Big Bend
Administrative History
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A Dream in Waiting: Promotion of a Land Base for Big Bend National Park, 1936 (continued)

What had happened to the Big Bend film would repeat itself throughout the process of publicizing Texas' first national park: the differing perspectives of NPS officials in Washington, state officials in Austin, and local sponsors of the park. Herbert Maier would write in late August to Fanning Hearon of the Interior department's motion picture division, about the need to rethink the messages transmitted in the promotional venture. "I realize how the film may be viewed by Washington with an eye to its commendability," said Maier. Yet "if you were out here in the plains States," he told Hearon, "you would realize that the words 'oil' or 'mineral rights' are the most magical words in the English language, especially when dealing with school lands." Maier doubted "if there is any area in the world which has had a parallel experience with that of Texas." Recalling the history of public land sales in the Lone Star state, Maier noted that "as far as the settlers in many parts of Texas knew, until very recently, there was not a remote possibility of mineral deposits on their land." Then "in the early '20's somebody invented the core drill," said the ECW regional director, "which was capable of going down 6000 to 8000 feet." Such advances in technology revealed "immense oil-bearing deposits . . . at this level and below." "Subsequently," said Maier, "the Public School Fund which held tremendous but apparently valueless acreages suddenly found itself on Wall Street, and the University of Texas overnight became the wealthiest university in the World." As a result, Maier told Hearon, "the probability of mineral deposits of all kinds has been indelibly impressed upon the minds of all Texans for the duration of the human race (or at least for the duration of the ECW)." [21]

Maier's appeal to Hearon included the caution that "from the standpoint of a Texan, the Leopold film would appear to have been designed to defeat its own purpose." Knowing of the heavy workload facing Hearon's motion picture division, Maier asked that he "send us a sample print of the strip, or a reel of all the scenes of the Big Bend you have available." The ECW had "access to a motion picture laboratory nearby," and could "run off the various scenes and cut those we feel desirable and splice same in the order that we feel best." Hearon accepted Maier's offer, submitting to the ECW official the work print of the Big Bend film, along with "nearly 2000 extra feet of Big Bend scenes made by cameramen of this Division and the cameramen [who] did the Gulf Sulphur job." Hearon advised Maier to "do what you like with the extra footage, arranging it as you want it to appear in the special Big Bend production and indicating any titles you want used." He did, however, warn Maier that "we must ask that the work print of the Gulf Sulphur subject be left untouched." Hearon further cautioned: "Despite how enthusiastic you and the Texas people may become, it has been our experience that one-reel subjects are much easier to handle and much more effective." His willingness to accommodate the editing request from Maier resulted from a preliminary advertisement of the picture by the Interior department. "You will be interested to hear," Hearon informed Maier, "that requests for the original Big Bend picture are more than double the amount of prints available in this Division and at the Pittsburgh office of the [U.S.] Bureau of Mines." [22]

A promotional film that spoke to the perceptions and concerns of Texas audiences came none too soon for the NPS and local park promoters, as Governor Allred had indeed announced a special session of the Texas legislature. Everett Townsend spoke with house speaker Coke Stevenson, who suggested that the Big Bend sponsors delay any request for financial assistance. One reason, said Townsend to Maier, was that "fifty percent of the new house are new members." Stevenson thought it more prudent to approach the legislature in January, when the freshmen members had taken their seats. Yet Townsend continued to canvass legislators about the merits of the Big Bend project. He offered to coordinate more trips to the park area by state lawmakers, and asked whether the NPS could support his lobbying efforts and research into school lands records while in Austin. Herbert Maier worried that "all travel incurred by anyone connected with the State Park Commission, directly or indirectly, of Texas, should be borne by the State Park Commission." Yet Townsend had "been with us too long not to know where you need to exercise discretion." Maier acknowledged that "both you and I are so zealously imbued with the work of the Civilian Conservation Corps in the Big Bend area that we are willing and prepared to meet any expectations which the General Accounting Office may take in our expense account from our personal pockets." The ECW officer informed Townsend that "I am with you a hundred percent in putting across the Big Bend National Park as an outstanding monument to the efforts of the CCC, even if it calls upon me personally 'as a Californian and a Texan' to meet exceptions of the General Accounting Office." He believed that Townsend's lobbying and research work was "justifiable in the consummation of the CCC endeavor in the Big Bend in Texas." [23]

