Charles Sheldon, source NPS

Sheep and a Railroad Started Denali Park

In 1906, Charles Sheldon came to Alaska to look at sheep. Really. You see, he was a millionaire who had time for his passion, which was studying wild sheep, and he traveled to see our white Dall sheep in the Denali area. Not only did the trip change his life, but it changed many others’ as well, because it led to what we now call Denali National Park and Preserve.


Sheldon came to study the animals and take back a few specimens to museums, as naturalists often did in that time period. He didn’t count on falling in love with the area and returning the next year. Or on finding out that market hunters were there killing the sheep to get meat for the nearby railroad workers, who were building the Alaska Railroad to the east. Once he saw what was going on, he wanted to save the Dall sheep from being wiped out like the buffalo were in the lower 48. Sheldon concluded that a national park had to be founded.


Sheldon went back home and wrote about his travels and the amazing wildlife in the Denali area. He drummed up support for a park with the Boone and Crockett Club and others interested in the wilderness. He and Belmore Browne (See my post on him at wrote bills and visited congressmen. But the Great War in Europe took a higher priority, and it wasn’t until 1917 that Mt. McKinley National Park was created.


We owe Charles Sheldon a great deal for getting things rolling, then seeing them through to the founding of the park. Thank goodness for him and the others who gave us one of the crown jewels in the American park system.


Charles Sheldon’s talks are what bring my hero Henry Reeves to Alaska in my novel Gold Nuggets. You can learn more about the book at

I love to share my passion for Alaska and its history in my writing for young adults and their grown ups.

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