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Family celebrates its close ties with Yellowstone National Park

Bill Langford of New Richmond, along with six other Langfords and a few family friends, spent seven days following in the footsteps of relative Nathaniel Pitt Langford during his 1870 trek through what eventually became Yellowstone National Park.

In 1983, when Bill Langford traveled by horseback through Yellowstone National Park, he thought it might be a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

But after the New Richmond resident's cousin died last year, family members began to talk about that previous adventure and interest grew to plan a similar trip for the next generation of Langfords.

Bill Langford, 76, was quick to sign on for a return engagement.

"Being 28 years older, it wasn't easy," he said. "But it was fun."

Bill Langford is the great-great-nephew of Nathaniel Pitt Langford, who was a member of the Washburn-Langford-Doane Expedition -- the first to officially explore portions of what eventually became Yellowstone National Park.

Bill Langford never knew his famous relative, but many stories of his adventures have been passed down through the family.

Langford's great-great-uncle, who was a bank examiner and tax collector in Montana at the time, set out with the others in the summer of 1870 to try and verify the stories that mountain men from the region told.

"They'd heard all these stories, so they decided to explore it," Langford said during an earlier interview, noting that they weren't sure if they would discover anything noteworthy. "The mountain men had great imaginations."

The expedition, which was privately funded, found the stories of geysers, hot springs, majestic scenery and impressive wildlife were not imaginary.

The expedition members created detailed maps and wrote descriptions of what they saw. Several journals were kept to help recall the details witnessed. Nathaniel Langford eventually wrote a book, "The Discovery of Yellowstone Park."

A second expedition to the region included a photographer, who was able to provide pictures to further prove the stories.

The expeditions eventually led to congressional action to protect the United States' greatest natural treasures.

Nathaniel Langford eventually became the first superintendent of Yellowstone National Park, even though he was paid no salary and had no legal means to protect the park.

Bill Langford's 1983 trip included his son, Jim, when he was much younger. The most recent adventure included Jim again, along with his son Sevie, 16, both of Minneapolis.

"I had some second thoughts before I went," Langford admitted. "I had a bad hip going in, and I didn't want to go out and screw it up for the rest of the crew."

In the end, Langford joined six other Langfords and six family friends on the trip, and he reported having a wonderful time.

"I'm glad I did it," he said. "It's beautiful country and such a unique experience."

Langford said the weather was terrific and it rained just one evening. Also, everyone on the trip got along well.

"The chemistry was all good in our group," Langford said. "That's good, because one person can screw up an entire trip."

An added bonus to the trip is the time the Langfords and their friends got to spend together, he said.

"You really get to know people when you do something like this together."

The hired outfitter for the trip brought along a total of 25 animals (16 horses and nine pack mules).

The biggest bummer of the 75-mile trip was that the group wasn't able to cross the Yellowstone River, due to high water. "It was too high for the animals to cross safely," Langford explained.

The crew had to alter the 1983 route slightly as a result.

Another annoying turn was when the group was fined $100 for "inadequate distribution of manure." Rangers require horse and mule owners to spread out manure droppings evenly and not leave it in piles.

"They don't like horses in the park, I think," Langford said. "So they make it difficult to have them in the park."

Even with those few annoying moments, Langford said the trip gave everyone a chance to bond and see some magnificent scenery.

"When we were done, I didn't hear a discouraging word," he said.

As the final touch to the trip, Bill Langford presented his grandson, Sevie, with a custom buck knife that was crafted for the 1983 trip.

Bill Langford told his grandson it's up to him to pass on the family's love for, and deep connection to, Yellowstone National Park.