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William Henry Jackson, the National Parks, & Usgs

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As a young boy William Henry Jackson had an urge to explore and document the great unknown. Capturing nature and its creatures in the raw and uncut wilderness in which they live was coded within his DNA. It was something no person or agency had to request, but a natural want and desire to do so. Jackson had traveled many times within the Yellowstone wilderness and other National Park regions before their creation, but never had he been a part of something whose direct intention was to explore and document the wilderness of the West. He would later go on to state that “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” (Jackson 186). He would spend these fruitful years, through his camera and brush stroke, exposing the numerous hidden wonders of the West. Many of Jackson's efforts can be credited with the creation of our nation’s first National Park, Yellowstone in the Wyoming territory, as well as Yosemite National Park, Mesa Verde National Park Rocky Mountain National Park and the Grand Teton National Park. Jackson was the first pioneer to accurately photograph such wonders so realistic, helping unravel the mysteries associated with the West. In the last years of his life he would receive one of the most important commissions of his career (Jackson 234). Through perseverance, ingenuity, and the strength that only comes from a man on the frontier, Jackson laid the groundwork for one of America's best ideas (Duncan, Burns)
Jackson would begin his decade of historic exploration in the summer of 1870. A man by the name of Dr. Ferdinand Vandiveer Hayden arrived at Jackson's studio on the morning of July 23, 1870 with what he hoped was an enticing offering (Jackson 187). Dr. Hayden was head of the United States geological survey and was proportioned funds to document and map the western wilderness. On that day he proposed, “a summer of hard work and the satisfaction (Jackson) would find in contributing his art to science.” (Jackson 187). It didn't take long for Jackson to make a decision for on August 1, 1870 he left the responsibility of his shop with his wife, Mollie and he made his way to Cheyenne, Wyoming (Jackson 188). After being introduced to the other men, Dr. Hayden, Jackson, and the rest of the survey party, 20 in all, departed from Camp Carlin on August 7, 1870. They headed west along the Oregon-Mormon Trail as far as Fort Bridger, “up the Lodge Pole, down the Chugwater, up the Platte and the Sweetwater, then across through the South pass and into the Unita Mountains.” (Jackson 189). They spent two weeks exploring, photographing, and documenting their discoveries. Most of this wilderness had been traveled by the veterans and was nothing new. Although Jackson was familiar with the territory, this route was in a sense, new to him. in previous travels he had limited himself to the “high-road.” On this expedition he estimated that:
For every mile on the map, we covered two or three on the ground - up mountainside, down streambed, across country - to gather rock specimens, to survey and map, and to paint and photograph. (Jackson 189)
The Hayden party of 1870 would be out two months, after which Jackson would return to Washington to collect and organize all of his findings. During which Dr. Hayden asked Jackson to become a permanent and salaried member of his staff (Jackson 191). Along the journey back East Jackson would have a firsthand encounter with the majestic Southern migration of the Buffalo, a site that in less than a generation would be gone forever (Jackson 193). During the preceding winter months, Jackson met with Dr. Hayden in preparing plans for next summer's trip. Due to the nature of his new job, Jackson elected to try and sell his business and focus solely on his new role with the USGS. Not only would this job take up all his time and effort, he was a father-to-be with a daughter on the way (Jackson 194). Unfortunately there were no prospective buyers. So, Mollie once again took up responsibility for the business as her husband spent the summer exploring the West.
