Effigy Mounds
Administrative History
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Chapter Three:

It is impossible to fix a date when the concept of a national park to preserve the effigy mounds originated. No one person or organization can be credited with the idea's formulation. It seems that the hope for a park originated well before 1900, for early twentieth century newspapers and correspondence indicate that the idea was already well established.

One of the first instances of official support for the proposal came on April 6, 1909, when State Representative George H. Schulte of Clayton County addressed the Iowa General Assembly in support of establishing a national park near McGregor. [1] After extolling the scenery and the prehistoric and historic features of the region, Representative Schulte concluded:

If established as a national park it will become the favorite retreat during vacation and rest for the people along the river from New Orleans to Minneapolis. We hope to see the time when the tourist will be attracted by beautiful parks and cities along the "Father of Waters" and that he will take a trip up the Mississippi instead of touring on the Hudson or crossing the Atlantic for a trip up the Rhine. There is no grander river than ours. There are none of greater possibilities and where when many years have passed its beauty will be celebrated in poetry and song, and we hope to see a national park at the confluence of the Wisconsin and Mississippi that will be unrivaled in its natural beauty. Here twenty thousand acres or more are awaiting to be called to serve the purpose for which I believe it was intended, to become the pleasure ground for the American people and remain such until time shall be no more. The passing of this resolution may not cause Congress to act but I do hope that it may have the effect of calling the attention of the people to the fact that there is a necessity and demand for public pleasure grounds for future generations, and I hope that this resolution may receive the unanimous support of the House. [2]

From the beginning, this proposal was supported by Ellison Orr, then president of the Iowa Forestry and Conservation Association (IFCA), as well as by Bohumil Shimek, L.H. Pammel, and Thomas H. Macbride, all professors of the natural sciences at Iowa State College or the State University of Iowa and members of the IFCA. Many others in northeastern Iowa voiced support, business and professional men as well as academicians, but the movement remained pretty much local until just before World War I. During two visits in 1915, U.S. Senator William S. Kenyon of Fort Dodge, Iowa, became convinced of the desirability of a national park in the vicinity of McGregor and promised to work for it in Washington. Senator Kenyon introduced a bill (S. 4585, 64th Congress) to establish a park, in part to preserve the historic mounds, and Representative Gilbert Haugen submitted a similar bill to the House, but Secretary of the Interior Franklin K. Lane suggested the measure be held in abeyance until a study could be conducted. Accordingly, Congressman Haugen added a rider to a catch-all appropriations bill, calling for an additional $1,000 to conduct the study.

Unfortunately, just before Haugen's amendment came up for action another congressman delivered a scathing attack on the way national parks were managed. [3] He had, he claimed, been slighted by personnel at Grand Canyon. As a result, Congress authorized only $500 for the study in 1915. Another $500 was added later, but the study was delayed. M.L. Dorr of the National Park Service made an inspection trip to the upper Mississippi valley in 1917, after the full appropriation was granted, but no known concrete proposals or action resulted from Dorr's tour. [4]

In early 1917, Congressman Haugen again attempted to amend a catch-all appropriations bill in order to establish a "scenic park on the most beautiful . . . part of the beautiful Mississippi" and again his amendment came up for debate immediately after another representative had castigated the Park Service because a ranger at Yosemite allegedly tyrannized one of his constituents. This, coupled with the United States' entry into the First World War, brought to a halt proposals to establish a national park on the upper Mississippi River. The war caused the abolition or postponement of most non-defense programs, no matter how important. [5]

Senator Kenyon tried again in 1919, introducing S. 1317 during the first session of the 66th Congress. This bill, like those introduced earlier, called for the establishment of a park "to be known as the Mississippi Valley National Park near Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin, and McGregor, Iowa." The resolution was referred to the Committee on Public Lands and apparently died there, in spite of Senator Kenyon's membership on that committee. [6] In 1921 and again in 1923, Senator Kenyon and Congressman Haugen introduced bills to establish the Mississippi Valley National Park, but these bills died in committee, too. [7]

There followed a hiatus of five years without legislative attempts to establish a national park in the Mississippi valley. Local park advocates did not lose heart during this period because of successes in similar ventures elsewhere in the United States, and because two organizations aided in maintaining both local and statewide interest in the movement. The American School of Wildlife Protection, later called the American Institute of Nature Studies was organized in McGregor in 1917. The Northeastern Iowa National Park Association was established twelve years later, with Mrs. Walter Beall of West Union, Iowa, as its first president. [8]

In 1928, a New Yorker named Mrs. Munn donated several acres in the area to the U.S. Biological Survey for preservation purposes. The Secretary of the Interior sent National Park Service personnel to appraise the land. The Service personnel believed the land was possibly suitable for national monument status, but not appropriate for a national park. [9] Subsequently, the U.S. Biological Survey transferred the land to the state of Iowa, and it became the nucleus of Pike's Peak State Park.