While Townsend worked the halls of the Texas legislature on behalf of the NPS, Maier prepared top officials of the park service for discussion of the land-acquisition program while in El Paso for the international park conference. To Conrad Wirth, Maier noted that the actual purchase price for the 643,115 acres of private lands would not be onerous (an average of two dollars per acre), and that the campaign to influence the opinions of the Texas school teachers' association had gained momentum. "As it now stands," said Maier, "the School Fund receives 1 [cent] of the 4 [cent] tax on gasoline." The NPS, which earlier in the year had dismissed the uniqueness of the school lands issue, accepted the fact that "the School Fund now has before it the impressive precedent of having suddenly discovered in 1924 that its 'worthless' school lands in the eastern part of the State contained oil deposits." Not only had the Austin campus become richly endowed from the revenues, but "the School Fund as a result of this also carries a surplus running into several million dollars." The ECW official reported that "it is planned to introduce a bill in the coming State legislative session in January, calling for authorization to purchase the private land holdings by the issuing of warrants against the land in the amount of about $1,250,000." Once the warrants had been issued, landowners could "convert them into cash, although at a discount," because "it would require a constitutional amendment to issue bonds [to purchase the lands]." [24]

Then Maier introduced a new obstacle to the land-purchase bill: "industrial lobbyists." At the ongoing special session of the legislature, members debated "the new State Pension Fund which, if it is to become permanent, will call for about $6,500,000 additional taxes per year." "The State," reported Maier, "is already about $12,000,000 in the red;" a condition that he considered "nothing unusual in a State having the size and resources of Texas." In a normal year, said the ECW officer, "the State is usually from five to twelve million dollars in the red." Yet "the bill proposing the purchase of the private land is bound to meet with a strong opposition from industries, because industry is so heavily taxed in this state where homes of less than $3,500 valuation are exempt from taxation." In addition, "there has been a strong opposition to a sales tax," wrote Maier. "But after all," he believed, "a million and a quarter dollars is a very low figure for such an area, especially in view of the many millions that would eventually result to the State." Maier did express concern about the campaign to inform Texans east of the Big Bend country of the merits of the park. "Most of these people," said Maier, "have never been to the western half [of Texas] and are not particularly interested in a project benefiting that part of the state." Nonetheless, "a great deal of good work has been done in contacting the Members of the Legislature and a great many have already pledged their support of the proposed bill." Maier also noted that the attorney general had agreed to a "sale" of the 97,799.60 acres of school lands at the cash value of one cent per acre. This the attorney general had ruled was not "a gift," and "at this price the amount involved [$978] would be negligible." [25]

The mineral rights issue, and the need for resolution in advance of the 1937 Texas legislative session, reached all the way to the NPS director's desk in Washington. Maier wrote to Arno Cammerer to solicit either his attendance at the Texas schoolteachers' association conference, or that of a high-ranking NPS representative. T.H. Shelby, chairman of the executive committee of the teachers' association, told Maier that he would support waiver of the mineral rights "if it can be proven that the income that will result to the School Fund from the establishment of the national park would be greater than that which might obtain from future mineral developments." "Of course," Maier declared, "such a comparison is one that only the Lord himself could prove." Yet the NPS needed a spokesman at the convention to state "what the [Interior] Secretary will accept and what he will not accept in the case of mineral restrictions." Maier advised that "a clean-cut proposition on the part of the National Park Service representative at the meeting appears obligatory." Maier did not wish to commit the NPS to a position not easily defended, yet "favorable consideration of the Appropriation Bill by the State Legislature in January is so very definitely dependent upon a prior indication of support by the School Fund, which is the strongest lobby in Texas." [26]

