Army Years

On August 13, 1886, Special Orders No. 79, Headquarters, Department of Dakota, were issued at Fort Snelling, Minnesota. Captain Moses Harris of the First United States Cavalry responded by marching 50 men to Yellowstone from Fort Custer, Montana Territory and established a tent camp at the foot of the Mammoth Hot Springs Terraces. Captain Harris assumed the superintendency of the park on August 20, 1886. Thus was the start of the Army years in Yellowstone National Park. And thus ended the 14+ years of turmoil that gave birth to the Nation's first Park.

The Army Years in West Yellowstone
The Army Years in Yellowstone

On his second day as superintendent, Captain Harris issued a general order consisting of 8 rules, and the guidelines for enforcing them. This order provided the first ever enforceable framework for administration of the park. Tough as it may seem, the Army Years brought martial law to Yellowstone. Martial law (becoming more gentle as the park was tamed and populated,) continued until the withdrawal of Army units in 1916. This 20 year span of time was the true birth and maturation of Yellowstone National Park and accounts for much of the continuing attitudes of both this park, and the park service that grew from it. Little civil law was available in the park in it's earliest years. Justice was swift, firm, and usually of a summary nature.

Quickly the chaos became subdued, quickly common practices of hunting became poaching, visiting became trespassing, collecting firewood became unauthorized logging, a pleasant evening campfire became an unauthorized conflagration, selling fish to the hotels became a crime of theft and larceny, (as well as poaching). These attitudes, however noble in intent, formed the basis for the mindset of park administrators at that time - and occasionally to this day. Overnight the pleasuring ground became a military encampment. Overnight, administrative power shifted from civilian hands which had created the park, to military hands that had just finished "taming the wild savages." It is a small wonder that any civility at all exists in the National Park Service today.

The positive legacy of the Army Years includes many lasting achievements, constructions, and traditions. The army established camps at strategic points within the park. By the end of 1886 they had six camps established: (1- at Soda Butte, 2- at the Grand Canyon, 3- at Norris, 4- at Riverside, 5- at Fountain Flats, 6- at Old Faithful). By the time they left the park they had established an additional ten soldier stations: (7- Lake outlet {fishing bridge}, 8- Snake River {south entrance}, 9- Thumb Bay {west thumb}, 10- Tower Fall, 11- Gardiner, 12- Sylvan Pass {near the East entrance}, 13- Cooke City, 14- Gallatin {near Black Butte}, 15- Bechler, 16- Crevice {near the confluence of Black Tail Deer Creek & the Yellowstone River.) The strategic location of these camps has endured to this day. All but one are reachable conveniently by road, (Crevice is a nuisance.) All but three are contemporary gathering places for modern-day visitors, (Soda Butte - which attracts fisherfolk, Sylvan Pass - which attracts construction crews, & Gallatin - which has a persistently ignored speed limit sign).

With access to the corps of engineers, and the money to fund projects roads were built and improved, bridges were built (some still stand today), and Fort Yellowstone was completed with the buildings that are at Mammoth today. The security of the Army Years allowed the concessionaires to build grand hotels and modest emporia in the security of their knowledge that they would be protected from brigands, vagabonds, robbers, and other nefarious adventurers, (but not always).

Stage coaches were still robbed. Traveling was still an adventure. It was during this time that the Yellowstone Park Company was stabilized as the umbrella concessionaire in the park. This was the period that saw Jack Haynes taking most of his famous 'post card pictures. It was also during this period that Yellowstone became a destination on the American Grand Tour. It was during this time that buffalo were reintroduced into the park from around the country. The new buffalo herd was an amalgam of genetic stock that had survived in various private and governmental herds across the nation. The buffalo were managed as cattle in the Lamar valley, and cowboys were employed to herd them, tend them and kill them for park consumption. This led to a partial domestication of the herd that persists in the gene pool to this day.

Even as the fish from Europe were being planted in the rivers and streams of Yellowstone, the American Gentry were developing a grand tour similar in concept to that which had been long established in European countries. There were places that any person of means and social standing just had to see: Niagara Falls, Yosemite, The Grand Canyon of the Colorado, and of course Yellowstone National Park. The Northern Pacific Railroad advertised profusely in the papers of the eastern cities. Not to be outdone, the Harriman interests quickly made a deal with the Northern Pacific Railroad (which at the time was in financial straight's along with its park holdings) to build a rail line to the west entrance. The deal included a financial bail-out, and an agreement to build a grand hotel at West Yellowstone. The rail line was built, the station complex was also completed (the buildings are still standing in West Yellowstone), but the hotel never came to pass.

The railroad years were years of growth, building, and gentrification. The park was viewed as an adjunct to the elite traveling provided by the railroads. They controlled, (variously - and more, or less,) the hotels, shops, stagecoaches, and itineraries in Yellowstone Park. They saw, through various schemes, ways to make enormous amounts of money. They ended up, through a series of circumstances, popularizing the park for both the gentry and the common man.