Standing Witness
Devils Tower National Monument: A History
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Chapter VI

1952 — Elizabeth II acceded to throne
1954 — Roger Bannister runs first less-than-four-minute mile
1956 — Elvis Presley sings "Heartbreak Hotel"
1958 — NASA formed
1960 — To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee published

SEVENTEEN AND A HALF MILES UPSTREAM FROM THE TOWER is Keyhole Dam and Reservoir, completed in 1952. It takes its name from the ranch where the dam site crosses the Belle Fourche River in Crook County, Wyoming. Keyhole is a part of the Pick-Sloan Missouri River Basin Project—Cheyenne Division, a program initially authorized by the Flood Control Act of 1944 which approved the general comprehensive plan for the conservation, control, and use of water resource in the entire Missouri River Basin.

The Belle Fourche River is a tributary of the Cheyenne River, which in turn is a tributary of the Missouri River. The dam and reservoir is a multi-purpose unit, providing supplemental storage for the Belle Fourche Project located in South Dakota, limited irrigation in Wyoming, flood control, enhanced recreation, and fish and wildlife conservation. Keyhole State Park encompasses 6,740 acres of land, with the reservoir adding 9,394 acres of water surface and 62 miles of shoreline.

The NPS does not possess water rights for maintaining minimum flows in the Belle Fourche River. The two-plus miles of river within and adjacent to the national monument boundary, while ostensibly under NPS control, are subject to the acts and decisions of organizations and associations far removed from the Tower landscape—this river regulation has affected riparian habitats and geomorphologic processes in the national monument.

ON JULY 16, 1952, Jan Conn and Jane Showacre became the first all-woman technical climbing team to summit the Tower. Conn climbed often in the Black Hills and had climbed the Tower with her husband, Herb, in 1948. At that time she was the first woman atop the Tower since Linnie Rogers climbed in 1895.

Showacre had spent time in the mountains of western Canada and Conn had watched her practice climb on the cliffs along the Potomac River near Washington, D. C. Both felt ready and able to summit the Tower.

Conn recalls, "I was elected to lead the first pitch because it required a long reach, and being one and three-quarters inch over five feet I was three-quarters of an inch taller than Jane." [1]

Showacre, known for her healthy appetite, led another pitch later in the climb. Conn followed with their pack that she claimed held food enough for six people. Conn inched her way upward with much grunting, pushing, and heaving. She thought Showacre looked concerned when she finally reached the top of the crack, and sure enough, Showacre said, "Golly, I hope the oranges didn't get squashed." [2]

After rappelling down and reaching the base of the Tower where a crowd had gathered, they took pictures and gathered their gear. However, they heard one man remark as he turned to leave, "That climb must not be very hard if they can do it." [3]

Since 1937, when Fritz Wiessner made the first technical climb of the Tower, about eighty people had made it to the top. The number of people enjoying recreational and technical climbing, and people climbing the Tower, were on the increase and it was becoming more popular every year.

IN EARLY 1954, progress continued in gathering material and compiling data for a proposed climbing exhibit at the DTNM Museum. Correspondence between the Tower and the Park Naturalist of the Black Hills served as a conduit for information about what the exhibit should include, and the usual questions asked by visitors that the exhibit should answer. This list of questions included: Who first climbed the Tower? Who was Babe White? Who made the first ascent using rock climbing techniques? Have women ever scaled the Tower? How many people have climbed the Tower? Which side of the Tower is climbed? What various routes have been used? What type of equipment is used? Does anything grow on top of the Tower?

Another Soil and Moisture Conservation project was underway to convert small gullies into grassy waterways, aid stabilization of sheet erosion by planting grasses, and prevent damage from runoff during intense rainstorms. The grasses recommended for planting were buffalo grass, blue gramma, western wheat, and switchgrass, in equal proportions in the seed mixture. The gullies in the eroded site would be plugged by small dams to help stop further erosion until the grasses could take root and grow as ground cover.

Willow cuttings, planted among the tetrahedron structure on the Belle Fourche River, would help stabilize the stream bank. The cuttings would come from willow stands within the DTNM boundary.

On June 14, 1954 a memorandum went out to several NPS department heads from the Assistant Director of the National Park Service: "We have received the following teletype, dated June 11, from Acting Regional Director Lloyd, Region Two: 'Superintendent McIntyre, Devils Tower, advises frame residence No. 2 partially destroyed by fire starting about midnight in vicinity kitchen. Mrs. [Dollie] Heppler, wife of Operator General Frank Heppler, found dead from undetermined cause, possibly heart failure. Mr. Heppler suffering minor burns and leg injury incurred in fighting fire. Taken to nearest Federal physician and possibly hospital by Mrs. McIntyre, a registered nurse.'" [4]

Mid-month Superintendent McIntyre sent a detailed report on the incident to the Regional Director, while Heppler remained at the hospital in Deadwood, S.D. recuperating from his injuries. McIntyre concluded his report:

To Heppler must go the credit for saving the entire utility area from destruction. I can't understand how the man subdued the fire with painful burns and a possible fractured leg. He was in such pain that he could not sit upright in the government coupe so was laid in the back seat of my personal car and taken by my wife and Mrs. Nemec to the hospital in Deadwood. Much credit must also go to these two women. My wife, with her nurse's training was able to administer adrenalin, take part in and supervise artificial respiration to Mrs. Heppler and render first aid to Frank. Betty Nemec, who had never had such an experience before, assisted in the attempt at artificial respiration and later guarded the body alone in the darkness back of the machine shop until the arrival of the ambulance. [5]

BY APRIL 1955 plans were underway for a Tower anniversary celebration. The Fiftieth Anniversary Celebration Committee for DTNM held a dinner meeting attended by ninety people from several communities in eastern Wyoming and western South Dakota. Three NPS officials were scheduled to address the meeting—John S. McLaughlin, Acting Regional Director; H. Raymond Gregg, Regional Chief of Interpretation; and Superintendent McIntyre.

McIntyre described the DTNM construction program for the coming year and covered general development plans for the area. McLaughlin spoke on the willingness of the NPS to cooperate with the local residents in promoting a suitable observation of the fiftieth anniversary of the establishment of DTNM. Gregg outlined some of the things the NPS was in a position to help with in promoting the celebration and suggested ways the local communities could get additional publicity and recognition for the Tower during the anniversary year.

Several projects and activities were affirmed as easily promoted by both the NPS and the residents. The value of a postage stamp issue was expressed. Gregg encouraged the local group to concentrate on trying to obtain an issue related to the Antiquities Act rather than the Tower alone, since it was usually easier to get recognition for a matter of broader national awareness, and the June date of issue would stimulate interest in the Tower at the beginning of the travel season.

Raymond "Pappy" Bernd, chairman of the committee and the meeting, confirmed that the committee already had assurance that both an Antiquities stamp in June and a Tower stamp in September were to be issued. Whether Bernd misinterpreted some correspondence or whether he was correct Gregg did not know at the time.

Bernd also informed the gathering that the Wyoming State Highway map for 1956 would have the Tower on the cover. There was also consideration of radio and television programs, using people such as ex-Governor Nels Smith and State Senator Al Harding, whose prominence would hopefully capture attention for the Tower. Gregg's report on the dinner included a list of a few individuals present at the meeting and why he was noting their attendance:

U.S. Commissioner Rounds and Mr. Durfee, both of whom are prominent in business affairs in Sundance and whose services will be available as appraiser in the acquisition of the proposed addition to the national monument.

Mr. Victor French, a retired rancher of Sundance, who showed considerable interest in seeing that the national monument obtains the additional lands and water required for development.

Ex-Governor Nels Smith, who crystallized the discussion by calling for a show of hands of those favorable to the extension of the national monument and obtained a virtually unanimous approval from those present. It may be mentioned here that Mr. Thurman, the owner of the Thorn property, held up his hand as favoring the Government's acquiring his property.

Mayor C. D. Roberts of Sundance, who is an ex-chairman and present member of the Wyoming State Highway Commission. He showed considerable interest and has been most cooperative with Superintendent McIntyre where the national monument program has called for negotiations with the Wyoming Highway Department.