With the stakes so high, and the need for positive imagery so critical, NPS historian William Hogan approached Maier in October 1936 with what he called "a suggestion which may seem unusual at first glance but which is more than justified by the facts." He wanted his superior in Oklahoma City to consider employing the noted Texas historian, Walter Prescott Webb, as an historical consultant. Hogan, a former student of Webb's at the University of Texas, described the scholar's 1931 study of the Great Plains as "one of the greatest contributions ever made to western historiography, perhaps the greatest since Frederick Jackson Turner's 1893 epoch making address before the American Historical Association." Hogan knew that Webb had taken a leave of absence for the 1936-1937 academic year, and suggested that "he be requested to visit the Big Bend country with the end in view of preparing a series of historical sketches, perhaps three in number, relating to the historical background of the proposed international park." Hogan had "reason to believe that Dr. Webb would seriously consider such an offer," as the Texas professor "not only has a personal interest in the proposed Big Bend Park, but he is also the type of writer who enjoys and believes in the necessity for field work as a preparation for writing." The NPS should also realize that "if he should decline the offer, it would probably be because of salary considerations." The standard NPS consulting rate of "ten dollars per day is a small salary," said Hogan, "for a man who has sold the movie rights in his last book [The Texas Rangers] at a figure variously reported to be from ten thousand dollars to twenty-five thousand dollars." Hogan also encouraged swift action, as "Dr. Webb may never be available again," and "his plans for the next nine months are fast maturing." [27]

The NPS historian also contended that "a still more pressing reason is that the historical and legendary background of the Big Bend country can best be found out now, before the influx of tourists and dude ranches." In addition, "Dr. Webb is a master at writing history from modern, living sources;" a key aspect of a project where "men are yet living who can speak with authority about the development of this part of the West." As to those NPS officials who might prefer a park service historian, Hogan replied that "Dr. Webb's contribution, whatever it may be, will be absolutely unique and . . . no other man in the historical profession, either in or out of the National Park Service, is so well equipped to make the type of study herein suggested." Webb would not be asked to write "the whole history of the Big Bend area," as "that will, of course, be a future task of National Park Service historical technicians." Instead, the agency should realize that "the employment of such an eminent historian and writer would, undoubtedly, give the National Park Service an invaluable contact with the historical profession." This, in turn, "would serve to give Park Service historical activities a higher rating among historians," an important feature of NPS work in light of passage in 1935 of the Historical Sites Act, giving the park service a mandate to preserve America's cultural and historic treasures alongside its monuments to natural beauty. [28]

Hogan's idea fired the imagination of Herbert Maier, who wrestled with the constraints of New Deal funding and the realities of park promotion. Maier wrote to Branch Spalding, acting assistant director of the NPS in Washington, to solicit funds for Webb's work. "At the present time," said Maier, "we are doing everything possible to emphasize to the people of Texas their great opportunity in turning over the Big Bend area to the federal government as a national park." To expedite this process, said Maier, "we must emphasize its values." Thus he considered "the temporary employment of Dr. Walter P. Webb as an outstanding opportunity." Spalding wasted little time replying to Maier that "this idea is one which we naturally support very enthusiastically." He had asked the personnel division of the NPS for advice on a fee for Webb, and learned that "it might be possible to secure as much as $20.00 per day." Spalding cautioned that "all of this, of course, assumes that sufficient money is available in the [CCC] camps of your Region to meet this sum." Maier then turned to Hogan to identify the potential for funding, and to outline "a very clear-cut understanding with Dr. Webb as to just what he would produce in the time that would be allotted to him." Maier knew "the value that would probable result from Dr. Webb's work." Nonetheless, said the ECW official, "we must bear in mind that the appropriation under which we are working is part of the relief administration and funds must be spread out as much as possible." He also recognized that "any such writing would return profit to Dr. Webb." Maier thus warned that "the profit would be his and the royalties would not accrue to the government as would otherwise be the case." Yet the imperatives of park promotion led Maier to conclude: "I am very much in favor of getting the material from Dr. Webb, especially at this time." [29]

Even as Herbert Maier pursued the talents of Walter Prescott Webb to promote the future Big Bend National Park, he also in late 1936 had to contend with the lack of photographs for use in publicity. George Grant had yet to generate a set of prints from his venture into the Big Bend country and Mexico. Maier also learned of the reason why W.D. Smithers had denied the NPS use of his collection of Big Bend photos. In correspondence with Fanning Hearon, Maier reported that Smithers "has had a falling out with the Texas State Parks Board in connection with the right to take photographs in this area." Smithers for years "had done considerable business in the making of photographic post cards and scenic views of this area as a commercial activity." When Smithers "locked up all of his negatives," and "consistently refused to furnish any prints of any kind of the Big Bend," he left Alpine "on a scientific expedition," said Maier, "Lord knows where." What few copies the NPS had of Smithers' work "have had extensive use," he told Hearon, "and are second-rate." Maier now believed that "it is unreasonable to offer these same second-rate copies over and over again in connection with articles and publicity material we are constantly being requested to submit for publication." [30]

