Snow bound peaks of Yellowstone National Park. Photo George Wuerthner

One of the big lies perpetuated by new revisionists in the WOKE movement (AKA David Treuer’s piece in Atlantic as an example), which continues to be repeated over and over without any effort by any “so-called” conservation groups to correct is the notion that Indians were “driven” from Yellowstone to create the park.

First, there was virtually no use of Yellowstone by any Indian people other than for periodic raiding and hunting parties. No one “lived” in what is now Yellowstone Park, though obviously, tribes did live in the region, typically at lower elevations.

Yellowstone is buried under many feet of snow much of the year. it is not a place where humans would choose to reside. Photo George Wuerthner

The reason is evident to anyone who has spent any time in the area (which most revisionists have not). The Yellowstone Plateau is a high average elevation of 8000 feet and is covered with snow much of the year. In the 1800s, the climate was colder and snowier (Little Ice Age), and no doubt, snow depths in what is now Yellowstone were even greater than today. People always traveled through what is now Yellowstone, but few spent much time in what is now the park because of its high mountainous terrain.

People resided in the valleys where communities like Livingston exist today which were snow-free and where grass was available for their large horse herds. Photo George Wuerthner 


Yellowstone was not a place for human habitation, especially since before extensive white settlement of the lower elevations, plenty of snow-free terrain was available with lots of wildlife that was more suitable for people. People live in the same locations today. Where would you live if you had the choice between living in, say, Cody, Livingston, or Billings vs. 8000 feet under snow? This was particularly important once tribes obtained horses since having enough feed for thousands of animals became a critical consideration.

People sought out obsidian in Yellowstone for thousands of years for arrowheads, knives, and stone axes, until they could obtain metal replacements from traders. Photo George Wuerthner

People used to come to the area to obtain obsidian (which is also available in many other locations in the region). However, by the mid-1800s, nearly all arrow points, knives, etc., were made of metal obtained by trading.

The Bannock, Shoshone, and other tribes that lived west of the Continental Divide occasionally traveled through what is now Yellowstone on the “Bannock Trail” on their hunting treks to avoid the aggressive Blackfeet. However, Blackfeet raiding parties regularly patrolled the region, including the Three Forks of the Missouri, Gallatin Valley, etc.

The Sheepeater sub-set of the Shoshone tribe so-called because they hunted bighorn sheep in mountainous area of Idaho and Wyoming resided in remote mountain valleys like the Salmon River Country of Idaho as well as other ruggest areas in the Greater Yellowstone region. But even they spent much of the year at lower elevations to avoid snow and cold temperatures. Photo George Wuerthner

The only tribe that regularly hunted and lived  in Yellowstone and surrounding mountains were the Sheepeaters.  They resided at lower elevations on the fringes of Yellowstone and throughout the mountains of Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana.  In summer months they sought out higher elevations to hunt bighorn sheep–hence their name.

Some suggest that they sought out remote mountain valleys like the Salmon River, etc., to avoid conflicts with more aggressive horse-mounted tribes.

Yellowstone was established to protect geological features like hot springs and geysers. Photo George Wuerthner

Be that as it may, by 1868, all tribes in the region, if not sooner, were assigned to reservations. The purpose of the reservation system was to open up the West to settlement, not to protect natural features. It would have been absurd for anyone in 1872 to suggest you needed to protect “wilderness” or even wildlife. The entire West was still broadly “wilderness.” Yellowstone was established to preserve unique geological features (geysers, etc.).

And even the Sheepeaters by the late 1860s or early 1870s went to the Wind River or Fort Hall or Lemhi reservations where other Shoshone-speaking people lived.  Indians continued to hunt in Yellowstone  until the 1880s or slightly later, in particular, as game animals like elk and deer were largely extirpated from other lands outside the protective confines if the park. Hunting was prohibited for all people, not just Indians in an effort to protect lingering elk herds. Yellowstone eventually was the source of elk that were transplanted throughout the West including in Banff NP in Canada, areas in Colorado, Arizona and elsewhere.

Throughout the 1870s Indians continued to be encountered in the area surrounding Yellowstone, and for the most part, Indians continued to “control” nearly all of what is now Wyoming and Montana. I.e., think of Custer’s annihilation in 1876.

Another point to consider when you hear the new “history” of Yellowstone about Indians being driven from the park is that there was no “Army” or other official agents to “drive” Indians away.

After its establishment, there was only one part-time employee, Nathanial Langford, who lived most of the year in Helena. David Folsom was an unpaid part-time employee who assisted Langford.

Superintendent Norris took over in 1877. His son also helped him, as well as an occasional one or two other men, however, he was the only full-time employee until 1882.

It would be a truly amazing feat if a single person working part-time were able to “drive Indians” from the park.

Nez Perce Creek in Yellowstone is named for the Idaho tribe that sought to evade military pursuit by crossing the park in 1877 seeking refuge in Canada. Photo George Wuerthner 

As for military expeditions, other than the Nez Perce War in 1877,  and Bannock War of 1878, where the US Army pursed into Yellowstone Park what was perceived to be “hostile”Indians who had killed  settlers and fled their reservations, there were no US Army incurrsions into the park to “remove” Indians.  The Hayden Expedition in 1872, a few following expeditions had a few soldiers escorts to support them, but these expeditions did not go there to “drive” Indians away. Instead, they were scientific explorations.

Prior to the creation of the National Park Service in 1916, the US Army was given the job of managing national parks, and in 1886 soldiers were statiioned in Yellowstone to control poarching of wildlife,  particularly the last wild bison, and to construct roads.

