and traveled in Yellowstone for centuries. They hunted wild animals, fished, gathered plants, and prospected obsidian. They used hot springs and geysers for medicine and ceremonial purposes. Artifacts were found on the shores of Yellowstone Lake proving that people lived and hunted there 9,350 years ago. Scientists also found traces of primitive camps for the period of time from 9,000 years ago to 1,000 C.E. Ancestors of many Native American tribes, such as Blackfeet, Cayuse, Crow, Nez Perce, Shoshone, Bannock, Coeur d’Alene, and many others, lived in Yellowstone and in the surrounding area. They traded animal skins, furs, and tools, made of bones. They often used the Fishing Bridge area as a meeting place for trading.

Tukudika people, a group of Shoshone, made bows for hunting by soaking Bighorn sheep horns in hot springs. This made their bows strong and flexible.  They traded these bows to other tribes.

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The Kiowa tribe considered a hot spring called later Dragon’s Mouth a sacred place. According to their legend, the Creator gave them the Yellowstone area as a home. The Crows thought that the steam coming out of the cave is the snort of an angry buffalo. In fact, Dragon’s Mouth is a hydrothermal feature which has inspired the imagination of tourists for years. It really looks and sounds like a giant beast, possibly a dragon, hides inside the cave and breaths heavily, blowing out steam. The steam comes out with a grunting sound and propels ripples across the spring’s pool of water.

After the first European Americans explored Yellowstone, almost nobody believed their stories about the wonders of this land. Lewis and Clark Expedition (1804-1806) passed Yellowstone on the way to the Pacific coast of Oregon and back. However, one of the members of the expedition, John Colter, a trapper and a mountain man, left the expedition on the return journey. He joined two other trappers as a guide to Yellowstone.

In 1807 Colter joined Manuel Lisa’s Fur Trading Company as an explorer and trapper.  He helped them build Fort Raymond at the confluence of the Yellowstone River and the Bighorn River. From the Fort he ventured out on expedition of exploration. He crossed the Bighorn Mountains and explored the Wind River Basin and the Teton Basin in the dead of winter. Colter’s goal was to establish fur trade with the Crow, a tribe which had a friendlier disposition towards Americans. Upon his return to Fort Raymond, Colter included in his report descriptions of geysers, hot springs and mudpots, but his stories were ridiculed by many. The area which he explored got a joking nickname “Colter’s Hell.” But it was John Colter, the first American, who beheld the wonders of Yellowstone.

In 1808, during his next exploration trip to Yellowstone, Colter and his fellow trapper from the Lewis and Clark Expedition, John Potts, met hostile Blackfeet Indians. Potts was killed and Colter was stripped of his clothing. The Blackfeet allowed him a 300 foot head start and then pursued him as game. Colter ran for his life through the woods and across the plain full of prickly pear. He managed to get away from all but one warrior. When the pursuer got close enough to Colter, he threw his spear towards Colter, but tripped and fell. Luckily, he missed and the spear broke. Colter grabbed the pointed part and stabbed the Indian.  Meanwhile the rest of the Blackfeet were catching up, but Colter was able to hide under driftwood in the river. Blackfeet searched for him in vain and were going to set the driftwood on fire. However, night was approaching and Colter dived from under the driftwood and swam down the river. Then, he traveled for seven days to Fort Raymond, naked and barefoot, under the burning sun, sustaining himself on roots.

Daniel Potts and Jim Bridger were other trappers, who explored Yellowstone in the 1820s. Potts published a letter in a Philadelphia newspaper about the wonders of the area and Jim Bridger told stories of Yellowstone around camp fires. These stories of daring explorers inspired formal expeditions.

In 1869 the Folsom, Cook, and Peterson expedition traveled to the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, Tower Falls, Mud Volcano, Yellowstone Lake, Shoshone Lake and geysers along the Firehole River. They updated the map and wrote an article about the area, which was published in Western Monthly magazine.

In 1879 the Washburn expedition explored more of the Grand Canyon and other landmarks of the area plus both shores of Yellowstone Lake and the Lower, Midway, and Upper geyser basins. They discovered the most famous geyser of Yellowstone and gave it its name, Old Faithful. They climbed the highest peaks and did some measurements and analysis.

These expeditions prompted the 1871 Hayden Expedition. The team of scientists on that expedition included two botanists, a zoologist, a mineralogist, a meteorologist, a topographer and an entomologist. A photographer, William Jackson, and artists Thomas Moran and Henry Elliot were also in the team. Their scientific findings, stunning photographs, beautiful paintings and sketches of Yellowstone convinced the U.S. Congress to establish Yellowstone National Park in 1872. The Yellowstone National Park Protection Act was signed into law by President Ulysses Grant in March 1872 and the first national park in the world was born.

 

Resources Used

Wyoming Tales and Trails featuring Photographs and History of Old Wyoming by G.B Dobson: http://www.wyomingtalesandtrails.com/yellowstone.html

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