As 1936 drew to a close, concern over the land acquisition plan became more intense with word that Ira Hector, the Chisos Basin rancher on whose property the CCC camp stood, wanted permission to build a residence and corral on "Section 16," which the Texas state parks board had yet to purchase. Camp superintendent Morgan reported to William Lawson of the state parks board that Hector's "cattle are doing a lot of damage and his attitude is getting worse and worse." Hector was "continually burning things in the area," Morgan continued, "and causing damage to trees and other vegetation." The solution, said Morgan, was to "satisfy him on this section 16 and get him out of here," a strategy that the CCC camp director called "a very wise move." The Hector controversy led Maier to write William Lawson about the larger issue of land acquisition. The ECW official recalled that "this land is a part of an estate left to [Hector] and his sisters some time ago," with Ira Hector "the only one attempting to make any sort of a living on this land." Then D.C. Colp, Lawson's predecessor as executive secretary of the parks board, had negotiated with Hector "to pay . . . a certain amount for the land he holds in Green Gulch, which is absolutely necessary as a road is to be built to the heart of the area." In exchange, "Hector was to retain grazing rights." Maier since had learned that "this contract [with the state parks board] was not carried out and that Hector has never received any of the money for the portion of his land, excluding grazing rights." [31]

With the legislative session in Austin set to open within 30 days, Maier pressed Lawson for advice on correcting Colp's oversight. "As regards the road we are building into the Basin," said Maier, "which is to be the principal development area regardless of whether the Big Bend becomes a national park or not," the NPS faced an obstruction - Ira Hector's cabin- which was "right in the narrowest portion of Green Gulch." Said the ECW regional director: "It is absolutely necessary to run the road through the corral and cabin site in order to get up over the Pass, since at this point there is a deep ravine and the canyon cannot be more than 100 yards wide." Then the NPS needed resolution of "this confounded matter of grazing rights." Maier claimed that "Hector's cattle run wild over the Chisos Mountains, and they are continually cutting through trail banks and shoulders, and breaking down road bank sloping activity" undertaken by the CCC. The work crews had graded the road "to its objective, with the exception of the gap at Hector's cabin, and this is doubly serious because a vehicular bridge at this point has to be left incompleted." Maier further expounded upon Hector's habit of burning all of the maguey or century plants that he could find. "These beautiful specimens," said the ECW official, "dot the landscape everywhere in the Chisos." The park service had learned that "someone once told Hector that they [the plants] are poisonous to cattle." Since "Hector believes this," said Maier, he "now has the distinction of being the only man in the world who is cracked on the subject." Maier described Hector's behavior as "everytime he sees one of these beautiful things towering perhaps twelve feet in height, he must set fire thereto." Compounding the problem of environmental damage was the fire hazard created by such indiscriminate burning. Yet Maier found Hector to be "comparatively careful, and I know that he is sincere when he feels that this growth is injurious to his stock." [32]

This latter admission made the land-use controversy most difficult for Maier to resolve. "He is a dandy fellow," Maier told the parks board executive secretary, "a dyed-in-the-wool West Texan, and a good wrangler." Maier did "not know the terms of the original written or verbal agreement between [Hector] and Mr. Colp," and thus could not "say who has been in the wrong." Maier then revealed the challenge that the NPS had faced in the Big Bend country with the state of Texas as a land-acquisition partner. "I most decidedly do know," said Maier, "with all due respect to Mr. Colp, that the latter was better at making promises and closing agreements than with the carrying out of these covenants." In conversation with Everett Townsend, the latter believed that "Brewster County can somehow complete the purchase of Hector's land, particularly that which is needed for the completion of the section of road described." The county could use its own general fund, advised Townsend, "or perhaps through some special appropriation." Maier speculated that the county would need an additional $3,500 beyond what the parks board already had paid Hector, but that the NPS could not contribute to this latest payment. Because of criticism engendered by the original action, Maier suggested that "it would, perhaps, be simpler for Brewster County to purchase the Hector land with an eye to selling it later to the state Government, when and if the State acquires the land for national park purposes." [33]