By the early part of June 1871, Jackson had arrived in Ogden, Utah Territory to find that this year's party had grown from 20 to 34. Among the new recruits included a highly ranked painter by the name of Thomas Moran (Jackson 195) as well as several other distinguished artists in their own field. the increase in size was made possible by the roughly $40,000 that Congress had appropriated for the new exploration into the Yellowstone territory. It wasn't what the survey party had already done but what there was still to find within the Yellowstone territory that peaked the government's interest (Jackson 195). There had been many other pioneers that had returned from the area, telling majestic tales of grandeur, but lacking physical and visual evidence and that is where Jackson was needed. "No photographs had yet been published, and Dr. Hayden was determined that the first ones should be good." (Jackson 196)
On June 10, 1871, the survey party broke camp at Ogden, and headed north from which they intended to enter Yellowstone from the North that being the easiest route at the time. Along the way, Jackson snapped pictures through Idaho, Montana, and into Virginia City. The party moved through Fort Ellison and set up base camp at Boteler’s Ranch on the Yellowstone River (Jackson 197). Further passage was to be done by the backs of horse and mule and an armed escort in the second United States Calvary was to accompany them through hostile Indian territory. It took less than a two day's journey away from base camp for the men to lay eyes on the first of many wonders Yellowstone had to offer. Late afternoon on the second day, the party came upon the Mammoth Hot Springs and as far as the records had shown, they were the first white men to set eyes on the bubbling pits of Mother Nature (Jackson 198). This first day for Jackson would turn out to be extremely productive with subject matter being so overly abundant.
They traveled up Yellowstone River to Baronet’s bridge, from where they headed to Tower Creek. This is where Jackson would be put to the test, attempting to capture the stream dropping into the gorge. It would take an act of God, or a timely stroke of luck for that matter, to develop a single usable plate.
Since the mountain could not be brought to Mohammed, another method had to be worked out, and finally I saw the situation. after setting up and focusing my camera at the bottom of the gorge, I would prepare a plate, back the holder with wet blotting paper, then slip and slide and tumbled down to my camera and make the exposure. After taking my picture, I had to climb to the top carrying the exposed plate wrapped up in a moist towel. With Dixon to help, cleaning and washing the plates, I succeeded in repeating the procedure four or five times. The end of the day found us exhausted but very proud; and we had reason to be pleased with ourselves, for not a single one of our plates had dried out before being developed. (Jackson 199) the party would then travel to the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, spending a week documenting the climax of the trip (Jackson 199). This is where Jackson’s appreciation for Thomas Moran and his skills as an artist became apparent. He would later go on to say, "so far as I am concerned, the great picture of the 1871 expedition was no photograph, but a painting by Thomas Moran of Yellowstone Falls" (Jackson 200). Jackson was also very conscious that although pictures were a necessity to fulfilling the publication of the survey, the basic purpose was always exploration (Jackson 201). They broke camp and pushed up river towards Yellowstone Lake. While surveying the lake, Jackson ventured into the Firehole country that lied west of the camp. He would be rewarded with the discovery of a new basin of geyser cones and caught one of them in eruption (Jackson 202). They left the lake crossing over the East Fork of the Yellowstone, stopping for a day’s rest at Soda Butte. The party then began their return to Boteler’s Ranch on the same path they had taken on their assent and by the time the survey party reached base camp, they had spent exactly 40 days in Yellowstone (Jackson 202). The party then loaded up their wagons, and proceeded in a southerly direction across the divide, finally coming out at Fort Hall Idaho. The expedition would then work their way east to the Evanston by way of the Union Pacific. The main part of the expedition would disband for the remainder of the year (Jackson 202).
Jackson would spend the later part of the year tending to his wife and preparing to sell the studio. He would eventually be made an offer, though at a loss, which he accepted. While Jackson was busy tending to personal matters at home, Dr. Hayden was busy convincing Congress of the notion to set Yellowstone aside forever after only a couple of days visiting with his father and family, Jackson was urgently summoned to the capital by Dr. Hayden. “A bill to establish Yellowstone as a national park was under consideration and more prints and negatives or needed at once.” (Jackson 204). By late January of 1872, the bill was ready for action in the Senate (Duncan, Burns 34). The bill would pass the Senate "almost by unanimous consent." the house had even less of a debate and quickly passed the bill, 115 to 65 (Duncan, Burns 35). Then on March 1, 1872, Pres. Ulysses S Grant signed the bill creating Yellowstone Park (Duncan, Burns 35).