Finally, I spent three days once at the Montana Historical Society headquarters in Helena, reviewing microfilm newspaper accounts from the period of 1870-1874 to see if there had been any military in Yellowstone. Again, I could not find a single reference. The papers noted such important events as chickens being killed by dogs, but nothing about Indians being routed from Yellowstone. Undoubtedly if the military had entered Yellowstone to “drive” the Indians away, it would have made the local papers.

There is no doubt that Indian people were often treated brutally and unfairly by the dominant culture. But parks were not part of the effort to settle Indian people on reservations. The creation of reservations and the establishment of Yellowstone occurred at nearly the same time, but the two events are unrelated.

The social justice revisionists continue to perpetuate the Big Lie because they want to discredit conservation ideas like parks and other preserves which are viewed as “colonial” or the result of white male science. There is an effort under various guises like “land back” and other movements to transfer public lands to tribal people.

However, if you are interested in preserving ecological function, biodiversity, and even storing carbon, parks and wilderness reserves are the foundation and have been proven to be the best way to protect these values.

Part of this effort to discredit conservation is designed to create the legal and ethical justification for the transfer of public lands to tribal people.

Co-management of public lands is the first step in this process. Co-management is anti-democratic because it favors one group of people based entirely on race. All people should have an equal voice in creation and management of parks.  All American citizens presently have a voice, including Indian people who are American citizens.

The social justice movement fails to recognize that places like Yellowstone have been a successful model for protecting the “others” –the real of life on the planet. Real social justice should include more than people. Parks are among our most democratic institutions since they are open to all people regardless of race, ethnicity, and wealth (though minority groups are under represented among visitors to many park areas).

Furthermore, without going into much detail, most tribal people were highly mobile, and the territory occupied by any group was in continuous flux until their movement was frozen by creation of reservations. Just who or which tribes should be given control of any public lands can be debated. For instance, the Blackfeet who reside on a reservation by Glacier NP drove the Flathead tribe across the Continental Divide into western Montana. Should the Flathead have control of Glacier or should it be the Blackfeet?

Map showing the movement of the Cheyenne people from Wisconsin in 1600s to Big Horn Basin, Wyoming in 1830s. The mobility and recent coloniations of the Yellowstone region by the Cheyenne is matched by all other associated tribes. 

Nearly all Indians that roam the plains and mountains near Yellowstone are recent colonists of the region. The Cheyenne lived in Wisconsin in 1600s and gradually moved west arriving in the Big Horn Basin around the 1830s.  The Shoshone  spread through the Great Basin from south in Mexico, eventually occupying Idaho and Wyoming with an off shoot that went south to become the Comanche.  These movements took place over centuries.

Why focus on parks which for the most part were not the places that tribal people resided. Why not co-management of Denver, Seattle, Chicago or San Francisco? These lands were always the best places for native people to live, and occupy. If you want to “restore” ancient tribal lands, give co-management or transfer of these lands.

Yellowstone is still America’s best idea and should be celebrated and venerated as a global model of how to protect landscape function and biodiversity.


About The Author

George Wuerthner

George Wuerthner is an ecologist and former hunting guide with a degree in wildlife biology

91 Responses to The Big Lie: Yellowstone and Indians

  1. Jackie Johnson Maughan says:

    Well said. George. The New Left went through a similar purge in the early 1970s and destroyed itself. The film collective I was in, San Francisco Newsreel,destroyed itself over political correctness. Our film collection, however, is still distributed: antiwar, civil rights, women’s rights, Palestinian rights to name a few.

    • Robert Goldman says:

      Interesting that after reading and agreeing with George’s piece, you would then include “Palestinian rights” which is one of the most woke fabrications out there. Israel is the ancient and modern Jewish homeland and has been for over 3,000 years. Prior to Israel’s re-birth in 1948, non-Jewish inhabitants of that land referred to themselves as Arabs and most were nomadic people, who were not connected to one place, as the Jewish people were to the land of Israel. If you want to learn some honest history, read: Israel, A Simple Guide to the Most Misunderstood Country on Earth by Noa Tishby.

      • Mark L says:

        The country of Israel is not the same land area as historic Israel. Neither is the ‘historic’ US

        • Robert Goldman says:

          You’re right, Mark, at times ancient Israel was far larger than modern day Israel. The fact remains it is and will forever be the ancient and modern land of Israel, the homeland of the Hebrew/Jewish people. Mark Twain knew that and wrote about exactly this, in his book, The Innocents Abroad. Twain visited the region and saw the land with his own eyes. He didn’t need the BBC or the NY Times putting their propaganda spin on it. Twain saw a desolate, sad and mostly empty land waiting for it rightful owners (his words) to return and bring it back to life. He was exactly wrote. Read that book for yourself.

          • Robert Goldman says:

            Mark Twain was exactly right. Anyone who loves Twain, his great wit and wisdom, can read his book, The Innocents Abroad, and read his honest observation for yourself. What Mark Twain had to say about the Jewish people, their history and survival was profound and amazing.

            • Mark L says:

              Yes Robert, I agree Samuel Clemens was awesome. My point was that we humans define an area…..I.e. the actual park called Yellowstone (or the area?), Israel (both the state and the ancient land), which tribe was historically where, all that…..and then assume everyone knows exactly where we are talking about. But they don’t a lot of the time, and it lends it self to misinformation, to say the least. GW is arguing about the park, per se, to avoid claims that natives were constantly there. You’re arguing about the dimensions of Israel, present and historical, and on and on.
              Btw, I knew a Riverboater that actually knew what a mark twain was….kinda cool to look up.

              As several have said, what good would ‘giving’ over parks to natives do if the same mismanagement was inevitable? THAT’S the point of this thread. And he’s right, there’s no guarantee it would help

              • Mark L says:

                And for the record, yes, there were Arabs that considered parts of Israel part of their homeland historically also.

                • Robert Goldman says:

                  Mark, I appreciate your second post and what you shared. But let’s be clear, the Jewish claim to the land of Israel, is ancient, historic, unbroken and real. It is not based on a false narrative or from coveting someone else’s homeland, as the ‘Palestinian’ claim is. The Jewish homeland of Israel is perhaps the most solid claim on a piece of land than any other national claim on the planet. Relative to North America, it’s comparable to the ‘Native American’ claim to the Black Hills of South Dakota and the Wallowa Valley of Oregon, two of a number of territories which I’d like to see returned to America’s First People.

            • Marc Bedner says:

              I also appreciate Twain and would not take his satirical work literally as a work of anthropology, any more than I would take the Jewish Bible literally as a work of history. The historical existence of an ancient united Kingdom of Israel stretching from the river to the sea is debatable, and in any case beyond the scope of this website.

              It is interesting, though, that this discussion seems inevitably to bring up Palestine. The Sierra Club, in its efforts to recognize the rights of indigenous peoples, briefly decided to discontinue trips to Israel/Palestine, only to discover that while the Land Back movement sees Israel as a settler-colonial state, most woke corporate foundations do not view it this way.

              • Robert Goldman says:

                Marc, you are turning things upside down. The far left woke crowd pressured the Sierra Club to turn its back on the only Jewish-majority country on earth, which has contributed so much for water conservation technology and solar energy. And is also an ecologically beautiful and diverse land. John Muir would be ashamed with much of today’s corporate Sierra Club.
                For hundreds of years until today, archeology has consistently affirmed much of the historic and unbroken Jewish presence in the land of Israel. Confirming much of that part of the Bible, about the land itself, Jerusalem and other historical Jewish towns, as real, not fiction. You can hold onto fiction and narrative if that turns you on, instead of actual history and truth. I’ll stick with the latter.

              • Robert Goldman says:

                The Innocents Abroad, by Mark Twain, was not written as satire, though of course it contains humor. Twain was also a journalist. Clearly, Marc, you are hostile to Israel. Mark Twain is not with you, he’s with me. He loved the land of Israel and the Jewish people. Twain viewed that land with clear eyes as the Jewish homeland, because it was and is. By the way, so did Martin Luther King, Jr and Bobby Kennedy.

  2. Atlas says:

    George is the kind of guy who thinks ranches are worse for wildlife than a subdivision.
    Give it a read.
    He’d prefer a subdivision over a field. It’s likely that he lives in a subdivision.

    So it’s not surprising he brushes over uncomfortable history to fit his narrative.

    • Glenn Monahan says:

      Atlas … please provide references to where Mr. Wuerthner brushes over uncomfortable history. I thought his article was well researched.

    • Maggie Frazier says:

      Perhaps you should go back to that link & re-read it – There was no “brushing over” anything. These are his exact words from that exact article.
      “Agriculture is far and away more destructive of wildlife habitat and biodiversity if for no other reason than it impacts more than a hundred times more land than urbanization and sprawl.
      One should not assume that I promote more urbanization. Sprawl brings other impacts like more traffic on roads, which can kill wildlife and fragment habitat, promote the spread of weeds, while the pavement is impervious to water infiltration, and many other impacts. Many others have articulated the impacts of subdivisions.
      Instead, I suggest that we try to minimize as much as possible both sprawl and agriculture.”
      In fact – that article is worth reading – again!

    • Robert Goldman says:

      George did make that statement and I agree with him. Getting hundreds of millions of non-native cows off all the public lands of the West and having LIMITED housing development nearby already developed land, will be far less ecologically destructive and intrusive on native wildlife, than all those cows and the cattle lobby inflicts. Those people in such homes, would have to accept that native wildlife live here, too and their lives matter too, including the right to live and live free.

  3. Glenn Monahan says:

    Spot on, well researched, and compelling article.

    It’s high time that Americans pull together as one people and move forward. We must stop the movement that continuously separates us by race, color, sexuality, native/non native, etc.

    The idea of reparations and righting wrongs is a landscape fraught with landmines, and will only divide us further.

    Although Mr Wuerthner comments about “returning” San Francisco, etc to Indians is tongue-in-cheek, it is thought provoking, and demonstrates the impossibility of resetting the clock of history.

    • Farm2Table says:

      Nothing is impossible if we truly embrace personal & government accountability. That does scare many, of course.

      Last year marked the 100 year memorial of the Tulsa Massacre. 100s & 100s of people lost everything to a white riot, destroying the neighborhoods & businesses of the black community which dared to ‘raise itself up by their bootstraps’.

      Are the descendants (as well as the few who suffered directly in 1921) not entitled to reparations? The city of Tulsa ‘fathers’ as well as the state government covered up this assault for decades. It’s time to fess up & pay up.

      • Hiker says:

        Irrelevant to the discussion on how to best preserve what little Wilderness is left.

        • Farm2Table says:

          Totally relevant as it was a reply to Glenn’s post re ‘reparations’. Please pay attention.

          • Hiker says:

            You pay attention. The article is about Wilderness preservation. Keep your social justice out of it.

            • Nancy says:

              Sorry Hiker, unless we see more effort put into social justice, equality for all humanity, there’s little chance or interest, IMHO, in preserving Wilderness.

              Jon Stewart on the subject of social justice:

              One of my favorite past times (before they moved the live webcam from the lodge) was watching people who showed up for the hourly event at Old Faithful in Yellowstone.

