When the rumored discovery in the year 1861 of extensive gold placers on Salmon river was confirmed, the intelligence spread through the states like wild fire. Hundreds of men with dependent families, who had been thrown out of employment by the depressed industrial condition of the country and by the Civil War, and still others actuated by a thirst for gain, utilized their available resources in providing means for an immediate migration to the land of promise. Before midsummer they had started on the long and perilous journey. How little did they know of its exposures! The deserts, destitute of water and grass, the alkaline plains where food and drink were alike affected by the poisonous dust, the roving bands of hostile Indians, the treacherous quicksands of river fords, the danger and difficulty of the mountain passes, the death of their companions, their cattle and their horses, breakage of their vehicles, angry and often violent personal altercations--all these fled in the light of the summer sun, the vernal beauty of the plains and the delightfully pure atmosphere which wooed them day by day farther away from the abode of civilization and the protection of law. The most fortunate of this army of adventurers suffered from some of these fruitful causes of disaster. So certain were they to occur in some form that a successful completion of the journey was simply an escape from death. The story of the Indian murders and cruelties alone, which befell hundreds of these hapless emigrants, would fill volumes. Every mile of the several routes across the continent was marked by the decaying carcasses of oxen and horses, which had perished during the period of this hegira to the gold mines. Three months with mules and four with oxen were necessary to make the journey--a journey now completed in five days from ocean to ocean by the railroad. Some of these expeditions, after entering the unexplored region which afterwards became Montana, were arrested by the information that it would be impossible to cross with wagon teams the several mountain ranges between them and the mines.
In the summer of 1862 a company of 130 persons left St. Paul for the Salmon river mines. This Northern overland expedition was confided to the leadership of Captain James L. Fisk, whose previous frontier experience and unquestionable personal courage admirably fitted him for the command of an expedition which owed so much of its final success, as well as its safety during a hazardous journey through a region occupied by hostile Indians, to the vigilance and discipline of its commanding officer. E.H. Burritt was first assistant, the writer was second assistant and commissary, and Samuel R. Bond was secretary. Among those who were selected for guard duty were David E. Folsom, Patrick Doherty (Baptiste), Robert C. Knox, Patrick Bray, Cornelius Bray, Ard Godfrey, and many other well known pioneers of Montana. We started with ox teams on this journey on the 16th day of June, traveling by the way of Fort Abercrombie, old Fort Union, Milk river and Fort Benton, bridging all the streams not fordable on the entire route. Fort Union and Fort Benton were not United States military forts, but were the old trading posts of the American Fur Company.
This Northern overland route of over 1,600 miles, lay for most of the distance through a partially explored region, filled with numerous bands of the hostile Sioux Indians. It was the year of the Sioux Indian massacre in Minnesota. After a continuous journey of upwards of eighteen weeks we reached Grasshopper creek near the head of the Missouri on the 23d day of October, with our supply of provisions nearly exhausted, and with cattle sore-footed and too much worn out to continue the journey. There we camped for the winter in the midst of the wilderness, 400 miles from the nearest settlement or postoffice, from which we were separated by a region of mountainous country, rendered nearly impassable in the winter by deep snows, and beset for the entire distance by hostile Indians. Disheartening as the prospect was, we felt that it would not do to give way to discouragement. A few venturesome prospectors from the west side of the Rocky Mountains had found gold in small quantities on the bars bordering the stream, and a few traders had followed in their wake with a limited supply of the bare necessaries of life, risking the dangers of Indian attack by the way to obtain large profits as a rightful reward for their temerity. Flour was worth 75 cents per pound in greenbacks, and prices of other commodities were in like proportion, and the placer unpromising; and many of the unemployed started out, some on foot, and some bestride their worn-out animals, into the bleak mountain wilderness, in search of gold. With the certainty of death in its most horrid form if they fell into the hands of a band of prowling Blackfeet Indians, and the thought uppermost in their minds that they could scarcely escape freezing, surely the hope which sustained this little band of wanderers lacked none of those grand elements which sustained the early settlers of our country in their days of disaster and suffering. Men who cavil with Providence and attribute to luck or chance or accident the escape from massacre and starvation of a company of destitute men, under circumstances like these, are either wanting in gratitude or have never been overtaken by calamity. My recollection of those gloomy days is all the more vivid because I was among the indigent ones.
This region was then the rendezvous of the Bannack Indians, and we named the settlement "Bannack," not the Scotch name "Bannock," now often given to it.
Montana was organized as a territory on the 26th day of May, 1864, and I continued to reside in that territory until the year 1876, being engaged chiefly in official business of a character which made it necessary, from time to time, for me to visit all portions of the territory. It is a beautiful country. Nature displays her wonders there upon the most magnificent scale. Lofty ranges of mountains, broad and fertile valleys, streams broken into torrents are the scenery of every-day life. These are rendered enjoyable by clear skies, pure atmosphere and invigorating climate.
