from Frank Leslie’s Illustrated, 27 April 1889
Vanishing barbarism is taking a last revenge upon civilization, according to the reports from the Yellowstone National Park. The Government has aimed to preserve this wonderful domain in all its native beauty, bot the forest fires kindled by Indian marauders on hunting-trips are working havoc with the forests and the game. Forest and Stream has investigated this serious danger, and publishes letters and affidavits from men on the ground, which leave no room for doubt regarding the damage while has been done and the gloomy prospect for the future. This has been apparent to the Superintendent of the Park, Captain Harris, and he has urged upon the Interior Department the importance of keeping the Indians at a distance. The Indian Bureau has usually seemed anxious to comply with his request, but lately the agents at Fort Hall and Lemhi, while acknowledging in effect that they cannot control their Indians, who go where they please and do what they please, still deny that they approach the boundaries of the Park. Captain Harris's report to the department implies that these and other agents are unable to handle the Indians.
Now, the Yellowstone Park is valuable, among other things, as a reservoir for the storage of water which feeds important rivers, sustaining vast stretches of farming lands. But its value as a reservoir depends upon the preservation of the forests. If these are destroyed, the Park cannot retain the water which falls in the Spring and Fall. The destruction of the game, elk, bear, deer, and other American fauna, is much to be deplored, because the large game of the West is growing scarcer and scarcer, and the practical extinction of the buffalo has recently shown us what may be expected. But as regards the practical question of economics, the forests are of supreme importance. Their growth is slow, and extensive disaster will affect a very large area of country. The Indians are in the habit of firing large tracts of forests in order to drive out the game. This practice, so injurious to the Park and so dangerous to a very large area of agricultural country, is something which cannot be tolerated. It is understood that the Indians act rather from love of game-butchery than from the necessity for food. If they are not fed, the Government must supply them. In either case they must be kept under control, and away from the Park. The incompetence of Indian agents is a familiar story. The Indian Bureau should see to it that men are appointed who can control these Indians, and an application should be made for troops who will provide the means. Our army is small, but there are plenty of soldiers living in idleness who could not be better employed than in guarding the National Park. The veil, however, goes farther back—to the pernicious reservation system which compels Indians to live in idleness, dependents upon the Government bounty, without hope or ambition. The ownership of land in severalty and encouragement to work would soon remove many of the troubles arising from the reservation system.
© 2010 Rebecca Edwards, author of New Spirits: Americans in the Gilded Age, 1865-1905 by Rebecca Edwards, Oxford University Press
Origins of Yellowstone