Museum of the National Park Ranger

Yellowstone National Park offers visitors a chance to learn about the history of park rangers.

Philetus Norris, Museum of the National Park Ranger, Yellowstone National Park, image

Philetus Norris hired the first ranger.

The obliging volunteers at the Museum of the National Park Ranger at Norris Geyser Basin in Yellowstone National Park love to regale visitors with facts: Steamboat Geyser’s last major eruption (2005); when it might go off again (anyone’s guess). Most can offer knowledge about something else: what it’s like to have been a park ranger.

Mike Watson, a former interpretive ranger at Mount Rainier and the Everglades and the onetime chief of interpretation for the entire park service, spent part of the last four summers staffing the museum, a rebuilt log cabin that re-creates a 1908 army outpost. “The building itself is an exhibit,” Watson says.

A bronze bust of bearded Harry Yount, considered the world’s first park ranger, stands by the door. Yount, born in Missouri in 1839, served in the Union army during the Civil War, then headed west, where he found work as a guide and wrangler. In July 1880, Yount was hired by Yellowstone superintendent Philetus Walter Norris to patrol the park as gamekeeper and before long was lobbying his boss for a full team of rangers.

Displays capture the evolution of the ranger uniform, including early military duds. Then there’s today’s iconic look: the “Smokey Bear” hat, the gray shirt with epaulets, and the badge with its massive plains bison in profile. “That uniform sends a message,” Watson says. “We’re here to help.” nps.gov/yell/planyourvisit/norrisvc.htm.

Photography courtesy of NPS Photo

This article was first published in July 2012. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.

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