As if it were an omen of events to come in 1937, the discovery by Herbert Maier of the extralegal practices of D.C. Colp portended the failure of Texas to appropriate the funds needed to purchase lands in south Brewster County. Robert Morgan had learned from the chief engineer of the state park board that "he did not see any chance for the Legislature to do anything" in the 1937 session. R.O. Whiteaker had come to the CCC camp with three state representatives, and Everett Townsend, in mid-November, and the party contended that "it is almost impossible to hope for any success for our efforts." To this Morgan could only add: "This has led me to believe that probably you [Maier] are not getting very much assistance from that point." He claimed that "from my previous political experiences in Austin I long ago came to the conclusion that the Oil Companies come very near to controlling the legislature bodies." His assumption "has been confirmed to a certain extent lately by conversations I have had with parties who have visited us here." Morgan thought that "we might accomplish a lot if we could get the Oil Companies sold on the proposition and get them to use their lobby for us." The CCC superintendent recommended that Maier approach a friend of his, L.W. Kemp, formerly of the "Asphalt Sales Division of the Texas Co. [later renamed 'Texaco']." Kemp was "very popular around the Capitol," said Morgan, "and with all the contractors and engineers in Texas." An added bonus for the NPS was that Kemp "is a member of the Centennial Committee on Historical points." Because Kemp had "lots of contact with the Legislature on matters of this kind and knows every angle of the lobby business," Morgan believed that "his influence . . . would help." Then the CCC superintendent warned Maier of yet another political problem facing the Big Bend land program. "I am informed," wrote Morgan, "that in all probability there will be quite a fight over the Speaker of the House this next session." Coke Stevenson "will probably be lined up in opposition to the man having the backing of Governor Allred." While the NPS could do nothing about internal Texas politics, Morgan wondered: "Just what influence this would have on a [park] bill sponsored by Mr. Stevenson is a question worthy of some consideration." [34]

Herbert Maier received independent corroboration of Morgan's claims after Thanksgiving, when Leo A. McClatchy, associate regional planner for the NPS office in Oklahoma City, wrote to his superior that "executives of Texas metropolitan newspapers . . . are of the opinion [that] there is very little chance of passing through the 1937 Texas Legislature a bill carrying an appropriation to purchase land to establish the Park." McClatchy, well-connected in media circles, reported that "the next Legislature will be very 'tight' on appropriations, and will probably throw aside all bills seeking funds for projects that are not deemed to be immediately essential." Big Bend, unfortunately, fell "in this class," said McClatchy's confidants, who believed that "it would require the active support of influential organizations and individuals who are strong politically, to get such a bill passed." This "active support," however, "does not appear to be available." McClatchy had found no concentrated opposition to the land program; indeed, "all of the newspaper people with whom I talked are friendly to the park." They also had "given help both in their editorial and news columns." Several media officials "suggested [that] the National Park Service should drum up this active support." McClatchy could only offer standard NPS policy that "we could not be placed in the position of a federal agency attempting to tell a State what the State should do." The park service, McClatchy reiterated, was "ready to cooperate in every way possible, but that we cannot come into the State and take the initiative." In response, the Texas media representatives mentioned that the land bill "should be introduced in January," as "committee hearings would develop considerable publicity, and would pave the way for getting the appropriation from a later session . . . when the State is in a better financial position than it is now." [35]

At year's end, no one in the NPS could predict the mood of the Lone Star lawmakers towards the land-acquisition bill. Newspapers as distant as the San Francisco News carried Leo McClatchy's press releases on the merits of Big Bend. In a story entitled "1,200,000 Acres of Peace Proposed on U.S. Border," the California daily told its readers: "While President Roosevelt at Buenos Aires was lending the weight of his presence and his well-chosen words toward the securing of peace among men of good will in the two Americas, scientists of neighboring North American republics are examining the possibilities of a proposed International Peace Park in the Big Bend country of the Rio Grande." After outlining the standard NPS description of Big Bend's extraordinary ecology and geology, the News asked: "With a region combining the sublime and the startling, Jack Garner presiding [as vice-president] over the Senate, and Maury Maverick in the [U.S.] House, can there be any doubt of the future of the Big Bend country?" Everett Townsend, however, saw another side to the land-acquisition controversy not conveyed to readers of park service publicity. In a last-minute canvass of state lawmakers over the Christmas holidays, Townsend had learned that the Texas State Teachers Association would not accept any settlement of the mineral-rights claims that they held in south Brewster County. Coke Stevenson had told Townsend to have NPS officials ready in Austin at the start of the legislative session to meet with the state attorney general, and to draft a bill soon thereafter. Then the NPS should invite the attorney general "or one of his assistants," said Townsend, to visit Big Bend. Having these officials in the future park area as the legislators discussed land purchase would generate valuable publicity, as well as prepare the attorney general to make the NPS's case effectively in Austin. [36]