              A good majority of people, who would make the 100 yard walk from the parking area, to watch
              the hourly “blow” were overwhelmingly white, overweight, middle aged (with 3-4 kids in tow)

              And without a doubt, the rest of their time spent in Yellowstone that day, was inching along in traffic jams, gawking at domesticated wildlife, stopping to eat at close to 2 doz. restaurants/grills (not including at least 7 gas stations/convenience stores)and buying souvenirs.

              Out of the millions that visit Yellowstone annually, how many people do you think left with any
              sense of urgency to fight for or preserve what’s left of wilderness?

              • Farm2Table says:

                It’s odd (or not) that Hiker would take issue with my REPLY to Glenn re HIS post re reparations.

                Wonder why Hiker didn’t direct his comment to the individual who actually introduced the real issue of reparations in this discussion to start with?

                Nancy, in regard to your poignant observations- after several years of advocating on social media re the plight of our wildlife, and in particular, the decades’ long mismanagement of our public lands by DOI & Bur Land Mmgt (BLM), I’ve come to the sad conclusion that-

                BLM doesn’t give a darn- never have, never will. This federal agency has somehow escaped all calls for public accountability.

                Repeated reports of wild horses being sold off for slaughter- BLM is complicit; 100s of animals fatally injured under BLM oversight; hundreds of MILLIONS $$$ taxpayer funds wasted… the list goes on way too long

                a % of the advocates just focus on ‘the pretty horses’ while giving little focus on the federal protection that is so perversely twisted.

                A few decades ago, some of us became aware of the $$$ folk who wanted Congress to sell off the public lands for ‘private stewardship’. I think they realized that they really don’t need to purchase the lands- it’s much cheaper to just exploit it and then leave their trash on site.

                • Hiker says:

                  “The idea of reparations and righting wrongs is a landscape fraught with landmines, and will only divide us further.” This is what was said about reparations that you are referring to Mr. Farmer. It was your reply I had issue with…so no, not too odd.

                • TheSandman says:

                  Those feral horses are introduced and invasive. They should be removed. They degrade habitat for our native ungulates, and people’s feelings about them won’t change that.

                • Mark L says:

                  —-Sandman—-And their ancestors came from Mexico…..oh my…..somebody call ICE! Lol

              • Hiker says:

                The same could be said about any Reservation gift store.
                The vast majority of problems people focus on with National Parks end 1/2 mile from the road. That’s where the real magic of protection happens.
                I dare you to snap a pic with a Wild Bison in Yellowstone. You might survive…or Moose, or Elk. They may appear to be tame; I assure you, from vast experience, they are not.
                Giving land back, especially land has important as National Parks, wouldn’t change things, except for the worst. Instead of listening to all Americans, they would listen to just a few. In the name of ‘social justice’ you would exclude most of us from being a part of protection.
                By the way, I grew up going to National Parks, and yes my family was one of those you dismiss so easily. We also recycled, and my parents piled their hard earned money into education…then I became a Park Ranger. Easy to judge, but you never know.

              • Ida Lupine says:

                I don’t believe that, at least not entirely. Yes, it is an important issue, but I worry that the endless needs of humanity will eclipse wilderness, as it has done in the past.

                It’s not our place to judge visitors to Yellowstone. I do believe that it will affect someone’s outlook, to different degrees.

                There are some people that can never be reached, so there’s that too.

    • Robert Goldman says:

      Easy to say if you are not Native American or African American. Black citizens suffered from so much discrimination, re-enforced by government policies and the power of the state, for so long, that some meaningful reparations must be on the table. As for the continent’s first people, there are lands that can and should be returned. Let there be honest discussion.

  4. Brad Meiklejohn says:

    Thank you, George, for a thoughtful and carefully researched article. The currently-fashionable idea of reshuffling land management to satisfy a sense of victimhood doesn’t advance conservation. We need more conservation by people of all brands for the critters that are the actual victims.

  5. Farm2Table says:

    Well- first off- George’s assertion that Yellowstone is extremely cold almost year round is a fallacy.

    Even with a very ‘liberal’ revision of any temperature variances associated with “climate change”!!!, the region would have still been quite habitable for 3/4 of the year. As his initial premise is so easily dismissed, then we can only conclude that the rest of his assertions are pure conjecture & spin.

    • Hiker says:

      Have you spent ANY time there? It’s very cold in the winter. Many wild animals leave Yellowstone for the winter.

      • Nancy says:

        IMHO, Native Americans had no problems storing for winter months in the western part of this country, regardless of where they lived….. for centuries.

        “The Lakota and Dakota Sioux, native peoples who had lived on the Plains for centuries, were nomadic. During the winter they lived in buffalo-hide tents (tipis) and ate the food supplies they had gathered and preserved earlier.

        These supplies could be enormous. An account of General Alfred Sully’s 1863 retaliation against the Dakota for an uprising in 1862 says that his troops burned 500,000 pounds of “jerked buffalo meat, food gathered for the Indians’ long winter” over a two-day period. The melted fat “ran down the valley like a stream,” according to one observer”

        Fact is, the human species is just one of a handful of other species on the planet, that have the “urge” to dominate other species (even our own) Ants come to mind:

        and our species continues to tweak the ecosystem…because we can.

        • Hiker says:

          Yes but…those plains tribes also migrated to winter camps. Why stay somewhere you know will be much worse, especially if you have a long history of nomadism.

          • Ida Lupine says:

            My husband used to live in Idaho (Idaho Falls of all places!)and we talked about how snowy it is in winter the other day.

            He said he’d driven to Yellowstone through the West Entrance on the only open road then one winter. Snow was 8 – 10 feet! he said. It would make sense to go to the lower elevations.

      • Farm2Table says:

        By happenstance, choice or lack of options, there are 100s & 100s of ‘street people’ who survive harsh winters outside-

        the homeless (or hobos or transients or whatever label that suits folk)- from the east coast wet winters on the streets to the makeshift campsites that dot underpasses and gullies in the mountain state towns-

        their limited possessions are often taken by local law enforcement, they’re not using the REI / high end ‘tested to -20F’ sleeping bags…

        their sustenance is from scavenging- no big game animals in their huts for certain

        they survive- they may not thrive.. but they survive

        • Hiker says:

          Wait, let me get this straight, you are actually comparing homelessness to Natives? Wow!
          These homeless camps use our infrastructure to survive. From handouts to garbage cans they find food. Food is the main issue. The Natives had none of this available.

          • Mark L says:

            If food is the main issue,maybe you’re missing something….that natives could find food where we can’t. It may not be a preferred source, but many native could find nutrition from oaks, hickories, persimmons, etc. Just finding a stand of the trees was a good food source, as anything that tried to compete for the nuts was game also…..deer, peccary, squirrels, etc. Most of the larger ones were cut upon arrival of Europeans, for building and fires. The flora and fauna that depended on those trees left also after the trees were cut. There’s actually a lot of ‘food’ in nature if you know where to look and what to avoid.

            • Hiker says:

              Sorry Mark, we were talking about finding food in Yellowstone, in the winter. None of those trees you mentioned grow anywhere near there.

              Yes, some Natives were good at storing food for the winter. I guess I should have said food is ‘one of the’ main issues. But if you and your family had been migrating with the seasons for thousands of years, wouldn’t you just walk downhill for a week to get out the cold?

              This whole discussion is about if National Parks should be given to Natives. Yellowstone is central to this because no one lived there in the same way you and I live in places. The Natives camped in various places in the Yellowstone area during the summer and then left for the winter. Is that a basis for handing them control? And which Natives would govern? Many tribes moved through the area and used it as they went. At least now with the National Park Service they mostly try to see what people want and manage the place within the confines of protecting and preserving for future generations.

              • Mark L says:

                Why food in Yellowstone in winter? The premise of them not being there yearround doesn’t preclude indigenous knowledge of the area, which IS the point of GWs article. So if they were there 8 or 9’months of the year they TECHNICALLY weren’t permanently residents? Sounds like someone is making rules where they showing be. Point is, EVERY national park (on land) had some kind of native residing there at some point, whether it’s Alaska, Hawaii, Maine, or Florida. I get your argument against native control of national parks, but this opposition to whether natives were in Yellowstone year round isn’t helping that argument. Pick another one

                • Mark L says:

                  “ Yellowstone is central to this because no one lived there in the same way you and I live in places”

                  Ouch. Hiker, I like your posts, they are informative but this smacks of so much discriminatory thinking it’s a tragedy. So they had to be there yearround for their opinions to matter?

                • Hiker says:

                  ‘but this opposition to whether natives were in Yellowstone year round isn’t helping that argument.’ I think it is helping win the argument. The suggestion is that the land was stolen to make the park. Yellowstone was used by many tribes, not just one. All of whom had been placed on reservations long before Yellowstone was made. Look at the Navajo reservation; that land had been lived on and used by them for generations. But also they got a much bigger piece than the Hopis who had been there much longer. The Sioux Indians, better known as the Lakota/Dakota, came from Minnesota before arriving on the plains. Where should they live now? It’s way more complicated and unnecessary than most realize.
                  Also we are not talking about ‘So they had to be there year round for their opinions to matter?’ We are talking about ownership and control. People are saying that Native hunter-gatherer ways make them better land managers. Even though none of them have been hunter-gatherers for more than a century. So, because their ancestors supposedly were good managers means you and I and the rest of the country should be excluded from having OUR opinions matter. Right now, as it stands, all Native opinions matter just as much as the rest of us. It seems a backward social justice platform to me. Exclude everyone but a few.

                • Hiker says:

                  “So if they were there 8 or 9’months of the year they TECHNICALLY weren’t permanently residents?” More like 3 months in the area and not all that time would be in what’s now Yellowstone. They camped a few days then moved, again and again. I’ve done the same thing in every National Park I’ve worked/lived in. Even eating the berries and catching fish. Once I spent three days at a backcountry lake in Sequoia N.P. and me and my family ate fish every day for lunch and dinner. Another time I gathered pine nuts at around 10,000 ft. in Death Valley N.P. I haven’t done the acorn but have studied how and maybe, with some trial and error, I could figure it out. Here in the SW I have gathered and eaten the fruits of prickly pear cactus and eaten lots of Juniper berries. Maybe I should be in charge.

  6. Cyndi says:

    Humans have continuously inhabited the Northern Yellowstone Range (hereafter referred to as the Northern Range1) inside and outside Yellowstone National Park (YNP) for at least 11,000 years.2, 3, 4, 5


    J.C. Mosley, J. Fidel, H.E. Hunter, P.O. Husby, C.E. Kay, J.G. Mundinger, R.M. Yonk
    An ecological assessment of the Northern Yellowstone Range: introduction to the Special Issue
    Rangelands, 40 (2018), pp. 173-176
    G.W. Arthur. An archeological survey of the Upper Yellowstone River Drainage, Montana Agricultural Economics Research Report Number 26, Montana Agricultural Experiment Station, Bozeman, MT, USA (1966)
    199 p
    L.A. Lahren. The Myers-Hindman site: an exploratory study of human occupation patterns in the Upper Yellowstone Valley from 7000 B.C. to A.D. 1200
    Anthropologos Researches International, Inc, Livingston, MT, USA (1976)
    195 p
    D.H. MacDonald. Before Yellowstone: Native American archeology in the national park University of Washington Press, Seattle, WA (2018)
    230 p
    D.H. MacDonald. Montana before history: 11,000 years of hunter-gatherers in the Rockies and the Plains. Missoula, MT. Mountain Press Publishing Company, USA (2012)
    204 p

    • Hiker says:

      Even you say inside and OUTSIDE Yellowstone N.P.! They moved downhill in the winter. IT’S COLD! What would they eat? All the animals moved too.

