All consorted in the creation of the myth surrounding the nation’s first national park; and the ensuing scrutiny a century later that brought into question the very nature of the meaning and symbolic worth of not only Yellowstone National Park, but all of America’s legendary national parks.
Ah, history! If the facts are the bare bones providing accuracy, folklore is surely the tasty morsels that encourage consumption.
Besides, who doesn’t like a good story? I have pictures, too!
The volcanic tract Colter stumbled into during his solitary winter trek (1806-1807) through the region that became known as Yellowstone and the Grant Teton National Park included steaming geysers,
And then along came artist Thomas Moran and geological photographer William Henry Jackson. Both documented the incredible scenic wonders explored during the 1871 Hayden Geological Survey in and around Yellowstone’s Grand Canyon. Their sketches, paintings and photographs were instrumental in inspiring Congress to pass legislation in 1872 designating Yellowstone America’s first national park.
Ah, yes; love the folklore behind the facts!
Enter Nathanial P. Langford, number one naturalist by his own 1905 published accounts of his historic expedition in a book entitled, The Discovery of Yellowstone Park: Diary of the Washburn Expedition into the Yellowstone and Firehole in the Year 1870.
The Minnesota born businessman and explorer (the Northern Pacific Railroad sponsored Langford’s participation in the 1870 Hayden Expedition) served as Yellowstone National Park’s first superintendent from 1872 to 1883. The position did not come with a salary, although Langford’s connections with Northern Pacific Railroad undoubtedly kept him comfortably compensated. After all, the Yellowstone Park Improvement Company, a company with close ties to the Northern Pacific Railroad, was granted a remarkable monopoly in the development of facilities needed to handle the influx of tourists anticipated; tourists who for the most part arrived Yellowstone in comfort and style via the Northern Pacific Railroad. But I digress.
Langford’s published account of an altruistic campfire conversation with members of the Hayden expedition suggests the idea for a national park system befitting this great country originated with the members of that expedition.
It was a lofty legend indeed, made all the more intriguing given the absence of corroborating evidence to support Langford’s rendition of that historical moment; and given the National Parks' endorsement via park literature.
So Langford got more than his fifteen minutes of fame; and the country got its first national park. Mythical fires helped build this nation of pioneers. Pioneers like Jessie James, Billy the Kid, Butch Cassidy, Wyatt Earp, even John Colter and Nathanial Langford, undoubtedly helped keep the dream alive.
Does Yellowstone really need a myth to encourage today’s pioneers?
I don’t know.
I do know I'm a dreamer.
You May Also Like: