The documentary legacy of Yellowstone is huge: thousands of books; more thousands of scientific reports and papers; newspaper and magazine articles beyond counting... Between us, we have devoted more than half a century to the study of this overwhelming mass of stuff, and though we both have personal favorites, we agree that there is nothing else like Yellowstone Nature Notes. For its bottomless reservoir of intriguing natural history tidbits, its hundreds of short essays and reports on all kinds of engaging subjects, and its unmatched window onto the day-to-day doings of earlier generations of Yellowstone nature lovers, Yellowstone Nature Notes is unique, priceless, and a lot of fun. It is also a neglected chapter in Yellowstone's rich documentary history.
On June 14, 1920, Yellowstone's Park Naturalist, Milton P. Skinner, issued a brief typescript report containing notes on flowers, geology, animals, and birds. Similar brief reports appeared in July, August, and September of that year, and in June, July, and August of 1921. In July, August, and September 1922, these were issued more formally, typeset, and printed. Apparently they were distributed through park offices, but may also have been posted at a few locations in the park.
These modest reports were the beginning of Yellowstone Nature Notes. It would become one of Yellowstone's longest, most informative, and certainly most entertaining literary traditions, a tradition that took a more mature form on June 20, 1924 (none are known to have appeared in 1923), with the appearance of Volume 1, Number 1, of a typescript (apparently mimeographed) newsletter with the actual title Yellowstone Nature Notes. Later writers and researchers seem to have routinely regarded the 19201922 reports as early issues of Yellowstone Nature Notes, but the name was not actually used until 1924, when the series also acquired issue numbers.
Nature Notes was not unique to Yellowstone. Many other parks launched similarly named newsletters. National Park Service director Stephen T. Mather and Yellowstone Superintendent Albright placed a high value on educational activities, and the Nature Notes program flourished for many years.... Acadia (beginning in 1932), Crater Lake (1928), Glacier (1927), Grand Canyon (1926), Grand Teton (1935), Hawaii (1931), Hot Springs (1934), Lassen (1932, combined with Hawaii), Mesa Verde (1930), Mount Rainier (1923), Rocky Mountain (1928), Shenandoah (1936), Yosemite (1922), and Zion/Bryce (1929) had joined Yellowstone in producing their own Nature Notes.
Edmund J. Sawyer became park naturalist in 1924 and soon started the actual Yellowstone Nature Notes. With the fourth issue, the publication was given a cover sheet and more or less assumed the look that it would have for the next thirty-four years. Sawyer, some of whose artwork is in the park's collection, is probably responsible for many of the early illustrations in Yellowstone Nature Notes simple little line drawings and marginal sketches that became a hallmark of the publication until its final issue.
Among the subjects that we have not adequately researched is the apparently general demise of Nature Notes around the park system. In Yellowstone, it occurred at the end of 1958. The final issue included a report on Firehole thermal basin hot spring activity in 1958, and another on Mammoth Hot Springs by Chief Park Naturalist David de L. Condon. Former Yellowstone Park Historian Aubrey Haines recently responded to our query about the abrupt cessation of publication of Nature Notes after so many years:
"Yellowstone Nature Notes died quietly with V. XXXII, No. 6 (NovemberDecember 1958), and without a hint that was to be the last issue. I was in engineering at the time, so do not know what was behind the decision to stop. There is no clue in the header, which solicits articles and carried the usual statement of purpose."
Nature Notes and its children have left us an impressive volume of information and have revealed a remarkable devotion to education of staff and the public. These obscure publications have also tracked park issues and social scenes across almost eighty years of Yellowstone's history.
While we have learned much in the decades since the Nature Notes were first published, they remain an excellent source of information about the park's natural and cultural resources and are, in themselves, a cultural resource. This special Web collection is just a sampling of the editions published in the late 1930s and includes text and images as they were originally published (including typographical errors). We hope you enjoy reading them as much as we have.