      • Farm2Table says:

        You are not familiar with the Inuit or any of the people who lived even further north of Yellowstone who also survived through frigid winters?

        What did they eat?

        • Hiker says:

          It’s a question of choices. If you used Yellowstone in the summer and then the snows get deep would you spend generations adapting to that or simply walk downhill about 50 miles?

          • Farm2Table says:

            Are any of the eastern seaboard states ‘occupied’? If you visited in the summer, you would say yes. If you visited in the winter, with coastal homes boarded up, you would say no.

            Are the Snowbirds of today residents of MN etc even when they dwell in warmer winter climes?

            the fact remains that archeological evidence confirms the presence of Native peoples in Yellowstone.

        • Don W says:

          The Inuit had marine mammals and the sea to eat from. The inland dwellers of Alaska traditionally depended on trade with the coast to sustain them through long winters with high calorie foods like seal oil and whale blubber. They would disperse from summer camps of families to just family units in sheltered places for the winter because there was not enough caribou were available to hunt for multiple families to live off of.

    • Ralph Maughan says:

      Native people most certainly have inhabited all of what is now Yellowstone Park and all the land and waters around it. In fact, natives inhabited all of North, South and central America.

      This fact doesn’t tell much about indigenous people and national parks, however, because habitation is an inexact term. We don’t know how many people or specific patterns of habitation.

      Was the population dense or sparse? I know there is one hypothesis that 112 million in people lived in North America in 1492, but scores of millions died far ahead of the line of European settlement. They died from European disease infections that killed natives a generation or maybe more before they ever saw a European.

      More likely, though, is the population was not that high. Other estimates have put it lower, some much lower. One is as low as 8-million in 1492. I read that the average estimate is 54-million. See, The Native Population of the Americas in 1492. Second Revised Edition. Edited by William M. Denevan.

      What about 11,000 years ago, and why is that date given so much? I find it most easy to think the population was quite variable. The Ice Age was not over. Speculation about living in Yellowstone ought to take in account the ice sheet that covered much of the area during much of this pre-European period. Or is the native population at the time of the Park’s designation the only figure that counts? If so, then it might be zero. It could be a handful near Gardiner in March 1872.

  7. Greta Anderson says:

    Good lord, these white men are scared of social change and environmental justice. I’m disgusted that reconciling environmental protection with non-oppression is so threatening to this crew. If you are so hell bent on siloing environmental issues, go back to it and stay away from undermining those of us who want to understand the entire landscape.

    • Hiker says:

      Greta why is it ok for people to say “white men” but it’s considered racist otherwise. I think you are being racist and sexist here. Not all “white men” feel the same. To lump them all together is an ignorant disservice to the truth. Besides, I think you’re missing the message of protection. We shouldn’t sacrifice those without voices in the name of social justice.

    • Ralph Maughan says:

      Greta, many social norms permit and even encourage unjust dominance over women and nature. You write like you just discovered this given your rhetorical slashing.

      Attacking men because they are white and even old is no way to win an election. A year from now we could be just getting used to living under real fascism. That means you too and all the indigenous people. I hope you see the threat.

      For the record, aside from my spouse, the first person to tell me about feminism and the good things it stood for was George Wuerthner over 40 years ago.

      • Farm2Table says:

        really.. George was the first? Sounds like you lived in a very small bubble.

        no one is attacking ‘men because they are white’- white men had *and remain, in power and have set the rules etc for .. ever. If they were so insecure and worried about being singled out, they should have included a diverse group of folk in their decision-making process.

        • Hiker says:

          I think the point is using terms like “white men” to define an argument. Let’s just leave out gender and race from these discussions. They are not relative.

          • Farm2Table says:

            fine- come up with a better term for the (white)(men) who dictated and ruled most everything on govt & private policies.

            ‘non-minority non-female’ ? kinda wordy … :)))))

            • Hiker says:

              I don’t need a better term. Listen to me, gender and race should NOT be considered! If you do you are being racist and sexist.

        • Ralph Maughan says:


          George was not the first, I said my spouse was, but George was the first man who did. So he hardly needs education from a younger white woman.

          Oh, I did grow up in a small bubble — Mormon northern Utah.

  8. Kirk C Robinson says:

    Let’s grant for sake of argument that Native Americans did use parts of the YNP landscape for much of the year – what follows? It certainly doesn’t follow that they were driven out. Evidently they were not. Does it follow that they should now be able to use it in the same ways they did a century and a half ago? Not that anyone is clamoring for this or that it is at all probable, but I don’t see how this follows either.

    I think there is a legitimate question as to how some exceptionally important NA traditional lands, such as those encompassed by the new Bears Ears NM, should be managed and by who, as well as what their boundaries should be. But in my opinion, even then maintaining the ecological health and integrity of the land should be the main goal, with all others being secondary. Why? Because it is just that important. In general, I would trust Native Americans whose ancestors used the land more on this issue than any non-native groups, including white people with a social justice agenda.

    • Farm2Table says:

      I think you would enjoy reading the book “Neither Wolf Nor Dog” by Kent Nerburn.

      I believe a multi-ethnic group would (hopefully) be most capable of creating an oversight foundation.

