Administrative History
NPS Logo


The establishment of the Bandelier National Monument in 1916 was a direct result of conflicting pressures on the limited space of the Pajarito Plateau. Archaeologists, homesteaders, stockmen, and the Santa Fe business community all had a stake in the region. Each group thought its use should take precedence and none retreated from its position. The intervention of Federal agencies only complicated an already volatile situation, and the eventual establishment of the monument was a compromise that was a prelude to further conflict.

Between 1899 and 1916, the concept of a national park on the Pajarito Plateau frequently met solid opposition. By the time a park became a viable option, there were too many groups with interests in the region. Influential local residents periodically hindered the effort. Homesteaders upon the plateau worried that the park might threaten their livelihood. The rights of Native Americans also proved an insurmountable obstacle. Later, the United States Forest Service (USFS) posed a problem for park advocates and when an assistant secretary felt that a proposal compromised the integrity of the new park, even the Department of the Interior fought the effort.

The differing interests forced park advocates to trim their plans for the region. After 1906, a large national park, including archeological ruins, surrounding forest land, and mountain scenery was out of the question. Local stockmen and homesteaders saw to that. The resources of the region formed the basis for their living, and they fought every park effort that restricted use of land upon the plateau. Advocates never found a compromise that suited both economic and cultural interests. As a result, a 200,000-acre national park on the Pajarito Plateau was never authorized. Instead, Bandelier National Monument remains the focus of National Park Service interest in the region.

During the 1890s, southwestern archeological ruins attracted the attention of the American public as the conservation of natural resources became an important social issue. In the late 1890s, the General Land Office (GLO) began to study many of the ruins in the Southwest. After 1900, the perception that men like Richard Wetherill, a Colorado rancher who excavated throughout the four corners area, engaged in "pot-hunting" led the GLO to dramatically increase its inspections. Many sites its special agents visited later became national monuments. El Morro came to the attention of the Department of the Interior in 1899, as did other areas of peculiar interest, such as the petrified forest region of Arizona. In need of an immediate way to protect such obviously unique natural and cultural features, the GLO began to pursue a policy of "temporary withdrawal," under which it reserved land from claims until the Government decided to what disposition each tract was best suited. [1]

The attempts to create a national park on the Pajarito Plateau were a direct result of the policy of temporary withdrawal. Prior to 1906, establishment of a national park was the only available form of permanent reservation. When GLO inspectors found an area that they believed was worth preserving, the only option they had was a proposal to create a national park. As a result, before 1906, Congress considered many areas that did not fit later standards for park status.

Edgar L. Hewett, an educator and archeologist, was the catalyst for the initial park efforts in the Bandelier area. While superintendent of the Colorado Normal School in Greeley, Colorado, he became interested in archeology. In the 1890s, Hewett began to survey the ruins of the Pajarito Plateau. His activities intensified in 1898, when he became the president of New Mexico Normal University in Las Vegas, New Mexico. A scholar, albeit one without formal archeological training at that time, Hewett became famous throughout the Southwest.

By the end of the decade, Hewett believed that ruins throughout the Southwest were in serious danger, and he began to prod government agencies to take action. In his mind, the ruins of the Pajarito Plateau were particularly vulnerable. No longer protected because they were isolated and inaccessible, the ruins offered an easy target for depredators. Hewett wrote the Department of the Interior to see if it could protect the ruins. In 1899, John F. Lacey, the Chairman of the House Public Lands Committee, approached the Commissioner of the General Land Office to request a bill that would establish a national park on the Pajarito Plateau.

The GLO knew little of the region, and in late 1899, Commissioner Binger Hermann ordered J. D. Mankin, an agency clerk in New Mexico, to make an inspection of the ruins. Mankin was astonished to find himself in the midst of a lost civilization. "From a single eminence on the Pajarito," he wrote, "the doors of more than two thousand [cave and cavate lodge] . . . dwellings may be seen, and the number in the entire district would reach tens of thousands. If arranged in a continuous series they would form an unbroken line of dwellings of not less than sixty miles in length." [2]

During the course of the inspection, Hewett accompanied Mankin and significantly shaped his perspective. The report recommended the establishment of the "Pajarito National Park," encompassing 153,620 acres and including all the major ruins on land administered by the Department of the Interior. The bill suited Hewett's purposes. The establishment of a park would outlaw the wanton vandalism afflicting other archeological sites in the Southwest. [3]

Hewett continued to worry about the fate of ruins in the region. While the GLO prepared a bill in early 1900, an urgent situation developed on the plateau. Hewett informed Mankin that "irresponsible parties are making preparations to invade the territory in the early spring, with a view to opening the rooms of the Communal Dwellings and exploring the caves for relics." [4] He asked the department to establish a national park immediately. Mankin agreed and urged instant action. Nothing happened. On October, 26, 1900, Hewett again wrote GLO Commissioner Binger Hermann to urge the establishment of the park. He reported an increase in vandalism during the summer of 1900 and claimed that depredators destroyed many valuable sites. Hewett believed that the best opportunity for an archeological national park was slowly eroding at the hands of miscreants. [5]

GLO officials were ready to act and they sought out the House Public Land Committee. Late in 1900, the GLO transmitted Mankin's report and a draft of its bill to Lacey. On December 21, 1900, the Congressman proposed the bill on the floor of the House of Representatives. H. R. 13071 went to Lacey's committee, and on January 23, 1901, they reported favorably upon it. As the result of opposition in New Mexico, however, the committee added a number of clauses that indicated compromise. The most important allowed grazing at the discretion of the Secretary of the Interior. They also suggested changing the name of the proposed park from "Pajarito" to "Cliff Cities" on the grounds that an English-speaking public would mispronounce the former. [6] Later, this innocuous suggestion became a major problem.

A national park on the Pajarito Plateau seemed imminent, and the Federal bureaucracy geared up for its proclamation. The Smithsonian Institution added its support to Mankin's proposal, and other government agencies followed suit. In accordance with Mankin's report, on July 31, 1900, Commissioner Hermann of the GLO ordered the temporary withdrawal of the 153,620-acre proposed tract in contemplation of national park status for the region.

Despite Hermann's withdrawal, the first serious attempt to create a national park on the Pajarito Plateau went no further than the proposal stage. The existing national parks were vast, spectacular areas, such as Yosemite, Yellowstone, and Mt. Rainier. There was little precedent for an archeological national park. Western congressmen questioned the efficacy of the proposal, and the House of Representatives did not act upon the bill. It expired along with the 56th Congress.

Interest in the park possibilities of the Pajarito region did not end with the initial bill. On January 9, 1902, Lacey reintroduced the earlier measure to the 57th session of Congress as H. R. 8323. Opposition in the New Mexico territory quickly appeared. The Santa Fe newspaper, the New Mexican, expressed its fear that this was just another way for the Federal Government to seize control of large tracts of land in the state. The paper supported the principle of a national park filled with archeological ruins, but its editors expressed concern that the federal government already reserved too much land in New Mexico and further withdrawals would hamper local commerce. On March 4, 1902, the paper asked New Mexico Territorial Delegate Bernard S. Rodey to block the bill. [7]

<<< Previous <<< Contents >>> Next >>>

Last Updated: 28-Aug-2006