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Page history last edited by allenspe@umich.edu 9 years, 7 months ago

Land Preservation: Creation of the National Parks (1860-1920)





During the history of America there have been many different views regarding the land. When people first came over to America from Europe they found an "untamed" wilderness full of resources. Ever since the beginning they were forced to re-shape the land and make it livable for their families. This meant chopping down trees and building a home of their own, hunting, fishing, cultivating the land, trading with other people, and even dealing with the native Indians. The opportunity for a new life separate from the Crown drew enough people to America that they soon ran out of land on the East Coast and were forced to move west and look for more land. This happened time and time again during the early history of the country and eventually people had spread from coast to coast. The goal had always been to tame the land and settle the entire country, but all of a sudden the tables had been turned and now people were looking to preserve what little nature was left in order to signify what the essence of America really was about, the untamed wilderness. Famous environmentalists like poet Henry David Thoreau, Jon Muir, and President Theodore Roosevelt helped shape the idea of setting aside land to be protected and preserved. America was built by the settlers and these men sought out to keep part of the land in its natural state and give people a place to go and enjoy nature's beauty.  The preservation of lands in America and the creation of National Parks, especially Yellowstone, was a hard journey for environmentalists, but one of the most important decisions in American history because it allowed pristine landscapes to be preserved, and even people today can gain an appreciation for what it took to create this country. 


Before getting to the National Parks themselves, the famous people that helped shape the course leading up to the creation of the parks must be explored.






                                                                                     "Walking" by Henry David Thoreau

                                                                                                (Click image for link)

Henry David Thoreau


Henry David Thoreau was an American author/poet born on July 12, 1817, in Concord, Massachusetts. He attended college at Harvard and struggled to find any type of work after school. He eventually met Ralph Waldo Emerson, who would go on to be Thoreau's great friend and mentor, and spark his interest in writing about nature. In 1845 he began his famous two year stay at Walden Pond, where he wrote his most famous work, "Walden" (A&E Television Networks, LLC, 2014). Another one of his accomplished works pertaining to nature was his 1863 piece "Walking." In this piece Thoreau writes about nature and how people and infrastructure are ruining nature. He talks about his adventures in the wilderness and how he finds piece in the few remaining swamps surrounding his property. Often throughout the piece he uses romanticism and often compares nature to connecting with God. He thinks that people do not have the relationship with nature that they should because humans are "an inhabitant, or a part or parcel of Nature" (Thoreau, 1862). He believed that the people on the East Coast had lost their relationship with nature and had forgotten about what had been given to them. Thoreau also said that "In Wildness is the preservation of the world" (Thoreau, 1862). He thought that parts of nature needed to be preserved and that people should get out and just walk through nature and take in its beauty. "Walking" was one of the first pieces that started the trend towards preserving parts of the great American landscape.




John Muir                                                                                                       Page 256 from John Muir's "The Yosemite" (1912)


Author John Muir was probably the most important person in the effort towards land conservation and getting the National Park Bill of 1890 passed. Muir was born on April 21, 1838, in Dunbar, Scotland. When he was 11 his family came to America and settled in Wisconsin. Although he was brought up in a blue collar home, Muir always had an interest in the arts and was very creative. He made numerous inventions and eventually attended the University of Wisconsin. He had always enjoyed nature, but following an industrial accident in the late 1860's that blinded him for a short time, he had a new found love for nature and its beauty. Muir went on an extended exploration, walking from Indiana to Florida, sailing to Cuba, New York, and eventually San Francisco, creating detailed sketches of the land along the way. Upon visiting the Yosemite Valley in 1868, Muir began writing about nature and offered groundbreaking theories about how glaciers may have shaped the valley. In 1892 he founded the environmental-advocacy organization Sierra Club. He served as President of the organization until his death in 1914. He was a longtime advocate of nature and the preservation of lands in the western United States and helped both the Grand Canyon and the Sequoia regions become parks (A&E Television Networks, LLC, 2014).


Muir's most famous piece, "Our National Parks," was the culmination of his experiences in nature and his thoughts about why the land needs to be protected. He described Yellowstone National Park, Yosemite National park, and all of the vegetation, animals and streams throughout the park, and the Sequoia and General Grant Nation Parks. Throughout the piece he describes his love for the land and how everybody should be able to have the same experiences that he is having. A famous quote that he made in another piece of his, "The Yosemite," is "Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where Nature may heal and cheer and give us strength to the body and soul alike" (Muir, 1912, pg. 256). His entire goal in life comes out in this one sentence. He does not want National Parks and preserved land because he loves the land, but because he thinks that only Nature can accomplish certain needs of every human being. He thinks that certain areas of American should be available to everyone, and not owned by one person. He also tried to convince people that the Indians no longer inhabited the land and they were no longer a threat, when in reality many National Parks forced Indians off of their land. A famous three day camping trip with Theodore Roosevelt in 1903 helped shape the President's environmental policy an paved the way for future National Parks (Muir, 1901).



