Saving Yellowstone: Exploration and Preservation in Reconstruction America

Scribner. Mar. 2022. 320p. ISBN 9781982141332. $27. HIST
Historian Nelson, whose book The Three-Cornered War was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, continues her narration of the competing forces defining the shape of the American West in Reconstruction years. This time, she documents the exploration and mapping of Yellowstone National Park in 1871 by geologist Ferdinand Hayden and a team of scientists, which led to the passage of the Yellowstone Act the following year, creating the first national park in the United States—and the world. The principals in the story are three: Hayden sought scientific prominence; financier Jay Cooke looked to the establishment of a national park to entice foreign investors into bankrolling the building of his Northern Pacific Railroad; and Lakota chief Sitting Bull sought and failed to halt the inexorable westward movement of settlers who steadily destroyed his people’s hold over their homelands. Nelson also recounts how the creation of national parks displaced Indigenous peoples. As the author tells, it was also a crucial moment in the southern Reconstruction: the diversion of government attention toward the West eventually hampered federal efforts to rein in the Klan.
VERDICT Scrupulously researched and written in appealing journalistic style, this book should attract enthusiasts of Western and U.S. history.
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