a geothermal bubbling pool of water

We're now familiar with the marvels of Yellowstone National Park – including geysers, an abundance of wildlife, and bubbling pools of water. Acting Territorial Governor Francis Meagher was accurate when he called Yellowstone “such a place of wonders” in 1865. But in the 1800s, people completely dismissed the ridiculous stories coming from visitors to what later became Yellowstone in Wyoming, Montana and Idaho. Magazines refused to publish their accounts which were considered rumor and hearsay.

Before modern day explorers discovered the area, historians consider that the human history of the Yellowstone area dates back 11,000 years through many tribes of Native Americans, particularly the Tukudika, or Sheep Eaters. European and European-Americans began exploring the area in the 1800s, although the first organized explorations didn't happen until the 1870s, right before the area was named a National Park in 1972.

As these European and European-Americans began to explore, they returned with outlandish and fantastic tales of the geography and wildlife in Yellowstone. People returned reporting that there were “waterfalls sprouting upwards”, a clear reference to geysers, which had not yet been identified in Yellowstone. People returning with these observations were accused of creating “fire and brimstone” accounts. A few years later, reputable magazines refused to publish accounts from three miners who explored the geysers and bubbling pools, calling them “unreliable”.

a geyser spewing water

Eventually, of course, people recognized that those “waterfalls sprouting upwards” were actually geysers, still one of Yellowstone's largest draws. It isn't hard to imagine that people would react to reports of geysers with incredulity. Even though we know a lot more about the geysers and how they work, people still gawk in awe and disbelief when they see them.

In 1870, a large expedition of people were credited with “discovering” the park, an assumption which of course ignores the previous 11,000 years of human history. Still, we're glad they explored it, because in 1872, Yellowstone became designated as a national park. A mountain ecosystem with 2.2 million acres of preserved natural areas, Yellowstone is certainly a place of wonders.


Jared Prince