County Assessor Sid Harvey has prepared a very attractive pen sketch which has been made available for publicity use in connection with the anniversary promotion.

Mr. John Lindsey, publisher of The Sundance Times, was present and made photographs of the speakers as well as obtaining information for the next edition of his paper. He has been most cooperative with Superintendent McIntyre and seemed sympathetic to the entire proceedings on Saturday evening although he took no active part in the discussion.

Mr. Smithson, representing the Thomas D. Murphy Co., calendar publishers of Red Oak, Iowa, was present and displayed a 1956 calendar with the striking picture from a color film of Mr. Joe Fastbender of Spearfish, South Dakota. The proprietor of the Black Hills Bentonite Co. in Moorcroft ordered a thousand of these calendars and probably a number of other business firms in the region will buy and distribute these attractive calendars. Mr. Smithson stated that beneath the calendar insert the company planned to prepare a story about the Tower.

Mr. Bernd is a prime mover in the promotion of the Old Settlers' Picnic which will be held on June 5 this year. The group plans an elaborate entertainment program and expects to attract a rather large crowd with the motive of raising funds to assist the committee in promotion of the anniversary celebration. It is the plan of the committee to establish a contact point outside the entrance of Devils Tower National Monument on June 5, the day of the picnic. This will be clearly identified as a committee operation. At this point those arriving will be given instructions on the location of the picnic event on the north road, and each visitor will be given an opportunity to make a voluntary contribution to the work of the committee. No interference or undue pressure will be exerted upon the outside tourists regularly visiting the national monument. This arrangement appears to be necessary and if it is properly handled should be no embarrassment to the Service. [6]

MISSION 66 WAS a ten-year federal program for national parks development, its culmination to coincide with the fiftieth anniversary of the establishment of the National Park Service. When Conrad Wirth became director of the NPS in December 1951 the parks were experiencing booming travel numbers but deteriorating resources. He initiated work on a Mission 66 proposal in 1955, and the program began in 1956.

Outmoded and inadequate facilities were to be replaced with improvements necessary to meet expected visitor demands, but designed and located to reduce the impact of public use on a park's unique natural features. At DTNM this mandate meant relocating several areas and activities—overnight camping, the evening campfire program, the administration building, and utility and residence areas—from the Tower base to the banks of the Belle Fourche River on the south side of the Tower. The purchase of 73 acres of land adjacent to the national monument along the entrance road gave the NPS room to move the selected facilities.

A new outdoor amphitheatre, with seating for 200, was built between the new campground and picnic areas. Campground facilities were upgraded, and more sites added, going from 15 units to a 52-unit campground. The crowded picnic area near the Visitor Center parking area was vacated for the new 30-table location, easily reached from the new campground road.

By the end of 1957 the new campground and road were in use, as were the administration building and new residences. The access road had been widened at the entrance station and new parking areas at the prairie dog town were completed.

Many other projects were proposed to use Mission 66 funds—modification of the entrance bridge location and realignment of the entrance road; relocation and reconstruction of the Tower Trail; construction of new trails; new parking areas; increase in fire protection facilities and an enlarged fire control program; construction of a new Administration Building; enlargement of the Tower museum; roadside exhibits; and more personnel—with a total cost of approximately $622,200 for the ten-year program.

Meanwhile, McIntyre left DTNM, and James F. Hartzell began work as the national monument superintendent on January 6, 1958.

The new campground hosted a Canadian couple traveling with their two children. In late April, during an unseasonable cold spell, they arrived to camp at the Tower. Hartzell wondered if they wanted to travel farther south where they might have better weather in which to enjoy their camping trip. The husband said, "Ranger, we winter in the middle of Saskatchewan. This is summer," [7] and they stayed four more days.

Devils Tower at a glance. . .

Superintendent: — Raymond W. McIntyre 1951-1958
— James F. Hartzell 1958-1960

Visitors: — 1,031,960
Climbers: — 939

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Last Updated: 23-Jan-2009