About the National Archives

Welcome Remarks for Saving Yellowstone: Exploration and Preservation in Reconstruction America

Greetings from the National Archives’ flagship building in Washington, DC, which sits on the ancestral lands of the Nacotchtank peoples. I’m David Ferriero, Archivist of the United States, and it's my pleasure to welcome you to today’s conversation with Megan Kate Nelson about her new book Saving Yellowstone, which looks at the fascinating and complex historical context behind the establishment of this highly popular national park.

Before we begin, I’d like to tell you about two programs coming up soon on our YouTube channel.

On Tuesday, March 8, at 1 p.m., Mary Sarah Bilder will speak on her recent book, Female Genius. Bilder introduces us to Eliza Harriot, a pathbreaking female educator in the 1780s. She argued that women had equal capacity and deserved an equal education and political representation, and her University of Pennsylvania lecture was attended by George Washington.

And on Thursday, March 17, at 1 p.m., historian Laura F. Edwards will discuss her new book, Only the Clothes on Her Back. By studying the clothing of ordinary people, Edwards tells us, we can uncover the hidden history of power in the 19th-century United States.

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This month marks the 150th anniversary of the establishment of Yellowstone National Park, the first federally protected national park.

On March 1, 1872, President Ulysses S. Grant signed the Yellowstone National Park Protection Act into law. This legislation described 3,472 square miles of wilderness in the Montana and Wyoming territories that would be “dedicated and set apart as a public park or pleasuring-ground for the benefit and enjoyment of the people.”

Among the many records related to Yellowstone in our holdings are some of the earliest photographs taken by photographer and explorer William Henry Jackson. Seventy years later, in the early 1940s, another celebrated photographer—Ansel Adams—captured the grandeur of Yellowstone in images. These pictures, and Jackson’s, have been digitized and are available in the National Archives’ online Catalog.

As today’s guests will explain, the establishment of Yellowstone National Park occurred at a crucial time in American history, amid the nationwide turmoil and racial violence of the Reconstruction era.

Joining Megan Kate Nelson in conversation will be Andrew R. Graybill, Director of the William P. Clements Center for Southwest Studies at Southern Methodist University.

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Megan Kate Nelson is a writer and historian living in Lincoln, Massachusetts. She has written about the Civil War, U.S. western history, and American culture for the New York Times, the Washington Post, Smithsonian Magazine, and Civil War Monitor. In addition to Saving Yellowstone, Nelson is the author of The Three-Cornered War, Ruin Nation, and Trembling Earth.

Andrew R. Graybill is a historian of the North American West, with particular interest in continental expansion, borders, race, violence, and the environment. He is the author or editor of four books: Policing the Great Plains, Bridging National Borders in North America, The Red and the White, and Civil War Wests.

Now let’s hear from Megan Kate Nelson and Andrew Graybill. Thank you for joining us today.