Today in History: March 2
Mount Rainier National Park
…[I]f in the making of the West Nature had what we call parks in mind, —places for rest, inspiration, and prayers, —this Rainier region must surely be one of them.
On March 2, 1899, President William McKinley signed legislation creating Mount Rainier National Park in central Washington. The 365-square-mile area of pristine forests and spectacular alpine scenery was the fifth national park designated by Congress.
Called Tacoma (or Tahoma) by generations of Northwest Native Americans, Mount Rainier was named after Admiral Peter Rainier in 1792 by English explorer George Vancouver, who sighted the enormous 14,410-foot volcanic peak while exploring Puget Sound.
Nearly a century later, famed naturalist John Muir visited the Rainier region and later recommended that it be designated as a national park. Muir was particularly impressed with the magnificent wildflowers that blanket the mountain during the warm months of the year. In his 1898 essay "The Wild Parks and Forest Reservations of the West," reprinted in his 1901 book Our National Parks, Muir wrote:
…above the forests there is a zone of the loveliest flowers, fifty miles in circuit and nearly two miles wide, so closely planted and luxuriant that it seems as if Nature, glad to make an open space between woods so dense and ice so deep, were economizing the precious ground, and trying to see how many of her darlings she can get together in one mountain wreath, —daisies, anemones, geraniums, columbines, erythroniums, larkspurs, etc., among which we wade knee-deep and waist-deep, the bright corollas in myriads touching petal to petal.
While the legislation to establish Mount Rainier National Park was praised by many, it was not without its critics. Some charged the act was merely a congressional ruse to aid the Northern Pacific Railroad. To find out what prompted this sharp criticism, search on Rainier AND railroad in The Evolution of the Conservation Movement, 1850-1920.
- To learn about other important events in the movement to conserve and protect America's natural heritage, see the chronology in The Evolution of the Conservation Movement, 1850-1920. For additional resources, view the introduction to that collection included in the Collection Connections section of the Teachers Page.
- To find out more about the Native peoples who lived in the region around Mount Rainier (or Tahoma) when the park was created, explore the photographs in the collection American Indians of the Pacific Northwest, most of which were taken before 1920.
- For more materials on naturalist John Muir, search on Muir in Pioneering the Upper Midwest: Books from Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin, ca. 1820-1910 and Evolution of the Conservation Movement, 1850-1920. This search will retrieve five of Muir's books, as well as his portrait and the 1908 presidential proclamation that established a national monument in his honor.
- Search the bibliographic records in the collection The Nineteenth Century in Print: Periodicals on the phrase John Muir to find many more of Muir’s articles on the wild lands of North America.
- Also, be sure to see the Today in History features on Yosemite and Acadia parks, and on the establishment of the National Park Service in 1916.
- For more panoramic photographs of scenic Washington, search on Washington state in Taking the Long View, 1851-1991.