Author: George Black
Title: Empire of Shadows: The Epic Story Of Yellowstone
Narrator: Jack de Golia
Publication Info: Tantor Media, Inc, 2019 [originally published in 2012]
I’m planning to visit Yellowstone National Park for the first time this summer, so I was excited to read this history. I failed to read the small print, though, since it turns out this book is the history of Yellowstone over the six decades from the Lewis & Clark expedition to the Congressional establishment of the first national park in 1872. It is primarily a military history of the conflicts between Native peoples and the U.S. armed forces sent to defend the interests of white American explorers, exploiters, and settlers. Part of me rolls my eyes at another history that focuses entirely on military actions, while another part feels shamed that I wish to avoid the bloody background of a place special to all Americans.
Key figures in this history include Jim Bridger, a trapper known for his tall tales, although later many of his descriptions of Yellowstone’s natural wonders would be proved true. William Tecumseh Sherman and Philip Sheridan, known for their adoption of total war tactics in the Civil War, are key military leaders in the effort to “tame” the West. The first thorough expedition to explore the future park by the United States was lead by Lt. Gustavus Cheyney Doane, and the exploits of his team make up much of the latter part of the book.
The message of the book is clear in that creating a National Park preserved a unique ecosystem, but it only happened after extermination of the buffalo and removal of the Native tribes. The buffalo have been reintroduced to the park, but the legacy of the Native people is still hidden.