Jay Cooke's railway had grand plans for Yellowstone, and the advance publicity from Northern Pacific during the early 1870's left the Eastern touring public eagerly anticipating future rail access to the region. Between 1868 and 1870, Central Pacific's "Big Four"-Leland Stanford, Collis Huntington, Charles Crocker, and Mark Hopkins-acquired the rights to local rail lines in California and organized the Southern Pacific Railroad in order to protect Central Pacific's competitive edge in California. The railroad would eventually connect San Francisco and Los Angeles and then cross the southern tier of the country to New Orleans to connect the profitable freight trade markets of the Gulf of Mexico ports and San Francisco. As Southern Pacific slowly advanced toward Los Angeles and the southern states, Northern Pacific built west from Minnesota, reaching Bismarck, North Dakota by 1873. The Southern Pacific route and Northern Pacific's connecting track to Yellowstone at Livingston, Montana might not have been more than a few years away, but Jay Cooke's banking house collapsed during the Panic of 1873. Because it was one of the wealthiest and most powerful financing house in the country, its failure created a ripple effect across the country, financially devastating the Northern Pacific and bringing all new construction on other railways to a halt.

Throughout the 1870's, railroads scrambled for reorganization in their attempts to recover from the Panic and worked to attract new investors. Their initial efforts to create interest in the railroad enterprise by offering passenger service and enticing travel destinations like Yosemite and Yellowstone indicated that the parks could work to their advantage. The Yellowstone bill generated renewed discussions about Yosemite, and Jay Cooke's publicity events during 1871 and 1872 created an undercurrent of discussion in the popular press about the National Park idea. As the economy made its way to recovery along with the railroads, rail companies took advantage of the parks to attract the income of new investors and sponsors to complete the rail lines.

The traveler in the late 1870's and 1880's was primarily targeted as a potential investor, and the railroads marketed Yosemite and Yellowstone to the elite. One Northern Pacific advertisement that ran in Harper's Weekly even stated directly that the expense of the trip west was a guarantee that travelers would not be subjected to riding with "undesirable company" because only the wealthy high-society people could afford such a trip. This appeal to the elite sensibility not only made the trip desirable, but it also made it safe. The West in the 1870's and 1880's was not fully settled, and Yosemite and Yellowstone were remote enough to be somewhat intimidating to urban Easterners unaccustomed to and often uncomfortable with vast open wilderness. Railroad assurances that these passengers would travel in comfort and luxury to a premiere tourist destination with a class of people like themselves made the trip more palatable. To follow through on their promises, the railroads marketed the parks as elite locales exclusively for the enjoyment of the wealthy and advertised luxurious accommodations, both on and off the train, to court these important guests.

In 1880, Northern Pacific announced their "Yellowstone Park Line" and "North Coast Limited" routes, and Southern Pacific began to advertise their exclusive "Sunset Limited" line with through service from New Orleans to Los Angeles with the hopes of soliciting investments and winning future travel patronage from the wealthy, who paid high prices for tickets, Pullman cars, and special services like servants and private cars for large parties. The Pullman sleeping car, conceived by George Pullman and Andrew Carnegie in 1867, came in many varieties but the most useful to the railroads in luring investors were those that featured plush interiors and comfortable appointments. The most prevalent form of this Pullman was the Palace car (above), which eased the discomfort of the train's lurches, bounces, and rocking with commodious chairs, sleeping quarters, and, for the most extravagant, parlors with settees, lounges, and occasionally a piano. Northern and Southern Pacific invested in Pullmans and attracted visitors by showing them that they could travel across the continent in all the style and comfort of a fine New York sitting room. The luxury and privacy of a Pullman-not to mention the status-appealed to many of the targeted passengers, and as the elite traveler made new demands for accommodations such as fine dining and even "church cars" complete with ministers and small pump organs, the Pullman became more elaborate, more expensive, and more popular.

Both railroads employed similar advertising strategies and both featured exquisite "Pullman Service." Northern Pacific had sole access to Yellowstone and also benefited from Nathaniel Langford's railroad- biased park management style, and the railroad had an easier time creating desired accommodations within the park. Southern Pacific, however, needed to compete with the more direct Central and Union Pacific line in enticing upper class passengers to ride the Sunset Route to the coast, and it also had to advertise Yosemite in a way that made it seem less like the remote wilderness it was and more like a gentrified wilderness made civilized by the presence of the railroad. The railway handled the challenge skillfully by producing advertisements which resembled Bierstadt scenes to make Yosemite safe and familiar to its Eastern market. During the 1880's, San Francisco was known the Paris of the West and possessed an appeal that attracted and often won the affections of Eastern tourists. Travelers headed to the bay area bound for the posh Palace Hotel in San Francisco and the even more opulent Del Norte in Monterey. Many extended holidays in Northern California included a side trip to the Yosemite. The expense and difficulty involved in reaching the valley was a status symbol among the elite, and the rail lines happily took advantage of Yosemite's appeal when advertising their Sunset Line. Since the Yosemite was a popular vacation destination for many travelers headed west to San Francisco, the Southern Pacific marketed the Valley as its own, even though no railroad could claim direct access to the region until the Yosemite Valley Rail Line was built in 1907 with the assistance of Southern Pacific.

