If you visited Yellowstone in the 1920s, the welcome brochure handed to you at the entrance gate would have a picture of a tourist hand-feeding a black bear on the side of the road, with dozens of onlookers. It was illegal of course, the brochure even said it. But nobody saw that, they saw a potential to interact with the park’s most beloved animal. It led to bears seeking food along the roadside and an increase in bear-human conflicts, most of which went unreported because, well, it was illegal.
2. Feeding grizzly bears.
As early as 1889, the Park’s hotels had feeding platforms established on site. Every evening, guests would find a spot in the amphitheater style seating specifically built so that everyone could have a great view of the dozens of grizzlies that would gather on the platform. The hotels would pile garbage and restaurant leftovers on the platforms, an attractant for hungry bears looking for easy calories. The last feeding platform didn’t close until 1970, when the park changed to a more ecological management style, due to the rise in human-bear conflicts.
3. Having bears as pets.
Horace Alright, the superintendent of Yellowstone in the 1920s, had two pet bears named Max and Climax. And he used to picnic with them.
4. Driving Rules
If you were to drive in Yellowstone when they first permitted cars into the park, it was a requirement to honk around each corner to warn any potential oncoming cars on the narrow dirt roads.
5. Poaching and vandalism were rampant.
When Yellowstone was first established as a park, many of the fur trappers living off the land in the area were not on board with protecting the land. The fur trappers knew the land better than the park staff, and because of the sheer size of the park, could get away with chopping down trees, poaching countless bison and elk, signing their names on geysers and setting fire to the forests. It wasn’t until the Army took over, upping the punishments for these crimes, that they finally started to die down.
6. People were rather creative with the souvenirs they collected and their use of thermal features.
Visitors used to take chunks of geyser cones home with them. There were no warning signs, no boardwalks, no ranger patrolling the grounds to stop you. Visitors could climb on Mammoth Hot Springs with no repercussions. They also used to use Old Faithful as a laundromat, knowing it would act as a steam cleaner, spewing out their dirty socks and jackets in good as new condition. At one point, gift shops had a difficult time keeping soap in stock, as so many visitors would buy soap to pour it into a geyser, inducing the eruption.
7. Wolves were eradicated.
Today, the land within Park Service boundaries is a place where nature is allowed to take its course, with minimal human interference. In Yellowstone’s early days, wolves were viewed as “bad predators,” as many believed they posed a threat to livestock. When livestock owners wanted wider grazing ranges and less grey wolf encounters, the government helped clear livestock grounds of grey wolves. Wolves were baited and poisoned and by 1926, wolves had been completely eradicated in the park, by the Park Service.
8. Hundreds of non-native fish species were introduced to lakes and streams.
Yellowstone has 13 native fish in its pristine lakes and streams. In the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, the park introduced non-native trout to please sport fisherman, some of which wreaked havoc on the ecosystem, leading to the decline in native fish today.
9. The first superintendent’s work in the park.
The first superintendent only visited the park twice, once on the Hayden expedition and once to evict a squatter. In his defense, the position was unpaid and he was a busy man.