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Guard Mount at Fort Yellowstone

When the U.S. congress established Yellowstone National Park in 1872, they put a civilian staff  in charge, but failed to appropriate enough money for the job of protecting it. Poachers decimated wildlife; collectors vandalized natural features and monopolists gouged travelers. Things became so bad by 1886 that the U.S. Army was asked to step in. It ran the park until 1918 when the National Park Service took over.

By all accounts, the Army was diligent and left its mark in ways ranging from the shape of rangers’ hats to Grand Loop pattern of roadways. Here’s a story that describes how effective they were when they were asked to protect President Theodore Roosevelt when he visited Yellowstone in 1903.

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An incident that occurred during President Roosevelt’s recent visit proves the exceedingly careful manner in which the Park is guarded. When Mr. Roosevelt made it known that his object in entering the Yellowstone Park was to secure several days of complete privacy, and that he did not want any one aside from Major Pitcher and the picked escort to accompany him, a certain correspondent representing a New York daily, who had been ordered to be on hand in case of any accident to the President or other emergency of National importance, resolved to ignore the President’s request and to follow him at all hazards.

With this object in view, he attempted to bribe some of the native population, but without success. Not disheartened by his failure to secure a friendly companion and guide, the correspondent hired a horse and persuaded a stray dog to accompany him. This was on the afternoon of the President’s arrival at Fort Yellowstone. The Fort is ten miles from Gardiner, where the rest of the correspondents and the President’s party had stopped.

The recreant correspondent set forth in high glee at the possibility of working a “beat” on his fellow-craftsmen. As he rode along through the leafy lanes and past the towering cliffs, which in part line the road to the Springs, he felt very well satisfied with himself, and chuckled at the ease with which he had evaded the guards stationed near Gardiner. Suddenly, as he was entering a particularly dark part of a forest, he heard a voice from the brush on the right.

“Theodore Jones,” it said slowly and in unmistakable authoritative tones. “Theodore Jones!”

The correspondent reined up his horse in amazement. Who was it calling his name? Had he been followed from Gardiner? If so, why did the voice come from the bushes and evidently some distance from the road?

“Hello !” he shouted, in reply.

There was no answer. He called again and again, but without result. Then he put spurs to his horse and rode on. Half a mile further down the road, just as he was passing through another bit of woodland, a deep voice called out seemingly at his very elbow:

“Theodore Jones ! Theodore Jones-s-s ! Better go back.”

For one moment, the newspaperman hesitated, then he rode resolutely forward. He felt that he was being tricked, but he intended to see the game out. He was a bit nervous because he realized that his course of action was not entirely honorable, and it was with something very like relief that he espied at a turn in the road a United States trooper sitting with horse blocking the path and a rifle slung carelessly across the pommel of his saddle.

“Haiti” called out the soldier. “Mr. Jones, you are wanted at Headquarters.”

“How do you know my name is Jones?” demanded the correspondent.

The trooper smiled as if the question was a joke. Placing one hand upon the correspondent’s bridle, he led him without further words to Fort Yellowstone. A technical charge of unlawfully bringing a dog into the reservation was entered against Mr. Jones, but he was released on his promise not to enter the Park again until the President’s return. The incident had its value in showing the extreme care taken by the Park’s guardians in keeping out unwelcome visitors. The correspondent’s errand was known at Headquarters before he had crossed the line.

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— From Henry Harrison Lewis, “Managing a National Park.” The Outlook 74(18)1036-40. (Aug. 29, 1903).

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