In light of this mixture of editorial support and legislative opposition, the park service weighed in with its own brochure at the end of 1936 entitled, "The Big Bend National Park: A State Asset." When readers turned past the cover photography of "St. Helena Canyon," the first sentence read: "What would be a finer thing for Texas, just as an advertising medium, than to have located within its borders one of the largest National Parks on the American Continent?" The brochure quickly moved to quotations from major newspapers nationwide on the value of Big Bend to the American people. Even the New York Times of November 15 had only words of praise for this "symbol of peace between two nations." The Times's editors declared that "nature lovers will travel in the next few years to enjoy the splendors and scenic beauties of what eventually is expected to be the largest international park on this continent." They noted that "the international nature of the project was virtually assured last week when committees representing the United States and Mexico met at El Paso, Texas, and worked out detailed plans for cooperation between the two governments." In addition, editorialized the Times, "almost all of the superlative adjectives imaginable have been used by visitors to describe those parts of the Big Bend park site which they have seen." [37]

As if to demonstrate the power of Big Bend upon the imagination, the park service brochure stated: "This little Empire, shut off from the rest of Texas by a kind of no man's land, holds within its confines the last vestiges of the primitive West." The brochure evoked a land "rich in romances of the long ago, in Indian legends, in folklore, in cowboy songs, and its border feuds." Added to this was the scientific value of Big Bend, leading "eminent scientists from all parts of the country [to visit] this treasure-house annually for new specimens and discoveries." For those drawn to the natural beauty of America's national parks, Big Bend offered "its magic purple of mountains; . . . its green, rolling uplands; . . . its verdant riot of canyon depths and gray crags brooding above; . . its flaming sunsets; and . . . its white-starred depths of night." To this land "artists from Texas and beyond its borders are finding new materials in color and form." The brochure writers thus predicted: "What a fortunate date for Texas when paintings of her own scenery shall adorn the art galleries, homes, and public schools all over the State!" In a more realistic vein, the brochure noted that "good highways will follow in the wake of the Park." Once the Big Bend country had access to the outside world, "what would be more natural and logical," asked the writers, "than for the American tourist from the heart of the United States to take the most direct route through the Chisos Mountains, linger there awhile to marvel at its wonders, and then journey on into the fairy land of Old Mexico rich in its art treasures, fascinating in its tumultuous but enlightening history, and glorious in its scenery!" Even if visitors had more prosaic tastes and desires, said the brochure, they too could find solace and wonder in the Big Bend. "But it is as a Playground that the Big Bend National Park would be most valuable to Texas people," declared the NPS brochure. "The family with moderate means could afford to take a vacation and a much needed rest within the borders of its own state," while "the business man, perplexed with his problems or wearied with his toils, could find within striking distance of his business, just the relief he needs in the quiet retreats of mountain fastnesses." [38]

Eighteen months after Congress had authorized creation of Big Bend National Park, the patterns of land acquisition and publicity had become clear. Park service officials and local park sponsors mixed imagery of isolation and wilderness with beauty and wonder to attract future visitors, and to convince Texans of the rare opportunity awaiting them with their first national park unit. Yet behind the scenes, these same individuals struggled with the realities of the Depression, the New Deal, Texas's relationship to the federal government, and the power of ranchers and corporate officials to direct the fortunes of Brewster County. Once the Lone Star lawmakers gathered in Austin to discuss the fate of Big Bend National Park, the NPS and its private-sector allies could only hope that months of planning and dreaming would make a difference.

Figure 8: Congressman Thomason Riding Horseback in the Chisos Mountains, 1933

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