Law Library Of Congress Blog: A Tour Through Yellowstone: Tracing the Park’s Legislative History on Its 150th Anniversary

Surrounded, as we are by terrible news assaulting us daily; I’m only too happy to highlight this rather wonderful post by Anna Price at the Law Library of Congress Blog.

Today marks Yellowstone National Park’s 150th anniversary. On March 1, 1872, President Grant signed into law a statute creating Yellowstone, making it America’s first national park. To celebrate this occasion, we have compiled legislative materials related to the park, including 19th century survey reports of the Wyoming Territory, bill texts, debates and votes on the floors of Congress, and more.

An illustrated poster of a geyser erupting with an enscription at the bottom, "Yellowstone National Park, U.S. Department of the Internior, National Park Service"

Yellowstone National Park, Ranger Naturalist Service. Designed by C. Don Powell (ca. 1938). Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, //

To understand the motivation behind establishing Yellowstone National Park, it’s helpful to have a little historical context. By the time Yellowstone was created, America had been pursuing the idea of “manifest destiny” for many decades. This push for westward expansion led to the Lewis and Clark expeditionhomestead and land preemption rights, and the founding of western territories. Explorations west, however, had largely bypassed the Yellowstone region in the Rocky Mountains until the late 1860s. Stories from the few who had seen Yellowstone, about this region’s natural wonders, including geysers, hot springs, and rugged terrain, spurred more treks to the Rockies.

In 1871, geologist and physician F. V. Hayden led an expedition to survey this area, including parts of present-day MontanaIdaho, and Wyoming. Hayden organized a team of 34 men, which included artists, a botanist, a mineralogist, a photographer, an agricultural statistician, and a meteorologist, among other subject matter experts and assistants. According to Ferdinand Vandiveer Hayden and the Founding of the Yellowstone National Park (p. 8), the work of accompanying artist Thomas Moran and photographer William H. Jackson was “invaluable to the expedition, for their paintings and photographs served as dramatic and effective testimonials in favor of establishing the park.” In addition to the visual depictions of the region, Hayden wrote prolifically about the area; his reports were submitted to the Department of the Interior and to Congress

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