The Artists Who Inspired a National Park

Geologist and Civil War physician Ferdinand V. Hayden (sitting, left) was a seasoned veteran of Western surveys when he was tapped to lead the 1871 survey of the Yellowstone country that would become the world’s first national park in 1872.
– All Photos Courtesy True West Archives Unless Otherwise Noted –

In 1871, Secretary of State Columbus Delano tapped geologist and Civil War physician Ferdinand Vandeveer Hayden to lead the American government’s first geological survey of the Yellowstone region of Wyoming, Montana and Idaho territories. Dr. Hayden, a veteran of the pre- and post-Civil War Army in the West, had had a desire to survey the Yellowstone region since he’d first ventured into the Yellowstone River Valley in 1860.

English-born Hudson River School artist Thomas Moran was 34 years old when he joined the Hayden Survey of Yellowstone in 1871. Moran, who had established himself as a successful lithographic and engraving artist for the publishing industry of New York City, would find his muse in Yellowstone and would thereafter be forever known as one of America’s greatest Western landscape artists.
– Portrait by Naploeon Sarony –

Accompanying Hayden on the 50-man survey team were Civil War-Western photographer William Henry Jackson and artist Thomas Moran. Jackson’s large-format photographs and Moran’s oversized paintings of Yellowstone would influence Congress and President Ulysses S. Grant’s decision to create Yellowstone National Park in 1872.

Artist and Civil War veteran William Henry Jackson was just 28 years old when he signed on as the photographer for the Hayden Survey in 1871. Jackson, who had recently chronicled the Union Pacific Railroad’s route across the West, was greatly inspired by Yellowstone’s geology, and his large-format images of the future national park led to a grand career as a renowned Western photographer.

Nearly 150 years later, Hayden’s survey remains the baseline for our geologic and geographic knowledge of Yellowstone, while Jackson’s photographs and Moran’s artwork remain an important physical record of Yellowstone prior to its development as the world’s first national park and a testament to the power and influence of art in our society.

Mammoth Hot Springs Summit of Jupiter Terrace
William Henry Jackson
– Courtesy Library of Congress –
William Henry Jackson posed astride his horse with his mule and camera equipment for a rare photograph in the field atop Mount Washburn during the 1871 Hayden Survey of Yellowstone.
Mammoth Hot Springs, Yellowstone
Thomas Moran
– Courtesy Smithsonian American Art Museum, 1958.5.2_1 –
Hot Springs of Gardiner’s River, Yellowstone, 1873
Thomas Moran
– Courtesy National Gallery of Art, 156721 –
The Great Falls of the Yellowstone
William Henry Jackson
–Courtesy Library of Congress –
Southeast Arm of Promontory Point, Yellowstone Lake
William Henry Jackson
– Courtesy Library of Congress –
William Henry Jackson and another man posed for a self-portrait with their photographic equipment on a mountain clifftop near Yellowstone Park, Wyoming, circa 1871-1878. Jackson knew no boundaries on the trails he would take to make the best image possible.
– Courtesy Library of Congress –
Tower Falls
William Henry Jackson
– Courtesy Beinecke Library, Yale University –
Above Tower Falls at Yellowstone
Thomas Moran
– Courtesy Smithsonian American Art Museum –
Upper Falls of the Yellowstone
William Henry Jackson
– Courtesy Library of Congress –
Golden Gate, Yellowstone National Park
Thomas Moran
Tower Falls of Yellowstone National Park
William Henry Jackson
– Courtesy Library of Congress –
The Great [Lower] Falls of the Yellowstone
William Henry Jackson
–Courtesy Library of Congress –
Lower Falls of Yellowstone
Thomas Moran
Yellowstone Valley #2
William Henry Jackson
– Courtesy Beinecke Library, Yale University –
Lower Yellowstone Range
Thomas Moran
Yellowstone River Above the Falls
William Henry Jackson
– Courtesy Library of Congress –
Members of the Hayden Survey launched The Annie on Yellowstone Lake in 1871. It was the first known boat to sail the great body of water, the largest lake above 7,000 feet in North America.
William Henry Jackson
–Courtesy Library of Congress –
Yellowstone’s Lake Mary’s Bay
William Henry Jackson
– Courtesy Library of Congress –
Yellowstone Lake
Thomas Moran
– Courtesy NYPL Digital Collections –
Yellowstone Lake
Thomas Moran
– Courtesy NYPL Digital Collections –
Tower Falls and Sulphur Mountain
Thomas Moran
– Courtesy NYPL Digital Collections –
On August 24, 1871, a month after the 32-member survey entered the future park region of Yellowstone near Gardner River, photographer William Henry Jackson went ahead of the mule train to chronicle the survey’s trail along the Yellowstone River.
– Courtesy Library of Congress –
Grand Cañon of the Yellowstone
William Henry Jackson
The Grand Cañon of the Yellowstone
Thomas Moran
– Courtesy NYPL Digital Collections –
The Grand Cañon of the Yellowstone
Thomas Moran
– Courtesy NYPL Digital Collections –
William Henry Jackson chronicled the survey on film, including the Hayden Survey Camp near the head of Pelican Creek, 15 miles east of Yellowstone Lake.
– William Henry Jackson, Courtesy Library of Congress –
Grand Cañon of the Yellowstone River
William Henry Jackson
– Courtesy Library of Congress –

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