Not only did Congress pass the bill, they also appropriated a generous amount of money for a second expedition including the Teton Range to the south. The Yellowstone survey of 1872 would be split up into two parties. The larger, headed by Dr. Hayden would retrace the path from the previous year exploring the train in greater detail. The second and smaller party led by Dr. Hayden’s executive manager, James Stephen would explore the Tetons and enter the park by way of the Tahgee Pass (Jackson, 205). Due to the virgin territory in the Tetons, Jackson was obviously assigned to the Stephenson party. Stephenson would lead his party straight north from base camp towards the Teton Range accompanied by his usual array of cameras and photographic necessities. Jackson added a larger 11 x 14 camera because of the fact that it was impossible to produce quality enlargements from the smaller negatives due to the size of the frames. Jackson could no longer use the more portable dark-box and was forced to develop the plates in a bulkier dark-tent. This was no burden to Jackson, but just another challenge. Along the way, Jackson would lead his photographic crew on side trips, capturing breathtaking landscapes, while perched atop precarious vantage points. Upon their return, the Stevenson party would proceed straight to the foot of the Grand Teton (Jackson 208). By the middle of August, both parties would be gathered in the lower Firehole Basin and by now the entire lot had grown to over 60. The next couple of weeks would prove to be one of Jackson's most fruitful periods in the case of subject matter to which he would exploit. By now he was exclusively using the 11 x 14 and every possible variable would line up in his favor everywhere he went.
Back in Washington, Jackson spent most of his waking hours cataloging and classifying his pictures and providing friends in and out of Congress, copies of them as well as laying out plans for next year (Jackson , 209) plans to further explore the Northwest Territories would have to be put on hold in light of the native Indian’s hostility towards white man in the region. So it was to be that the survey party of 1873 would make their way into the Rockies of Colorado. Though Jackson had already taken several small photographic side trips during the previous surveys as well as on his own, the Rockies were still uncharted wilderness to the scientific community.
The survey of 1873 into the Colorado territory would differ from the ones in the past. Instead of one or two larger sized parties, it was elected to arrange many small corps in order to cover as much ground as possible (Jackson, 209). This year's survey field commander would be James T Gardner, instead of Dr. Hayden, and unlike previous years the survey would depart in late spring instead of the typical early summer. Jackson arrived in Denver on May 14, 1873 to find their main camp already established (Jackson, 210). After receiving his morning orders, Jackson assembled his group and broke camp on May 24, 1873, making their way towards the first destination of Long’s Peak. This small exploration party was of a certain importance to Jackson. Leading his men, followed by the train of pack mules, he would be quoted as saying, "as Potato John led off, riding our bell mare, I felt like a general in command of an army. This was my expedition.” (Jackson, 210) The small band of explorers would spend the next few days making their way to the foothills of the Rockies through the St. Vrain Canyon. By May 30 they had made it as far as Prospect Mountain providing Jackson with a superb shot of Long’s Peak. Zigzagging through valleys, scaling steep, mountain passes, the Jackson party made its way through the Rockies documenting all the new discoveries they came upon. Eventually, the team would find themselves atop Torrey’s Peak at an elevation of 14,264 feet above sea level (NGS). Just after July 4, 1873, the group made their way to Fairplay to rendezvous with the others as scheduled. To cover the required itinerary, Jackson and his band of scientists and packers had to maintain a brisk pace of 25 miles per day to which made for early wake-up calls (Jackson, 213). Once Hayden and the others arrived in Fairplay, everyone spent a week swapping their information and findings. Then on July 18, all parties set out in a direction towards the Mountain of the Holy Cross. Although all parties initially remained separate, each one traveled in a somewhat parallel path as the others. They would eventually come together once more in early August, when Jackson would fall victim to an “evil mule named Gimlit” (Jackson, 215). Many of his 11 x 14 plates were irreparably shattered along with many others after the good-for-nothing beast slipped his pack and scattered the plates all over the trail. This would prove to favor Jackson such that by returning to retake the shots they would turn out far better than the previous ones.