Ever since the first year of my residence there I had frequently heard rumors of the existence of wonderful phenomena in the region where the Yellowstone, Wind, Snake and other large rivers take their rise, and as often had determined to improve the first opportunity to visit and explore it, but had been deterred by the presence of unusual and insurmountable dangers. It was at that time inhabited only by wild beasts and roving bands of hostile Indians. An occasional trapper or old mountaineer were the only white persons who had ever seen even those portions of it nearest to civilization, previous to the visit of David E. Folsom and C.W. Cook in the year 1869. Of these some had seen one, some another object of interest; but as they were all believed to be romancers their stories were received with great distrust.
The old mountaineers of Montana were generally regarded as great fabricators. I have met with many, but never one who was not fond of practicing upon the credulity of those who listened to the recital of his adventures. James Bridger, the discoverer of Great Salt lake, who had a large experience in wild mountain life, wove so much of romance around his Indian adventures that his narrations were generally received with many grains of allowance by his listeners. Probably no man ever had a more varied and interesting experience during a long period of sojourning on the western plains and in the Rocky Mountains than Bridger, and he did not hesitate, if a favorable occasion offered, to "guy" the unsophisticated. At one time when in camp near "Pumpkin Butte," a well-known landmark near Fort Laramie, rising a thousand feet or more above the surrounding plain, a young attache of the party approached Mr. Bridger, and in a rather patronizing manner said: "Mr. Bridger, they tell me that you have lived a long time on these plains and in the mountains." Mr. Bridger, pointing toward "Pumpkin Butte," replied: "Young man, you see that butte over there! Well, that mountain was a hole in the ground
when I came here."
Bridger's long sojourn in the Rocky Mountains commenced as early as the year 1820, and in 1832 we find him a resident partner in the Rocky Mountain Fur Company. He frequently spent periods of time varying from three months to two years, so far removed from any settlement or trading post, that neither flour nor bread stuffs in any form could be obtained, the only available substitute for bread being the various roots found in the Rocky Mountain region.
I first became acquainted with Bridger in the year 1866. He was then employed by a wagon road company, of which I was president, to conduct the emigration from the states to Montana, by way of Fort Laramie, the Big Horn river and Emigrant gulch. He told me in Virginia City, Mont., at that time, of the existence of hot spouting springs in the vicinity of the source of the Yellowstone and Madison rivers, and said that he had seen a column of water as large as his body, spout as high as the flag pole in Virginia City, which was about sixty (60) feet high. The more I pondered upon this statement, the more I was impressed with the probability of its truth. If he had told me of the existence of falls one thousand feet high, I should have considered his story an exaggeration of a phenomenon he had really beheld; but I did not think that his imagination was sufficiently fertile to originate the story of the existence of a spouting geyser, unless he had really seen one, and I therefore was inclined to give credence to his statement, and to believe that such a wonder did really exist.
I was the more disposed to credit his statement, because of what I had previously read in the report of Captain John Mullan, made to the war department. From my present examination of that report, which was made Feb. 14, 1863, and a copy of which I still have in my possession, I find that Captain Mullan says:
I learned from the Indians, and afterwards confirmed by my own explorations, the fact of the existence of an infinite number of hot springs at the headwaters of the Missouri, Columbia and Yellowstone rivers, and that hot geysers, similar to those of California, exist at the head of the Yellowstone.
Again he speaks of the isochimenal line (a line of even winter temperature), which he says reaches from Fort Laramie to the headwaters of the Yellowstone, at the hot spring and geysers of that stream, and continues thence to the Beaver Head valley, and he adds:
This is as true as it is strange, and shows unerringly that there exists in this zone an atmospheric river of heat, flowing through this region, varying in width from one to one hundred miles, according to the physical face of the country.
Very much yours D.G. Folsom
As early as the year 1866 I first considered the possibility of organizing an expedition for the purpose of exploring the Upper Yellowstone to its source. The first move which I made looking to this end was in 1867 and the next in 1868; but these efforts ended in nothing more than a general discussion of the subject of an exploration, the most potent factor in the abandonment of the enterprise being the threatened outbreaks of the Indians in Gallatin valley.
The following year (1869) the project was again revived, and plans formed for an expedition; but again the hostility of the Indians prevented the accomplishment of our purpose of exploration. Hon. David E. Folsom was enrolled as one of the members of this expedition, and when it was found that no large party could be organized, Mr. Folsom and his partner, C.W. Cook, and Mr. Peterson (a helper on the Folsom ranch), in the face of the threatened dangers from Indians, visited the Grand Cañon, the falls of the Yellowstone and Yellowstone lake, and then turned in a northwesterly direction, emerging into the Lower Geyser basin, where they found a geyser in action, the water of which, says Mr. Folsom in his record of the expedition, "came rushing up and shot into the air at least eighty feet, causing us to stampede for higher ground."
