Casa Grande Ruins
Administrative History
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A. The Establishment and Stabilization of Casa Grande Ruins

The beginning date of a movement to preserve Casa Grande ruins has never been established. Edna Pinkley pointed to 1865 as a possible date, because at that time Charles Poston, then territorial representative to the national legislature, supposedly brought Casa Grande to the attention of the United States Congress. The 1860s, however, were too early a period to identify with a ruins preservation movement. Sallie Van Valkenburgh chose 1877 as the year when "the first 'resolution' for preservation of the ruin may have been made." [1] As evidence she cited a December 13, 1877 proposal by a group accompanying Richard J. Hinton across Arizona to form an archeological society. Whether that resolve stimulated a preservation movement or not cannot be ascertained with certainty; however, Van Valkenburgh's 1877 date can most likely be considered as correct. It was in 1877 that the first photographs of the Great House were taken. These and the ones produced in the following year (figures 6-8) were placed on sale for home stereoscopic viewing and, therefore, provided the general public with the first tangible glimpse of the Great House. The photos, combined with published accounts of the ruins, seemed to have stimulated at least a local desire to preserve the last vestige of a vanished culture. It undoubtedly required a year or more before such a desire evolved into a movement. The first account of such activity appeared in the Weekly Arizona Miner, a newspaper in the territorial capital of Prescott. It carried a report in February 1879 that people wished to have an appropriation "to improve and reserve" the Casa Grande ruins. A group of New Jersey geologists, who visited the ruins in April 1879, concluded that the territorial government needed to act soon to protect it. The territorial legislature was not forthcoming with money or an act to preserve Casa Grande. It had still not acted by 1887 when H. S. Jacobs, a United States Geological Survey official, advised the Arizona people and legislature that Casa Grande had sufficient scientific and historic value that it should be protected from vandalism and natural decay. [2]

Casa Grande
Figure 6: The Casa Grande Viewed from the Southeast Ca. 1878.
Courtesy of the Arizona Department of Library, Archives and Public Records.

Casa Grande
Figure 7: The Casa Grande Viewed from the North Ca. 1878.
Courtesy of the Arizona Department of Library, Archives and Public Records.

The beginning of a national focus on Indians in the Southwest occurred in 1878 with a visit to the area by the pioneer anthropologist Lewis Henry Morgan. After visiting this section of the country, he decided that it offered the opportunity to prove his theory on man's social evolution. As a result, when the Archaeological Institute of America (MA) was founded the following year, he submitted a research proposal to it for such a study. Morgan's student, Adolf Bandelier, was hired to conduct the research. Bandelier spent five years in New Mexico and Arizona collecting data. In the course of his sojourn, he visited Casa Grande in May 1883. Bandelier wrote that the ruins at Casa Grande covered a nineteen-acre area and could be divided into two groups. The southern group included the Great House. A northern group contained such features as an artificial mound resting on an artificial platform and an elliptical tank. This tank served as a reservoir for both group areas, he thought. His "groups", came to be identified as Compounds A and B, while the "tank" ultimately proved to be the ballcourt. Bandelier produced two reports on his findings — one in 1884 and a final account in 1892. In the first study he felt that the ruins at Casa Grande had served as residences, but, by 1892, he viewed the structures as places of retreat during attacks. He was led to the final conclusion because of the strength of the walls, commanding positions, and height. [3]

Within a year after Bandelier embarked on his Southwestern study, and probably as a direct result of his focus on the southwestern part of the country, Frank H. Cushing, a Massachusetts anthropologist, began his work among the Zuni and Hopi. Cushing's experience led Mary Hemenway to select him to lead the Hemenway Southwestern Archaeological Expedition which she financed for the years 1887-88. The effort of this group was directed toward excavations of Hohokam ruins in the Salt River Valley, but the party also explored along the Gila River and visited Casa Grande. Sylvester Baxter, the secretary-treasurer of the Hemenway Expedition, came to Arizona to visit the expedition in early 1888. He located the company at Casa Grande. On the evening of January 24, Cushing showed Baxter around the ruins. Baxter could see the effects of vandalism. Souvenir hunters, he wrote, had taken the few remaining timbers and undermined parts of the walls. During this visit Baxter became very attached to Casa Grande and became a champion in the cause for its preservation. He described the Great House in somewhat romantic terms. On the first night of his visit he wrote, "that night, in the full moonlight, the Casa Grande assumed a soft, poetic beauty, with its ruddy surface flooded with radiance that threw the shadows of its deep recesses into a rich mysterious obscurity ..." While the expedition members lay in their tent looking at the Great House in the moonlight, Cushing told them a Zuni folk tale about the "priests of the house." Baxter thought that "as we listened, the ancient walls before us seemed to be repeopled with the venerable old priests." [4]

