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Serving as park headquarters, Mammoth Hot Springs was one of Yellowstone’s first commercialized sites. Prior to prohibition of soaking in Yellowstone’s thermal features, many late nineteenth and early twentieth century visitors swarmed to Mammoth for its purported healing effects. The area is accessible year-round and is famous for its Native American history, military presence, and visits from well-respected U.S. Presidents.
Traces of Native Americans
Several Native American tribes settled in the region surrounding Yellowstone, and the Shoshone-Bannock (Sheepeater) Indians actually resided within the park. As a testimony to this Native American presence, archaeologists discovered a Clovis point in 1959 near the old Gardiner post office. Researchers believe the point, dated more than 10,000 years old, belonged to an early ancestor of Rocky Mountain Native American tribes.
Traces of the Bannock Indian trail, ancient cooking pits, and the 1877 flight of the Nez Perce have also been noted in the region.
Skyrocketing almost 200 feet above Obsidian Creek, Obsidian Cliff is situated eleven miles from Mammoth Hot Springs on the road to Norris. This massive rock outcropping of obsidian is quite rare due to its size; most obsidian is found as very small rocks strewn amid other formations. This unique cliff was formed thousands of years ago during a volcanic eruption where the lava cooled so quickly that it escaped crystallization.
Named a National Historic Landmark in 1996, Obsidian Cliff is famous for providing Native Americans with obsidian to make tools and weapons. Arrowheads located as far away as Ohio have been traced back to the high quality character of Yellowstone’s Obsidian Cliff.
Fort Yellowstone and the U.S. Calvary
After years of poor park management and visitor abuse, the U.S. Government intervened in Yellowstone’s affairs, and the U.S. Calvary was called to the rescue. In 1886, the Army arrived in force and established a temporary tent camp. Five years later, the Army decided it would be a force in Yellowstone for years to come and erected the first permanent building. Construction began with clapboard buildings in 1891 and expanded to rows of red-roofed stone buildings in 1909. At the height of its use as a military post, Fort Yellowstone housed over 400 men and helped re-establish park control and dignity. When the National Park Service assumed park management duties in 1918, Fort Yellowstone was the logical headquarters for the growing park. To this day, historic Fort Yellowstone remains the heart of park management operations.
Currently serving as Yellowstone’s major year-round entrance, the North Entrance at Gardiner also retains the historical distinction as Yellowstone’s first major gateway. Although wealthy visitors originally lurched into the park with little fanfare on simplistic wagons, the 1903 arrival of the railroad in Gardiner called for a grander, more noticeable entrance.
Famous Yellowstone architect, Robert Reamer, designed a massive basalt stone archway to welcome tourist stagecoaches and eventually automobiles. The idea of hexagonal columns featuring regionally quarried rock impressed early twentieth century park officials so much that Yellowstone enthusiast President Theodore Roosevelt laid the arch’s cornerstone. Roosevelt subsequently dedicated the structure in 1903.
Towering fifty feet over Yellowstone visitors arriving through the North Entrance, the Roosevelt Arch honors its most famous supporter and is inscribed with words from the 1872 Organic Act that granted Yellowstone its official park status. The inscription reads: “For the benefit and enjoyment of the people.”
Additional Historic Sites in the Mammoth Area
Designed by Hiram Chittenden of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Engineer’s Office dates back to 1903.
Famous for designing the Roosevelt Arch, Robert Reamer leant his talent to create the Prairie-style “Reamer House.” The building dates to 1908.
The Scottish Rite Chapel was constructed in 1913.
Capitol Hill was once used as the headquarters blockhouse for former Park Superintendent Philetus W. Norris during Yellowstone’s infancy.
Dating back to the 1880s, Kite Hill Cemetery holds the remains of former Yellowstone park employees and settlers who lived near the park’s boundaries.
Linger in Gardiner before entering the park. The community is home to several historic bridges, railroad beds, and old highways that Yellowstone’s first visitors utilized in reaching America’s first national park.