THE HISTORY of human inhabitation of Yellowstone National Park begins at least 11,000 years ago when the region was occupied by Native Americans. Arrowheads made from Yellowstone obsidian have been found as far away as the Mississippi Valley, showing how important the natural resources of Yellowstone were for the Native Americans. There is a record of the members of the Lewis and Clark Expedition having been informed of the Yellowstone region though they did not investigate it.
Mountain man, Jim Bridger, was one of the first white men to recount stories of Yellowstone’s geological features. Organized exploration began in the late 1860’s and continued through 1871. Due to the reports from these exploratory missions and the persistence of men like Cornelius Hedges and Ferdinand Hayden, Yellowstone became the world’s first national park in on March 1, 1872. The newly established National Park Service took control of Yellowstone in 1917 from the U.S. Army which had been managing it up until that point. Many structures built during the early days of Yellowstone National Park have been deemed historic and are now protected. Additionally, researchers have examined more than 1,000 archaeological sites of note.
In the early days of Yellowstone National Park, there was significant opposition from locals over their inability to mine, hunt and log the area. The federal land-use restrictions pertaining to the Park came under severe scrutiny several times but were never overturned. As the visitation to the park grew, so did its visibility and support throughout the country. This caused the opposition to dwindle and before long, disappear entirely.
Early transportation to Yellowstone National Park was by way of the Northern Pacific Railroad’s train station in Livingston, Montana. This provided a significant and much needed boost to visitation. Before long, the Union Pacific Railroad added a station in West Yellowstone. Much of the old railroad was later converted into trails, including the Yellowstone Branch Line Trail.
Various Native American tribes frequently used the park but all were removed from it once the park was created. Several small skirmishes and other hostilities prompted the Park’s superintendant, Philetus Norris to build a fort to prevent the Native Americans from entering the Park. With rampant poaching and natural resource destruction, the U.S. Army took over management of Yellowstone in 1886 and built Camp Sheridan at Mammoth Hot Springs. The Army managed and protected the park until the creation of the National Park Service in 1916.
As automobile traffic to the park increased steadily, the Civilian Conservation Corps worked to expand the facilities and road system. Though park visitation decreased drastically with World War II, it increased significantly once the war ended.
Other significant events in Yellowstone National Park’s history include the 1959 Yellowstone earthquake that caused significant damage to roads and some park structures. This earthquake was also responsible for the creation of Earthquake lake and the deaths of 28 people. In 1988, wildfire consumed nearly 800,000 acres (36% of the park). This fire was devastating to the park and prompted a reevaluation of fire management policies nationally.