When Baxter returned to Boston, he wrote an account of his Arizona visit for the Boston Herald. He also persuaded Mrs. Hemenway of the importance of preserving the Great House because it was "so precious on account of its being the only standing example of this important class of structure peculiar to the ancient town-dwellers of the Southwest, and its consequent inestimable value for archaeological study. . . ." [5]

Casa Grande
Figure 8: The Great House viewed from the Southwest 1878.
Courtesy of the Sharlot Hall Museum, Prescott, Arizona.

Mrs. Hemenway, Baxter, and some politically influential Bostonians at first sought to achieve their end of protecting Casa Grande by working through the executive branch of the federal government. They contacted Capt. John Bourke for aid. He wrote to the adjutant general of the United States Army on June 30, 1888, to state that some Boston friends requested that a measure be taken by the national government to preserve the "Casa Grande" prehistoric ruins from vandalism. These Boston friends suggested that, since the ruins were on a school section which exempted it from being claimed, the Interior Department might create a reservation and place an individual in charge of it. Bourke's letter rapidly passed from the adjutant general to the secretary of war. The secretary, in turn, forwarded it to William Vilas, the secretary of the interior, on July 6. Vilas sent the letter to S. M. Stockslager, the commissioner of the General Land Office, for his opinion. Stockslager replied that, since Casa Grande was located on a section of land legally reserved for schools, the president could not set it aside or create a reservation of that tract to preserve a ruin. It would take an act of Congress to create a reservation. [6]

When the United States Congress convened for its session during the winter of 1888-89, the "Boston friends" changed their focus to that body. Mrs. Hemenway "set about making earnest efforts to secure from Congress measures for its [Casa Grande's] protection." Sylvester Baxter wrote that she was "ably seconded by Mr. Cushing, who spent several weeks in Washington for that purpose." They persuaded Senator George F. Hoar of Massachusetts to aid their cause. On February 4, 1889, he told the assembled U.S. Senate,

I present the petition of Oliver Ames, governor of Massachusetts, William E. Barrett, speaker of the house of representatives, Mrs. Mary Hemenway, who has been eminent as a benefactress to many institutions of education, William Claflin, Francis Parkman, Dr. Edward Everett Hale, Oliver Wendell Homes, John Fisk, and William T. Harris, and the petition is also supported by an autograph letter from John G. Whittier, calling the attention of Congress to the ancient and celebrated ruin of Casa Grande, an ancient temple of the prehistoric age, of the greatest ethnological and scientific interest, situated in Pinal County, near Florence, Ariz., upon section 16 of township 5 south, range 8 east, and otherwise describing the site.

The petitioners state that this ruin, which is one of the most interesting monuments of antiquity in the world, a temple of great beauty and architectural importance, which was a ruin when Columbus discovered America, is specially worthy of the care of the Government; that it is in danger of being destroyed by visitors and also by the letting in of water on the adjacent land for the purposes of irrigation. Mrs. Hemenway has already been at large expense for the preservation of this ruin, and the investigation of the traces of the prehistoric races in that neighborhood; and the desire of the petitioners is that the Government will take proper measures to have the ruin protected from injury by visitors or by land-owners in the neighborhood. They ask no outlay of money from the Government for the purpose; that will be assumed, and they are willing that all the scientific discovery there shall go to the benefit of the Smithsonian or other Government institution.