Mr. Folsom, in speaking of the various efforts made to organize an expedition for exploration of the Yellowstone says:
In 1867, an exploring expedition from Virginia City, Montana Territory, was talked of, but for some unknown reason, probably for the want of a sufficient number to engage in it, it was abandoned. The next year another was planned, which ended like the first--in talk. Early in the summer of 1869 the newspapers throughout the Territory announced that a party of citizens from Helena, Virginia City and Bozeman, accompanied by some of the officers stationed at Fort Ellis, with an escort of soldiers, would leave Bozeman about the fifth of September for the Yellowstone country, with the intention of making a thorough examination of all the wonders with which the region was said to abound. The party was expected to be limited in numbers and to be composed of some of the most prominent men in the Territory, and the writer felt extremely flattered when his earnest request to have his name added to the list was granted. He joined with two personal friends in getting an outfit, and then waited patiently for the other members of the party to perfect their arrangements. About a month before the day fixed for starting, some of the members began to discover that pressing business engagements would prevent their going. Then came news from Fort Ellis that, owing to some changes made in the disposition of troops stationed in the Territory, the military portion of the party would be unable to join the expedition; and our party, which had now dwindled down to ten or twelve persons, thinking it would be unsafe for so small a number to venture where there was a strong probability of meeting with hostile Indians, also abandoned the undertaking. But the writer and his two friends before mentioned, believing that the dangers to be encountered had been magnified, and trusting by vigilance and good luck to avoid them, resolved to attempt the journey at all hazards.
We provided ourselves with five horses--three of them for the saddle, and the other two for carrying our cooking utensils, ammunition, fishing tackle, blankets and buffalo robes, a pick, and a pan, a shovel, an axe, and provisions necessary for a six weeks' trip. We were all well armed with repeating rifles, Colt's six-shooters and sheath-knives, and had besides a double barreled shotgun for small game. We also had a good field glass, a pocket compass and a thermometer.
Mr. Folsom followed the Yellowstone to the lake and crossed over to the Firehole, which he followed up as far as the Excelsior geyser (not then named), but did not visit the Upper Geyser basin. On his return to Helena he related to a few of his intimate friends many of the incidents of his journey, and Mr. Samuel T. Hauser and I invited him to meet a number of the citizens of Helena at the directors' room of the First National Bank in Helena; but on assembling there were so many present who were unknown to Mr. Folsom that he was unwilling to risk his reputation for veracity, by a full recital, in the presence of strangers, of the wonders he had seen. He said that he did not wish to be regarded as a liar by those who were unacquainted with his reputation. But the accounts which he gave to Hauser Gillette and myself renewed in us our determination to visit that region during the following year. Mr. Folsom, however, sent to the Western Monthly of Chicago a carefully prepared account of his expedition, which that magazine published in July, 1870, after cutting out some of the most interesting portions of the story, thus destroying in some measure the continuity of the narrative. The office of the Western Monthly was destroyed by fire before the copies of the magazine containing Mr. Folsom's article were distributed, and the single copy which Mr. Folsom possessed and which he presented to the Historical Society of Montana met a like fate in the great Helena fire. The copy which I possessed and which I afterwards presented to that Society is doubtless the only original copy now in existence; and, for the purpose of preserving the history of the initial step which eventuated in the creation of the Yellowstone National Park, I re-published, in the year 1894, 500 copies of Mr. Folsom's narrative, for distribution among those most interested in that exploration.
In the spring of 1870, while in St. Paul, I had an interview with Major General Winfield S. Hancock, during which he showed great interest in the plan of exploration which I outlined to him, and expressed a desire to obtain additional information concerning the Yellowstone country which would be of service to him in the disposition of troops for frontier defense, and he assured me that, unless some unforeseen exigency prevented, he would, when the time arrived, give a favorable response to our application for a military escort, if one were needed. Mr. Hauser also had a conference with General Hancock about the same time, and received from him like assurances.
About the 1st of August, 1870, our plans took definite shape, and some twenty men were enrolled as members of the exploring party. About this time the Crow Indians again "broke loose," and a raid of the Gallatin and Yellowstone valleys was threatened, and a majority of those who had enrolled their names, experiencing that decline of courage so aptly illustrated by Bob Acres, suddenly found excuse for withdrawal in various emergent occupations.
After a few days of suspense and doubt, Samuel T. Hauser told me that if he could find two men whom he knew, who would accompany him, he would attempt the journey; and he asked me to join him in a letter to James Stuart, living at Deer Lodge, proposing that he should go with us. Benjamin Stickney, one of the most enthusiastic of our number, also wrote to Mr. Stuart that there were eight persons who would go at all hazards and asked him (Stuart) to be a member of the party. Stuart replied to Hauser and myself as follows:
Deer Lodge City, M.T., Aug. 9th, 1870.
Dear Sam and Langford:
Stickney wrote me that the Yellow Stone party had dwindled down to eight persons. That is not enough to stand guard, and I won't go into that country without having a guard every night. From present news it is probable that the Crows will be scattered on all the headwaters of the Yellow Stone, and if that is the case, they would not want any better fun than to clean up a party of eight (that does not stand guard) and say that the Sioux did it, as they said when they went through us on the Big Horn. It will not be safe to go into that country with less than fifteen men, and not very safe with that number. I would like it better if it was fight from the start; we would then kill every Crow that we saw, and take the chances of their rubbing us out. As it is, we will have to let them alone until they will get the best of us by stealing our horses or killing some of us; then we will be so crippled that we can't do them any damage.
