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Yellowstone National Park in its Early Days

Scarce, separately-published map of Yellowstone National Park, based on the earliest surveys and explorations. It is one of the earliest tourist maps of the parks ever published.

The map includes a striking, somewhat unusual topographic style that prefers hachures and shading to contour lines. It was intended for use by visitors, as emphasized by the many stage roads, wagon roads, sites of interest, and hotels that are marked.

In the lower-left corner is an inset which shows the existing sections of the North Pacific Railroad. It reached Cinnibar in 1882, but plans to extend railroads into the park itself are included, running from Cinnabar farther south. The NPRR opened service to the north entrance of the park in 1884.

There are already many roads connecting the main attractions, such as the one running from Old Faithful to the Paint Pots. Near the famous geyser are a tourist cabin and a hotel (which was not yet open), part of a village that began in 1879. Another hotel is marked near Mammoth Hot Springs, revealing the quickly emerging tourist infrastructure.

Geyser basins dot the landscape, including Old Faithful’s Upper Basin, which contains at least 200 geysers and 600 hot springs. Others are the Shoshone, Gibbon, and Heart Lake Geyser Basins, in addition to popular attractions like the waterfalls in Yellowstone’s Grand Canyon.

The map is based on an original survey by the makers, Carl J. Hals and Angus Rydström, who were both civil engineers. From Norway and Sweden respectively, they immigrated to the United States in 1881 and were then recruited by the NPRR.

For this map, they also called on older expeditions and mapping efforts, such as the U.S. Geological Survey of the area completed in 1878 and the three Army Corps of Engineers surveys of the 1870s. While Hals and Rydström were completing this map, the U. S. Geological Survey was carrying out another survey, which lasted form 1883-5.

This is a separately-published, early example of the map with a blank verso. Later, a tourist advertisement consisting of Alice, of Alice in Wonderland fame, writing a letter to her sister, Edith, of her awe in visiting Yellowstone. That version of the verso also includes a list of hotels and excursions for the year 1886.

The making of Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone had been known to and inhabited by Indigenous peoples for thousands of years. European settlers heard of its natural wonders during westward expansion in the 1840s, but on the eve of the Civil War it remained something of a tall tale to all but the few mountain men, like Jim Bridger, who had seen its geysers and hot springs.

Around 1860, prospectors began to traipse through parts of the Yellowstone Plateau in their search for gold, reporting their findings as they did so. However, most of what is today the park remained remote, as it was removed from lodes and from traditionally-used approaches to the Rockies.

By 1870, railroad executives were considering the construction of lines that would reach the area, which was now understood as a possible resort location. They were spurred by wondrous reports like that written by Lieutenant Gustavus C. Doane, who led an U. S. Army contingent to Yellowstone in that year. The map made by Doane is one of the first to focus on the plateau itself, the first of many.

Ferdinand Vandeveer Hayden, of the U. S. Geological Survey, led a scientific expedition to the park in 1871 that included topographers and landscape artists. Their 538-page report included seven maps, although it was not published until after the creation of the park (though it was finished in February 1872).

However, Hayden made sure to put the expedition’s sketches, drafts, and even a large painting of Yellowstone’s Grand Canyon in the Capitol Rotunda while Congress debated the creation of the park in December 1871. Hayden and others like him hoped to protect the area from private development, similar to the way that Yosemite had been set aside from settlement in 1864. The persuasion campaign worked and President Ulysses S. Grant signed the Yellowstone National Park Protection Act on March 1, 1872.

Hayden led two more expeditions to Yellowstone in 1872 and 1878. Another early advocate of the park, Nathaniel P. Langford, was named superintendent, then an unpaid position. He was replaced by Philetus W. Norris in 1877, when Congress authorized funds to improve the park. These improvements mainly focused on the construction of roads, a headquarters near Mammoth Hot Springs, and the hiring of a gamekeeper. Subsequent administrations were not effective and the Army was called in to manage the park, alongside concessionaires, from 1886. The first park rangers came to Yellowstone in 1918, after the passage of the National Park Service Organic Act in 1916.

Condition Description
Folding map. Printed both sides. Some intersecting folds reinforced with tape on verso.
James R. Akerman, “Science, Wonder, and Tourism in the Early Mapping of Yellowstone National Park,” Cartographic Expeditions and Visual Culture in the Nineteenth-Century Americas, eds. Ernesto Capello and Julia B. Rosenbaum (Routledge, 2020); Lee H. Whittlesey, A History of the Old Faithful Area, with Chronology, Maps and Executive Summary (National Park Service, 2007). KAP