Canyon de Chelly
Administrative History
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THE LEAN YEARS, 1941-1945

The entrance of the United States into World War II resulted from the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and other American interests in the Pacific on December 7, 1941. The effects of the war were felt in many aspects of the National Park Service's programs. Shortages of gasoline and tires limited both visitation and official travel. Manpower shortages caused reductions in staffing or prevented expansion. At remote areas, such as Canyon de Chelly, the drop in visitation was especially noticeable. Early in the war Custodian Charles D. Wyatt reported that those visitors who did come stayed longer. He speculated that "perhaps it is to save tires or because the strife rampant in the world today seems distant out here." [1] Visitation by Japanese-Americans from a relocation center was reported in 1943. [2] Navajo work in the war industry and enrollment in the armed forces created prosperity even with few people at home. Traditional craft and ceremonial activity declined. [3]

Despite the lower visitation, work was required on many of the same sorts of projects that were current before the war. The natural forces of erosion were unaffected by Man's troubles, and in January 1942 the need for emergency work on Antelope House was noted. [4] Charlie Steen was dispatched to supervise stabilization work there and at Mummy Cave in May. [5] The work was done quickly and Steen had submitted his reports on the work by the end of the following month. [6]

Erosion by the Rio de Chelly presented more formidable problems and the process of building revetments and other structures and planting seedlings along the stream was of longer duration. In the spring of 1942 work was begun at White House, [7] apparently including willow plantings, and by autumn a similar project was begun at Antelope House. [8] Photographs of both ruins in 1942 show no trees screening the sites yet. [9] Inspection of the work done at the two ruins in 1944 revealed that it was still in good condition. [10] In the spring of 1945 the Bureau of Indian Affairs provided the Park Service with 2,000 seedling trees, including sand cherry, peach, and plum, [11] which were presumably used in the canyons or around the headquarters area. Heavy runoff did some damage to irrigation systems in Canyon del Muerto that year, [12] but there was no damage reported at the ruins.

Work on special projects was limited. The seasonal ranger in 1942, Marvin H. Frost, Jr., arrived in May [13] and did some work on the multiplex exhibit that was under construction, [14] but he was drafted in August. [15] Not only were tourists fewer in number, but many Navajos left for war work or the service. [16] Wyatt finally took employment in war industry and was replaced by Ted C. Sowers as acting custodian. [17] Meredith Guillet did not begin his first period of managing the monument until June. [18] Work lagged on the new exhibit, but Guillet hoped to have it in use during 1944; [19] however, it was not installed on the headquarter's porch until early in the 1945 tourist season. [20]

The need for storage and a shortage of materials and manpower apparently were the motives for the construction of a cribbed-log hogan. Sowers undertook the project early in 1943 with the assistance of a Navajo laborer, Tuly Bia. Bia instructed Sowers in the art of erecting a far more complicated structure than the novice hogan-builder had anticipated. [21]

Sowers, during his short incumbency, seems to have had good relations with his Navajo neighbors. Aside from his hogan project, he was invited to a Navajo wedding held in the canyon. The McSparrons were also invited, and it is of interest to note that this was the first Navajo wedding that Cozy had attended in his 30 years at Chinle. [22] Guillet, therefore, arrived at a time when the Park Service and the local Navajo community were on especially good terms. His familiarity with the Navajo language and the commencement of his duties at such a time gave Guillet an unrivaled opportunity to get to know the local people and develop friendships that would be of great importance later. While his reports often included wry observations of Navajo affairs, such as: "The Navajos who have been away on agricultural work are drifting back for the winter. The bulk of their savings from summer wages will soon be in the hands of the best gamblers," [23] he was not at all unsympathetic to their problems and consistently considered their views when recommending policy. He could accept with equanimity the need to control the bear and coyote populations when they threatened Navajo fields and flocks and received considerable information on the wildlife of the canyon area from its residents. [24]

With the reduced activity of Government operations and with so many Navajos away from their homes, there was little conflict between Park Service and Navajo objectives. The installation of horseback patrols doubtless allowed for much closer contact with the people living in the canyon. [25] One activity of the white man did bring about a need for a policy decision, however.

Even in the midst of war, for Hollywood the old saying "The show must go on" held true and two movies were produced on location near Chinle. The first, Desert Song, filmed by MGM in 1942, seems to have had little impact on park operations. [26]

The second, Queen of The Nile, caused complications in cleanup. Filming was done at the sand dunes, where a set was erected. The company left the set behind, but gave it to Guillet who dismantled it and brought the materials to headquarters where they would be available as needed. The company also hired 150 Navajos, who were paid each night. In order to be close to their temporary job the Indians camped around the Thunderbird Trading Post and bought most of their supplies from McSparron. The result was a massive littering problem. Complaint from the regional office led Guillet to write a spirited defense of his handling of the matter, not by stressing his limited resources, but by emphasizing the need to adapt to the conditions found in Navajo country:

You, of course, are familiar with conditions here at Canyon de Chelly. There is a cleanup job all year-round and will be as long as there is a trading post and Navajos. I cannot see how a great deal can be done about it. Navajos . . . have been throwing their bottles, and bread wrappers around the trading posts for years, and although some are careful, the majority will continue to do it. . . . A northerly wind cleaned out the area adjoining the monument fairly well. The big job was cleaning up after the 150 Indians and their families who camped around the store. . . .