At the commencement of this letter I said I would not go unless the party stood guard. I will take that back, for I am just d----d fool enough to go anywhere that anybody else is willing to go, only I want it understood that very likely some of us will lose our hair. I will be on hand Sunday evening, unless I hear that the trip is postponed.
Since writing the above, I have received a telegram saying, "twelve of us going certain." Glad to hear it--the more the better. Will bring two pack horses and one pack saddle.
I have preserved this letter of James Stuart for the thirty-five years since it was received. It was written with a lead pencil on both sides of a sheet of paper, and I insert here a photograph of a half-tone reproduction of it. It has become somewhat illegible and obscure from repeated folding and unfolding.
A letter, continued
Mr. Stuart was a man of large experience in such enterprises as that in which we were about to engage, and was familiar with all the tricks of Indian craft and sagacity; and our subsequent experience in meeting the Indians on the second day of our journey after leaving Fort Ellis, and their evident hostile intentions, justified in the fullest degree Stuart's apprehensions.
About this time Gen. Henry D. Washburn, the surveyor general of Montana, joined with Mr. Hauser in a telegram to General Hancock, at St. Paul, requesting him to provide the promised escort of a company of cavalry. General Hancock immediately responded, and on August 14th telegraphed an order on the commandant at Fort Ellis, near Bozeman, for such escort as would be deemed necessary to insure the safety of our party.
Just at this critical time I received a letter from Stuart announcing that he had been drawn as a juryman to serve at the term of court then about to open, and that as the federal judge declined to excuse him, he would not be able to join our party. This was a sore and discouraging disappointment both to Hauser and myself, for we felt that in case we had trouble with the Indians Stuart's services to the party would be worth those of half a dozen ordinary men.
A new roster was made up, and I question if there was ever a body of men organized for an exploring expedition, more intelligent or more keenly alive to the risks to be encountered than those then enrolled; and it seems proper that I here speak more specifically of them.
Gen. Henry D. Washburn was the surveyor general of Montana and had been brevetted a major general for services in the Civil War, and had served two terms in the Congress of the United States. Judge Cornelius Hedges was a distinguished and highly esteemed member of the Montana bar. Samuel T. Hauser was a civil engineer, and was president of the First National Bank of Helena. He was afterwards appointed governor of Montana by Grover Cleveland. Warren C. Gillette and Benjamin Stickney were pioneer merchants in Montana. Walter Trumbull was assistant assessor of internal revenue, and a son of United States Senator Lyman Trumbull of Illinois. Truman C. Everts was assessor of internal revenue for Montana, and Nathaniel P. Langford (the writer) had been for nearly five years the United States collector of internal revenue for Montana, and had been appointed governor of Montana by Andrew Johnson, but, owing to the imbroglio of the Senate with Johnson, his appointment was not confirmed.
While we were disappointed in our expectation of having James Stuart for our commander and adviser, General Washburn was chosen captain of the party, and Mr. Stickney was appointed commissary and instructed to put up in proper form a supply of provisions sufficient for thirty (30) days, though we had contemplated a limit of twenty-five (25) days for our absence. Each man promptly paid to Mr. Stickney his share of the estimated expense. When all these preparations had been made, Jake Smith requested permission to be enrolled as a member of our company. Jake was constitutionally unfitted to be a member of such a party of exploration, where vigilance and alertness were essential to safety and success. He was too inconsequent and easy going to command our confidence or to be of much assistance. He seemed to think that his good-natured nonsense would always be a passport to favor and be accepted in the stead of real service, and in my association with him I was frequently reminded of the youth who announced in a newspaper advertisement that he was a poor but pious young man, who desired board in a family where there were small children, and where his Christian example would be considered a sufficient compensation. Jake did not share the view of the other members of our company, that in standing guard, the sentry should resist his inclination to slumber. Mr. Hedges, in his diary, published in Volume V. of the Montana Historical Society publications, on September 13th, thus records an instance of insubordination in standing guard:
Jake made a fuss about his turn, and Washburn stood in his place.
Now that this and like incidents of our journey are in the dim past, let us inscribe for his epitaph what was his own adopted motto while doing guard duty when menaced by the Indians on the Yellowstone:
"REQUIESCAT IN PACE."
Of our number, five--General Washburn, Walter Trumbull, Truman C. Everts, Jacob Smith and Lieutenant Doane--have died. The five members now surviving are Cornelius Hedges, Samuel T. Hauser, Warren C. Gillette, Benjamin Stickney and myself.
I have not been able to ascertain the date of death of either Walter Trumbull or Jacob Smith. Lieutenant Doane died at Bozeman, Montana, May 5, 1892. His report to the War Department of our exploration is a classic. Major Chittenden says:
His fine descriptions have never been surpassed by any subsequent writer. Although suffering intense physical torture during the greater portion of the trip, it did not extinguish in him the truly poetic ardor with which those strange phenomena seem to have inspired him.
