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Historical Figures

Ralph Henry Cameron, 1915 Add To Scrapbook

Ralph Henry Cameron, 1915

Ralph Henry Cameron (1863–1953)

Episode(s): 3, 4
Associated Park(s): Grand Canyon

Cameron was an Arizona prospector and businessman who fought to control much of what is now Grand Canyon National Park by filing thousands of often-spurious mining claims at strategic locations within the canyon and on its rim. This included the entrance of the Bright Angel Trail, where he erected a toll gate and charged a fee for anyone wishing to travel the trail from the rim to the river, and Indian Garden, a rest stop on the trail where Cameron charged tourists for water and for use of the only outhouse within miles.

Cameron opposed President Theodore Roosevelt's use of the Antiquities Act to create Grand Canyon National Monument, and took his opposition all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, where he lost. He also opposed making the national monument a national park in 1919. Nonetheless, he used his political connections to steadfastly ignore federal rulings that he give up his fraudulent claims.

In 1920, he became even more brazen when the voters of Arizona sent him to Washington as their senator. In the Senate, Cameron battled Stephen Mather and Horace Albright of the National Park Service over issues involving the Grand Canyon, including their fight to keep him from building dams within the park. He was defeated in his bid for re-election in 1926, finally losing all control over his Grand Canyon ventures.

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Truman Everts, Lost in Yellowstone (05:42)

Truman C. Everts (1816–1901)

Episode(s): 1
Associated Park(s): Yellowstone

A member of the Washburn/Langford expedition of 1870, Everts, a 54-year-old nearsighted Vermonter, became separated from his companions and promptly lost his horse, guns, matches, and supplies. He wandered, lost and starving, for 37 days – surviving on thistle roots, forced to warm himself next to thermal vents, and suffering terribly when he scalded his legs in one accident and burned his hands in another.

After being rescued, Everts wrote a popular magazine account of his ordeal, Thirty Seven Days of Peril, published in Scribners Monthly in 1871, and was offered the job of superintendent when Yellowstone became a park. The job carried no salary so he turned it down. The thistle that had kept him alive is now called the Everts Thistle.

James Mason Hutchings, Yosemite's first promoter Add To Scrapbook

James Mason Hutchings, Yosemite's first promoter

James Mason Hutchings (1820–1902)

Episode(s): 1
Associated Park(s): Yellowstone

James Mason Hutchings, a failed prospector and budding publisher, came to Yosemite Valley in 1855 after reading Lafayette Bunnell's descriptions of its waterfalls. His illustrated publication, Hutchings' California Magazine, did more than anything else to bring the valley's beauty to the attention of the world. He opened the Hutchings' Hotel and led visitors on tours, constantly promoting the region in a quest for profits.

In 1864, Yosemite Valley was set aside from private development and given to the care of California, but Hutchings, technically a squatter, refused to acknowledge the new designation and took his challenge all the way to the United States Supreme Court. The court ruled against Hutchings, setting the legal precedent that would later affirm the creation of national parks.

Hutchings' other inadvertent contribution to the national park idea occurred in 1869, when he hired an itinerant sheepherder named John Muir to build a sawmill in Yosemite Valley. In doing so, he gave a home to the person who would become the valley's – and the park idea's – greatest champion. Hutchings himself would be evicted from the valley, though he would continue publishing books about it and occasionally leading tours there. In 1902, during a return trip, his horses spooked and he was killed when his carriage overturned; he was buried a few days later near the base of Yosemite Falls.

Harold Ickes Add To Scrapbook

Harold Ickes

Harold Ickes (1874–1952)

Episode(s): 5
Associated Park(s): Great Smoky Mountains

No Secretary of the Interior has been a stauncher defender of the national parks than Harold Ickes, who served in the role from 1933 to 1946.

Originally a reform Republican from Chicago, he became a fierce New Dealer under President Franklin Roosevelt. As Interior Secretary, he stopped plans for a skyline drive in Great Smoky Mountains National Park; championed the creation of Kings Canyon National Park in California as a roadless park; took on the timber interests in creating Olympic National Park; declared 1934 as the "National Park Year," with special postage stamps and posters designed to promote it; hired Ansel Adams to photograph the parks; and is responsible for innumerable other achievements on behalf of the parks.

Ickes, who called himself "the old curmudgeon," was also controversial. His proposals to consolidate all natural resource agencies in the federal government under his control at Interior were rebuffed even by a Congress friendly to FDR. He ordered managers at Shenandoah National Park to take down signs segregating campgrounds and picnic areas. With Eleanor Roosevelt, he arranged for Marian Anderson to sing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial after the Daughters of the American Revolution refused to allow Anderson to perform in Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C., because of her race.

Known for a fiery temper and brusque style, Ickes was "the meanest man who ever sat in a Cabinet office in Washington," Horace Albright said, "and the best Secretary of the Interior we ever had."

Old Faithful, Yellowstone National Park

Send Email Postcards

Create personalized postcards using images from The National Parks series and email them to friends or family.

View with fog in valley and peaks lighted by sunset, winter; Yosemite National Park

Download Wallpapers

Download some of the glorious images from the documentary to enjoy on your desktop.

Untold Stories

Untold Stories

Discover the "hidden" stories of the national parks that explore the role of minorities in the creation and protection of the parks.

National Park Service rangers

Visit America's Best Idea

You own 391 national parks. Come for a visit and take away the experience of a lifetime. Help the National Park Service make America's Best Idea even better!

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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