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Presidential Statement

Author's Preface


Part I

Part II

Part III



Yellowstone National Park:
Its Exploration and Establishment

Part III: The Park Movement
National Park Service Arrowhead

Yellowstone Lake
Yellowstone Lake by Thomas Moran,
from Ferdinand Hayden's Geological Surveys of the Territories (1872)

The Park Movement (continued)

Returning to the Yellowstone legislation, it was the Senate version of the bill—Pomeroy's S. 392—which prospered. On January 22, the Senator from Kansas attempted to report his bill from the Committee on Public Lands in a proceeding which is reported thus:

Mr. POMEROY. I am instructed by the Committee on Public Lands to report back and recommend the passage of the bill (S. No. 392) to set apart a certain tract of land lying near the headwaters of the Yellowstone river as a public park. It will be remembered that an appropriation was made last year of about ten thousand dollars to explore that country. Professor Hayden and party have been there, and this bill is drawn on the recommendation of that gentleman to consecrate for public uses this country as a public park. It contains about forty miles square. It embraces those geysers, those great natural curiosities which have attracted so much attention. It is thought that it ought to be set apart for public uses. I would like to have the bill acted on now. The committee felt that if we were going to set it apart at all, it ought to be done before individual preemptions or homestead claims attach.

The VICE PRESIDENT. The Senator from Massachusetts and the Senator from Kentucky both gave way only for current morning business, but the Senator from Kansas now asks unanimous consent for the consideration of the bill which he has just reported.

Several Senators objected.

Mr. POMEROY. Then I withdraw the report for the present. [29]

The following day Senator Pomeroy presented his bill again:

Mr. POMEROY. The Committee on Public Lands, to whom was referred the bill (S. No. 392) to set apart a tract of land lying near the headwaters of the Yellowstone as a public park, have directed me to report it back without amendment, to recommend its passage, and to ask that it have the present consideration of the Senate.

The VICE PRESIDENT. The Senator from Kansas asks unanimous consent of the Senate for the present consideration of the bill reported by him. It will be reported in full, subject to objection.

The Chief Clerk read the bill.

The Committee on Public Lands reported the bill with an amendment in line nineteen to strike out the words "after the passage of this act," and in line twenty, after the word "upon", to insert the words "or occupying a part of;" so as to make the clause read, "and all persons who shall locate or settle upon or occupy any part of the same, or any part thereof, except as hereinafter provided, shall be considered as trespassers and removed therefrom."

The VICE PRESIDENT. Is there objection to the present consideration of this bill?

Mr. CAMERON. I should like to know from somebody having charge of the bill, in the first place, how many miles square are to be set apart, or how many acres, for this purpose, and what is the necessity for the park belonging to the United States.

Mr. POMEROY. This bill originated as the result of the exploration, made by Professor Hayden, under an appropriation of Congress last year. With a party he explored the headwaters of the Yellowstone and found it to be a great natural curiosity, great geysers, as they are termed, water-spouts, and hot springs, and having platted the ground himself, and having given me the dimensions of it, the bill was drawn up, as it was thought best to consecrate and set apart this great place of national resort, as it may be in the future, for the purposes of public enjoyment.

Mr. MORTON. How many square miles are there in it?

Mr. POMEROY. It is substantially forty miles square. It is north and south forty-four miles, and east and west forty miles. He was careful to make a survey so as to include all the basin where the Yellowstone has its source.

Mr. CAMERON. That is several times larger than the District of Columbia.

Mr. POMEROY. Yes, Sir. There are no arable lands ; no agricultural lands there. It is the highest elevation from which our springs descend, and as it cannot interfere with any settlement for legitimate agricultural purposes, it was thought that it ought to be set apart early for this purpose. We found when we set apart the Yosemite valley that there were one or two persons who had made claims there, and there has been a contest, and it has finally gone to the Supreme Court to decide whether persons who settle on unsurveyed lands before the Government takes possession of them by any special act of Congress have rights as against the Government. The court has held that settlers on unsurveyed lands have no rights as against the Government. The Government can make an appropriation of any unsurveyed lands, notwithstanding settlers may be upon them. As this region would be attractive only on account of preempting a hot spring or some valuable mineral it was thought such claims had better be excluded from the bill.

