Yellowstone National Park

The Paint Pot, Yellowstone National Park

Not all the lands documented by the surveys were developed for economic purposes. The photographs that Jackson took on Hayden’s survey—alongside the drawings and paintings by Thomas Moran—played a critical role in the establishment of Yellowstone National Park. Moved by the natural wonders of the area, Hayden wrote to Congress strongly encouraging that the land be set aside for the enjoyment of people in perpetuity instead of opened for settlement or economic development. Albums of Jackson’s photographs helped convince legislators of the uniqueness of the scenery. In March of 1872, almost half a century before the establishment of the National Park Service, Yellowstone became the first national park in the United States.

Although use of the land was federally restricted as a natural wonder for the enjoyment of citizens, this designation fundamentally shifted the relationship of Native Americans to these areas. Indigenous peoples had frequented this land for thousands of years, and tribes that had used this land for hunting and fishing for centuries were forced out after it became a park. The United States restricted access, refused claims of use, and failed to sign treaties once land rights were ceded.