Yellowstone Changes Shapes

Cody – Yellowstone became the world’s first National Park in 1872, and part of the new National Park Service 100 years ago. A private company’s profit motive helped create the Park. And, a famous U.S. General wanted to extend the Park’s eastern border to what is now Cody.

Old maps in Cody tell the stories.

When you drive into any Yellowstone entrance, you’ll be given a newspaper and a map. The map shows “hot spots,” so to speak, where most of the tourists gather to see thermal features, wildlife, and scenery.

But the shape of the Park on the map is irregular on the northern and eastern borders. When it was created by Congress in 1872, it was just a rectangle.

Western History Curator at the Center of the West Jeremy Johnston explained, “Using the United States land survey system, they basically set everything aside in this rectangular shape.”

Johnston says a famous Civil War general soon declared Yellowstone not big enough.

Johnston said, “The movement to expand the protection of the Yellowstone ecosystem began in 1882, with General Sheridan.”

He said the eastern boundary would have been “just right on the outskirts of present day Cody, Wyoming.”

Johnston created an exhibit of historical maps that defined Yellowstone for 144 years. It’s at the
Center of the West in Cody, and is called “Putting Yellowstone on the Map.”

The maps reveal interesting facts about the park.

Johnston pointed out, “Yellowstone Lake, the Canyon, the river, the hot sulphur springs were all part of Nebraska territory.”

The great national treasure that is a symbol of American democracy was created partly because big business lobbied for it.

Johnston said, “The railroad envisioned a place where they could make a lot of money building hotels providing access to these scenic features.”

Johnston said the railroad even paid for the famous art that helped convince Congress to create Yellowstone.

He explained, “The Northern Pacific Railroad financed Moran’s trip.”

The maps and objects tell many stories of greed. Johnston said there was poaching at first and that “miners would use dynamite to collect fish.”

Timberland reserves, or National Forests, were created to protect the park. We asked Johnston if the map we have today finally got it right.

He said, “Will we ever find a system that’s nice and balanced, and everyone lives happily ever after? I think our history has demonstrated that’s never going to be the case.”