There are several Senators whose attention has been called to this matter, and there are photographs of the valley and the curiosities which Senators can see. The only object of the bill is to take early possession of it by the United States and set it apart, so that it cannot be included in any claim or occupied by any settlers.

Mr. TRUMBULL. Mr. President—

The VICE PRESIDENT. The Chair must state that the Senate have not yet given their consent to the present consideration of the bill. The Senator from Pennsylvania desired some explanation in regard to it. Does he reserve the right to object?

Mr. CAMERON. I make no objection.

Mr. THURMAN. I object.

Mr. SHERMAN. I will not object if it is not going to lead to debate.

Mr. TRUMBULL. It can be disposed of in a minute.

Mr. THURMAN. I object to the consideration of this bill in the morning hour. I am willing to take it up when we can attend to it, but not now. [30]

The Yellowstone bill was again brought up for consideration by the Senate on January 30—in its regular order. This crucial session is recorded in The Congressional Globe (p. 697) under the heading "Yellowstone Park" a term not used previously in debate. Continuing from the record:

The VICE PRESIDENT. The bill (S. No. 392) to set apart a certain tract of land lying near the headwaters of the Yellowstone river as a public park, taken up on the motion of the Senator from Kansas, which was reported by the Committee on Public Lands, is now before the Senate as in Committee of the Whole.

The bill was read— [followed by a restatement of the amendments previously reported by the Committee on Public Lands].

The VICE PRESIDENT. These amendments will be regarded as agreed to unless objected to. They are agreed to.

Mr. ANTHONY. I observe that the destruction of game and fish for gain or profit is forbidden. I move to strike out the words "for gain or profit,"" so that there shall be no destruction of game there for any purpose. We do not want sportsmen going over there with their guns.

Mr. POMEROY. The only object was to prevent the wanton destruction of the fish and game; but we thought parties who encamped there and caught fish for their own use ought not to be restrained from doing so. The bill will allow parties there to shoot game or catch fish for their own subsistence. The provision of the bill is de signed to stop the wanton destruction of game or fish for merchandise.

Mr. ANTHONY. I do not know but that that covers it. What I mean is that this park should not be used for sporting. If people are encamped there, and desire to catch fish and kill game for their own sustenance while they remain there, there can be no objection to that; but I do not think it ought to be used as a preserve for sporting.

Mr. POMEROY. I agree with the Senator, but I think the bill as drawn protects the game and fish as well as can be done.

Mr. ANTHONY. Very well; I am satisfied.

The VICE PRESIDENT. The Senator does not insist on his amendment?

Mr. ANTHONY. No, sir.

Mr. TIPTON. I think if this is to become a public park, a place of great national resort, and we allow the shooting of game or the taking of fish without any restriction at all, the game will soon be utterly destroyed. I think, therefore, there should be a prohibition against their destruction for any purpose, for if the door is once opened I fear there will ultimately be an entire destruction of all the game in that park. [31]

Mr. POMEROY. It will be entirely under the control of the Secretary of the Interior. He is to make the rules that shall govern the destruction and capture of game. I think in that respect the Secretary of the Interior, whoever he may be, will be as vigilant as we would be.

The VICE PRESIDENT. Perhaps the Secretary had better report the sentence referred to by Senators as bearing on this question, and then any Senator who desires to amend can move to do so.

The Chief Clerk read as follows:

"He shall provide against the wanton destruction of the fish and game found within said park, and against their capture or destruction for the purposes of merchandise or profit."

Mr. EDMUNDS. I hope this bill will pass. I have taken some pains to make myself acquainted with the history of this most interesting region. It is so far elevated above the sea that it cannot be used for private occupation at all, but it is probably one of the most wonderful regions in that space of territory which the globe exhibits anywhere, and therefore we are doing no harm to the material interests of the people in endeavoring to preserve it. I hope the bill will pass unanimously.

Mr. COLE. I have grave doubts about the propriety of passing this bill. The natural curiosities there cannot be interfered with by anything that man can do. The geysers will remain, no matter where the ownership of the land may be, and I do not know why settlers should be excluded from a tract of land forty miles square, as I understand this to be, in the Rocky mountains or any other place. I cannot see how the natural curiosities can be interfered with if settlers are allowed to approach them. I suppose there is very little timber on this tract of land, certainly no more than is necessary for the use and convenience of persons going upon it. I do not see the reason or propriety of setting apart a large tract of land of that kind in the Territories of the United States for a public park. There is abundance of public park ground in the Rocky mountains that will never be occupied. It is all one great park, and never can be anything else; large portions of it at all events. There are some places, perhaps this is one, where persons can and would go and settle and improve and cultivate the grounds, if there be ground fit for cultivation.

