Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts



First Advisor

Andrea Foroughi




national parks, environmental legislation, natural world, Yellowstone, American West


Those who first stumbled across the steaming, bubbling land of Northwestern Wyoming in 1860s and early 1870s described it as “Hell on Earth.” Over the course of a few decades, the land underwent a vast transformation, which replaced “Hell” with “Wonderland” in visitors’ minds. The year 1872 represents a turning point in environmental legislation and marks the conception of Yellowstone, America’s first national park. While creating a national park preserved, for the first time, the country’s natural wonders, the 1872 act included no direction for management, no allocation of funds for upkeep, and no system set in place to manage tourists. This thesis examines the darker past of America’s Wonderland, demonstrating that the vagueness of the original act affected the first four decades of Yellowstone’s history for the worse, which led to a multitude of problems that plagued the park from 1872 to 1916, when the National Park Service was established. Through the examination of park superintendent reports, legislative acts, newspapers, and personal accounts, this thesis reveals the way political and commercial interests shaped Yellowstone’s first forty years. These documents tell of the difficulties of protecting a vast area with no laws and minimal funding. Poor management led to poaching, widespread vandalism and a lack of respect for park administration. Until the passage of the Lacy Act twenty-two years after the park’s creation Yellowstone lacked legal consequences for wrongdoers. Administration represents one of many areas in which the Department of the Interior failed in its understanding of a national park.