Images from John Muir's Our National Parks (1901)






Theodore Roosevelt


Theodore Roosevelt was the 26th president of the United States and an avid big game hunter and environmentalist. Roosevelt was born in New York City on October 27, 1858. He graduated from Harvard and spent a short period at Columbia Law School before leaving to join the New York State Assembly as a representative from New York City. After the deaths of both his mother and first wife, he decided to get away from everything and took his daughter to the Dakota Territory to live for two years as a cowboy and cattle rancher. This is where he would first develop his love for nature and big game hunting. Upon returning to his political life he held positions as a civil service commissioner, a New York City police commissioner, and Assistant U.S. Navy Secretary under President William McKinley. During the Spanish-American war he organized the famous volunteer cavalry known as the Rough Riders, which he courageously led up San Juan Hill during the battle of San Juan Heights in 1898. Later that year Roosevelt became the governor of New York.


His political views made the Republican Party upset and in the election of 1900 they buried him in the McKinley ticket, and upon McKinley's reelection he became the Vice President. Following McKinley's assassination in 1901 Roosevelt became the youngest president in the history of the United States. During his presidency he became known for his corporate reforms, foreign policy, and ecological preservation (A&E Television Networks, LLC, 2014). 




Page 315 of Theodore Roosevelt's Outdoor Pastimes of an American Hunter                                              Page 317 of Theodore Roosevelt's Outdoor Pastimes of an American Hunter



Roosevelt had a love for nature and spent a lot of time hunting big game all around the world. In 1887 he founded the Boone and Crockett Club, which was an organization that in favor of protecting the wilderness and hunting big game. In "Hunting in Many Lands," Roosevelt lays out the rules by which the club will operate and why it was founded. It states that the club was founded to promote manly sport with the rifle, promote travel and exploration, work to preserve the big game of the country and pursue legislation for that purpose, to record observations on habitats, and to bring about opinions of members on ideas about hunting, exploration, and the hunting of big game animals (Roosevelt & Grinnell, 1895). Roosevelt's outlook on the preservation of land differed only slightly from that of John Muir. Muir wanted to make sure that everything was saved; from the trees, to the flowers, and even the animals that roamed the lands. Roosevelt, in his support of hunting wanted to save the lands as well, but he viewed hunting as a way to keep herds under control, and taking part in a "manly" act. Even though Roosevelt supported hunting, it was only in a certain way. He laid out in Article V of the Constitution of the Boone and Crockett Club that hunting must only be done in a "fair" way. He said "The term "fair chase" shall not be held to include killing bear, wolf or cougar in traps, nor "fire hunting," nor "crusting" moose, elk or deer in deep snow, nor killing game from a boat while it is swimming in water" (Roosevelt & Grinnell, 1895). He only viewed hunting as an ethical sporting practice, and did not supports unethical killing of animals because that could mean that some animals would become over-hunted and the population could be threatened. The club's role in animal protection was clear in their persistent effort to get the animals of Yellowstone National Park protected, and in 1894 they were able to persuade Congress to pass the Yellowstone National Park Protection Act, which protected all of the birds and animals within the park. This bill is just one of many ways that Roosevelt guided the United States towards better land conservation laws (Roosevelt & Grinnell, 1895).




Excerpt from Boone and Crockett Club Constitution                                                                               Picture of Yellowstone National Park from "Hunting in Many Lands"




Timeline of Land Conservation and the National Parks


Courtesy of http://www.pbs.org/nationalparks/history/timeline/



Yellowstone National Park



It is uncertain exactly when the plot of land that is now Yellowstone National Park was first explored. Both Spanish and Mexican rovers along with Canadians from Hudson Bay have been said to have explored the upper west region dating back to pre-1800 in search of hides and pelts, but there is no official documentation. "A stump was found near the upper falls, on the west side of the river, with "J. O. R., Aug. 29, 1819," carved in the wood, which was ascribed to one Ross, a famous Hudson-Bay trapper" (Haupt, 1883). The first documented exploration of Yellowstone was in 1864 when H. W. Wayant of Silver City took about forty men to Emigrant Gulch, the East Fork, and Soda Butte Creeks. That same year George Houston and his party ascended the main Firehole River, but were scared off by the erupting geysers, and feared that they were nearing the infernal regions, so they left. Up until 1869 many different expeditions were made to the region, many trappers with the hopes of finding many elk and beaver so they could export the pelts to the east coast. In 1871 Dr. F. V. Hayden, a United States geologist, took a full corps of assistants and scientific experts and made an exploration of the park region and made detailed maps of the park. The results of his study proved that this section of the United States was unfit for cultivation because of the cold, the snow, varying elevation, and the fact that frost was present every month of the year. A bill was then introduced by the Hon. S. C. Pomeroy on December 18, 1871 in the Senate to set apart a certain part of the country near the Yellowstone River, and to have it as a public park. Around the same time a bill was introduced in the House to set apart roughly three thousand five hundred square miles of public land to become a national pleasure-ground. On March 1, 1872 President Ulysses S. Grant signed a bill into place creating Yellowstone National Park, making it the first national park (Haupt, 1883). You can find the bill here on pages 13-14.


