"Early History of Yellowstone National Park"



Those of us who have been blessed with the privilege of visiting or living near one of the great treasures of the world, are continually awed by the majestic beauty of its towering mountains, crystal-clear streams, lush mountain meadows, and wildlife. In the midst of this splendor, you canít help but wonder about yesteryear and the history of the Yellowstone Plateau.

Native Americans have first claim on the Yellowstone Plateau and lived in the area in peaceful tranquillity until the early 1800s--undisturbed by the presence of white men. The Sheepeater Indians, a band of Shoshone, also known as Snake Indians, lived in the area of what is now Yellowstone Park. There they remained isolated and sheltered from the world around them. The mountain ranges surrounding Yellowstone and its pristine valleys provided shelter, protection, and food as Shoshones, Bannocks, and Nez Perce traversed the protective natural highway en route to the "Buffalo Country" of Wyoming and Montana. To the north of what is now Yellowstone Park flows one of its great rivers, the Yellowstone. The Yellowstone River Valley offered little protection, for several hundred miles, for travelers traveling down the Yellowstone Valley including Indians, as they were subject to attack from warring Indian Tribes like the Blackfeet. Yet, traveling down this valley would have been much preferred. Thus, Indian hunting parties traversing over the mountains and valleys of Yellowstone were afforded some measure of protection from attack. The widely-used trail would become known as the Bannock Trail.

In 1877 the Nez Perce followed much of the Bannock Trail through Yellowstone as the Nez Perce fled from government forces commanded by General Oliver O. Howard. The Government was determined to occupy and take possession of the non-treaty Nez Perce lands and force them onto the Nez Perce Reservation in Lapwai, Idaho. The tragic Nez Perce War erupted when Chief Joseph and other Nez Perce leaders including Chief Looking Glass were being forced onto the Nez Perce Reservation under orders from General Howard. After war broke out, the Nez Perce fought gallantly through 18 skirmishes and major battles for their ancestral lands, principles, and values in a defensive war that would take them approximately 1,500 miles through Oregon, Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming.

Much earlier, President Thomas Jefferson envisioned creating an American Empire stretching from coast-to coast. His dream began to bear fruition with the acquisition of Louisiana from France in 1803. The Discovery Corps led by Captains Meriwether Lewis and William Clark would pave the way for the opening of the Pacific Northwest and begin the building of Jeffersonís American Empire. Captain William Clarkís party canoed down the Yellowstone River Valley, a short distance from todayís Yellowstone Park, en route to their rendezvous with Meriwether Lewis at the confluence of the Missouri and Yellowstone Rivers.

Yyoung, athletic and strong person of mind, John Colter, who was a member of the Discovery Corps, would encounter two trappers somewhere near the confluence of the Yellowstone and Missouri Rivers. The trappers named Joseph Dixon and Forrest Hancock would become John Colterís partners. The date of their meeting, August 12, 1806, was an important day in John Colterís life for shortly after that he would return up the Yellowstone with his partners. From there they would follow the Clarks Fork River to an area believed to be near the mouth of the Clarks Fork Canyon where they spent the winter. The next spring Colter would leave the Rocky Mountains again as he began to make his way down the Yellowstone and Missouri Rivers en route back to the United States. En route he ran into Manual Lisaís brigade. Colter was once again persuaded to return up the Yellowstone. The party stopped at the mouth of the Big Horn River and constructed a trading post, Fort Raymond. Colter was asked to let tribes in the area know about the new fort and trading opportunities. During Colterís epic journey, he would discover a thermal area near present day Cody, Wyoming, which would become known as Colterís Hell. From there he would travel through the Tetons, along the Gallatin Range, through Yellowstone Parkís Lamar Valley and through the "Gap" at present day Cooke City, Montana. Then, he traversed the Sunlight Basin area and out onto the Big Horn Basin en route back to Fort Raymond.

Others would follow Colter into the Yellowstone area. In 1824, Jedediah Smith & Jim Bridger began trapping around Jackson Hole up to the south boundary of Yellowstone Park. On August 10, 1836, Osborne Russell and Jim Bridger explored Two Ocean Pass. In 1860, Captain William F Raynolds attempted to explore Yellowstone from the south. In 1869, David Folsom, Charles Cook and William Peterson explored Yellowstone. In 1870, the Washburn party explored Yellowstone with escort services provided by Lieutenant Doanne. In 1871, Hayden led his geological survey team into Yellowstone.

Yellowstone had been discovered and interest in preserving its majestic beauty was growing. Congressional delegate William H. Clagett along with the leadership of Senator Pomery worked to create legislation to create Yellowstone Park. It was created upon a roll call vote with 115 ayes, 65 nays and 60 abstaining on March 1, 1872, and signed by President Ulysses S. Grant.





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