As luck would have it, "the delay brought me (Jackson) to the mountain of the Holy Cross at that exact moment when every condition was close to perfection." (Jackson, 215). On August 23 they would arrive at Notch Mountain across the ravine to find it too overcast to get a shot. Not wanting to go home empty-handed. The group spent the night on the mountain without any jackets, blankets or food. Jackson awoke early next morning, set up his equipment and as the sun and shadows aligned just right, he was able to take the best photo of Mt. Holy Cross he would ever take (Jackson, 218).
The survey of 1874 would be a late one, departing in mid July and would be a similar repeat to the last year’s survey as there would be many small parties setting out on reconnaissance expeditions in search of field operations for next year (Jackson, 223).Jackson would pack for speed and ease of travel so he carried only his smaller cameras and essentials for development. On July 21, 1874 Jackson and his crew made their way south towards the San Luis Valley, where they witnessed a band of Uncompahgre Ute braves drawing their annual supplies from the government. The party eventually reached Los Pinos Creek where they would have a semi-friendly encounter with the Utes. At first the Indians were interested in Jackson's photography, but then without warning, moods changed (Jackson, 226). Two Ute chiefs wanted and demanded to take all of Jackson's plates and natives under the pretence that Jackson’s equipment made their people sick and even caused death. After an exposition of marksmanship by Jackson in a couple other members of the team, the two Indian Chiefs left party alone (Jackson, 228). On their way to the Rio Grande, Jackson and his team would make a more important discovery than the Indians at Los Pinos. They would run into a couple of miners, one who Jackson already knew from Omaha, who convinced them to search out the cliff ruins at Mesa Verde (Jackson, 228). Jackson would also be introduced to the chief owner of the mining claim John Moss, who would be their guide to the ruins. On late September 9, 1874 the party arrived with-in an eyeshot of the ruins. Jackson and Ernest Ingersoll could not hold their excitement till morning and would make 800 foot ascent up the canyon wall to lay eyes on the newly discovered ruins before anyone else. Jackson ventured the assumption that "they were surely the first white man who had ever looked down into the canyon from this dwelling on the cliff." (Jackson, 232). The party would return to Denver. By way of Baker's Park Jackson would eventually return to Washington by November 1, 1874 once more.
Without much review, Dr. Hayden had already decided that the next year's agenda would entail Jackson to return to Mesa Verde and collecting a much larger array of photos and paintings of the prehistoric runs. This second exploration of the ruins would be of extra importance to Jackson as he would be using a 20 x 24" camera, the largest he had ever handled outside of the studio (Jackson, 236). Similar to the Yellowstone exploration of 1873, the party would be split into two groups. They would travel together until August 1, were Jackson's old friend William Holmes took one party and headed up Montezuma Canyon in search of other lost cities, from where Jackson and crew pushed West into Utah (Jackson, 237) they would discover magnificent caves cut out of the canyon wall by water over time, large, impassable gorges, and an ancient great river that now only trickles into the San Juan (Jackson, 238). On a "fortnights expedition" to the Moqui country of Arizona, the expedition party encountered several bands of Novajo Indians as well as discovering and whole town of little sandstone dwellings. On August 12 the party got their first glimpse of the Moqui towns and before sunset, they arrived at the Pueblo of Tewa. After documenting the native peoples, they made their way back to Montezuma Canyon and back on to familiar territory. However familiar it might have been, friendly, it sure was not. After just a short stop in Los Pinos they proceeded on. Jackson would spend one more month photographing his way through Colorado ending up back in Denver on October 13, 1875 (Jackson, 242).
Jackson would spend a couple more years working for Dr. Hayden and the survey, compiling sketches creating clay models for exhibits and in 1877, without taking a single picture, bared the title as archaeologists. He truly loved what he did, but in 1878 he had the responsibility of a growing family to attend to. It was not until he was brought out of retirement some 57 years later, would he be directly involved with the national parks or the USGS.
