Vol 8 Natural History of Yellowstone ... Introduction ... History of Yellowstone
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History of Yellowstone

Yellowstone may have been inhabited for 8,500 years, but the first explorers didn't find it until the year 1807.
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Stories of "hot water shooting into the air, bubbling pots of mud and venting steam" began to be heard in the eastern cities with the transcontinental exploration of the Lewis and Clark Party. Indians they encountered while going up the Missouri River hinted at an unusual land.

Although the area may have been inhabited for up to 8,500 years, the Shoshone and Bannock tribes were about the only native Americans who called Yellowstone home in the early 1800s. They were known as ‘Sheepeaters’, due to their diet. Lacking the guns and horses necessary to catch game on the plains, they lived in the mountains of the Yellowstone area.

John Colter, a fur trapper, set off from Manuel Lisa's new trading post down the Yellowstone River to find native Americans to trade with. He embarked on his 500 mile journey with a 30 pound pack, his gun and some ammunition. Much of his travel was during the winter, and the tour included Cody and Jackson, Wyoming, and the west shore of Yellowstone Lake.

Colter was undoubtedly the first white man to see the Yellowstone Country. The fur trade era was short-lived as desirable fur-bearing animals became scarce and fashions changed around the year 1840. For about 20 years the region was again forgotten.

The discovery of gold in Montana brought miners into the northern Yellowstone area in 1863. Other explorers visited the region in the following years, including the important Hayden Expedition of 1871. This group included various scientists as well as a painter, Thomas Moran and a photographer, William Jackson. You can see some of their work in the photo gallery on this page.

In 1872 President Grant signed into law a bill which made Yellowstone ‘a public park and pleasuring ground for the benefit and enjoyment of the people.’ Yellowstone had become the first National Park.