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B&C Member Spotlight—George Anderson

By PJ DelHomme 

When he caught wealthy tourists defacing Yellowstone National Park with their initials, he tossed them in jail. When he caught poachers killing Yellowstone’s bison, he kicked the poachers out—and likely conspired to pressure Congress for stricter protections. That was Boone and Crockett Club member George Anderson. 


Captain George Anderson served as Yellowstone’s superintendent from 1891 to 1897. During this pivotal time in the park’s history, bison and other wildlife were being slaughtered and sent east by the trainload. The Yellowstone area was a lawless land with no official protection save for Anderson and his troops. The hides, heads, and tongues of buffalo fueled a nation’s thirst for game meat and trophies. Those same trains were hauling tourists west to the newly established Yellowstone National Park. Once there, a few unscrupulous souls carved their initials into geologic marvels and stole whatever they thought might make a good conversation piece.

During his tenure, Captain Anderson worked to expand the park's boundaries and secure funding for infrastructure improvements, such as the construction of new roads and bridges. And by the time he left his post as the park’s eighth superintendent, he helped to establish permanent protections for the landscape and wildlife that called the area home. He did so with plenty of help from his friend and Boone and Crockett Club co-founder, George Bird Grinnell.

From West Point to the West

George Anderson was born in 1849 on a New Jersey homestead, entered West Point at 18, and graduated fifth in his class in 1871. He was the son of a judge, and records indicate that a young Anderson knew Theodore Roosevelt through a network of New York men’s clubs, including the Boone and Crockett Club. He was assigned to the 6th Cavalry Regiment as a 2nd lieutenant. As a young officer, he bounced around the frontier U.S. Army fort scene from Kansas to Colorado to New Mexico.

American Big Game Hunting is avaiable for purchase, or listen to a narration of 'A Buffalo Story' online.  

While traveling across the Kansas tallgrass prairie in October 1871, 1st Lt. Anderson encountered a sight that would never be seen again. In a “A Buffalo Story,” a chapter in the Boone and Crockett Club publication American Big Game Hunting, Anderson wrote that he encountered a herd of bison so massive that it took days to get through. “For six days we continued our way through this enormous herd, during the last three of which it was in constant motion across our path. I am safe in calling this a single herd, and it is impossible to approximate the millions that composed it,” he wrote.

His career wasn’t entirely embedded in a saddle. From 1877-1881, he taught natural and experimental philosophy as an assistant professor at West Point. When stationed in Virginia, he was selected for a two-year assignment to Paris to observe the French army and evaluate side arms for Army purchase.

Once at Yellowstone

Yellowstone was established as America’s first national park in 1872, but that designation did nothing to protect the area’s flora and fauna. It was simply a label. By the time Captain Anderson returned from his Parisian detail abroad in 1891, Yellowstone desperately needed protection from poachers and tourists alike.

Capt. George Anderson, acting superintendent of Yellowstone Park, stands at right with park visitors, ca. 1894 (photo: Montana Historical Society)

“Indeed, Anderson’s central problem, one touching on every aspect of his assignment, was how the locals—concessionaires, tour operators, waggoners, and other workers servicing the Park and its visitors—mainly acted without giving a toss to rules from Washington,” wrote Joe Gioia in an insightful article on Anderson. “Illegal hunting—for beaver pelts, elk meat, and especially buffalo trophies—was highly profitable. (A large buffalo head fetched as much as $500, nearly a year’s wages, from taxidermists in nearby Bozeman and Livingston, Montana.)”

To deal with unruly tourists who wrote or scratched their names into geyser formations, Anderson would first track down the accused using hotel registration books to identify them. Sometimes, he would toss them in jail, yet there were no laws making their actions a crime. Not being allowed to detain the culprits forever, Anderson would escort them back to the crime scene. Once there, the graffiti artists were instructed to erase the writing with soap and a brush, which the U.S. government graciously supplied.

Anderson wasn’t one to discount help from the locals, and he immersed himself in the local culture around Yellowstone. “The gregarious new commanding officer was a regular at the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel bar,” wrote Gioia. “A man’s man in a man’s world, Anderson quickly won the affection and loyalty of those civilians under his supervision; social investments that would shortly pay dividends.” And they would pay off indeed.

Ed Howell: Yellowstone’s Favorite Poacher

Tourists stealing a few pieces of obsidian or carving Kilroy into a geyser cone was a far cry from the damage poachers did to the park’s resources. After being in charge of Yellowstone for three years, Anderson was a sounding board for locals who felt comfortable providing him with tips about poaching inside the park.

A man of action, Anderson wrote to his superiors asking for money for scouts and even undercover agents. His requests were denied. At this point, Anderson and Grinnell may have hatched an ingenious scheme to secure protection for Yellowstone—and it all came down to nailing one notorious poacher.