After participating in a ceremony commemorating the 75th anniversary of the Pony Express, Jackson stopped by the Department of the Interior on August 23, 1935 to visit old friends. "This visit, which began purely as a social call ended up with my receiving one of my most important commissions of my career." (Jackson 334) Jackson was asked by the director of the National Park Service, Mr. Arno B. Commerer, if you would be willing to sketch a set of murals "memorializing" the early days of the different geological surveys (Jackson 334). He was elated by the offer and on the following day he would be "sworn in" as an honorary member of the National Park Service. It would take Jackson just over a year to complete the four murals depicting the four major survey parties of the West. They would depict the Hayden Survey, the King Survey of the 40th Parallel, the Wheeler Survey of 1873, and the Powell Survey of the Colorado River (USGS), two of which can be seen on display at a Department of the Interior building in Washington DC. This would prove to be "one of the most gratifying tasks of my life."
William Henry Jackson understood the importance of preserving nature in its raw and natural state of beauty, whether it was capturing something on camera or protecting natural wonders from development, for everyone to enjoy generations to come. It was in his blood. It was something that filled his life with meaning and self-worth because of such passion and diligence to preserve Mother Nature. Our generation and numerous generations to come will be able to gaze upon Mother Nature’s hidden treasures in awe, just as he did some 150 odd years ago. Without Jackson's photographs, sketches and paintings, the National Parks would not be the same as they are today, if they were to even exist at all. Through the lens of his camera and the stroke of his brush William Henry Jackson opened eyes of America to what magnificent wonders existed right in our own backyard.
With over forty thousand plates alone, it is almost impossible to choose a couple Jackson’s pieces of art to analyze. Every single one has something unique and striking about it that calls to you, stimulating your imagination and senses. Jackson wanted to document Nature in its raw and natural form. That is why I chose these two photographs to analyze. The first photo I chose happens to be possibly the oldest photograph of Mammoth Hot springs that exists according to Jackson himself. It was taken on My eyes are initially drawn to the flat mirror like pool of water filled to the brim. It really gives the effect that you are looking at a marble counter top or something so perfectly flat it doesn’t resemble water. Then you noticed the black silhouette of a man standing in the center of the frame. According to Jackson that is the world-renown painter, Thomas Moran. I am really drawn to the sharp vertical lines that intersect with the water really enhancing the “table-effect” the hot springs have. The picture also shows how uninhabitable the areas around the hot springs are. There are lifeless tree trunks protruding out of the ground without a single leaf or sign of life in sight. The Second Image I chose was a photograph of Old Faithful’s eruption during the Hayden Survey of 1872. With the plume of white water exploding into the sky, it effectively illustrates the immense power and force nature possesses. As you stare into the picture, you get this sense of awe, and are captivated in the same way as the subjects at the base of the geyser are. What must the sound be like to hear Mother Nature bellowing out thousands of gallons of boiling hot water from the depths below the earth’s surface. The black and white medium really allows you to see how powerful this geyser is, because there is no sign of life near the geyser at all. It is a barren wasteland. Neither of the pictures were set up to be pretty or adjusted to smooth out any imperfections. Jackson’s camera captured every little grit of raw beauty nature had to offer.

Works Cited
Duncan, Dayton, and Ken Burns. The National Parks: America's Best Idea. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2009. Print.
Jackson, William Henry. Hayden Party Survey Camp at Ogden, Utah, 1872. 1872. photograph. Smithsonian Institution Archives, George P. Merril Collection.
Jackson, William Henry. Powell Surevey of the Colorado RIver. 1935-36. Mural. Private Collection, Washington DC.
Jackson, William Henry. Time Exposure: The Autobiography of William Henry Jackson. Tucsan: The Patrice Press, 1994. Print.
Jackson, William Henry. Old Faithful in Eruption. 1872. Museum of New Mexico, Sante Fe. Great Photographers of the American West. By Eva Webber. Greenwich: Brompton , 1993. 46. Print.
U.S. Department of the Interior, and U.S. Geological Survey. "The Four Great Surveys of the West." USGS. Eastern Publications Group, 10 Apr. 2000. Web. 29 Nov. 2011. .

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