In 1869 William Henry Jackson won a commission from the Union Pacific Railroad to document the scenery along the various railroad routes for promotional purposes. This project was admired by Ferdinand V. Hayden, director of the U.S. Geological Survey of the Territories for the Department of Interior in the years 1869-1874. Hayden asked Jackson to join his survey of the Yellowstone region in 1870. Jackson participated as the official photographer in subsequent years on the annual multi-disciplinary expeditions to chart the geology, flora, and fauna, as well as identify likely navigational routes, of the then largely unexplored west.
This set of albums belonged to Sheldon Jackson (1834-1909), no relation, but a good friend of the photographer. Jackson was a Presbyterian missionary and later in his career, a U.S. government official in Alaska. In the summer of 1877, William H. Jackson accompanied Sheldon Jackson on a tour of missions in Arizona and New Mexico. Presumably, it was around that time that Sheldon acquired the photographs from his friend. After Sheldon's death, his daughters gave them to the National Geographic Society in 1916. Each album includes Jackson's monograph signature in pencil. The majority of the photographs are mounted on pages with the imprint of the U.S. Geological Survey.
An unusual highlight of these albums are nine startlingly direct portraits of Native Americans by John K. Hillers that stand out from the hundreds of topographical images. One of the albums is titled Yellowstone Park, which recalls the importance of these photographs for the history of our country. Albums from Jackson's 1871 expedition to the still mysterious Yellowstone region were distributed to members of the House and Senate and were instrumental in President U.S. Grant's signing of the bill to create the first national park in March of 1872.
Large sets of Jackson's photographs exist only in a few public collections. To date, there is no record of an album of Jackson's photographs having come up for auction.