henry washburn

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Henry Washburn and Nathaniel Langford - Scientists of the Day

On Sep. 18, 1870, a party of explorers rode into Upper Yellowstone Basin and sighted a geyser in full eruption. The expedition was led by Henry Washburn, the newly appointed Surveyor-General of Montana territory, and he was accompanied by Nathaniel Langford and a small contingent of soldiers. The geyser delighted everyone, and they named it “Old Faithful.” Immediately they saw another, even more impressive, which they named “The Beehive,” then another, “The Castle”, and finally, the queen of them all, “The Giantess”. Upon their return, Langford wrote an article for Scribner’s Monthly, which appeared in two parts in May and June, 1871 (see first image above). He presented a very exciting account of their discovery of the Lower and Upper Falls of the Yellowstone River, and of the splendors of the Upper Geyser Basin. It is interesting that Langford was less impressed by Old Faithful, which he didn’t even illustrate, than the other geysers, especially The Giantess, which he thought was the grandest sight he had ever seen (see second image above).

There were also several nice general views in the magazine of the Upper and Lower Basin and the Canyon of the Yellowstone. Interestingly, several of these woodcuts in the articles, including that of the Giantess, were made and signed by a young artist who did not even make the trip. His name was Thomas Moran. He would visit Yellowstone later that year, as a member of the Hayden expedition of 1871. One of the products of his trip was a monumental painting, The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone (1872), which was hung in the US Capitol and played a significant role in convincing Congress to declare Yellowstone our first National Park in 1872. We display this splendid painting as our last image.

Dr. William B. Ashworth, Jr., Consultant for the History of Science, Linda Hall Library and Associate Professor, Department of History, University of Missouri-Kansas City