      It is quite interesting to see the differences in how each of the Native Nations view their relationship with the world around them- the Ute v Navajo for example…

      What IS essential is to totally eradicate the ‘for profit’ transient private sector livestock crowd from ALL of our public lands. From a fiscal mismanagement view alone, taxpayers are extremely shortchanged for grazing rights. From an environmental perspective, cattle & sheep are extremely destructive and displace native, natural wildlife.

  9. John says:

    It’s absurd to conflate actual “big lies” that undermine our democratic values with the notion that Indigenous people have longer-standing connections to the Yellowstone area than white people.

    The idea that Yellowstone’s high-elevation climate means humans must not have used the area much does not line up with evidence across the planet that humans have adapted to life in extreme climates, including the Arctic.

    The weaponizing of terminology like “woke” is a lazy tactic that avoids grappling with the fact that white men wrote most of history to fit their own needs and perspectives. Many in younger generations refuse to turn a blind eye to historic and ongoing oppression, and are not threatened by giving Indigenous people a full seat at the table to consider how to care for places we all acknowledge are special.

    Why has this blog become so vocally anti-Indigenous? Who or what is this rhetoric benefiting? Conservation that excludes Indigenous voices perpetuates past wrongs, and will not succeed in the 21st Century.

    • Hiker says:

      John, the artic is NOT the same. There are ways to survive all year up there on available resources. Not so in Yellowstone. There are really no available resources to survive the winter.

      • Mark L says:

        I disagree, I think 10-15 people could easily survive winter in Yellowstone on a primative level. There’s enough resources, but the more desperate you get, the more damaging your efforts are to your immediate environment. I think Jared Diamond addresses this in Guns Germs and Steel. The Norse Greenlanders called the indigenous people ‘skraelings’ which was a derogatory term for them. Oddly (or not?) the Norse couldn’t survive the winters in Greenland on a constant basis, but the skraelings could. Why? Indigenous knowledge of the land. Today we think we know best, but years from now people may look back at us and wonder how we were so backwards for so long….and understanding how destructive we were as a result.
        We do the same for centuries past, whether we are ‘woke’ or not. Example—Whoopi Goldberg made that mistake saying Jews weren’t victims of racism, because she only saw her own racism (experiences and skin color) as oppressed. We can ignore whatever we want to, but we do it at our own peril

        • Hiker says:

          You are mistaken, Norse Greenlanders survived for decades…even centuries, until the climate shifted and the world entered the little ice age. The ‘Skraelings’ didn’t depend on crops or livestock.
          The other part of what you wrote is very interesting to me because I agree that some people might be able to survive Yellowstone’s winter. But I think you miss the point: why would you? All you need to do to have a vastly more pleasant winter is move downhill, migrate, like their ancestors did for thousands and thousands {100,000?} of years.

          • Hiker says:

            But you probably wouldn’t survive. Either freezing to death or starving…most likely both.

            • Mark L says:

              Possibly, but you are actually making my point—that it takes more resources to stay in Yellowstone year round (build dwelling, store food, hunt or fish, etc) than migrate (as natives probably did). Like Kirk said, what does it matter whether they stayed all year? They were there. They had intimate knowledge of Yellowstone over an extended period of time, which holds validity. And my point is also that we need to get thé current management profiteers out ASAP, but fighting someone with almost unlimited resources will be difficult at best.
              And yeah, the Norse Greenlanders failed many times due to unwillingness to adapt to surroundings, and couldn’t pull resources from a supporting faction consistently when times got even tougher. Familiar?

  10. Beeline says:

    You guys need to go outside and look for the smoke signals and get caught up on the news. A management agreement between the National Park Service and “Indians” has been made for the Point Reyes National Seashore.

    ” The Tribe (Federated Indians of Graten Rancheria) and the NPS are now solid partners in the management of PRNS in cultural resource protection and stewardship, traditional ecological knowledge, education, research, revitalization of community and tradition, and the overall stewardship of Park lands and places” Craig Kenkal , Park Supervisor from the NPS website.

    I hope this announcement does not make anybody pee in the their pants but cooperative management is under way already.

    • Hiker says:

      Great news! The park that has the worst track record for protecting wildlife is getting help. I hope it works.
      But this is different from giving National Park land to Indians.

    • Ed Loosli says:

      Beeline: I hope the Graten Rancheria Indians can have better luck in getting the Nat. Park Service to protect and preserve the natural resources of Pt. Reyes Nat. Seashore than all the conservation groups and lawyers, who are now in court fighting to get the Park Service to follow their own mission statement. As it stands, the Nat. Park Service wants to begin to CULL (shoot) native tule elk because it says, the elk are eating the grass that belongs to domestic cattle owned by “ranchers” who were bought out by the Nat. Park Service 60 years ago – and refuse to leave. There are only a few hundred elk at PRNS and yet, the Nat. Park Service lets over 5000 cattle graze and crap on 28,000 acres of PUBLIC LAND inside a National Park property. The courts will rule soon, and I hope the Native Americans can somehow bring the Nat. Park Service to listen and obey the law.

  11. Ida Lupine says:

    I haven’t wanted to say much in this discussion because it is so fraught with misunderstandings and because it really is a no-win situation – I’m a big believer in the value of Native contribution to use of land, and I do think generally that it has been less dominating and destructive of and more ‘a part of’ our wilderness.

    But many times, that kind of thinking has been called ‘stereotyping’. It reminds me of the to-do over the “Keep American Beautiful” commercial featuring a Native person, which was called stereotyping.

    Why isn’t it stereotyping now, in our modern world? Many people of Native descent are not connected to the ‘old ways’. Many are involved in logging, ranching and fossil fuel extraction.