Practically all of their wages were spent with Cozy. If I had started making each one pick up their cans, papers, and bottles, they would have moved over to Garcia's store, and . . . there would have been a considerable loss to Cozy. . . . It's just a situation that always results when large numbers of Navajos get together.

If a large Yei B'chai dance should be held in the canyon, the same thing would happen I would resign my job before I would go in and start making myself what to the average Navajo would be the laughing stock of the country. I would much rather do the work myself. I know that I am winning the regard of the Navajos here. I believe they will be more careful when they see that they are merely causing me extra work. . . . At present there is no clause requiring them [the movie companies] to clean up in the permit issued by the Office of Indian Affairs. . . .

The Navajos regard the taking of Moving Pictures as a good thing, and I would not like to have them think that I was trying to discourage it. [27]

Assistant Regional Director Charles A. Richey, after visiting the area and discussing the matter with Chee Dodge, the tribal chairman, realized that a decision on this subject was important to preserve good community relations. After noting that the land did belong to the Navajos and had been occupied for generations by individual Indian families, he recommended that the Park Service issue permits that charged no fee for the filming but that required that money for cleanup be deposited in advance by movie companies. He concluded:

Although I am generally opposed to the filming of moving pictures in National Park areas where professional casts are used, it seems to me that this is an entirely different problem on which the thoughts of the Navajo Indians should be considered. [28]

Acting Director Hillory A. Tolson, after reviewing Guillet's and Richey's recommendations and considering the complications inherent in Park Service regulations in this regard, suggested that because the land belonged to the Navajos, permits should be issued by the superintendent of the Navajo Reservation once it was determined that filming would not affect the ruins or other scientific or historical features under Park Service care. The need for a cleanup clause might be brought to the attention of the superintendent. Tolson asked for further recommendations from the regional director and Guillet before making a final decision, however. [29]

In November Guillet, who had had occasion to discuss with Commissioner Collier the need for protection of the scenery and ruins and for cleanups, summed up the situation as it then stood:

In view of all that has gone before, it would now seem that the payment of any fee to the National Park Service for filming rights in Canyon de Chelly is out of the question. If it were apt to damage any protected feature, we could not issue a permit, and if it were not . . ., it would come under Indian Service permit. . . . [30]

In July of the following year the Navajo Tribal Council passed a resolution asserting its right, in conjunction with the agency superintendent, to collect fees for filming on tribal lands. [31] Even this did not entirely settle the matter, and new complications would arise in the future, but a start had been made in developing a policy for this seemingly minor problem.

The question of water rights arose in 1943, apparently during a routine review of water needs. [32] The major concern raised was that McSparron, if his older well became dry, might have a claim against the Service's well. [33] The Park Service made its water freely available to the Navajos and a review of the laws applying in the area, especially since the Service well had been drilled under the provisions of the act authorizing establishment of the monument, led to the conclusion that there was no cause for concern. [34]

McSparron was suffering from ill health, however, [35] and toward the end of the war tried unsuccessfully to sell the Thunderbird Ranch. [36] When he failed to get his asking price, he petitioned the Bureau of Indian Affairs for permission to move his trading post outside the monument, planning to continue offering guest facilities and running a curio store at the Thunderbird. [37] Guillet hoped for a change in ownership, writing:

If Cozy sells, it would be of a direct benefit to the Park Service to let the new buyer know approximately what he could expect in the way of help from the Park Service in future development, Etc. Although My relections [sic] With Cozy have been good, we sort of walk a tight rope that was spread in the past. A new operator would give us a better chance of establishing a firm foundation in almost every phase of concession operation. [38]

Two other policy decisions affecting park operations during the period deserve notice. In 1944 the Bureau of Indian Affairs asserted in the following terms the jurisdiction of tribal courts over certain offences committed within the monument boundaries:

the Act of Congress establishing the Monument did not divest the Navajo Tribe of its vested rights to the land included in the Monument. This being so, the Tribe retains an interest in the land as to give the Tribal Court jurisdiction and make the law and order code of the Navajo Reservation applicable within the Monument area.

The section of the law and order code referred to above is the proper section under which prosecution can be had of Indians injuring public property of the Tribe, such as trees, within the area. [39]

In 1945 justification was given for expending Park Service funds to fight fires "that occur on or threaten lands within Canyon de Chelly National Monument." Basing his opinion on the act authorizing the establishment of the monument, Chief Counsel Jackson E. Price wrote:

As the administrative agency in charge of the area, I think that it would be the duty of the National Park Service to take all possible steps to prevent or minimize damage to monument features or lands from fires occurring within the area or on adjacent lands. It seems inconceivable that such action would violate or injure the rights of the Navajo Indians. On the other hand, the advantages to the Indians of preventing fire damage seem altogether obvious. [40]

Again Guillet seems to have been in advance of decisions at higher bureaucratic levels or perhaps influential in obtaining the needed authority. The following month the regional forester, Harold M. Ratcliff, reporting on an inspection trip to de Chelly, wrote:

The cooperation between the Navajo Service and the National Park Service is good. Custodian Guillet has assisted in conducting fire training meetings for the Indian Service at Chinle and a new cooperative agreement is being drawn up to fit local conditions. [41]

The war ended in August 1945 with Japan's surrender. By October Guillet reported the return of many Navajos to their homes and the holding of numerous ceremonies, a Mountaintopway and four Nightways being held within a 20-mile radius. [42] There was a good pinon crop that fall and with the advent of peace all seemed well with the world. [43]

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Last Updated: 08-Mar-2004