Numerous “petrifactions and fossils” — Yellowstone Commemorative Silver Dollar Coin

Today, the Yellowstone Commemorative Silver Dollar Coin remembers the Act of Dedication for the national park signed by President Grant 145 years ago.

But how did they learn about all of the natural and geological formations of the area?

The Haynes Guide, the Complete Handbook, Yellowstone National Park, compiled by Jack E. Haynes, thirtieth annual edition published in 1916, provided historical background of the area:


Although part of it was included in the great Louisiana Purchase of 1803, the Yellowstone Park was not then known to white men. Probably the first one who ever saw any of its hot springs or geysers was John Colter who left the celebrated Lewis and Clark Expedition, which was on its return to St. Louis, in 1806 and started for the head waters of the Missouri River to trap and hunt.

This lone adventurer passed northward in 1807 from the mouth of the Big Horn to the Forks of the Shoshone River where he discovered an immense tar spring; he continued on through a country where much hot spring and geyser phenomena exist and down the Yellowstone River to the ford at Tower Falls, thence out near the northeastern corner of what is now the National Park.

After four years of peril among the Indians and a miraculous escape from the hostile Blackfeet, he returned in 1810 to St. Louis. His wonderful tales were hard to believe and the place he described, (which was thought to be the product of his imagination), was termed “Colter’s Hell.”

The Park had been described in part by some of the early hunters, but their knowledge of the place was limited, due to the fact, no doubt, that the region was so difficult to explore; and it is a fact worthy of note that until 1834, no written description of these geyser regions had ever appeared.

But in that year, one W. A. Ferris visited the Upper and Lower Geyser Basins and prepared a description of what was there. The next written account of the region appeared ten years later based on information furnished by the noted Rocky Mountain Guide, James Bridger, “He (Bridger) gives a picture most romantic and enticing of the head waters of the Yellowstone,” to quote from Gunnisen’s History of the Mormons,

“A lake, sixty miles long, cold and pellucid, lies embosomed among high precipitous mountains. On the west side is a sloping plain, several miles wide, with clumps of trees and groves of pine. The ground resounds with the tread of horses.

“Geysers spout up seventy feet high, with terrific hissing noise, at regular intervals. Waterfalls are spark ling, leaping and thundering down the precipices, and collect in the pool below.

“The river issues from this lake, and for fifteen miles roars through the perpendicular canyon at the outlet. In this section are the ‘Great Springs,’ so hot that meat is readily cooked in them, and as they descend on successive terraces, afford at length delightful baths.

“On the other side is an acid spring, which gushes out in a river torrent; and below is a cave, that supplies ‘vermillion’ for savages in abundance.”

Probably no other man in Bridger’s time had such a comprehensive knowledge of the Park region.

Captain John Mullan mentions the Park geysers in his report to the government in 1853 and states that he visited them.

Colonel Raynold’s Expedition could not penetrate the region when it attempted to explore it in 1860, on account of the snow encountered; the party encircled it however and learned much from the tales of hunters and trappers who had visited it. Colonel Raynold in his report on the “Exploration of the Yellowstone” in 1859-60 states regarding the “Munchausen Tales” about the Park:

“One was to this effect: ‘In many parts of the country petrifactions and fossils are very numerous, and, as a consequence, it was claimed that in some locality (I was not able to fix it definitely) a large tract of sage is perfectly petrified, with all the leaves and branches in perfect condition, the general appearance of the plain being like that of the rest of the country, but all is stone ; while the rabbits, sage hens and other animals usually found in such localities are still there, perfectly petrified, and as natural as when they were living; and, more wonderful still, the petrified bushes bear the most wonderful fruit; diamonds, rubies, sapphires, emeralds, etc., etc., as large as black walnuts, are found in abundance.’ ”

The following is taken from the report made to the late Dr. F. V. Hayden, chief of Geological Survey of Territories, by Henry Gannet, E. M., on the geographical field work of the U. S. Geological Survey during the season of 1878:

“The story of the remarkable fruit born by these stone trees is not far from correct, the main difference between the story and the fact being that the fruit is borne on the outside and inside of the trunk of the trees, instead of on the ends of the branches.

“The mineral species are not as given in the story, either, but this is a matter of no vital importance. In the process of the silicification of wood the last result of all is the production of quartz crystals. The trunk is converted totally into crystalline quartz, radiating from within outward, the crystals being all crowded out of shape.

