Restoring Order to Yellowstone

Utilizing the Civil Sundry Appropriations Bill passed in 1884, the U.S. Secretary of the Interior requested military assistance from the Secretary of War in a final attempt to save the park from ruthless scavengers. The request was immediately honored, and in August 1886, the U.S. Calvary arrived in Yellowstone with a plan to restore park order.

After setting up a network of nineteen outposts at the park’s most popular attractions, the soldiers began daily patrols against vandalism. The Army also adopted a wildlife protection policy in regards to Yellowstone’s spectacular animals. Poachers were chased and caught with the aid of informants and mysterious telegraph codes, and the Lacey Act of 1894 designated any infraction of park law a federal offense. As a result, the threat of guaranteed prison time and extensive fines scared away many would-be poachers and vandals, and a wildlife refuge was established. By the late 1890s, sixteen snowshoe cabins had been added to extend military patrols year-round. With a force of 450 soldiers, Fort Yellowstone was established at Mammoth Hot Springs, and Congress appropriated funding to maintain military presence through 1918.

In addition to cracking down on those bent on destroying the park, the Calvary also rallied the support of the Corps of Engineers to wipe away the park’s primitive trails and create a user-friendly road system. Many of the routes constructed at the turn of the century remain in use today, and the Army was directly responsible for building the foundations of an enduring park tourist industry.

When the National Park Service, which was created in 1916, took control of park operations in 1918, many of the soldiers remained and became park rangers. A ranger-naturalist program aimed at educating rangers and informing tourists about Yellowstone’s features was enacted, and rangers oversaw a variety of activities in the now restored park. Although Yellowstone possessed well under 100 rangers when the Park Service took over, the rangers diligently fulfilled their multiple job duties. They patrolled highways on motorcycles and backcountry areas on foot or horseback, tackled forest fires, dealt with problem bears that threatened visitor safety, dispensed first aid, and eventually checked cars at entrance gates. Under the management of Horace Albright from 1919 to 1929, Yellowstone finally saw its natural beauty restored, the last of the park’s violators wiped out, and annual visitation numbers that jumped from 62,000 to 260,000. Yellowstone was on its way to becoming a family vacation destination, and the automobile was key in establishing that reputation.

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