Dr. Hayden, who first visited this region the year following that of our exploration, says of Lieutenant Doane's report:
I venture to state as my opinion, that for graphic description and thrilling interest, it has not been surpassed by any official report made to our government since the times of Lewis and Clark.
Mr. Everts died at Hyattsville, Md., on the 16th day of February, 1901, at the age of eighty-five, survived by his daughter, Elizabeth Everts Verrill, and a young widow, and also a son nine years old, born when Everts was seventy-six years of age,--a living monument to bear testimony to that physical vigor and vitality which carried him through the "Thirty-seven days of peril," when he was lost from our party in the dense forest on the southwest shore of Yellowstone lake.
General Washburn died on January 26, 1871, his death being doubtless hastened by the hardships and exposures of our journey, from which many of our party suffered in greater or less degree.
In an eloquent eulogistic address delivered in Helena January 29, 1871, Judge Cornelius Hedges said concerning the naming of Mount Washburn:
On the west bank of the Yellowstone, between Tower Fall and Hell-broth springs, opposite the profoundest chasm of that marvelous river cañon, a mighty sentinel overlooking that region of wonders, rises in its serene and solitary grandeur,--Mount Washburn,--pointing the way his enfranchised spirit was so soon to soar. He was the first to climb its bare, bald summit, and thence reported to us the welcome news that he saw the beautiful lake that had been the proposed object of our journey. By unanimous voice, unsolicited by him, we gave the mountain a name that through coming years shall bear onward the memory of our gallant, generous leader. How little we then thought that he would be the first to live only in memory. * * * The deep forests of evergreen pine that embosom that lake shall typify the ever green spot in our memory where shall cluster the pleasant recollections of our varied experiences on that expedition.
The question is frequently asked, "Who originated the plan of setting apart this region as a National Park?" I answer that Judge Cornelius Hedges of Helena wrote the first articles ever published by the press urging the dedication of this region as a park. The Helena Herald of Nov. 9, 1870, contains a letter of Mr. Hedges, in which he advocated the scheme, and in my lectures delivered in Washington and New York in January, 1871, I directed attention to Mr. Hedges' suggestion, and urged the passage by Congress of an act setting apart that region as a public park. All this was several months prior to the first exploration by the U.S. Geological Survey, in charge of Dr. Hayden. The suggestion that the region should be made into a National Park was first broached to the members of our party on September 19, 1870, by Mr. Hedges, while we were in camp at the confluence of the Firehole and Gibbon rivers, as is related in this diary. After the return home of our party, I was informed by General Washburn that on the eve of the departure of our expedition from Helena, David E. Folsom had suggested to him the desirability of creating a park at the grand cañon and falls of the Yellowstone. This fact was unknown to Mr. Hedges,--and the boundary lines of the proposed park were extended by him so as to be commensurate with the wider range of our explorations.
The bill for the creation of the park was introduced in the House of Representatives by Hon. William H. Clagett, delegate from Montana Territory. On July 9, 1894, William R. Marshall, Secretary of the Minnesota Historical Society, wrote to Mr. Clagett, asking him the question: "Who are entitled to the principal credit for the passage of the act of Congress establishing the Yellowstone National Park?" Mr. Clagett replied as follows:
Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, July 14th, 1894.
Wm. R. Marshall,
Secretary Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minn.
Dear Sir: Your favor of July 9th is just received. I am glad that you have called my attention to the question, "Who are entitled to the principal credit for the passage of the act of Congress establishing the Yellowstone National Park?" The history of that measure, as far as known to me, is as follows, to-wit: In the fall of 1870, soon after the return of the Washburn-Langford party, two printers at Deer Lodge City, Montana, went into the Firehole basin and cut a large number of poles, intending to come back the next summer and fence in the tract of land containing the principal geysers, and hold possession for speculative purposes, as the Hutchins family so long held the Yosemite valley. One of these men was named Harry Norton. He subsequently wrote a book on the park. The other one was named Brown. He now lives in Spokane, Wash., and both of them in the summer of 1871 worked in the New Northwest office at Deer Lodge. When I learned from them in the late fall of 1870 or spring of 1871 what they intended to do, I remonstrated with them and stated that from the description given by them and by members of Mr. Langford's party, the whole region should be made into a National Park and no private proprietorship be allowed.
I was elected Delegate to Congress from Montana in August, 1871, and after the election, Nathaniel P. Langford, Cornelius Hedges and myself had a consultation in Helena, and agreed that every effort should be made to establish the Park as soon as possible, and before any person had got a serious foot-hold--Mr. McCartney, at the Mammoth Hot Springs, being the only one who at that time had any improvements made. In December, 1871, Mr. Langford came to Washington and remained there for some time, and we two counseled together about the Park project. I drew the bill to establish the Park, and never knew Professor Hayden in connection with that bill, except that I requested Mr. Langford to get from him a description of the boundaries of the proposed Park. There was some delay in getting the description, and my recollection is that Langford brought me the description after consultation with Professor Hayden. I then filled the blank in the bill with the description, and the bill passed both Houses of Congress just as it was drawn and without any change or amendment whatsoever.
