Constructed in what is now the Yellowstone National Park, Fort Yellowstone protected travelers during the end of the Indian Wars and those visiting the park since for over 40 years. Originally constructed 1886 as a cavalry post, the fort would steadily grow until 1913. Fort Yellowstone was first called Camp Sheridan, named after the Commanding Officer of the US Military and famed Civil War and Indian Wars officer, Philip Sheridan. It became Fort Yellowstone in 1891. Yellowstone National Park was controlled by the War Department until the Department of the Interior was able to effectively take official control in 1918. Visitors of the Mammoth Hot Springs portion of the park can still see some of the fort's buildings and learn about the fort at the area visitor center.
Backstory and Context
During the next 30 years, barracks, a guard post, a hospital, post office, canteen (cafeteria of sorts), engineer's office, a chapel and officer's quarters (and more) were constructed to the ever-expanding Fort Yellowstone. Since troops needed to be out to cover more than the Mammoth Hot Springs area and the now North Entrance, more facilities were needed for the rest of the park. They built remote buildings such as soldier stations near the other park entrances, on various mountain tops, and in valleys and canyons. The soldiers also served as park rangers.
During its years in managing the park, the War Department established fisheries, protecting the wildlife and wilderness safety protocols. John Muir, the eminent American naturalist and "Father of the National Parks," praised the men of the military for their management and preservation of the park.
During WWI, the War Department's funds to manage the park were low. This caused contention between the states within Yellowstone National Park's boundaries and the federal government. These contentions led to the slow disbandment of troops from the park in 1916-1918. The contentious situation was only resolved when Congress was persuaded to hand over control to the civilian branch of the government, the Department of the Interior, which had established the National Park Service in 1916. Now, the Department of the Interior had greater funds and manpower to manage the park. The Park Ranger uniforms were influenced by the uniforms of the War Department soldiers.
Today, some of the structures of Fort Yellowstone can be seen today at Mammoth Hot Springs and throughout the Park. The units stationed at Yellowstone while the fort was in operation included elements of the 1st, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, and 8th cavalry regiments.
Hampton, H. Duane. The Early Years in Yellowstone: 1872–1882. How the U.S. Cavalry Saved Our National Parks. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1972.
Hart, Herbert M. Tour Guide to Old Western Forts. Boulder, CO: Pruett Publishing Co., 1980.