In the 1870s a curious conflict developed over who got to kill wildlife in Yellowstone Park. After decimating the bison herds on the great plains, hide hunters converged on the park and slaughtering elk by the thousand leaving their carcasses to rot.
Sport hunters condemned commercial hunting, but reserved their own right to blast away at anything that moved. On the other hand, hide hunters said they were just trying to make a living and condemned killing “just for fun.”
The differing attitudes are illustrated in the story below. It comes from the reminiscence of Jack Bean, an Indian fighter and commercial hunter who hired on as a guide to the Hayden Expedition of 1872.
Lord William Blackmore, a wealthy Englishman who had helped fund the expedition, was Hayden’s guest and an avid fisherman. Here’s what Bean says happened when he went fishing with Lord Blackmore.
While the doctor was geologizing the country there, I went fishing with Sir William Blackmore in Lake Abundance.
You could see plenty of trout close to shore in the lake, but when he got to catching them he thought it would be wonderful if he caught one for each year he was old—fifty four. He soon caught the fifty four and tried for a hundred, and was not long catching this and made a try for fifty-four more and kept fishing for another hundred, and another fifty-four.
As we had gotten two thirds of the way around the lake by this time, I told him that I would quit as I had all the fish I could drag along on the grass, being two hundred and fifty-four. I dragged them into camp which was close along the lake and wanted to make a little show of these fish.
Sir Blackmore, whenever he would see any bones would always ask, “How come those bones there?” I would tell him they were left by skin hunters in the winter. He thought that all skin hunters should be put in jail for such vandalism and I told him he would do the same if he were in this country for the winter.
So when I had shook all these fish off from the strings they made such a sight that I called Dr. Hayden’s attention to what Sir Blackmore would do if he had a chance. He colored up considerable and excused himself by saying, “The fish were so plenty it was Godsend to catch some of them out.”
In 1886 the U.S. Army took over administration of the Park and ended the holocaust by forbidding hunting for any purpose and regulating fishing.
— For more stories about fishing in Yellowstone Park, click on “fishing” under the “Categories” button on the right.
— Excerpt from Jack Bean’s Reminiscence, Pioneer Museum of Bozeman.
— NPS llustration, Yellowstone Digital Slide.
— You can read more of Bean’s delightful reminiscence in my book, Adventures in Yellowstone.