Y is for the fort. I will give you its “Y” name later in the post. See if you can figure it out. The year is 1869. The Cincinnati Reds are born as the first professional baseball team. The golden spike is driven into the Transcontinental Railroad in Utah. The Wyoming Territory gives women the right to vote. The Reconstruction Constitution for the State of Texas is passed, making primary school attendance compulsory. The US Cavalry breaks the back of Tall bear’s Cheyenne Dog Soldiers at the battle of Summit Springs, Colorado. And intrepid explorers, Charles Cook and David Folsom, head into Wyoming from Montana Territory in search of gold. A year later a survey party under military escort and including a railroad man, Nathaniel Langford, return in their footsteps. All those coming back from these explorations declared the land filled with natural resources and wilderness wonders.
Two years later, 1872, the US Congress appropriates $40,000 for additional explorations of the area and General Phil Sheridan sends a reconnaissance into the area. As a result, an act of Congress that year nationalizes the explored lands. Within a few short years George Custer will lead additional surveys in the nearby Black Hills of the Dakotas and beyond. By 1876 Custer and his Seventh Cavalry will be dead in the nearby Powder River country and General Crook will be invading in force to eliminate forever the Sioux and Cheyenne threat. In 1882 Sheridan returns to the site of the Cook-Folsom explorations and expresses concern that the area is not secure from threat as the Congress had intended. By 1886 the Indian wars and the Army have moved south to the Arizona Territory to fight the last of the hostile tribes, the Apache. But 50 men of Co. M, First US Cavalry march from Fort Custer to establish a post in the threatened Wyoming Territory. They will remain for 32 years.
A fort is constructed and patrols are established. The soldiers build officers quarters, a guardhouse, barracks, headquarters facilities and finally a chapel. The soldiers are generally credited with performing their duty admirably in protecting and defending an area of some 3500 square miles over those years. In 1916 the congress created a new force to relieve the army of its duties at the fort. This force has manned the fort ever since. Their heritage as the descendants of the military men who once guarded the fort can still be seen in their uniforms today. They still wear the campaign hat with Montana Peak they acquired from the soldiers of 1916, those soldiers previously billeted at Fort Yellowstone (today’s “Y” word).
These are the men and women of our National Parks Service. You see General Sheridan’s concern was in keeping the first National Park in the world, Yellowstone, secured from poachers, squatters and other commercial exploitations. It was these hostiles and not the Indian tribes the general feared. The Secretary of the Interior asked the Army for help not the Secretary of War. You see, after all their forward thinking in creating this first of its kind endowment, the Congress failed to raise a penny to administer the park. The park teetered close to tumbling into the cauldren of industrial exploitation which consumed the American Nation in the later nineteenth century.
And so we Americans owe a debt of gratitude to our brave men in uniform for more than their service in combat. (Men were killed while defending the park from poachers.) We are beholden for the preservation of something which if lost could never be recovered, Yellowstone. (Park Cavalryman Right)And for giving the National Park Service those great hats!