Southern Pacific could only work outside of Yosemite because its rail line ended at San Francisco. In advertisements during the 1880's, the Southern Pacific played on the dramatic sense of scale showcased in Bierstadt's images of the 1860's and published advertisements that recalled the rapturous praises of past visitors to the valley. The Southern Pacific knew its audience and marketed Yosemite to the "Romantic tourist," or the class of tourist who wanted to repose in nature but not participate in it too strenuously. Yosemite was a place of views and vistas; a valley where one could witness the sublimity of nature and ponder it without actually confronting it. Visitors stayed an average of four days, and then, as one traveler summarized the trip, after enjoying "a certain amount of the old wildness in the interior," they returned to San Francisco "to sit down to an eight- o'-clock dinner that even Paris could not beat" (Pomeroy 53).

Yosemite thus acquired the reputation of being "the civilized wilderness," or the place where tourists could come to both bask in the magnificent scenery and indulge their fantasies of having conquered the wilderness with human achievement, especially within the commendable accommodations provided by James Hutchings and other hoteliers who had established small resorts in the valley to welcome tourists after a day of riding and gazing. Southern Pacific did little to discourage this opinion of Yosemite and exaggerated the image of the refined traveler in cool repose by the lakes, below the falls, or standing on the peaks of the mountains. Northern Pacific capitalized on Yellowstone's reputation for wildlife, but animal life in Yosemite was nearly ignored completely in favor of images which emphasized the more commercially appealing vistas of the valley and discarded any references to animal habitation. Yosemite's chief appeal was that it represented the perfect foil to the "dangerous" wilderness of the Rocky mountain West, where the hardships and the threats of nature associated with the frontier era were still too present to appeal to elite eastern audiences who travailed tirelessly to cultivate the affectation of refined European civility. This class of tourist wanted scenery on the order of Switzerland, but as Western historian Earl Pomeroy states it, "nature must not be too natural, or too close to the history of the long struggle of Americans across the continent," because these travelers did not want to confront the possibility that despite their confidences to the contrary, the geography and wildlife of the West still posed threats to their health and welfare (Pomeroy 70).

Despite the differences between Yosemite and Yellowstone, the marketing strategy was the same. Images that emphasized the dramatic landscape and scenic grandeur of the west proved effective, especially when supplemented with promises of exquisite lodging and fine cuisine after a day of touring. Curiosity about Yellowstone was as prevalent as interest in Yosemite, but the much wilder and more remote territory in the region posed threats which Northern Pacific had to contend with in its advertising. In 1877, a visiting tourist was killed when he was caught in a skirmish between Chief Joseph's Nez-Percé men and the U.S. Cavalry during an army reservation drive which had gone awry when the Nez-Percé led the government troops on a 500-mile chase through the Yellowstone territory during part of an intense four-month battle between the two sides. The amount of wildlife in the park also confronted the "civilized east" with the presence of untamed and unfamiliar nature in its most threatening form; even then, bison and moose had the reputation of being temperamental and surprisingly fast animals. To the sophisticated traveler of the 1880's, wildlife and the Native American were synonymous, and the presence of either at a vacation resort detracted from its overall appeal.


Advertisments like this one from Harper's Weekly demonstrated Northern Pacific's insistence on the primacy of an eastern notion of civilization in the West. This ad not only shows that the railroad has civilized the West and made it safe, but it also indicates the negative view of Native Americans. Its graphic rendering explicitly shows how the presence of the railroad dramatically altered life in the West-- a pertinent reminder of another disjuncture between the idealized West of the public imagination and the actual West of the late Nineteenth century.

