"In this tract of about 3000 square miles, there are manifestations of force so enormous that its mathematical expression could convey no idea to the ordinary mind. Nothing but the imagination can grapple with the problem, but the imagination most stimulated and exuberant carries one but a little way on the road to truth." --Harper's Weekly, 1893.

Stories of Yellowstone had reached the East coast as early as 1810, when John Colter, a member of the Lewis and Clark team who remained in the West, wrote of an odd territory the Native American Minnetaree tribe called "mi tsi a da zi," or "Rock Yellow River." Reports of foul-smelling vapors and volcanic craters that bubbled with clay circulated sporadically among other trappers and explorers who claimed to have seen the place they called "Colter's Hell," but credible accounts of the region were not published until the completion of the Washburn-Doane Survey and the Hayden Expedition in 1870 and 1871. The sensational accounts of Yellowstone's geology fascinated Eastern audiences, and publicity for the finds in the area was plentiful. Newspapers, magazines, and lectures both instructed and intrigued Eastern residents with the tales of shooting geysers, boiling streams, and sulfuric pits which resided with majestic waterfalls, stunning canyons, and rugged mountain peaks in excess of 10,000 feet. With topography like this, interest in Yellowstone was easy to encourage, and executives at Northern Pacific railroad realized that they had planned their track just north of something unique.

Northern Pacific Railroad was still in its organizational stages during Yosemite's establishment as a national preserve in the mid-1860's, but the offices of Jay Cooke & Company, the railroad's chief financiers, noticed the park's significance for both Central American Steamship Company and Union Pacific Railroad. Northern Pacific offered 100 million dollars in stock in 1868 to finance its construction, and the railroad management dedicated itself to enticing investors. Northern Pacific's venture differed from Union Pacific's in several ways, and the company's advertising strategy was more comprehensive as a result. The railroad crossed some of the most desolate and remote territory in the nation, particularly along track in the Dakotas and Eastern Montana. Although land at its origin in Minnesota and the territory at its Western terminus in Tacoma, Washington were well-adapted for agricultural and timber uses, large sections of the railroad's land suffered brutal winter weather and would have required years of cultivation and tempering to become productive for agricultural use.

Reasons for Northern Pacific's aggressive advertising and publicity are speculative at best, but many historians of the railroad agree that the primary reason Northern Pacific's name appeared so often in newspapers and magazines was that Jay Cooke was its financier. Cooke was the head of a Philadelphia banking house that had provided most of the funding for the Union effort in the Civil War, and he was known for having a flair for generating publicity about any project or investment that interested him. He was well-connected politically and socially, and he was adept at using those connections to his advantage. Cooke was excited by the results of the 1870 Washburn survey, and in 1871, he made the first important connection in the publicity machine he created to stimulate interest in Yellowstone for the benefit of the railroad.


One of the few existing photos of Jay Cooke

In 1870, Scribner's Magazine acquired a story called "The Wonders of the Yellowstone," a journal from the Washburn-Doane expedition written by Nathaniel P. Langford. Scribner's assigned their illustrator, Thomas Moran, to provide sketches for the story, and Moran was so intrigued with the sights Langford described that he grew eager to see the territory for himself. During the late winter of 1871, renowned geologist Ferdinand V. Hayden received a government subsidy to organize his own survey team to chart the headwaters of the Yellowstone River the following summer, and Moran formulated a strategy to include himself in the group. Determined to make his way west, Moran solicited financial support from Scribner's in exchange for sketches and regular reports from the survey. The managers were skeptical, but after Jay Cooke learned of Moran's interest and agreed to loan the artist $500 and secure a place for him on the Hayden team, Scribner's matched Cooke's loan and Moran joined Hayden in Virginia City, Montana.

Little did Moran realize that he had not only succumbed to the maneuverings of a number of powerful men, but had also stumbled into one of the grandest industrial and political schemes of the Nineteenth century. Jay Cooke wanted Moran's visual talents to bring pictures of Yellowstone to the East much as Union Pacific relied Bierstadt's work to portray Yosemite so vividly for the New York audience who came to see his paintings. Bierstadt and Union Pacific had Fitzhugh Ludlow to capture Yosemite in prose, and Moran and Northern Pacific had Nathaniel Langford. Langford was campaigning to be governor of the Montana territory and had his own economic interests in Yellowstone, but he had also been solicited to write his book by Jay Cooke, who arranged for its publication and coached the author on his many lectures throughout the East--lectures which ended with praises for the Northern Pacific Railroad's planned track through southern Montana, just above Yellowstone's North Entrance. Langford's work had further inspiration as well since he was the brother-in-law of two of Northern Pacific's largest investors, Minnesota businessman James Wickes Taylor and Governor William Marshall of Minnesota, the state where the railroad originated. Ferdinand Hayden's expedition was supported by government funding, but since funds were limited, he relied on the generosity of the rail magnates to receive free transportation to the West for his party. Additionally, he aspired to lead future expeditions and, with the financial support and political clout of Jay Cooke behind him, his chances were good. When Moran presented the letter from Cooke, Hayden was more than willing to accept the artist into his already crowded group because with Cooke's favor and Moran's talents, Hayden's expedition would receive ample publicity. Moran, of course, desired fame and security as an artist and recognized that Cooke's backing, Hayden's acquaintance, and widely publicized accounts of Yellowstone would thrust his paintings into the public spotlight. With every player in his proper place, Hayden's expedition departed Virginia City for Yellowstone with Moran and famed landscape photographer William Jackson in tow (Kinsey 68-70).

