The earliest of the European & American explorers marveled at the abundant fish in many of the rivers, streams and lakes. They also marveled at the lack of fish in what they perceived to be “perfect fish-water.” They were amazed and surprised by both the abundance and density of the various geothermal features. These explorers had no intellectual basis for comprehending the size of the Lake, the height of the falls, the swiftness of the rivers, the density of the timber, (both standing and down,) the aromas of the steam, nor the combination of these factors in a setting that was unique in their experience. The wonders included standing petrified trees, hot and cold water in the same stream, rock formations akin to castles in the sky, hot springs with rainbow colors, water shooting high into the air, and boiling mud.
The tales and stories and mystery of Yellowstone were known long before the region was ‘officially’ discovered. Although the Lewis and Clark expedition passed close to the contemporary park boundaries, it did not enter the region. Stories reached the explorers and they noted the tales. The information and descriptions of the features must have made an impact on at least one of the members of the party; for on the way back to St. Louis he left the ‘Corps Of Discovery’ and set out to find the wonders that had been told.
John Coulter is credited with being the first Euro-American to enter what we know as Yellowstone Park, (we may never know if he was or not.) Stories of Coulter’s Hell soon permeated the culture of the ‘Mountain Man’ and independent fur trapper and they entered the region out of curiosity and in search of furs. Soon the stories, tall tales, and myths were spreading throughout all of North America – even to the stuffy officialdom of our nation’s capital. Other interests were also at work. Entrepreneurs, confidence artists, scalawags, prospectors, surveyors, and scientists had their interest piqued. Artists, naturalists, explorers, and outlaws were attracted to the thought that the unique nature of a land so full of wonder could offer them something.
Finally the “Buzz” was so great that the Congress of the United States (with considerable prodding from the railroad and business interests,) sent an ‘official expedition to discover the truth of the stories. The report to congress, complete with photographs by William Henry Jackson, and sketches by Thomas Moran, (along with more prodding by the railroad and business interests,) resulted in the establishment of a pleasuring ground for the people of the United States. Although the concept was raw in its formation, and was partially informed by the actions surrounding the formation of Yosemite Park in California, the NATIONAL PARK was born in 1872 by an act of congress.
Soon the railroad was building a track and planning for expansion, people from near and far began streaming into the park to experience the “pleasuring” that could be had. They came on foot, on horseback, by wagon and coach. It was a glorious migration. Animals could be shot and eaten, fish could be easily caught and cooked, baths in “healing waters” were taken, and word spread. Technology and greed spurred the visitation. Gold was sought, (and found,) hotels and camps were built, trails became rough roads, and free enterprise began to rule the pleasuring ground.
Since no money was set aside to administer the park, and since its superintendent was not on the scene a uniquely American spirit ruled the park’s early use. It was a park and pleasuring ground for any interest or pursuit that could be imagined by any person or group. Free Enterprise (accent on free,) ruled the scene. It must have been a glorious chaos.
The meadow at Mammoth and its surrounding area, along with the broad valley benches near the present day town of Gardner became the focus of much activity. Newspapers in the little towns of Bozeman and Livingston heralded the glories of the pleasuring ground. Stories of fish and game along with tales of geysers, hot springs, boiling mud, and healing waters soon spread through the general population and the ‘rush was on,’ (to coin a phrase.)
Bandits, outlaws, scalawags, and shady business characters arrived, along with the railroad interests and it soon became apparent that some way to administer the park needed to be formalized. The numerous unauthorized tent camps, poachers cabins, and transient settlements were all facilitated by the continuing development of roads. The roads were encouraged by the railroad and it’s surrogate in the park – The park company. Access was easier and easier. Funding was at the most mean of levels. Law enforcement and order was nearly impossible. Rules were promulgated and immediately ignored. The national pleasuring ground was living up to its name for any and all parties concerned. The magnetic attraction was that paradise could be despoiled with no consequences (an attitude that persists to this day.)
Minor explorations, major prospecting, squabbles and wars with Native Americans, killing of animals, exploitation of resources, and other events too numerous to mention here brought matters to a head. After some years, and some deliberation about just what they had created the powers that be, (congress, the railroad, and the locals,) decided that the U.S. Army should be utilized to tame the park. After all, the Army had ‘tamed’ the west; they surely could tame the pleasuring ground as well.