Yellowstone National park is roughly 3,500 square miles and stretches across parts of Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho. The park is known for its amazing geysers and waterfalls. The park features over 300 geysers, 67 species of mammals, and over 300 species of birds. The park receives over 3 million visitors every year (National Park Service, 2014).




                          Yellowstone Boundaries                                                                              Tower Falls                                               Castle Geyser (Images courtesy of the Library of Congress)



Overview of Other Parks



Yosemite National Park


On October 1, 1890 President Benjamin Harrison signed a bill to create Yosemite National Park in California. It is known for its steep cliffs and large waterfalls. Yosemite played a key role in establishing the national park system, and in 1864 President Abraham Lincoln signed the Yosemite Grant. John Muir led the charge in getting the valley its own national park. He was also a key piece in making sure that not only the valley was part of the park, but the animals, forests and surrounding mountains were included. The park today gets around 4 million visitors a year and is a prime tourist attraction in the state of California (National Park Service, 2014). You can find the bill here on pages 1-3.


Yosemite Falls, through the trees               Looking up Merced River, from Sentinel Hotel           Overhanging Rock, Glacier Point

                                                                                 Images of Yosemite National Park (Courtesy of the Library of Congress)


Acadia National Park


On February 26, 1919 a bill was passed making Acadia National Park the first National Park east of the Mississippi River. The park is almost 75 square miles and is located off of the coast of Maine. The park is known for its diverse environment and its beautiful rocky coastal landscape. It also boasts low admission costs and the promise of a feeling of having the park to yourself because of the various trails and attractions throughout the park. It is one of the most visited national parks in the country with over 3 million visitors per year (National Park Service, 2014). You can find the bill here.


        Maine. Mt. Desert Island, Lafayette National Park. Eagles in nest         Schoodic Coast





The creation of the National Park System was a long and hard journey for conservationists like Henry David Thoreau, John Muir, and Theodore Roosevelt. Both Thoreau and Muir loved nature and just spending time enjoying the true beauty. Muir led expeditions throughout the West and thought that the pristine landscape should be protected from outside forces and preserved for the future. He thought that every person needed to see the beauty that nature could offer. The serenity that each person seeks could be found while spending time in nature. Once the first national park was founded, Yellowstone National Park in 1872, the trend had been start, and many other national parks and national monuments were created in the following years. Today there are 58 national parks throughout the United States and they continue to be popular among tourists. In 2013 there were almost 275,000,000 visitors to national parks throughout the United States. All of the hard work done by these men, and many others before and after them, helped to develop one of the most popular tourist attractions in the United States, our national parks.






Works Cited


Primary Sources:


Haupt, H. (1883). The Yellowstone National Park. St. Paul: J. M. Stoddart.

House of Representatives. (1919). Lafayette National Park. Washington, D.C.

Muir, J. (1901). Our National Parks. Cambridge: The Riverside Press.

Muir, J. (1912). The Yosemite. New York: The Century Co.

Roosevelt, T. (1908). Outdoor pastimes of an American Hunter. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons.

Roosevelt, T., & Grinnell, G. B. (1895). Hunting in Many Lands. New York: Forest and Stream Publishing Company.

Thoreau, H. D. (1863). Walking. In H. D. Thoreau, Excursions (p. 161). Boston: Ticknor and Fields.

U.S. Statutes at Large, Vol. 26, Chap. 1263, pp. 650-52. "An act to set apart certain tracts of land in the State of California as forest reservations." [H.R. 12187]


Primary Source Images (In order of appearance):















Secondary Sources:


A&E Television Networks, LLC. (2014). Henry David Thoreau Biography. Retrieved from bio.com: http://www.biography.com/people/henry-david-thoreau-9506784#synopsis

A&E Television Networks, LLC. (2014). John Muir Biography. Retrieved from bio.com: http://www.biography.com/people/john-muir-9417625#synopsis

A&E Television Networks, LLC. (2014). Theodore Roosevelt Biography. Retrieved from bio.com: http://www.biography.com/people/theodore-roosevelt-9463424#synopsis

National Park Service. (2014). Acadia National Park. Retrieved from NPS.gov: http://www.nps.gov/acad/index.htm

National Park Service. (2014). Yellowstone National Park. Retrieved from NPS.gov: http://www.nps.gov/yell/index.htm

National Park Service. (2014). Yosemite National Park. Retrieved from NPS.gov: http://www.nps.gov/yose/index.htm

The National Parks Film Project, LLC. (2009). The National Parks: America's Best Idea. Retrieved from PBS.org: http://www.pbs.org/nationalparks/history/timeline/



Secondary Source Images (In order of appearance):  









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