Animals and Artifacts: Specimen Exchanges and Displays in Yellowstone National Park, the National Museum, and the National Zoo, 1846 to 1916

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  • While much has been written about Yellowstone National Park, few historians have discussed the history of its wildlife, particularly before 1916 when the National Park Service was established. "Animals and Artifacts" investigates how Yellowstone came to be identified as wildlife's last refuge in the American West while also trying to understand how the U. S. Cavalry concurrently trapped and shipped animals to the National Zoological Park and, eventually, to zoos around the country. It also questions how animal displays and exchanges came to be so integral to the Park's administration, overall mission, and national identity during these formative years. This study relies on primary documents from the National Park Service and the Smithsonian Institution, including annual reports and correspondence dating from the establishment of the Smithsonian in 1846 until 1916 when the cavalry turned administration of the Park over to civilian control.
  • Additional sources, including publications and newspapers from the period, were also consulted, as were secondary sources as appropriate. The research documents that the Smithsonian Institution, with its own well-established culture of specimen exchange initiated during its earliest years, viewed Yellowstone National Park as a primary source of specimens. In particular, it looked to the Park for animals of the American West, both living and dead, to display in Washington, D. C., entering excess specimens into its network of exchange. This special relationship helped define Yellowstone National Park's development and eventually transformed it into a center of animal displays. To understand how Yellowstone managers still haze animals back into the Park today requires a better understanding of how tourists, military administrators, and Smithsonian scientists alike all looked to Yellowstone to protect the wildlife of the American West while also expecting to see those animals on display. "Animals and Artifacts" looks at the early history of Yellowstone to better understand how this all came to pass.


  • Hornaday, William Temple 1854-1937
  • National Collections
  • National Zoological Park (U.S.) Exhibits
  • United States National Museum
  • National Zoological Park (U.S.)
  • United States. Army
  • United States. National Park Service


Smithsonian History Bibliography


Smith also wrote a novel about Yellowstone: "Letters from Yellowstone," in 2000.

Contained within

Ph.D. dissertation Montana State University - Bozeman (Dissertation)

Contact information

Institutional History Division, Smithsonian Institution Archives, 600 Maryland Avenue, SW, Washington, D.C. 20024-2520,




  • Zoo exhibits
  • American bison
  • Habitat conservation
  • Wildlife
  • Zoology
  • Exchange of Specimens
  • Science
  • Moving of Specimens
  • Specimens
  • Exhibitions
  • Museums
  • Collection and preservation
  • Wildlife conservation
  • Museum exhibits
  • Zoological specimens--Collection and preservation


  • Yellowstone National Park
  • United States



Physical description

Number of pages: 333 Page numbers: 1-333

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