After the bill was drawn, Langford stated to me that Senator Pomeroy of Kansas was very anxious to have the honor of introducing the bill in the Senate; and as he (Pomeroy) was the chairman of the Senate committee on Public Lands, in order to facilitate its passage, I had a clean copy made of the bill and on the first call day in the House, introduced the original there, and then went over to the Senate Chamber and handed the copy to Senator Pomeroy, who immediately introduced it in the Senate. The bill passed the Senate first and came to the House, and passed the House without amendment, at a time when I happened to be at the other end of the Capitol, and hence I was not present when it actually passed the House.
Since the passage of this bill there have been so many men who have claimed the exclusive credit for its passage, that I have lived for twenty years, suffering from a chronic feeling of disgust whenever the subject was mentioned. So far as my personal knowledge goes, the first idea of making it a public park occurred to myself; but from information received from Langford and others, it has always been my opinion that Hedges, Langford, and myself formed the same idea about the same time, and we all three acted together in Montana, and afterwards Langford and I acted with Professor Hayden in Washington, in the winter of 1871-2.
The fact is that the matter was well under way before Professor Hayden was ever heard of in connection with that measure. When he returned to Washington in 1871, he brought with him a large number of specimens from different parts of the Park, which were on exhibition in one of the rooms of the Capitol or in the Smithsonian Institute (one or the other), while Congress was in session, and he rendered valuable services, in exhibiting these specimens and explaining the geological and other features of the proposed Park, and between him, Langford and myself, I believe there was not a single member of Congress in either House who was not fully posted by one or the other of us in personal interviews; so much so, that the bill practically passed both Houses without objection.
It has always been a pleasure to me to give to Professor Hayden and to Senator Pomeroy, and Mr. Dawes of Mass, all of the credit which they deserve in connection with the passage of that measure, but the truth of the matter is that the origin of the movement which created the Park was with Hedges, Langford and myself; and after Congress met, Langford and I probably did two-thirds, if not three-fourths of all the work connected with its passage.
I think that the foregoing letter contains a full statement of what you wish, and I hope that you will be able to correct, at least to some extent, the misconceptions which the selfish vanity of some people has occasioned on the subject.
Very truly yours,
Wm. H. Clagett.
Wm. H. Clagett
It is true that Professor Hayden joined with Mr. Clagett and myself in working for the passage of the act of dedication, but no person can divide with Cornelius Hedges and David E. Folsom the honor of originating the idea
of creating the Yellowstone Park.
By direction of Major Hiram M. Chittenden there has been erected at the junction of the Firehole and Gibbon rivers a large slab upon which is inscribed the following legend:
GIBBON AND FIREHOLE RIVERS,
FORMING THE MADISON FORK OF THE MISSOURI.
ON THE POINT OF LAND BETWEEN THE TRIBUTARY STREAMS,
SEPTEMBER 19, 1870, THE CELEBRATED WASHBURN EXPEDITION,
WHICH FIRST MADE KNOWN TO THE WORLD THE WONDERS
OF THE YELLOWSTONE, WAS ENCAMPED, AND HERE WAS
FIRST SUGGESTED THE IDEA OF SETTING APART THIS REGION
AS A NATIONAL PARK.
On the south bank of the Madison, just below the junction of these two streams, and overlooking this memorable camping ground, is a lofty escarpment to which has appropriately been given the name "National Park mountain."
I take occasion here to refer to my personal connection with the Park. Upon the passage by Congress, on March 1, 1872, of the act of dedication, I was appointed superintendent of the Park. I discharged the duties of the office for more than five years, without compensation of any kind, and paying my own expenses. Soon after the creation of the Park the Secretary of the Interior received many applications for leases to run for a long term of years, of tracts of land in the vicinity of the principal marvels of that region, such as the Grand Cañon and Falls, the Upper Geyser basin, etc. These applications were invariably referred to me by the Assistant Secretary of the Interior, Hon. B.R. Cowen. It was apparent from an examination of these applications that the purpose of the applicants was to enclose with fences their holdings, and charge visitors an admission fee. To have permitted this would have defeated the purpose of the act of dedication. In many instances the applicants made earnest pleas, both personally and through their members in Congress, to the Interior Department and to myself for an approval of their applications, offering to speedily make improvements of a value ranging from $100,000 to $500,000. I invariably reported unfavorably upon these alluring propositions, and in no instance was my recommendation overruled by Secretary Cowen, to whom Secretary Delano had given the charge of the whole matter, and to Judge Cowen's firmness in resisting the political and other influences that were brought to bear is largely due the fact that these early applications for concessions were not granted. A time should never come when the American people will have forgotten the services, a generation ago, of Judge Cowen, in resisting the designs of unscrupulous men in their efforts to secure possession of the most important localities in the Park, nor the later services of George Bird Grinnell, William Hallett Phillips and U.S. Senator George Graham Vest, in the preservation of the wild game of the Park and of the Park itself from the more determined encroachments of private greed.
