The reservation and the reserve lie beyond the boundary of the settler normal: Jessica Hansen, ‘Boundaries on the “Wild” : Late Nineteenth-Century Governmental Language Concerning Yellowstone National Park and the American Indian’, Kalamazoo College, 2017


Abstract: This project examines how these two differing land preserves with opposite goals were promoted and defended in similar ways and run in similar manners. It examines the reservations and the park through the governmental language used to discuss each at the times of their creations. Though founded on vastly different purposes—a site of preservation versus a site of conversion—the two can be seen as abstractly similar in ways. Making use of worthless land, undesirable to white settlers, the boundaries of each served to supposedly protect that which inhabited the land. Both were sites of culture, with reservations promoting acculturation, while Yellowstone eventually being seen as a cultural gemstone to rival the man-made sites of Europe. The development of the American Indian reservation system and Yellowstone National Park parallel and yet contradict one another. The development of the American Indian reservation system and Yellowstone National Park parallel and yet contradict one another. While Yellowstone was meant to preserve the wild and reservations were meant to “tame the wild,” the early establishment and administration of each mimicked the other. Though very different, the reservation system and Yellowstone can be seen as related in their early days of conception. This is a comparative study to understand further how the West was seen through the eyes of federal officials and how it was conquered and handled on a frontier driven by greed and glory. The study begins by examining the thoughts and events that led to government officials deciding to take an active role in the distribution of land in the West and what land they thought could be set aside. It then moves on to the inherent value of the land. What qualities must the land have in order to justify the creation of a public park when western land was in high demand? What land could be used for the purposes of assimilating American Indians and what land did settlers have inherent rights to? This section examines the undesirability of the land in the West. Once established what could be set aside, what did the boundaries around the lands hope to accomplish? The land reserves hoped to protect what resided inside from those who might take advantage of them and cause depredations. The difference between the park boundaries and those of the reservation was that latter was not only meant to keep unwanted people from entering but they were also meant to keep the inhabitants within. The study then moves to at the malleability of both. While both Yellowstone and the reservation system went on to become permanent institutions in the United States, neither were necessarily meant to. The section examines the flexibility and malleability that characterized each, giving greater insight into governmental thought on both preservation and the future of American Indians. The last section focuses on how the government handled each after their establishment. It examines the priority of each in the eyes of Washington and how it led in one case to a change in procedure and policy and what that confirmed about the government’s priorities. Through the comparative examination and analysis of both Yellowstone National Park and the American Indian reservation system, this study hopes to arrive at a better understanding of Indian and land protection policies of the time. 

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