Yellowstone Calls in the Cavalry

By Regina Scott

             Regina Scott

My father was a big John Wayne fan, so I grew up watching Westerns that featured the iconic actor. In them, the US Cavalry always rides to the rescue, no matter the odds. When I was researching for my second book in the American Wonders Collection, Nothing Short of Wondrous, I was delighted to learn that the Cavalry really did ride to the rescue of our first national park, Yellowstone.

When Yellowstone was first created, there was no National Park Service. No one had any idea how to manage the millions of acres that encompass the park and range from snow-capped mountains to steaming hot pools.

Congress appointed a superintendent, but some of the first tried to manage things from Washington, D.C.! Others that followed moved out to the park, at least when it wasn’t covered by snow, but even they struggled to protect the natural wonders and the species who called Yellowstone home.

By 1886, Yellowstone was in real danger. Commercial interests were lobbying to build railroads into the park, erect businesses, even log and mine. The number of visitors was swelling, and many had no idea how to behave.

   Albert Bierstadt Painting of Old Faithful

They carved their names into the geological formations, chipped off chunks to take home as souvenirs, and even plugged up the geysers to see how high the debris would shoot.

Postcard #157 – The Buffalo Herd;
Frank J Haynes

Worse, poachers traveled brazenly through the park, picking off game. The buffalo herd, the last truly wild herd in the country, dwindled to less than 30.

Captain Moses Harris

Something had to be done. Congress used a clause in an earlier law to send the Army to manage the park. Captain Moses Harris and Troop M of the 1st Cavalry rode into Yellowstone on August 20, 1886, to take control.

     Troop M of the 1st Cavalry in Yellowstone

Their first task? To fight the wildfires that were raging throughout the park, at least some set by poachers intent on driving the game onto unprotected lands for slaughter. There was no fire wagon, no hoses, and no money to allocate for them. But they fought the fires nonetheless. They also stationed detachments at all the major tourist attractions to safeguard the park.

The men expected their work in the park to be temporary, until Congress could determine a better way to manage Yellowstone, but the Cavalry remained in charge for 32 years. Their zeal to protect the land and its animals lay the foundation for the conservation mindset still prevalent in the National Park Service today.

What else would you expect from those trained to ride to the rescue?

Have you ever been to Yellowstone? Which attraction was your favorite? If you haven’t been, which have you heard about you’re longing to see? Comment below for a chance to win an autographed print copy of Nothing Short of Wondrous, a set of vintage-style postcards, and huckleberry lip balm straight from Montana.

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Regina Scott is the award-winning author of more than fifty works of warm, witty historical romance. She and her husband live in the Puget Sound area of Washington State on the way to Mt. Rainier. Her fascination with history has led her to dress as a Regency dandy, drive a carriage four-in-hand, learn to fence, and sail on a tall ship, all in the name of research. You can learn more about her at or connect with her on Facebook ( or Pinterest (