    One of the worst examples I have seen was a couple of young Native buffalo hunters, once buffalo hunting was opened up again in Yellowstone, who had no idea what they were doing, and a Native American poet I had read at the High Country News said that he doesn’t like to be generalized in that way and even said, with poetic license I hope, that he wanted cut all the trees down!

    Why are a bunch of people who I don’t think are all Native American promoting this about our national parks? It’s too late now to go back, and we must all work together. We’re stuck with each other. I worry that this kind of thinking will backfire in a big way, and open up the parks to development.

    • Hiker says:

      Wow Ida that was well said for someone who hesitated. Please don’t hesitate in the future. Your input is important. As is all input here, even when I disagree.

      • Ida Lupine says:

        Oh thanks! I’d never want to hurt anyone, with something said callously.

    • Robert Goldman says:

      Ida, I agree with you. Speak up as you often do. Great contribution to this discussion.

  12. Loren Mooney says:

    “Woke” is an English adjective meaning ‘alert to racial prejudice and discrimination’ that originated in African-American Vernacular English. It is very informative to me when someone thinks that is a bad thing.

    • Hiker says:

      Everything can be taken too far. If you are really alert you should have noticed “Woke” being used to cancel and end debate. That’s the way it’s being used here. We don’t want to cancel Wilderness protection for social justice. One has nothing to do with the other. Ask yourself why National Parks are targeted instead of more productive land.

  13. John R says:

    more than 1,850 archeological sites have been documented since the archeology program began in 1995, less than 3% of the park has been inventoried.

    • Hiker says:

      Prove any of those sites were used in the winter. Even today with roads and modern devices getting to, let alone living in, Yellowstone is a major challenge.
      Imagine being a Park Ranger at Old Faithful; in the summer it’s a two hour drive for supplies. In the winter it’s snowmobile for hours to your car, then drive another hour. This is not made up, I worked there, some of my friends were year round employees and told me first hand what they experienced.
      Now imagine you are a hunter-gatherer with no modern equipment and every decision might be life or death not just for you but your whole family. Would you try to survive brutal conditions or migrate like all your ancestors have for thousands of years.
      Even today the only agriculture that exists near Yellowstone is cattle grazing. These people had no reason to stay put, they moved from place to place all the time; camping in favorite spots where they found food at different times of the year. These archeological sites are their summer campsites. Even in the summer they wouldn’t stay at one place for long. They moved.

      • Brett C Cole says:

        So you are saying a nomadic culture didn’t live where they traveled? That is the definition of nomad.

        • Hiker says:

          Not what I said at all. Of course Natives lived there, just not year round.

          The main point is that the land was not stolen to make the park. All natives there were on reservations first.

          Think about it this way: Imagine your ancestors had a summer home and a winter home. Then one day the government forces them to stay in their winter home. One hundred or so years go by and now you want to control the land your ancestors summered in but it’s controlled by the government. Wouldn’t it make sense to just stay. What gives you the right to control somewhere else?

  14. Brett C Cole says:

    Wow, talk abouy revisionist narratives. This entire article is trying to downplay the genocide of the native Americans (not Indians…you would think an author would understand this isn’t India) and make it seem like native people’s didn’t use Yellowstone as a natural resource haven. Also, claiming that a largely nomadic culture didn’t “live” in the places they frequented for resources is just plain stupid. Plenty of habitation traces all over Yellowstone. The author really is trying to make white people out to be the great saviors, while trying to posit that natives didn’t even use the land. What a load of garbage.

    • Hiker says:

      Have you ever asked an Indian what they prefer being called? I have; the answer: “It doesn’t matter, you can call us either.”

      It’s not whether they lived there, it’s whether that gives their descendants the right to manage OUR land.

      Right now Natives across the country are buying land back. This is private land that once was used by their ancestors. I have no problem with that. But the premise that they could manage the parks better because their ancestors were hunter-gatherers makes no sense.

  15. William Hansen says:

    Throughout history the last person who controlled land, ruled that land.The Mongols were the largest conquerors of any land mass. Should we pressure China to return those lands to them? Same goes to our native peoples. What tribe and when did the tribe(s)control a portion of any land mass. Should we get in our boats and planes and return to Europe, Africa and Asia? And return all land back to the native peoples.
    Maybe it’s time to think out of box and make the native people’s citizens of the USA or if in Canada, Canadians. Many would not want that. They are doing quite well running Casinos and turning parts of some reservations into amusement parks. Many others are not doing well and are living well below the poverty line. Depends on which tribe you belong too.
    Who would want to make the decision as to which tribes would prosper and which would not. I’d bet any tribe would love to take over Yellowstone, raise the gate fees and hotel prices. Add a casino, maybe a ski area. Or if you got lucky you might get the right tribe who would do a better job than the forest service!
    WHO KNOWS!! But I wouldn’t risk it
    Yellowstone is still the best thing America has ever done!

    • Hiker says:

      Nice post but Yellowstone is not run by the Forest Service, it’s run by the National Park Service. I worked there for three summers and while not perfect they do a great job.

      People often claim the parks are mismanaged because of the crowds. Yes, certain areas are crowded but if you want solitude it’s not hard to find. And like you point out, what’s to stop Natives from doing worse.


March 2022


‎"At some point we must draw a line across the ground of our home and our being, drive a spear into the land and say to the bulldozers, earthmovers, government and corporations, “thus far and no further.” If we do not, we shall later feel, instead of pride, the regret of Thoreau, that good but overly-bookish man, who wrote, near the end of his life, “If I repent of anything it is likely to be my good behaviour."

~ Edward Abbey

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