In the winter of 1894, Anderson got a tip that a poacher named Ed Howell was killing bison in Yellowstone’s Pelican Valley. The park was allotted one scout to patrol millions of acres. Luckily, Felix Burgess was a top-notch scout. Anderson ordered him to keep tabs on Howell, who was known to frequent Cooke City on the park's eastern edge. To assist him was an Army sergeant named Troike. As Anderson predicted, Howell used skis and a toboggan to poach snowbound bison, and the men found his faint tracks in the snow.

The Cavalry officers who captured Edgar Howell, an infamous Yellowstone bison poacher, in 1894 pose with some of Howell’s victims.

Burgess’s knowledge of the area was as solid as the ice on Yellowstone Lake in February, and he had an idea of where the poacher might be. Burgess heard gunshots in the distance and knew he had his man. When Burgess finally put eyes on Howell, he had to crawl across more than 400 yards of open ground. Records do not indicate what Sargent Troike was doing, but Burgess was armed only with a .38 revolver against Howell’s buffalo rifle. As the infamous poacher was bent over skinning out a bison, Burgess closed the distance and arrested him before things got ugly.

Photos of slaughtered bison published in a May 1894 issue of Forest and Stream helped usher in stricter protections for Yellowstone's wildlife. ​​​​​​​

Prior to this, George Grinnell, the editor of Forest and Stream magazine, had sent a reporter and photographer to the park for a tour. The two men met Howell and Burgess when they came to park headquarters, and they reported on the arrest. Over telegraph lines, the story of Howell’s slaughter inside the famous Yellowstone was reported in Forest and Stream to tens of thousands of readers on the East Coast.

The timing of the arrest and the attendance of both a photographer and reporter from a national magazine was more than suspect—at least, that’s what writer Joe Gioia asserts. “But considering Capt. Anderson’s little-known, but long-standing connections to Grinnell and Roosevelt, and to the exclusive Boone and Crockett Club, a pro-conservation hunting fraternity the two men founded, makes it hard to credit that two seasoned reporters got the biggest story of their lives in the middle of nowhere, in late winter, by accident,” writes Goia. “To think that Anderson didn’t share with Grinnell his specific knowledge of the coming poaching expedition dismisses his loyalty to Boone and Crockett’s ideals, and his willingness to act as he saw fit to protect Park wildlife.”

His theory is not without evidence. Gioia notes stacks of missing correspondence in the Yellowstone archives between Grinnell and Anderson between 1892 and 1894. And one does have to admit that the legislation that follows Howell’s arrest does make this more than a coincidence.

The public was outraged with Howell’s dramatic capture and gruesome photographs of slaughtered bison. The timing could not have been better. Three weeks after Forest and Stream published the full story with photos, Congress passed the Yellowstone Park Protection Act of 1894. Boone and Crockett member John F. Lacey’s legislation gave the government the authority to arrest and prosecute poachers hellbent on destroying the area’s wildlife and stealing and defacing the park’s unique resources.

Grinnell doesn't mix words when writing about the history of the Club’s involvement in protecting Yellowstone National Park. “This crime was undoubtedly one of the best things that ever happened for the Park. It was thoroughly exploited in Forest and Stream, and afterward in other periodicals, and created an interest throughout the country, which brought about the passage of the Park Protection Act, signed by President Cleveland, May 7, 1894.”

After helping secure real protection for Yellowstone, Anderson was reassigned to various Army forts and then to the Philippines. After 40 years of service, he retired as a Brigadier General in 1912. Less than three years later, he died of a heart attack while reading the newspaper at New York’s University Club. He was 65.

George Anderson dedicated his life to the U.S. Army, which stationed him at the right place at the right time to help leave a legacy in conservation. His eyes saw vast seas of bison covering the western prairie, and he experienced their near annihilation. Thanks to his connections to George Grinnell and the Boone and Crockett Club, he was able to (allegedly) help sway public opinion that orchestrated legislation to help protect America’s first national park and its wildlife.

Member Spotlights

Boone and Crockett Club members have come from a cross-section of famous accomplished people whose lives and careers have written and recorded the history of this country since the late 19th Century. They have been naturalists, scientists, explorers and sportsmen, writers and academicians, artists, statesmen and politicians, generals, bankers, financiers, philanthropists, and industrialists. Their diversity of ideas and activities during their careers have made the Boone and Crockett Club rich in its fellowship and achievements. To read more member spotlights, just click here

PJ DelHomme writes and edits content from his home in western Montana. He runs Crazy Canyon Media and Crazy Canyon Journal

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"The wildlife and its habitat cannot speak. So we must and we will."

-Theodore Roosevelt