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Yellowstone Revealed: Call of the Wildlife

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Posted at 5:57 PM, Jan 09, 2023
and last updated 2023-01-09 19:57:25-05

(Editor's Note: Yellowstone National Park celebrated its 150th Birthday in 2022. In honor of that historic milestone we're bringing you a new series called "Yellowstone Revealed." These reports offer a glimpse into the park's colorful history and stories that you've likely never heard before. This is the ninth installment - Call of the Wildlife.)

YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK - Bears, wolves, elk, bison, and other iconic wildlife bring millions of visitors to Yellowstone National Park every year.

They also bring hunters to areas surrounding the park. In the park's early days, most of the game animals were gone, almost wiped out by market hunting.

Whether it be an elk bugle, or a wolf howl, the call of the wild is heard throughout Yellowstone National Park and its surrounding public lands. When it was created by Congress in 1872, Yellowstone was the first national park in the world.

Center of the West historian Jeremy Johnston says General Philip Sheridan sent a military exploration party into Yellowstone in 1875. They found the bison, elk, deer, and pronghorn had been hunted nearly to extinction. A famous naturalist, George Bird Grinnel, accompanied the party.

“George Bird Grinnel reported in one case there was a family just outside of the Park boundaries that had killed over 2,000 animals in the Yellowstone region. This included fur bearing animals, big game, predators, anything else. And a lot of these were pelts that were probably acquired by poisoning carcasses that were left by big game animals, which probably killed a lot of other wildlife that were unaccounted for.”

Johnston says Sheridan was alarmed “and he was very concerned about all of the market hunting, as well as when the railroad got closer to Yellowstone in the 1880s, you know, concessionaires claiming large tracts of land, cutting down timber to build resorts, and market hunting throughout the park to feed their construction crews and their staff."

Johnston says the general visited Yellowstone himself in 1882, and when he got back East he started lobbying for the Park’s protection.

“He actually turned to a friend of his, William F. Buffalo Bill Cody. Cody wrote an editorial for the New York Sun, where he decried what was happening in Yellowstone, the destruction of the game.”

Johnson says Cody’s editorial created a lot of interest; There was lobbying in Congress to rein in the concessionaires, and the Secretary of the Interior banned game hunting in Yellowstone. He also called on the Secretary of the Army to bring troops to Yellowstone, to protect the park.

“In 1886 the military moved in to protect Yellowstone National Park, and basically became the first effective police force within the Park.”

But Sheridan wanted to do more to protect Yellowstone. How?

The answer is in a book with its first chapter written by Draper Museum Curator Emeritus and states that General Phillip Sheridan, as early as 1872, wanted to expand the Park to nearly double its size. He wanted to push it to the east and the south to give wildlife more room to roam.

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