Mr. EDMUNDS. Has my friend forgotten that this ground is north of latitude forty, and is over seven thousand feet above the level of the sea? You cannot cultivate that kind of ground.

Mr. COLE. The Senator is probably mistaken in that. Ground of a greater height than that has been cultivated and occupied.

Mr. EDMUNDS. In that latitude?

Mr. COLE: Yes, sir. But if it cannot be occupied and cultivated why should we make a public park of it? If it cannot be occupied by man, why protect it from occupation? I see no reason in that. If nature has excluded men from its occupation, why set it apart and exclude persons from it? If there is any sound reason for the passage of the bill, of course I would not oppose it; but really I do not see any myself. [32]

Mr. TRUMBULL. I think our experience with the wonderful natural curiosity, if I may so call it, in the Senator"s own State, should admonish us of the propriety of passing such a bill as this. There is the wonderful Yosemite valley, which one or two persons are now claiming by virtue of preemption. Here is a region of country away up in the Rocky mountains, where there are the most wonderful geysers on the face of the earth; a country that is not likely ever to be inhabited for the purposes of agriculture; but it is possible that some person may go there and plant himself right across the only path that leads to these wonders, and charge every man that passes along between the gorges of these mountains a fee of a dollar or five dollars. He may place an obstruction there, and toll may be gathered from every person who goes to see these wonders of creation.

Now this tract of land is uninhabited; nobody lives there; it was never trod by civilized man until within a short period. Perhaps a year or two ago was the first time that this country was ever explored by anybody. It is now proposed, while it is in this condition, to reserve it from sale and occupation in this way. I think it is a very proper bill to pass, and now is the time to enact it. We did set apart the region of country on which the mammoth trees grow in California, and the Yosemite valley also we have undertaken to reserve, but there is a dispute about it. Now, before there is any dispute as to this wonderful country, I hope we shall except it from the general disposition of the public lands, and reserve it to the Government. At some future time, if we desire to do so, we can repeal this law if it is in anybody's way; but now I think it a very appropriate bill to pass. [33]

The bill was reported to the Senate as amended; and the amendments were concurred in. The bill was ordered to be engrossed for a third reading, read a third time, and passed.

The passage of the Senate version of the Yellowstone bill was noted briefly in the Washington Evening Star: "Mr. Pomeroy called up the bill setting apart the Yellowstone Valley as a public park forever, which was passed,"" [34] but the more discerning coverage appeared in Montana. On receipt of word of the Senate's action, a Helena newspaper remarked:

We have not seen the text of this particular bill, and cannot say if it is identical with that introduced in the House by our Delegate, but presume it to be essentially the same; and judging from the readiness with which the idea has been taken up, put into shape, and passed the Senate, there can be little doubt that very soon it will receive the sanction of the necessary parties and become a law. In fact, since the idea was first conceived by the party of gentlemen from this city, who visited this region of wonders in the summer of 1869 [sic], and gave to the world the first reliable reports concerning its marvelous wealth of natural curiosities, the project has gained ground with surprizing rapidity. The letters of Mr. Hedges, first published in the HERALD, the lectures of Mr. Langford, the articles of Mr. Trumbull, and later still, the story of [the] peril and adventure of Mr. Everts, all of the same party, were widely circulated by the press of the country, and not merely excited a passing curiosity, but created a living, general interest that has since received strength and larger proportions by the publication of Lieutenant Doane's official report to the War Department of the same expedition; followed, as it was, by the expedition of Professor Hayden, during the last summer, under the patronage of the Smithsonian Institution, with its fully appointed corps of scientific gentlemen and distinguished artists, whose reports have more than confirmed all descriptions of the Washburn party. Such, in brief, has been the origin and progress of this project now about to receive a definite and permanent shape in the establishment of a National Park. It will be a park worthy of the Great Republic. If it contains the proportions set forth in Clagett's bill, it will embrace about 2,500 square miles, and include the great canyon, the Falls and Lake of the Yellowstone, with a score of other magnificent lakes, the great geyser basin of the Madison, and thousands of mineral and boiling springs. Should the whole surface of the earth be gleaned, another spot of equal dimensions could not be found that contains on such a magnificent scale one-half the attractions here grouped together. [35]

