Yellowstone and the Great West: Journals, Letters, and Images from the 1871 Hayden Expedition, edited by Marlene Deahl Merrill, University of Nebraska, Lincoln, 1999, $29.95.
Pioneering geologist Ferdinand Vandeveer Hayden, head of the U.S. Geological and Geographical Survey of the Territories, headed the first scientific party to explore and study the dazzling area that would become Yellowstone National Park. Other scientists, such as geologist George Allen and mineralogist Albert Peale, also served on the 1871 expedition, as did photographer William Henry Jackson and guest artist Thomas Moran. The earliest on-site images of Yellowstone–made by Jackson and Moran–had great impact at the time and remain Western treasures today.
Marlene Deahl Merrill looks at the famous expedition through the eyes of several of the participants, mostly Allen and Peale, who kept journals. She also makes use of letters from Hayden to a friend at the Smithsonian Institution, Spencer Baird, and several reports made by Peale to his hometown newspaper, the Philadelphia Press. Old Faithful deserves its name, Peale writes, “for it spouts with great regularity every hour, throwing the water to the height of one hundred and fifty feet. It does so seemingly without effort, making no noise.”
Allen, like Peale a Western neophyte at the start of the expedition, was particularly wary of Indians. His open, scientific mind did not seem to extend to understanding the natives. “The Eye of the Indian is peculiar as it regards expression,” he writes. “There is a certain deep, dark, deceitful and determined expression…surely suggestive of treachery and blood.” In contrast, Hayden, who had made earlier Western surveys, was apparently more respectful of Indian culture. Unfortunately, his field journals were not saved, though he did produce a survey report that includes detailed observations about natural history but not about people or events. Jackson wrote an autobiography, Pioneer Photographer, in 1929, and he said he consulted field journals, but no Jackson diary of the 1871 survey has turned up. Still, Merrill had enough material to work with to produce an interesting narrative that is accompanied by about 50 Jackson photographs, as well as panoramic drawings by Hayden’s topographical artist, Henry Elliott. Biographies of more than a dozen survey members are included, and Merrill provides valuable explanatory notes.