Tucked into a quiet corner, near the entrance to the Norris campground, is one of Yellowstone’s original soldier stations used in the early 1990’s by soldiers patrolling the Norris Geyser Basin. Built in the classic stone-and-log architecture of the Park, this building is a great example of Yellowstone living history.

The Norris Soldier Station was one of the longest occupied stations in the park. First built by the Army in 1886, it was re-built after a fire in 1897 and then modified in 1908. (The U.S. Army administered Yellowstone National Park from1886 to 1916.) In 1929-1930, the building was converted into a combined residence and trailside museum. The massive 7.5 Hebgen Lake earthquake in 1959 caused extensive structural damage, including a collapsed roof. A new restoration was completed in 1991and it became the official Museum of the National Park Ranger.

Upon entering the museum, it’s easy to be transported back in time when your main living area was dominated by a huge rock fireplace and not a big-screen TV. When the museum was restored, every attempt was made to keep to the original floor plan and use original materials. You can experience the feel (and even the smell) that comes from the wooden floors, large logs and chinked walls, smaller doorways, and side rooms.

The main room has a life-size portrait of Harry Yount, the first gamekeeper for Yellowstone Park, crafted by Susanne Vertel. Harry Yount is credited with being the father of the ranger service, as well as the first national park ranger. Yount was a frontiersman and one of the first white men who lived year-round in Yellowstone. Even with his own survival skills and ability to withstand Yellowstone’s challenges, Yount found that patrolling the park was impossible for just a single man. He recommended the formation of a ranger force.

Created in 1916, the National Park Service was modeled after early park managers and the U.S. Army’s successful enforcement example. There is a small auditorium in the Museum that runs a 25-minute movie, "An American Legacy," which tells the story of the development of the National Park Service in more detail.

On the wall hangs a series of six paintings by James Dietz depicting rangers in Western parks. Look for the painting of a 1920s ranger riding patrol. For this painting, the uniform was painted the wrong color – brown, not forest green.

Interestingly, Horace Albright (Superintendent, Yellowstone National Park, 1919-1929) was ‘the force’ behind the uniform. Up to 1922, temporary rangers were not required to dress in uniform, due to their low pay and usually short service time. But that year, Albright made it a "condition of employment" for all rangers in Yellowstone to be uniformed,” a practice later adopted by all other parks.

Other rooms house exhibits that depict the development of the park ranger profession from early military days and early rangers to present day. Early park superintendents had an impossible task. With no salary, funding or staff, it was impossible to enforce any rules. For the first Yellowstone superintendent, Nathaniel P. Langford, it was just a part-time job. Without any salary, he could only afford to enter the park twice during his five years as superintendent. 

Consequently, in 1886, the U.S. Army was assigned to manage the Park through Fort Yellowstone and outlying soldier stations.  Early soldiers considered Yellowstone a good assignment. Many had never experienced the mountains, geysers, wildlife and snow that Yellowstone offered.

The Museum has one room that displays the typical interior of a backcountry soldier station. From wood stove to narrow bunk enveloped in mosquito netting, everything was contained in one small space. You have to wonder how our modern-day expectations have grown to homes with thousands of square feet!  When reading the “to-do checklist before leaving,” you also realize the isolation that challenged these early park workers.

The army was kept busy patrolling Yellowstone for poachers and protecting the last remaining herd of free-ranging bison. They patrolled the park on horseback during the summer and skis during the winter. (The Museum displays include this early equipment.)

Poachers were especially elusive because they were usually locals who knew how to slip in and out of the park without being caught. In fact, it was one of these poachers, Edgar Howell, who changed the way the Park was administered forever. Upon being transported to Mammoth for poaching a bison, the soldiers ran into a group of visitors including a well-known reporter of the New York magazine, Forest and Stream. The wired story resulted in a public outcry that forced Congress to react.  Within two months, the National Park Protection Act (also known as the Lacey Act) was enacted.

The first Yellowstone Ranger force had only 21 men. Many were army cavalrymen who remained in the Park after the Army turned over control in 1918. (The flat-brimmed hats worn by today’s national park rangers are modeled from the original Army campaign hats.) In 2006, there are 171 Yellowstone Park rangers including full-time and seasonal workers specializing as naturalists, interpreters, clerical, and law enforcement personnel.

The best part of the museum is not the building or the exhibits, but the people who staff it. The staff is made up of retired National Park Service employees who volunteer for short periods of time. (Many of these employees retired as superintendents, chief rangers, regional directors, and from various positions in the Washington office.) These are dedicated professionals who have a lifetime of experience working in our National parks. Each person has his or her own interesting anecdotes and experiences.

Before leaving the Museum, take a minute to walk out onto the back porch overlooking the Norris meadow. The large burled log columns and benches invite you to take a moment to sit and contemplate. You might be able to watch some large elk graze nearby while the geysers of Norris expel their famous steam and that unique smell. In contrast to this serene moment, a steady stream of cars are often rushing by on their way through the park searching for another animal sighting or geyser eruption. It's too bad that they may miss out on one of those special places in Yellowstone where history comes alive.

The Museum of the National Park Ranger is open from late May through August from 9:00 am to 6:00 pm and in September from 9:00 AM to 5:00 pm. It is located 1 mile north of Norris Junction along the entrance road to the Norris Campground.

Side note: Yellowstone historical archives contain interesting stories told by some of the early park naturalists. “Yellowstone Nature Notes” were published from 1937 until 1958. The notes, line drawings and sketches describe everything from “Yellowstone’s Mystery Sounds” to “Birth of a Geyser.”  These notes are available online at http://www.cr.nps.gov/history/online_...