I desire that this petition may be referred to the Committee on Public Lands, and I ask their special consideration of it. [7]

Cushing also sought to gain support in the executive branch of government by sending a "Report to the Secretary of the Interior re Casa Grande" on February 13, 1889. In addition to urging the secretary's help in protecting Casa Grande, his report described the ruins and the excavations that he had made there. To Cushing, all the ruins were once used as temples. The Great House functioned, he thought, as only one of six divisions of an enormous temple which comprised the enclosure in which it was located. His excavations occurred in the debris of the central and south rooms of the Great House and into the sides of a large oval (the ballcourt). [8]

Although the Boston petitioners did not request preservation funds for Casa Grande, Senator Hoar succeeded in getting an appropriation in addition to approval for the president to declare a reservation. Attached to the March 2, 1889 Sundry Civil Appropriations Act (25 Stat. 961) was a rider on the United States Geological Survey (USGS) budget which stated:

Repair of the ruin of Casa Grande, Arizona: To enable the Secretary of the Interior to repair and protect the ruin of Casa Grande, situated in Pinal County, near Florence, Arizona, two thousand dollars; and the President is authorized to reserve from settlement and sale the land on which said ruin is situated and so much of the public land adjacent thereto as in his judgement may be necessary for the protection of said ruin and of the ancient city of which it is a part. [9]

A month later the Rev. Isaac T. Whittemore of Florence lunched with the Arizona Presbytery within the Great House walls. It had been a year since he had been there. In that short period he noted that vandals had taken their toll. As a result, on April 6, 1889, he wrote a letter to the secretary of the interior asking him to confer with the secretary of indian affairs and to send troops to protect Casa Grande from further vandalism. Whittemore told the secretary that "speedy" attention was needed to repairs for the Great House. He then suggested that bolts and rods should be placed in the structure to keep it from falling to pieces. In addition the base of the walls needed to be rebuilt in places and a roof constructed over it. [10]

Whittemore's letter evidently had some effect. On April 12, 1889, John Noble, the secretary of the interior, met with S. M. Stockslager, the commissioner of the General Land Office to discuss the Casa Grande issue. As a result of the meeting, the commissioner issued a statement on April 16 that the $2,000 repair money would be available after July 1, 1889. Nothing was said about first placing the ruins on a reservation. Stockslager suggested that a special agent be sent to examine the ruin. As a result, he sent two letters on April 27. One letter, to Alexander L. Morrison of the Santa Fe division of the General Land Office, directed him to proceed to Casa Grande to make an inspection and report what he felt should be done to repair and protect it. The other communication was sent to Whittemore informing him that Morrison was coming. [11]

Morrison arrived in Florence, Arizona on May 7, 1889, and went with Whittemore to inspect the ruin on the following day. On May 15, he sent his report to Commissioner Stockslager. In it Morrison stated that he saw danger to the ruins from three sources: vandalism, the elements, and wall undermining. Whittemore's ideas on preservation evidently impressed Morrison because he recommended that the walls be underpinned with stone, a roof be constructed over the Great House to protect it from the elements, debris be removed from the entire building, and a fence be constructed to keep out intruders. When the report reached Washington, Morrison's recommendations were deemed to be too expensive. [12]

Despite the dismissal of Morrison's recommendations, the secretary of the interior recognized an urgent need for repairs to Casa Grande. Consequently, he contacted the director of the United States Geological Survey and asked him to take appropriate action to begin repairs without delay. Through contact with the Bureau of American Ethnology, the USGS director obtained the service of anthropologist Victor Mindeleff. On November 27, 1889, Mindeleff was asked to go to Casa Grande to view the ruins and suggest repairs. [13]

As Morrison had done, Mindeleff contacted Whittemore when he arrived in Florence and Whittemore accompanied him to Casa Grande. Again Whittemore probably provided an opinion on appropriate repairs, for, when Mindeleff submitted his report on July 1, 1890, it contained many recommendations similar to those offered by Morrison. Mindeleff stated that the main destruction to the ruins came from undermining of the walls, but visitors had also done much damage. He, therefore, advocated six measures to protect the ruins. These items included:

1.) Fence the ruins area;

2.) Provide a permanent on-site custodian;

3.) Clean the debris from the Great House;

4.) Underpin the Great House walls with brick;

5.) Remove several inches of material from the wall tops to provide a good bearing surface and then cap the walls with concrete;

6.) Reinforce the walls with tie-rods and beams, replace broken and missing lintels, and fill cavities above the lintels.