Hayden's survey findings confirmed what Jay Cooke had suspected: Yellowstone was as unsuited for traditional economic exploitation as the Yosemite Valley had been. Hayden, one of the most respected and knowledgeable geologists of his time, gave his assurances that the land in the Yellowstone area was worthless for anything but recreation and geologic study. The land was devoid of valuable minerals, its stands of timber were erratic and not of particularly good quality, and the terrain was too steep and sparsely vegetated for grazing land. Essentially, the only value Yellowstone possessed was in entertainment. Northern Pacific owned land just north of the Yellowstone, and in a letter from Jay Cooke's office to Hayden late in 1871, Cooke wrote that: "Judge Kelley [Senator William Darrah Kelley of Philadelphia, a friend of Cooke] has made a suggestion which strikes me as being an excellent one, viz: Let Congress pass a bill reserving the Great Geyser Basin as a public park forever--just as it has reserved that far inferior wonder the Yosemite Valley and big trees" (Kinsey 58). Cooke and Hayden agreed that Yellowstone's showcase of natural wonders was priceless and therefore should receive federal protection.

Using Yosemite as a precedent for federal protection, Northern Pacific Railroad adopted Yellowstone as its own and set out to establish a Western resort in the region. Although Yosemite had been protected by an act of Congress, the federal government granted park management to the state of California. Cooke, Hayden, and Langford discussed the Yellowstone proposal with Senator Henry Dawes, a vociferous proponent of Yosemite's protection and a good friend of Hayden. Langford feared that Yellowstone would fall to Wyoming for management since it was technically within that territory's boundaries. Langford wanted control of Yellowstone turned over to the Montana government so that his territory could benefit from developing the area for tourism. Langford argued that since the headwaters of the Yellowstone River were on Montana soil and the territory had hosted the government survey teams in its towns, Montana should be granted management privileges. Of course, if Montana had rights to the park, then Langford's political power could assist Northern Pacific's interests in Yellowstone, and Cooke supported Langford's proposal. Cooke's primary objective for Yellowstone was to protect it and get access to it as a nature park for tourism. He was also aware that its protection and promotion might also encourage potential investors to forego a holiday in Europe so that they could view the Yellowstone instead--and offer their financial support to Cooke and his railway.

The Yellowstone bill was introduced in Congress in January, 1872, and despite a few challenges, Dawes was able to keep the bill alive. His most serious challenge came when other Senators questioned how the proposed park boundaries would influence a recently designated Sioux reservation. The debate intensified, but Dawes confirmed the nation's right to claim that land when he replied "all of the treaties made by this commission are simple matters of legislation," and suggested that Congress redraw the reservation boundaries to accommodate the influential men like Cooke and colleague Senator Kelly, who had significant financial interests at stake (Haines 124). Congress was unwilling to assign management to either Montana or Wyoming since neither was admitted as a state, but on March 1, 1872, Congress passed a resolution declaring Yellowstone's 2.2 million acres a National Park and appointed Langford the first Park Superintendent, a position which still allowed him to favor Northern Pacific's rail development in the 1880's and 90's by permitting railroad hotels within the park boundaries and advancing the connecting rail track to the park's Gardiner Gateway.

Cooke's initial efforts were rewarded, but now he had to create proper publicity for Yellowstone among the wealthy society people able to afford travel to the West and more importantly, able to consider buying shares in the railroad. Cooke knew the value of visual materials in creating interest, perhaps recalling Bierstadt's success with his Yosemite paintings, and Thomas Moran's paintings would provide the opportunity for a publicity event which could draw Cooke's desired clientele. Moran had been turning his sketches into paintings since his return from the Hayden expedition, and he had indicated to Jay Cooke that he was working on a monumental canvas of the Yellowstone River canyon at approximately the same time the park bill was under consideration in Congress. Cooke saw this painting as an opportunity for the capstone of Northern Pacific's promotional publicity for Yellowstone. Stories about the region had circulated in the East for years, and once the park bill was signed, interest in Yellowstone as the first National Park would increase as newspapers and magazines published the news of the bill's passage. Eastern curiosity would be at its peak, and as Moran finished his canvas, Jay Cooke planned a grand public showing for the painting the first week of June 1872, circulating invitations to everyone he knew and sponsoring press releases about Moran's upcoming unveiling.