Beyond these obstacles, there was the issue of Yellowstone's landscape, which was hardly on the order of Yosemite or Switzerland. Although it was unarguably unique and stunning in its curiosity, the land alone would not appeal to the refined tourist who frequented Yosemite. One early visitor wrote of the park that "there was something so revolting in the general appearance of the springs and their surroundings, the foulness of the vapors, the noisy ebullition, the general appearance of desolation, and the seclusion and wildness of the location that, though awe-struck, we were not unreluctant to continue our journey without making them a second visit" (Pomeroy 53). Other early visitors seconded the opinions of these tourists, and many agreed with one journalist when he wrote that "it is a mistaken idea that Yellowstone abounds in grand scenery" (Pomeroy 53).


Northern Pacific turned Yellowstone into a land of curiosities, and ads like this one show the desire to appeal to an eastern fascination with the "exotic" west

For what Yellowstone lacked in majesty and sublimity, it more than compensated for in curiosities. Topography unlike any other region in America became the most prominent feature of the area, and in the 1880's and 90's, Yellowstone was marketed as the uniquely American landscape where vestiges of the Wild West would remain preserved and protected forever, thanks to its unique status as America's only national park. Northern Pacific's marketing strategy followed the style of Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show by emphasizing the carnivalesque atmosphere of the park. The Wild West Show featured buffalo, Native American actors, and theatrical performances of "authentic" Wild West events and activities, and Northern Pacific felt that it could create a living Wild West Show in Yellowstone. In response to the abundance of natural phenomena within the area, Northern Pacific adopted the nickname "the Wonderland Route" for its line to Yellowstone and began to tout its unparalleled reserve of animal life, scenic splendor, and "wondrous and curious freaks of Nature," thereby turning Yellowstone into a natural amusement park for the nation's elite.


Tourists await the rupture of the Old Faithful geyser, one of the park's landmark attractions and signature visual features. Sketch made after a photo by Northern Pacific photographer Frank Jay Haynes.

Beginning in 1886, the railroad sponsored the construction of several sumptuous hotels in the Yellowstone area to heighten the park's appeal for the wealthy. Access within the park's borders, thanks in large part to Langford's rail-biased park management, was one advantage Northern Pacific had over Southern Pacific in the promotion of its wonderland. Both the Gardiner gateway station and the Livingston terminal of the main rail line sported log- cabin style architecture of Northwest timber and quarried stone and borrowed local folk decorating styles which recalled frontier days by employing such items as wagon wheels for use as hanging lights or table supports and bearskins for rugs. This style was echoed again at the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel and later at the Old Faithful Inn. Both hotels won accolades for their fine food and exquisite accommodations.

Mammoth Hot Springs was referred to as "The Last Outpost of Civilization" by rail officials and visitors alike


The Old Faithful Inn was the first inn built in the park boundaries and remains the most popular today.

Rail executives often invited influential men and their parties to travel the area with the Northern Pacific stage guides and enjoy the park compliments of the railroad. These guests were well-heeled corporate men from the east affiliated with businesses that could assist the marketing efforts of the railroad: bankers, speculators, and publishers were often honored guests. Sometimes the railroad would invite journalists and writers to join them in the park, often early in the summer, so that these men could publish articles on Yellowstone in enough time to encourage late-summer travel to the West. To assist the cause and to ensure desired publicity, Northern Pacific always offered the services of the railroad's official photographer, Frank Jay Haynes. Haynes was also the author and illustrator of the immensely popular Yellowstone Park Illustrated tour guide which was published by Northern Pacific and freely distributed around the east. Haynes provided Northern Pacific with an extensive collection of photographs which the railroad then used in photo exhibitions, magazine articles, and paid "documentaries" about the geology of Yellowstone. Thanks to the photographic work of Haynes, Yellowstone--and the Northern Pacific--remained in the public spotlight for years.

The earliest days of park tourism reflected the needs of the railroads as much as it did the demands of the tourist who visited Yosemite and Yellowstone. In these Western parks, the railroads discovered a new way to cater to the investor by taking advantage of growing interest in the strange and majestic Western landscape and then representing it in familiar ways to the target market. For Southern Pacific, Yosemite was Switzerland remade in America, and remade on a grander and more sublime scale. Yellowstone, on the other hand, was a theatrical sideshow of curiosities for the wealthy to view. In both cases, the parks were strictly business for the railroads, and they used these spaces much in the way businesses of today use a golf outing at a country club or a weekend on a boat to woo potential clients and shareholders. This class of tourist did not engage actively with nature, but gazed at it from the coaches that drove them from attraction to attraction before returning them to the comfort of places like the Old Faithful Inn. The influence of this kind of tourist remained in the parks, but as the demographics of the West and the nation changed, the needs of the railroads changed too, and they needed new strategies to keep their passenger lines in business.


Expanding the Market, 1885-1900