Although Mindeleff thought that points five and six would be sufficient for weather protection, he included a roof plan for the Great House. The roof plan was, no doubt, placed in the report to please Whittemore who, by now, had begun to describe the roof he desired as one of corrugated iron. [14]

In the meantime, almost seven months before Victor Mindeleff submitted his report, point two had been partly resolved. On December 3, 1889, John Noble, the secretary of the interior, wrote to Whittemore to say that he authorized him to act as an uncompensated custodian of Casa Grande unless Congress provided funds in the future. The offer did not require on-site residence.

If he agreed to accept this position, then Noble asked Whittemore to notify the director of the United States Geological Survey. Whittemore replied on December 11, 1889 that he viewed it as a privilege and honor to serve as custodian. He promised to "warn all intruders and relic hunters and spoliators, to keep 'hands off'" the ruins. [15]

Despite the fact that it entailed more work to repair and protect the ruins than the discredited plan offered by Morrison, Victor Mindeleff's recommendations were approved. Mindeleff, however, did not remain with the Bureau of American Ethnology and his brother Cosmos replaced him on the Casa Grande project. Although it was recognized that not enough money had been appropriated to accomplish all of the approved plan, the USGS director decided to proceed with the work. On November 20, 1890, Cosmos Mindeleff received orders to go to Casa Grande and make as many repairs as possible within the appropriated funds. Still, the president made no move to establish a reservation. [16]

Cosmos Mindeleff arrived at Casa Grande in late December 1890. Before a bid announcement for a repair contract could be made, he had to make a detailed survey of the Great House as well as produce plans and sections of potential excavations. Although the building had weathered, Mindeleff thought that much damage had been caused by the "craze for relics" which possessed some individuals. He wrote that more damage had been done in the last twenty years by these "treasure hunters" than had been done in the previous 200 years. The south and east fronts had suffered more than the other sides from the weather. Mindeleff observed that the northeast and southeast corners had fallen. Portions of the south wall were weak and likely to fall. He thought that the greatest destruction of the walls occurred at ground level. It was at that location that ground water had risen by capillary action upward of a foot in the base of the walls and caused them to erode. Vandals on the other hand had removed all the lintels and every piece of visible wood except for a few flooring stumps imbedded in the upper portion of the walls. [17]

Having made his survey of the Great House, Mindeleff sought to attract bidders, but he had difficulty because of the small amount of money available to accomplish the tasks. He called for bids on four items which included: 1) removing the interior debris and that found in an area ten feet outward from the walls, 2) underpinning the walls with brick set to a depth of twelve inches below ground and faced with concrete, 3) restoring the lintels and filling the cavities above the openings, and 4) tieing the south wall to the building by using three internal braces. He did not include a fence and he dismissed the idea of a roof on the belief that it would destroy the picturesqueness of the ruin. Finally, with the aid of Custodian Whittemore and C. A. Garlick of Phoenix, three bids were received. Theodore Louis Stouffer and Frederick Emerson White of Florence made the low bid of $1,985 and received the contract on May 9, 1891, pending approval by the Secretary of the Interior. The contract was sent to the secretary through the director of the USGS. Secretary Noble signed it on June 20. The initial two months time limit on the contract was changed to four months. It expired on October 31, 1891. [18]

Since he had building experience, Mindeleff got Custodian Whittemore to oversee the repair work (figures 9-12). For his effort he received the $15 difference between the $2,000 appropriated for repairs and the $1,985 contract sum. Near the end of the contract, H. C. Rizer, the chief clerk of the Bureau of American Ethnology, arrived to make a final inspection. In his report submitted on November 24, 1891, Rizer found that the contractors had accomplished more than the contract specified. As a result, the two Florence men filed a claim on January 7, 1892 for $600.42 more than they were paid under the contract. The government, however, disallowed the claim on January 28. [19]

Although repairs had been made to the Great House, Custodian Whittemore still had no authority because the president had yet to set the land aside as authorized by the March 2, 1889 act. With some prodding from the Bureau of American Ethnology, the Secretary of the Interior finally recommended that 480 acres in Sections 9 and 16 of Township 5 South, Range 8 East of the Gila and Salt River Meridian be reserved. Acting on that referral, President Benjamin Harrison proclaimed the 480-acre Casa Grande Reservation on June 22, 1892 (figure 13). As the first prehistoric and cultural site established by the American Government, the Great House was finally safe from sale or claim. [20]

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Last Updated: 22-Jan-2002