The Yellowstone Campaign and America's National Parks - Guest Post by Tim

The Yellowstone Campaign
, book two in my Jubilee Walker series, weaves Jubil’s fictional life story into a set of historical events that lead to the creation of America’s first national park. I did two types of research while writing the book: research to define the events and the characters participating in them; and research to capture the sights, sounds, and smells of this wonderous place.

The resource I found most valuable for an account of the events and characters is the nonfiction book Empire of Shadows by George Black. In this meticulously researched account, Black presents a history of the Yellowstone region throughout the nineteenth century, with the flair of a novelist. He provides many insights and interpretations, which are supported by copious footnotes that point to troves of other material. Most of the background on the political process for the park bill passage came from Black.

The main events I chose to focus on are the expeditions that generated the public support necessary for a successful political initiative to protect the Yellowstone region from settlement and commercial exploitation. In 1870, an expedition was conducted by General Henry Washburn, retired from the military and then serving as surveyor general of Montana. Washburn’s mission was to determine whether there was any truth to the tall tales told of the region by early explorers and to assess whether a government-funded survey was warranted. Helping Washburn organize his expedition was Montana businessman and politician Nathaniel P. Langford, who would eventually become the park’s first superintendent, and Lieutenant Gustavas Cheyney Doane, leader of the military escort.

Langford’s and Doane’s documentation of the expedition served as valuable research resources for my book. Langford produced two accounts of the expedition. In May of 1871, Scribner's Monthly ran his article entitled “The Wonders of Yellowstone,” illustrated with woodcut art which left much to be desired in depicting the scenery. Decades later, in 1906, he published the book Diary of the Washburn Expedition to the Yellowstone and Firehole Rivers in 1870. Langford’s writing was colorful and filled with anecdotes about events and the expedition party. Reading Langford’s 1906 book was particularly interesting, given insights I had gained from George Black’s book, in which he comments on some of Langford’s questionable memories of certain events.

Lieutenant Cheyney Doane was charged with making a formal report to the army on his observations during the expedition, which he delivered immediately following the expedition. The report of Lieutenant Gustavus C. Doane upon the so-called Yellowstone Expedition of 1870 (Report) is a concise account that focuses much more on the place than the people, and does so in vivid language. Doane’s descriptions of the beautiful and rare geologic features they encounter and the vast span of the geography they travel through often rise to the level of art. In fact, the title of George Black’s book—Empire of Shadows—is a phrase plucked from one of the passages in Doane’s journal. In addition to its artistic descriptions, the journal also provides a daily log of the expedition party’s location and the events taking place there. All I had to do was put my protagonist, Jubilee Walker, into the scenes.

In 1871, two expeditions to Yellowstone took place concurrently. One was funded by Congress, which commissioned famous surveyor Dr. Ferdinand Hayden to conduct a formal government survey of the region on behalf of the Department of the Interior. The other was a formal survey conducted by the US Army and led by Captain John W. Barlow, Chief Engineer in the Military Division of the Missouri. Like Doane, Barlow produced a report for the army, Through the Great Geyser Basin: The Barlow Expedition of 1871. Unlike Doane’s account, Barlow’s report was less detailed and colorful, though it was still helpful in my research. I also found a rich source of material in Yellowstone and the Great West: Journals, Letters, and Images from the 1871 Hayden Expedition, edited by Marlene Deahl Merrill.

Dr. Hayden had the foresight to bring a photographer and an artist along on his survey. William Henry Jackson, a photographer famous for his photos of the building of the transcontinental railroad, was commissioned, as was well-known landscape painter Thomas Moran. In fact, their work is largely credited with having given the public a full appreciation of the rarity of the Yellowstone landscape.

Modern-day photographer and author Bradley J. Boner has published a remarkable piece of work entitled Yellowstone National Park: Through the Lens of Time. In this spectacularly beautiful coffee-table book, Boner has selected over one hundred of William Henry Jackson’s original black-and-white photographs, then located as closely as possible the exact spot from which those photographs were taken, and produced stunning color photographs of those same scenes today. These images provided wonderful inspiration for my attempt to convey in words the splendor of those scenes. Artist Thomas Moran created dozens of sketches and paintings of Yellowstone, and a stylized version of his painting of the Castle Geyser in the Upper Geyser Basin graces the cover of my book.

Of course, there is no better way of appreciating the rich sensory experience of Yellowstone National Park than by taking in the sights, sounds, and smells in person. Despite the modern conveniences in the park today, it is still easy to imagine how awestruck early visitors must have been. For a fully immersive experience, I highly recommend making the Old Faithful Inn your home base during a park visit. Built between 1903 and 1904, it is one of the world’s largest and most elegant log-style structures.

The third book of the Jubilee Walker series, The Northern Pacific Railroad, will be released in January 2025. In this episode, Jubil becomes embroiled in financier Jay Cooke’s efforts to bring tourists to Yellowstone National Park via a new northern-route transcontinental railroad.


The Yellowstone Campaign releases July 15. Pre-order now and support indie bookstores.

Tim Piper is retired from a long career in Information Technology and has been a lifelong hobbyist musician. In his earlier days he was an avid hiker and backcountry camper, but his adventures these days are less strenuous and more comfortable. He began his education at Illinois State University as an English major, but life circumstances put him on a more pragmatic path, and he graduated with a BS in Business Admin, a degree he finds appropriately named. He lives in Bloomington, Illinois. You can stay in touch with him at or follow him on Facebook at Tim Piper - Author.


  1. Great info on your research. As a recent visitor to Yellowstone, I can attest to is's amazing features.


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