Views: Yellowstone Park Belongs in Montana

After I urged my FaceBook Friends last week to buy my book as a Christmas gift, sales surged. In fact, ranked Adventures in Yellowstone Number One among books on Wyoming history for a while.

Of course, I’m grateful for book buyers, and it’s always fun to be on top, but I think Wyoming history is the wrong category. Although most of Yellowstone Park’s land mass lies in Wyoming, most of its early history is in Montana. In fact, the Montana territorial legislature asked the U.S. Congress to attach the park to Montana twice, in 1872 and 1874. The territorial legislators offered two interrelated reasons for their request: the wonders of the Yellowstone Plateau were accessible only from Montana, and, Montana residents had explored the area and begun to develop it.

As the accompanying relief map shows, extremely rugged mountains surround the Yellowstone Plateau. As the “Memorial” the territorial legislature drafted in 1872 put it:

. . . this portion of Wyoming is only accessible from the side of Montana, contains the heads of streams whose courses lie wholly in Montana, while, through the enterprise of citizens of Montana, it has been thoroughly explored, and its innumerable and magnificent array of wonder in geysers, boiling springs, mud volcanoes, burning mountains, lakes, and waterfalls brought to the attention of the world. Your memorialists would, therefore, urge upon your honorable bodies that the said portion of Wyoming Territory be ceded to Montana . . . .

The legislators had a point. While the trappers of the Mountain Man Era sometimes entered what is now Yellowstone Park over the rugged mountains to the east and south, by the time the Montana and Wyoming Territories were established in the 1860s, most explorers came from north and west. In 1863, Walter DeLacy led a group of prospectors from Bannack, Montana, up the Snake River into what is now Yellowstone Park. In 1869, David Folsom and his friends, Charles Cook and William Peterson, left Diamond City, Montana, and went up the Yellowstone River to the Yellowstone Plateau.

A year later, an expedition led by General Henry Washburn, with an Army escort under Lt. Gustavus Doane, followed the same route as the Folsom-Cook-Peterson party. In 1871, U.S. Commissioner of Mines Rossiter Raymond led a party of men up the Madison River to see Yellowstone’s wonders.

Also, in 1871, Montana entrepreneurs were racing to capture the tourist trade. Bozeman businessmen were building a road up the Yellowstone River through the canyon that would come to be named after toll taker, “Yankee Jim” George. At the same time, Virginia City businessmen were extending the road from Henry’s Lake to the Lower Geyser Basin. And, other adventurous Montana businessmen were building a hotel and bathhouses at Mammoth Hot Springs.

And, what were Wyoming residents doing then to develop Yellowstone Park? Nothing!

In 1874, the Montana territorial legislature renewed its request to the U.S. Congress that the part of Yellowstone Park that “now lies within the Territory of Wyoming be detached therefrom and attached to the territory of Montana.” Obviously, the Congress demurred. Even today, after more than a century of road building, nearly twice as many visitors enter Yellowstone Park from Montana entrances than from Wyoming entrances.

I think Montana pioneers made a good case for making all of Yellowstone Park a part of Montana. And, it would make more sense for to categorize Adventures in Yellowstone with Montana books instead of Wyoming books. But I understand that geography trumps history.

I’m just glad when my book sells—no matter what category it’s in. And remember, Adventures in Yellowstone makes a great gift for Valentines Day.


— Relief map from the Yellowstone Digital Slide File.

— Related Stories you might enjoy:

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