The struggle to build a railroad to Cooke City, Montana

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Montana State University - Bozeman, College of Letters & Science


The histories of Yellowstone National Park and Cooke City are closely tied to one another. In 1872, the United States created the first National Park, Yellowstone by and act of Congress. By 1876, the community of Cooke City, located near the Northeast corner of Yellowstone National Park, had developed into a mining community, but faced the major problem of providing cheap access to transportation. A railroad would provide cheap and easy transportation from Cooke City to the eastern markets. However, both Yellowstone National Park, and the mountainous terrain surrounded Cooke City and would plague the development of a railroad route. Between 1884 and 1894, the supporters of the Cooke City mines developed proposals to build a railroad to serve the mining community and petitioned Congress to grant a charter. The Northern Pacific railroad was among the corporations interested in developing a railroad to Cooke City. To access the mining community, four different railroad routes were proposed to be built. Out of the four different railroad routes, the route through Yellowstone National Park generated the most controversy. By examining primary source documents from the time frame including; newspapers, magazines, Congressional records and reports along with the corporate records of the railroad companies an in depth study of the railroad proposals was created and why the railroad was never constructed. By the middle of the 1890's the value of the mining claims was discovered to be less productive than first thought, and the railroad proposals slowly disappeared. To this date, no study has been done regarding the history of the Cooke City railroad developments. The railroad proposals not only developed the history of Cooke City, but also challenged the identity of the new national park and what conservation meant to Yellowstone National Park.




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