Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park

William Henry Jackson

William Henry Jackson, a celebrated photographer of the West, gained fame when his 1871 Hayden Expedition photos helped persuade Congress to establish Yellowstone as a national park. Jackson's career began in Vermont, where, at age 15, he was a photo retoucher until conscripted into the Union Army. After the war, a broken engagement spurred his wanderlust. He set off for St. Joseph, Missouri, took freight wagons to Salt Lake City, and drove mustangs from Los Angeles to Omaha. In Omaha, he and his brother set up a photography business, gaining a lucrative contract from the new transcontinental railroad in 1869. A year later, Dr. Ferdinand V. Hayden asked him to join the U.S. Geological & Geographical Survey of the Territories of the western territories including Yellowstone, the Mesa Verde ruins, the Colorado mountains and the pueblos of the Southwest.

Jackson later said, "And if any work that I have done should have value beyond my own lifetime, I believe it will be the happy labors of the decade 1869—1878." Today, his photographs bring us a rich portrait of the American West and our national parks. Adapted from an article by William H. Sontag, NPS.