Hiram M. Chittenden
The second year of my services as superintendent, some of my friends in Congress proposed to give me a salary sufficiently large to pay actual expenses. I requested them to make no effort in this behalf, saying that I feared that some successful applicant for such a salaried position, giving little thought to the matter, would approve the applications for leases; and that as long as I could prevent the granting of any exclusive concessions I would be willing to serve as superintendent without compensation.
Apropos of my official connection with the Park a third of a century ago, is the following letter to me, written by George Bird Grinnell. This personal tribute from one who himself has done so much in behalf of the Park was very gratifying to me.
New York, April 29th, 1903.
Mr. N.P. Langford St. Paul, Minn.,
Dear Sir: I am glad to read the newspaper cutting from the Pioneer Press of April 19th, which you so kindly sent me.
In these days of hurry and bustle, when events of importance crowd so fast on each other that the memory of each is necessarily short lived, it is gratifying to be reminded from time to time of important services rendered to the nation in a past which, though really recent, seems to the younger generation far away.
The service which you performed for the United States, and indeed for the world, in describing the Yellowstone Park, and in setting on foot and persistently advocating the plan to make it a national pleasure ground, will always be remembered; and it is well that public acknowledgment should be made of it occasionally, so that the men of this generation may not forget what they owe to those of the past.
Yours very truly,
GEO. BIRD GRINNELL.
The Act of Congress creating the Park provided that this region should be "set apart for a public park or pleasuring ground for the benefit and enjoyment of the people," but this end has not been accomplished except as the result of untiring vigilance and labor on the part of a very few persons who have never wavered in their loyalty to the Park. It may never be known how nearly the purposes of the Act of Dedication have escaped defeat; but a letter written to me by George Bird Grinnell and an editorial from Forest and Stream
may reveal to visitors who now enjoy without let or hindrance the wonders of that region, how narrowly this "Temple of the living God," as it has been termed, has escaped desecration at the hands of avaricious money-getters, and becoming a "Den of Thieves."
New York, July 25, 1905.
Mr. N.P. Langford.
Dear Sir: I am very glad that your diary is to be published. It is something that I have long hoped that we might see.
It is true, as you say, that I have for a good many years done what I could toward protecting the game in the Yellowstone Park; but what seems to me more important than that is that Forest and Stream
for a dozen years carried on, almost single handed, a fight for the integrity of the National Park. If you remember, all through from 1881 or thereabouts to 1890 continued efforts were being made to gain control of the park by one syndicate and another, or to run a railroad through it, or to put an elevator down the side of the cañon--in short, to use this public pleasure ground as a means for private gain. There were half a dozen of us who, being very enthusiastic about the park, and, being in a position to watch legislation at Washington, and also to know what was going on in the Interior Department, kept ourselves very much alive to the situation and succeeded in choking off half a dozen of these projects before they grew large enough to be made public.
One of these men was William Hallett Phillips, a dear friend of mine, a resident of Washington, a Supreme Court lawyer with a large acquaintance there, and a delightful fellow. He was the best co-worker that any one could have had who wanted to keep things straight and as they ought to be.
At rare intervals I get out old volumes of the Forest and Stream
and look over the editorials written in those days with a mingling of amusement and sadness as I recall how excited we used to get, and think of the true fellows who used to help, but who have since crossed over to the other side.
GEO. BIRD GRINNELL.
NATIONAL PARK MOUNTAIN. AT JUNCTION OF FIREHOLE AND GIBBON RIVERS
Geo. Bird Grinnell
From Forest and Stream, August 20, 1904.
SENATOR VEST AND THE NATIONAL PARK.
In no one of all the editorials and obituaries written last week on the death of Senator Vest did we see mention made of one great service performed by him for the American people, and for which they and their descendants should always remember him. It is a bit of ancient history now, and largely forgotten by all except those who took an active part in the fight. More than twenty years ago strong efforts were made by a private corporation to secure a monopoly of the Yellowstone National Park by obtaining from the government, contracts giving them exclusive privileges within the Park. This corporation secured an agreement from the Interior Department by which six different plots in the Yellowstone Park, each one covering about one section of land--a square mile--were to be leased to it for a period of ten years. It was also to have a monopoly of hotel, stage and telegraph rights, and there was a privilege of renewal of the concession at the end of the ten years. The rate to be paid for the concession was $2 an acre.
When the question of this lease came before Congress, it was referred to a sub-committee of the Committee on Territories, of which Senator Vest was chairman. He investigated the question, and in the report made on it used these words: "Nothing but absolute necessity, however, should permit the Great National Park to be used for money-making by private persons, and, in our judgment, no such necessity exists. The purpose to which this region, matchless in wonders and grandeur, was dedicated--'a public park and a pleasure ground for the benefit and enjoyment of the people'--is worthy the highest patriotism and statesmanship."
