Visit Your Local PBS Station PBS Home

Timeline of Yellowstone History


Grade level: middle and high school

Yellowstone National Park was first developed in 1872 and was the first national Park in the United States. It is known for its unique geologic features and stunning wildlife. People have been attracted to the area ever since it was part of the Native American lands.

Archeological evidence suggests that Native American tribes lived in the Yellowstone area almost 10,000 years ago. Some of the tribes that traveled or lived nearby include the Shoshone, Bannock, Blackfeet, Flathead, Nez Perce, Utes, Crows, Piegans, and Paiutes. White trappers, traders, and explorers from the East brought home fabulous stories of boiling mud, water shooting straight up and out of the ground, and scenery the likes of which had never been seen before. These accounts were the start of the great interest in the Yellowstone area that continues to this day. The area was first designated a national Park by Congress in 1872; and the Old Faithful Lodge, a model for future Park lodges, was completed in 1904.

In this lesson, students will gain an understanding of the historical events leading up, and including, the development of Yellowstone National Park. They will also locate Yellowstone development within the contextual framework of U.S. history.

    Students will:
  • Research the history and development of Yellowstone National Park.
  • Graph the dates of important events in the Park's development on a timeline.
  • Place these milestone events within a contextual framework of U.S. history.

National Standards:

National History Standards

Standard 1:
    Chronological Thinking
  • The student is able to distinguish between past, present, and future time.
  • The student is able to measure and calculate calendar time.
  • The student is able to reconstruct patterns of historical succession and duration.
Standard 4:
    Historical Research Capabilities
  • The student is able to obtain historical data from a variety of sources

National Social Studies Standards

Standard 2:
Time, Continuity, and Change:
Human beings seek to understand their historical roots and to locate themselves in time. Such understanding involves knowing what things were like in the past and how things change and develop.

Standard 3:
People, Places, and Environments:
The study of people, places, and human-environment interactions assists learners as they create their spatial views and geographic perspectives of the world. Today's social, cultural, economic, and civic demands on individuals mean that students will need the knowledge, skills, and understanding to ask and answer questions such as: Where are things located? Why are they located where they are? What patterns are reflected in the groupings of things? What do we mean by region? What implications do these changes have for people?

Standard 6:
Power, Authority, and Governance:
Understanding the historical development of structures of power, authority, and governance and their evolving functions in contemporary U.S. society, as well as in other parts of the world, is essential for developing civic competence.

National Geography Standards

Standard 12:
The geographically informed person knows and understands the process, patterns, and functions of human settlement

  • White construction paper, 12" x 17"
  • Rulers
  • Great Lodges of the National Parks: Grand Lodges . Video clips of the following segments:

    Start with: start of program
    End with: More than 2 million acres of deeply gorged, fire scarred, and geyser studded Rocky Mountain landscape-Yellowstone.

    Start with: The Yellowstone of 150 years ago offered no such comforts as the Old Faithful Inn.
    End with: It is operated by a private concession company.

    Start with: The inn's timber frame has endured a relentless assault of heat, cold, rain, and snow.
    End with: The 2 architects were from 2 different eras, but they shared a common bond, Old Faithful Inn.

    Start with: Just when Old Faithful Inn had been restored to its former glory,it was almost destroyed.
    End with: The fires of 1988 remind everyone that nature is in charge in Yellowstone.

No advance preparation is required.

  • Begin a class discussion on state and national Parks. Ask the class what features they think of when they think of a Park. Ask if anyone has ever been to Yellowstone National Park. If someone has, ask them to describe the Park to the class. If no one has been there, ask what they know about the Parks and then fill in any gaps. Ask why there's a need to set aside areas like this as Parks? Discuss what was happening in history at the turn of the 20th century when the public first became interested in establishing the Park. Explain that they will watch video clips on the Park and then research some of the important events in the Park's history.
  • View the video clips and have the students keep track of some of the major events mentioned in the video: date the Park was created, arrival of the railroad, date the Old Faithful Inn started construction, and the date the inn opened.
  • Direct the students to the web sites in the resource section below and have them find the dates of historical events in the development of Yellowstone Park. Some suggested events for inclusion on the timeline (in addition to the ones from the movie) are the:
    • first visit of the white man to the area
    • first official survey of the region
    • passage of the Lacey Act, which gave full protection to the wildlife
    • first visit of Theodore Roosevelt
    • first automobile in the Park
    • park becomes the jurisdiction of the newly created National Park Service by Woodrow Wilson
    • installation of the telephone in the Park
    • opening of Norris Geyser Basin Museum
    • completion of the Beartooth Highway
    • opening of Old Faithful Lodge
    • construction of Canyon Village to help serve the rising tide of tourists
    • massive earthquake that killed 28 people in the Park
    • designation as a Biosphere Reserve
    • designation as a World Heritage Site
    • massive forest fires that burned 1.4 million acres of the Park
  • Instruct students that they will be drawing a timeline of the Park's history. They should calculate a scale for drawing a timeline that fills the construction paper. This scale will be about " = 1 year. Draw a line through the middle of the paper on the long axis, and make dark " tick marks along the line for every 10 years. Place the Park's historical events along the timeline at their proper dates by drawing diagonal lines above the timeline and recording the event on the line.
  • Students may then spruce up their timelines by printing pictures from the Internet that correspond to the events on their timelines, and then gluing their pictures above their respective events.
  • Students will also research important dates of U.S. history that correspond to the same time period as the Park's history. These events will be recorded below the timeline by drawing vertical lines from the timeline towards the bottom of the paper and drawing circles in which to write the event. Suggested U.S. events include:
    • Lewis and Clark expedition
    • Completion of the Intercontinental Railroad
    • Invention of the locomotive
    • Civil War
    • World War I
    • World War II
    • Invention of the car
    • Invention of the airplane
    • Invention of computers
    • First rocket launched in space
    • Vietnam War
    • Beginning of the Depression
    • Theodore Roosevelt becomes president
    • First man to walk on the moon
Assessment Suggestions:
  • Accuracy of the events and dates drawn on the timeline
  • Scale of the timeline: Does the timeline fill the page? Did the student calculate the scale correctly?
  • Perform searches on the website This Day In History to see what happened on each of the students birthdays. Place these events on the timelines.
  • Students imagine themselves as teenagers in the early 1900's. They are one of the first tourists to arrive and stay at the Old Faithful Inn. Students write a letter to a friend back home. The letter should include the following: Why did your family want to come to Yellowstone? Describe your first impressions upon arriving at the lodge. Describe the lodge so that your friend can imagine what it looks like. What did you go to see on your first day? Would you recommend your friend come here on vacation?


Barlett, R.A., 1985, Yellowstone, a Wilderness Besieged

Clary, D.A., 1972, The Place Where Hell Bubbles Up: a History of the First National Park

Early, K.E., 1984, "For the Benefit and Enjoyment of All People": Cultural Attitudes and the Establishment of the Yellowstone National Park

Magoc, C.J., 1999, Yellowstone: the Creation and Selling of an American Landscape