“The inside and outside of the hollow cylinder of quartz, which represents the former tree, are covered with the characteristic quartz pyramids. Such products of silicification are very abundant in the Park, particularly on Amethyst Ridge, and are, undoubtedly, the stone fruit of the petrified trees and bushes.

“The crystals are colorless, amethystine or yellow, and according to the color, are known to the mountain man as diamonds, amethyst, topaz, etc. It is unnecessary to say that the part of the story relating to animal life was manufactured from the whole cloth.

“In 1863, Captain W. W. DeLacy, in command of a large party of prospectors, left Montana to prospect on the upper waters of the Snake. Striking that river near the junction of Henry’s Fork, they followed up the main river through the canyon, prospected in Jackson’s Hole, and, not finding gold in paying quantities, they broke up the party, some returning one way, some another. Captain DeLacy, with a portion of the party, followed up the Snake and Lewis Fork, discovering Lewis and Shoshone (DeLacy’s) Lakes, the Shoshone and the Lower Basins.

“The geographical work done by Captain DeLacy on this trip was embodied in a map of Montana, drawn by himself, and published by authority of the territory in 1864-65, and the material thus made public was afterwards used by the land office in the compilation of maps of that region.

“The results of this trip seem to have attracted little or no attention, for we hear of no one going into the country until 1869, when the two prospectors, Cook and Folsom, made a prospecting tour through the Park.

“They followed the Yellowstone up to the mouth of the East Fork, then up the latter stream for a few miles, crossing over to the Yellowstone at the Great Falls; thence they went up this stream to the foot of the lake and around the east side of the latter to the extremity of the west arm; thence crossing over to Shoshone Lake and Lower Geyser Basin on the Madison or Firehole, and finally left the country by following down the Madison River.

“Their story, written by Mr. David E. Folsom, and published in the Chicago Western Monthly for July, 1870, immediately attracted attention, and the following summer a large party, composed of prominent citizens of Montana, under the leadership of General Washburn, then Surveyor General of Montana, was made up for the purpose of exploring this region.

“Among the party was Hon. N. P. Langford, first superintendent of the Park; Hon. Cornelius Hedges, who first proposed setting apart this region as a National Park ; Hon. T. C. Everts and S. T. Hauser, accompanied by a small escort from Fort Ellis in charge of Lieut. G. C. Doane.

“This party made quite extensive explorations on the Yellowstone and Madison rivers. Passing up the Yellowstone by the well-known trail, they traveled completely around the lake, visiting all localities of interest along the route, with the single exception of Mammoth Hot Springs, on Gardiner River.”

Many of the most prominent features of the Park were named by this party — Mount Washburn the famous promontory, Old Faithful Geyser, the Castle, Beehive, National Park Mountain, and several other conspicuous points of interest.

While they were near Yellowstone Lake, Mr. Everts strayed away from the party and was lost in this almost impenetrable country. After making a diligent but unsuccessful search for him, the party was forced to continue their journey; and when they returned, finding that Mr. Everts had not been heard from, two men with provisions and ammunition were immediately sent out in search of him.

In the meantime Mr. Everts had been overtaken by a severe storm and while searching on foot for evidence of a trail, lost his eye glasses and was unable to return to his horses. Three weeks later he was found by Jack Barronette in a starved and half demented condition crawling on his hands and knees. Happily he fully recovered from his unfortunate experience.

The success of the Washburn Expedition and the accounts furnished by its members led to extensive explorations in 1871.

Expeditions under Dr. F. V. Hayden of the United States Geological Survey, and Captains Barlow and Heap of the Engineer Corps of the Army resulted in the discovery of Mammoth Hot Springs and the route from the Lower Basin to the Yellowstone River. A map of the outline of the Yellowstone Lake was made, and collections of specimens were gathered throughout the region. The reports which followed were scientific and very complete.

Until 1872, the region was open to settlers and there were no restrictions on hunting, trapping, gathering specimens and the fencing-in of the geysers for private gain. But these dangers were foreseen and the region was set aside as a National Park, March 1, 1872, when President U. S. Grant affixed his signature to the Act of Dedication.


The Yellowstone Commemorative Silver Dollar Coin shows with an artist’s image of Old Faithful on the front of the Haynes Guide of 1916.

Yellowstone Commemorative Silver Dollar Coin