Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Nathaniel Pitt Langford and Yellowstone

On our recent trip to Yellowstone Park and Grand Teton National Park, we revisited several locations in search of more information about Nathaniel Pitt Langford. We had been to the park about two years ago, before we realized the familial connection. N P Langford was Oscar Langford's first cousin. He was known for being on the 1870 Washburn-Langford-Doane expedition that first surveyed the Yellowstone area. A follow up survey was done by the US Geological Survey the next year, on which he also served. There is a Mount Langford in Yellowstone. He was the first superintendent of the first National Park in the world.
We entered the Park from the West entrance since we were driving down from Butte, Montana. The first ranger station is located at Madison, Wyoming. It is a very small and off the road place. We found a small building manned by a few rangers. I identified our reason for being there to the young Ranger who was available, explaining Nancy's relation to N. P. Langford. He was excited to learn this and let us know that we were at the very location that the 1870 expedition camped on their last night. There was a plaque on the site commemorating this event.
For many years the National Park Service identified this spot as the place where the idea of a National Park was first suggested around that last campfire. More recently, readings of the personal journals of the men on the expedition has caused this theory to be questioned. Nevertheless, it is the location of that last campfire and this was just great to see in person.
Here are two pictures. The first is Nancy and I, albeit windblown, with the rivers in the background and the plaque to the left. The second is National Park Mountain, so named because of the 1870 expedition and lore.

This was our first day in either park and we were not done making some discoveries. 
Our next stop were the Upper Falls and Lower Falls. Nancy had read NP Langford's book about the expedition and loved his description of these falls. Here are a few pictures of the falls.

After seeing these awesome falls, we checked in at Jackson Hole, Wyoming, where we had easy access to both parks for the week. It turns out N P  Langford also had a controversial contact with Grand Teton. He was on a survey team again, that went to the Grand Teton area. He claimed to be the first white man to climb Grand Teton, the highest mountain in the Teton Range. Because of the description that he and his climbing partner provided, this has been questioned. Evidently, he had a long running disagreement with another pioneer who also claimed this climb, and this was written about in several newspapers.
Below is a picture of Grand Teton.
Our last day in Jackson, we drove back to Yellowstone to see the Visitor's Center at Mammoth Hot Springs near the north entrance, and to visit the Yellowstone Library located in Gardiner, Montana. At Mammoth Hot Springs, there is a large display about the early visitors to the Park. On display and related to N P Langford are two of his hand guns, his derringer and his saddle. 
The last stop of the day was the most fruitful. The Yellowstone Library, in Gardiner, has the personal journals of N P Langford. These he hand wrote immediately after the 1870 expedition. They are the notes that he used for making speeches about the expedition. They are almost 150 years old and we got to hold them and look through them. The Library also did a search of their holdings for us and found about thirty different documents and books associated with N P Langford. We did not have time to view them all but we have the list and we have found ways to access this material after the trip.
One other fascinating document that we looked at was a report from the 1983 Langford Expedition which recreated the 1870 survey. This survey was conducted by William P. Langford, a second great nephew of N P Langford. He, and a group of interested parties and presumably, some other cousins, rode on horseback to some of the uninhabited areas of Yellowstone only accessible this way. The also climbed Mount Coulter and reclaimed it as Mount Langford.
It was especially pleasant for us to revisit these national treasures now that we know what a strong Langford connection exists to their very discovery and founding.

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