Thomas Moran, The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, 1872

Moran's masterpiece from the Yellowstone expedition is entitled The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, which is the spectacular view of the Lower Falls through the deep chasm of yellowish-red sulfur-stained rock which earned Yellowstone its name. The New York Tribune reported that, as Cooke had hoped, the elite of New York attended the Clinton Hall showing in New York City. Directors of the Northern Pacific Railroad, "the press--the literati--the artists--all the rich people" came to view the magnificent seven-by-twelve foot canvas of the Yellowstone Canyon (Wilkins 6). In contrast to Bierstadt's tendency to paint a sense of sublimity and destiny in Yosemite's landscape, Moran's view of Yellowstone is much more realistically composed and lacks the invented iconographic significance of Bierstadt's work. Moran made meticulous studies of Yellowstone's geology and the painting shows a fairly accurate rendering of the canyon. In Moran's painting, the light in the scene radiates from the landscape itself instead of suffusing from the heavens, as Bierstadt's lighting does. This choice may reflect the fact that Yellowstone was unlike any other landscape known to Americans at the time, and comparisons to Swiss scenes or Hudson Valley views depicting the tension between civilization and wilderness would have been irrelevant. This landscape could not be civilized in an agricultural sense because of its volcanic geology, but its uniqueness as a wilderness could generate interest and had its own genuine significance; its landscape did not require the painterly inventions of the artist to bestow that significance or make the audience aware of it. By placing the human figures in the foreground, gesturing toward the canyon, Moran makes this strange landscape safe and familiar. The human presence in the scene reduces the threat of danger and makes the viewer aware of Yellowstone's possibility for human use and its capacity to attract human interest because of its own unique majesty. The human interest in question is that of tourism, and Cooke counted on public curiosity to see this uniquely American wilderness to stimulate travel on Northern Pacific.

Jay Cooke and Northern Pacific refined the process of park protection and travel publicity only haphazardly undertaken by Union Pacific and Central American Steamship, and their discovery set new standards for future railroad discoveries and park promotions during the late Nineteenth and early Twentieth centuries. The Yellowstone Park Act still left unfinished business for the railroads and for park protection. Montana residents were unhappy with the decision to place Yellowstone in the care of the federal government instead of with the territory, who already had the labor force and the means to develop the park for tourism by building roads and hotels from which the region could profit, and residents in Yellowstone Valley towns like Cooke City, Gardiner, Bozeman, and Livingston were not eager to assist the efforts of the railroad company they believed had taken their future livelihood. Editorials run in the Bozeman Avant Courier and the Helena Gazette stated that "it would have been better to have left its [Yellowstone's] development open to the enterprising pioneer who had already commenced the work," but the New York Times offered the view from the East that focused on the preservation aspect of Yellowstone, saying that "it will help confirm the national possession of the Yo-Semite and may in time lead us to rescue Niagara from its present degrading surroundings" (Haines 125-128).

Despite the difference of opinion in the matter of Yellowstone, its establishment provided a clear precedent for future park development. Although Yellowstone's federal possession was more the result of unstable territorial politics in Montana and Wyoming than it was a federally endorsed statement of Yellowstone's "national" significance, Northern Pacific's active role in its preservation and establishment provided the impetus for protection in the first place. What had occurred almost accidentally and inadvertently in Yosemite indicated a potential marketing strategy for the railroad industry in other rugged and inhospitable territory along their tracks. For the railroads, the most valuable draw for the parks was what the New York Times wrote in an 1872 article called "The Splendors of the West:"

Why should we go to Switzerland to see the mountains, or to Iceland to see the geysers? Thirty years ago the attraction of America was Niagara Falls. Now we have attractions which diminish Niagara into an ordinary exhibition. The Yo-Semite, which the nation has made a park.and the country of the Yellowstone, with their beauty, their splendor, their extraordinary and sometimes terrible manifestations of nature, form a series of attractions possessed by no other nation in the world. (Haines 128)

The railroads believed that they had created a profit center to attract a new market in the tourist trade, and as the Eastern and Western crews approached their rendezvous points in the intermountain West, the railroads staged an elaborate and effective advertising campaign to sell travel on their rail lines and stock in their companies.

Yosemite and Yellowstone in Advertising