National Geographic : 2016 May
The Paradox of the Park 61 tales. Much later, in the years 1869 to 1871, three different expeditions of more citified white men, along with some military personnel, visited the area and were impressed, in particular, by the geysers and the canyon. One of those men, Nathaniel Langford, was described by Haines as “a sickly St. Paul bank clerk” who made his timely exit from Minnesota and went west after a family-owned bank failed. While playing a catalytic role in the 1870 Yellowstone expedition, Langford was a paid publicist for the Northern Pacific Railroad. Another member of that 1870 expedition, Walter Trumbull, noted afterward in a magazine article that the plateau seemed promising as sheep pasture, but he predicted, “When, however, by means of the Northern Pacific Railroad, the falls of the Yellowstone and the geyser basin are rendered easy of access, probably no portion of America will be more popular as a watering place or summer resort.” Langford and his cronies saw that such popularity would mean money in the tills of the Northern Pacific and of whoever else got a piece of the action, selling rail tickets, filling hotels. The 1871 expedition, led by Ferdinand V. Hayden, head of the U.S. Geological Survey of the Territories, was more official—supported by a congressional appropriation—and included the photographer William Henry Jackson and the painter Thomas Moran, visual artists whose images subsequently helped people back East (most crucially, those in Congress) see and imagine Yellowstone. Moran created one especially thunderous painting in 1872, seven feet by twelve, “The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.” An agent for the Northern Pacific then planted a suggestion that lawmakers protect the “Great Geyser Basin” as a public park. Hayden seized that idea and, along with Langford and other min- ions of the railroad, lobbied for it, as delineated in a bill encompassing not just the geyser basins but also the Grand Canyon of the Yellow- stone, Mammoth Hot Springs, Yellowstone Lake, the Lamar Valley, and other terrain, altogether a rectangle of some two million acres. The Yosemite Valley in California, which earlier had been granted to that state for protection as a state park, served as a rough precedent; Niagara Falls back in New York, on the other hand, stood as a negative paradigm. Niagara was infamous to anyone who cared about America’s natural majesties, because private operators there had bought up the overlooks and blocked the views, turning that spectacle into a commer- cial peep show. Yellowstone, as a great public attraction promising to bring visitors and money westward, would be different. Congress embraced what the Northern Pacific, Ferdinand Hayden, and others had proposed, and on March 1, 1872, President Ulysses S. Grant, compliant but no great advocate of scenic protection himself, signed a bill creating the world’s first national park. That law, not sur- prisingly for its time, ignored any prior claims by the Sheep Eater or other native groups. It specified “a public park or pleasuring-ground for the benefit and enjoyment of the people,” meaning implicitly non- Indian people. Within this park “wanton destruction of the fish and game,” whatever “wanton” might mean, as well as commercial exploita- tion of such game, was prohibited. The boundaries were rectilinear, although ecology isn’t. The paradox had been framed. President Grant signed a bill creating the world’s first national park. The law, not surprisingly for its time, ignored any prior claims by the Sheep Eater or other native groups.