The persons interested in this lease came from many sections of the country, and were ably represented by active agents in Washington. The pressure brought to bear on Congress was very great, and the more effectively applied, since few men knew much about conditions in the Yellowstone Park, or even where the Yellowstone Park was. But pressure and influence could not move Senator Vest when he knew he was right. He stood like a rock in Congress, resisting this pressure, making a noble fight in behalf of the interests of the people, and at last winning his battle. For years the issue seemed doubtful, and for years it was true that the sole hope of those who were devoted to the interests of the Park, and who were fighting the battle of the public, lay in Senator Vest. So after years of struggle the right triumphed, and the contract intended to be made between the Interior Department and the corporation was never consummated.
This long fight made evident the dangers to which the Park was exposed, and showed the necessity of additional legislation.
A bill to protect the Park was drawn by Senator Vest and passed by Congress, and from that time on, until the day of his retirement from public life, Senator Vest was ever a firm and watchful guardian of the Yellowstone National Park, showing in this matter, as in many others, "the highest patriotism and statesmanship." For many years, from 1882 to 1894, Senator Vest remained the chief defender of a National possession that self-seeking persons in many parts of the country were trying to use for their own profit.
If we were asked to mention the two men who did more than any other two men to save the National Park for the American people, we should name George Graham Vest and William Hallett Phillips, co-workers in this good cause. There were other men who helped them, but these two easily stand foremost.
W. Hallett Phillips
GEORGE GRAHAM VEST
In the light of the present glorious development of the Park it can be said of each one who has taken part in the work of preserving for all time this great national pleasuring ground for the enjoyment of the American people, "He builded better than he knew."
An amusing feature of the identity of my name with the Park was that my friends, with a play upon my initials, frequently addressed letters to me in the following style:
National Park Langford
The fame of the Yellowstone National Park, combining the most extensive aggregation of wonders in the world--wonders unexcelled because nowhere else existing--is now world-wide. The "Wonderland" publications issued by the Northern Pacific Railway, prepared under the careful supervision of their author, Olin D. Wheeler, with their superb illustrations of the natural scenery of the park, and the illustrated volume, "The Yellowstone," by Major Hiram M. Chittenden, U.S. Engineers, under whose direction the roads and bridges throughout the Park are being constructed, have so confirmed the first accounts of these wonders that there remains now little of the incredulity with which the narrations of the members of our company were first received. The articles written by me on my return from the trip described in this diary, and published in Scribner's (now Century) Magazine for May and June, 1871, were regarded more as the amiable exaggerations of an enthusiastic Munchausen, who is disposed to tell the whole truth, and as much more as is necessary to make an undoubted sensation, than as the story of a sober, matter-of-fact observer who tells what he has seen with his own eyes, and exaggerates nothing. Dr. Holland, one of the editors of that magazine, sent to me a number of uncomplimentary criticisms of my article. One reviewer said: "This Langford must be the champion liar of the Northwest." Resting for a time under this imputation, I confess to a feeling of satisfaction in reading from a published letter, written later in the summer of 1871 from the Upper Geyser basin by a member of the U.S. Geological Survey, the words: "Langford did not dare tell one-half of what he saw."
Mr. Charles T. Whitmell, of Cardiff, Wales, a distinguished scholar and astronomer, who has done much to bring to the notice of our English brothers the wonders of the Park--which he visited in 1883--in a lecture delivered before the Cardiff Naturalists' Society on Nov. 12, 1885, sought to impress upon the minds of his audience the full significance of the above characterization. He said: "This quite unique description means a great deal, I can assure you; for Western American lying is not to be measured by any of our puny European standards of untruthfulness."
But the writings of Wheeler and others, running through a long series of years and covering an extended range of new discoveries, have vindicated the truthfulness of the early explorers, and even the stories of Bridger are not now regarded as exaggerations, and we no longer write for his epitaph,
Here LIES Bridger.
As I recall the events of this exploration, made thirty-five years ago, it is a pleasure to bear testimony that there was never a more unselfish or generous company of men associated for such an expedition; and, notwithstanding the importance of our discoveries, in the honor of which each desired to have his just share, there was absolutely neither jealousy nor ungenerous rivalry, and the various magazine and newspaper articles first published clearly show how the members of our party were "In honor preferring one another."
In reviewing my diary, preparatory to its publication, I have occasionally eliminated an expression that seemed to be too personal,--a sprinkling of pepper from the caster of my impatience,--and I have also here and there added an explanatory annotation or illustration. With this exception I here present the original notes just as they were penned under the inspiration of the overwhelming wonders which everywhere revealed themselves to our astonished vision; and as I again review and read the entries made in the field and around the campfire, in the journal that for nearly thirty years has been lost to my sight, I feel all the thrilling sensations of my first impressions, and with them is mingled the deep regret that our beloved Washburn did not live to see the triumphant accomplishment of what was dear to his heart, the setting apart at the headwaters of the Yellowstone, of a National "public park or pleasuring ground for the benefit and enjoyment of the people."
NATHANIEL PITT LANGFORD.
St. Paul, Minn., August 9, 1905.