Phantoms on the land : animals, ghost trails, and wilderness in Yellowstone National Park

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Montana State University - Bozeman, College of Letters & Science


Yellowstone National Park is a landscape of ghosts, with a plethora of purposefully unmapped trails in the sea of wilderness. These pathways and the associated maps that silence them unveil the lost stories of the manufacturing of a wild Yellowstone. Early Park administrators constructed a distorted cartographic narrative of a wilderness, one safely devoid of Native Americans and teeming with wildlife and geysers, ready for consumption by Euro-Americans. In comparing the contemporary landscape archive with cartographic sources that span early Euro-American fur trappers to the Army period in the Park, this paper traces the construction of Yellowstone wilderness through the emphasis on trails and wilderness landscapes. Ghost trails, present on the land but not depicted on maps, were an attempt by the mapmakers to create and control a uniform wilderness within the confines of Park boundaries. Maps by William Clark, John Dougherty, and Jim Bridger, along with exploration maps by W.W. de Lacy, administrative maps by P.W. Norris, and road maps by the Army Corps of Engineers, expose trail erasures that solidified a Euro-American wild Park. In revealing these cartographic exorcisms, we gain a better understanding of the formation of the Park and its resulting mythology as a remote wilderness, along with the materialization of power over the region's complex identity. Ghost trails expose traces of human values, notions of territoriality, and power over identity that attests to the complexities of demarcating and constructing Yellowstone National Park as a wilderness area.




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