The editor also noted that "Without a doubt the Northern Pacific Railroad will have a branch track penetrating this Plutonian region, and few seasons will pass before excursion trains will daily be sweeping into this great park thousands of the curious from all parts of the world." Thus, citizens of Montana Territory "who would look upon this scene in its wild, primitive beauty, before art has practised any of its tricks upon nature," were advised to visit the area at once.

That there was a strong sentiment, locally, favoring such a park movement is evidenced by the appearance at just this time of the memorial to Congress which had originated in the Montana Legislature as Council Joint Memorial No. 5. This interesting document, authored by Cornelius Hedges and introduced by Councilman Seth Bullock, was addressed "To the Honorable Senate and House of Representatives of the United States in Congress assembled," which were reminded that

. . . a small portion of the Territory of Wyoming, as now constituted in its extreme northwest corner, is separated from the main portion of that Territory by the almost impassable ranges of mountains that divide the headwaters of the Madison from those of the Snake river on the south, connecting with those dividing the waters of the Yellowstone from those of Big Horn and Wind Rivers on the east; that this portion of Wyoming is only accessible from the side of Montana; contains the heads of streams whose course is wholly through Montana; while through the enterprise of citizens of Montana it has been thoroughly explored, and its innumerable and magnificent array of wonders in geysers, boiling springs, mud volcanoes, burning mountains, lakes, and waterfalls brought to the attention of the world. Your memorialists would, therefore, urge upon your Honorable bodies that the said portion of Wyoming be ceded to Montana by an extension of its southern line from 111 degrees of longitude east and north along the crest of said mountain ranges dividing the headwaters of the Madison and Yellowstone rivers from those of the Snake, Bighorn and Wind Rivers, till it intersects with the present southern line of Montana, on the 45th degree of latitude. Your memorialists would further urge that the above described district of country, with so much more of the present Territory of Montana as may be necessary to include the Lake, Great Falls, and Canyon of the Yellowstone, the great geyser basin of the Madison, with its associate [sic] boiling, mineral and mud springs, as may be determined from the surveys made by Prof. Hayden and party past season, or to be determined by surveys hereafter to be made, be dedicated and devoted to public use, resort and recreation, for all time to come as a great National Park, under such care and restrictions as to your Honorable bodies may seem best calculated to secure the ends proposed. [36]

But, if there was evident support for the park legislation, its success in the Senate also raised misgivings which eventually hardened into a very determined opposition. This antipathy arose out of the effort of Harry R. Horr and James C. McCartney to get their tract of land at Mammoth Hot Springs (where they had located as squatters during the summer of 1871) excepted from the provisions of the bill. As soon as the text of the bill was made available, these settlers began circulating a petition by means of which they hoped to influence Congress in their favor, [37] but in that they were disappointed.

A little more than 2 weeks later the Helena Rocky Mountain Weekly Gazette took its stand with the settlers, commenting on the park proposal in these words:

As for ourselves we regard the project with little favor, unless Congress will go still further and make appropriations to open carriage roads through, and hostels in, the reserved district, so that ordinary humanity can get into it without having to ride on the "Hurricane deck" of a mule. . . . Already private enterprise was taking measures to render the country accessible to such tourists as are not strong enough to endure the fatigues of a regular exploring expedition. . . .

If Congress sets off that scope of country as proposed, all these private enterprises will immediately cease, and as it is not at all likely that the Government will make any appropriations to open roads or hostelries, the country will be remanded into a wilderness and rendered inaccessible to the great mass of travelers and tourists for many years to come. . . .

We are opposed to any scheme which will have a tendency to remand it into perpetual solitude, by shutting out private enterprise and by preventing individual energy from opening the country to the general traveling public. . . . [38]

The Gazette continued to champion the Yellowstone settlers and the issue they had raised, and will be heard from again.

NEXT> The Park Movement continues...


Last Modified: Tues, Jul 4 2000 07:08:48 am PDT

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