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Episode One: 1851–1890The Scripture of Nature

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The Cavalry to the Rescue

General Phillip Sheridan with party at Old Faithful, Yellowstone National Park, 1881 Add to Scrapbook

General Phillip Sheridan with party at Old Faithful, Yellowstone National Park, 1881

Grinnell's fight against the railroad interests was soon joined by an unlikely ally – General Philip Sheridan, a cavalry hero of the Civil War and celebrated Indian fighter, who was now commander of the U.S. Army for much of the West.

Sheridan even suggested that Yellowstone should be expanded to provide greater protection for the elk and buffalo. The idea was immediately opposed by Western politicians who believed that Yellowstone was already too big.

In Washington, Grinnell, Sheridan and Missouri Senator George Vest took on the railroad lobby directly, calling for an investigation into the park contracts, proposing the expansion of Yellowstone, and trying to write park regulations concerning hunting into law.

Company D at Liberty Cap, Mammoth Hot Springs, Yellowstone National Park, 1893 Add to Scrapbook

Company D at Liberty Cap, Mammoth Hot Springs, Yellowstone National Park, 1893

While the bill to expand Yellowstone failed, Congress did appropriate $40,000 for its maintenance; however, funds to maintain the park were stripped away in August 1886. It seemed Yellowstone would have to fend for itself.

Coming to the rescue, Sheridan dispatched Troop M of the First United States Cavalry to take control of Yellowstone. They arrived believing that military supervision of the park would be a temporary stopgap. Thirty years later, the cavalry would still be there.

Yosemite Becomes a National Park

After five years of writing in Oakland, John Muir had become a famous voice for nature. He married the daughter of a prosperous fruit grower and settled down to care for his new family. But soon he began to yearn for the wilderness.

Wawona Tunnel Tree, Mariposa Grove, Yosemite National Park, circa 1880s Add to Scrapbook

Wawona Tunnel Tree, Mariposa Grove, Yosemite National Park, circa 1880s

Sheep-herding in the Tuolumne Meadows, Yosemite National Park Add to Scrapbook

Sheep-herding in the Tuolumne Meadows, Yosemite National Park

Upon returning to Yosemite, he discovered that California had neglected his "sacred temple." Tunnels had been carved through the hearts of some of the big trees, meadows had been converted into hayfields and pastures, and the valley was littered with tin cans and garbage. As if that were not enough, the mountain ramparts in the Sierras above were being destroyed by sheep and lumbermen.

Muir threw himself into what became a pitched battle to preserve the high country. He once again wrote articles describing both the region's beauty and its vulnerability and soon Congress was flooded with public petitions. Muir endured attacks on his integrity by opposing politicians, but finally, on October 1, 1890, President Benjamin Harrison signed into law a bill creating Yosemite National Park.

At the same time as the Yosemite bill, Sequoia National Park and General Grant National Park were created to protect two groves of big trees on the western flank of the Sierra Nevada. There were now four national parks.

But the fight was not over. Muir recognized the need for more parks, bigger parks, and more park supporters to defend them against the enemies he knew would oppose them. He would need to convince many other Americans to see the "necessity," as he said, in all that is wild.

Episode 2: The Last Refuge

A proud tourist points at her National Parks windshield stickers, 1922; David Brower in Glen Canyon, 1966; Dayton Duncan's son, Will, standing at edge of canyon. Bryce Canyon National Park, 1998

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For Educators

Check out the lesson plans and other materials for teachers and educators.

Bank of America Evelyn & Walter Haas, Jr Fund Corporation for Public Broadcasting The Arthur Vining Davis Foundations Park Foundation

National Park Foundation The Peter Jay Sharp Foundation The Pew Charitable TrustsGM

THE NATIONAL PARKS: AMERICA'S BEST IDEA is a co-production of

Florentine Films and WETA

 

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