In 1929 the name for the proposed unit was changed to the "'Upper Mississippi National Park," and with the new name came a much enlarged proposal. From previous recommendations for a park of about 1,700—2,000 acres, the proposal had grown into a new park that was to encompass parts of seventeen counties in four states. Congressman Gilbert Haugen submitted this new proposal to the first session of the 71st Congress on June 17, 1929. The Upper Mississippi National Park was to stretch along both banks of the Mississippi River from just south of Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota, to about forty-five miles south of Dubuque, Iowa. H.R. 2040 would authorize the Secretary of the Interior "to investigate and report to Congress on the advisability and practicability of establishing a national park" of that size along the river.

What caused the proposed park to grow from a relatively modest 1,700 acres to a strip 220 miles long encompassing parts of four counties in Iowa, one in Illinois, four in Minnesota, and eight in Wisconsin? The answer is unclear. Perhaps some of the park boosters in Iowa enlarged the scheme to include the neighboring states as a way to gain broader support in the House and Senate, but this is not recorded. The reverse is also possible, that representatives of other states, anticipating a flood of tourist dollars, jumped on the McGregor-Prairie du Chien bandwagon. In 1929 Arno B. Cammerer, then Associate Director of the National Park Service, made an unofficial survey of the area encompassed by the enlarged proposal. When interviewed by the press after his return to Washington, Cammerer stated the park should extend to the full size recommended in the 1929 Upper Mississippi National Park proposal. [10]

Congressman Haugen's Upper Mississippi National Park study bill finally got through Congress and was signed by President Herbert Hoover on June 16, 1930. Almost a year later the National Park Service sent Yellowstone National Park Superintendent Roger W. Toll to conduct the survey mandated by the bill. Toll toured the area by both automobile and boat from May 19—24, 1931, covering the Mississippi River from Bellevue, Iowa, to Winona, Minnesota. All the while he was advised by expert consultants, most of them apparently from Iowa, in the fields of ornithology, archeology, botany, geology and history, among other natural and social sciences. The consultants were the same men who had been working for a decade or more to get a park established. Iowa State Archeologist Charles Keyes was the consultant for archeology, Dr. Bohumil Shimek for ornithology, Associate State Geologist James S. Lees for geology, Dr. I.E. Melhus of Iowa State College for botany, and Dr. Bruce Mahan of the State University of Iowa represented history. [11]

The result of the tour was the Toll Report of October 8, 1931, which was unfavorable to the establishment of a park on such a huge scale. As Toll wrote:

The primary objective of the Northeastern Iowa National Park Association is to preserve the attractive, wooded scenery of the Mississippi River, and that is an objective with which anyone will heartily agree.

It seems, however, that the problem is one that can and should be solved by the states directly interested, rather than by the federal government.

The proposed Upper Mississippi Valley National Park would comprise an area of about 200 miles long by five miles or more in width. This would represent a total area of about 1,000 square miles. The river channel would be in use for commercial purposes and would be maintained by the War Department. Part of the flooded lands would be purchased by the Biological Survey and ad ministered as a migratory bird refuge. Cities and towns would have to be excluded from any park area. Therefore at best the park would be made up of a number of isolated tracts, comprising principally bluff lands from the railroad right of way to a line back of the edge of the bluffs. If 500 square miles were desired for the area of the park this would represent 325,000 acres. The cost of purchase of this area would probably be not less than three million dollars and perhaps more than twice that amount.

The scenery is typical rather than extraordinary. It represents the beauty of a large river, flowing through charmingly wooded country, with moderately elevated banks. It does not have any unique, remarkable, or superlative characteristic such as would make it an outstanding scenic feature of national interest.

The fact that the banks of the river are in private ownership, and that there are many established rights and interests due to the commercial use of the river, the prospective flooding of the river bed and the deepening of the channel, the wildlife project, the railroad trackage, the towns and cities in the area, all present complications which would affect the administration of the area as a national park.

Roger Toll went on to offer new hope to those who had worked so hard for a park in northeastern Iowa:

Along the banks of the Mississippi River there are prehistoric mounds built by Indians and used as burial places. Many hundreds of these mounds have been obliterated by farming operations. It seems desirable that some representative examples be preserved, since they are of great archaeological interest to the present and future generations. It is my understanding that no better mounds are found in Iowa than those that are near McGregor . . . .

None of the present national parks nor monuments under the control of the Interior Department contain any Indian mounds of this type, and it would seem that the inclusion of an Indian Mound National Monument would add to the completeness of the prehistoric remains that are protected as national monuments.

The effigy mounds of the Upper Mississippi River valley are unique, occur only in a limited area, and are stated to be the most interesting in the United States.

It is believed that a national park in the valley of the Upper Mississippi River is not desirable, but that a national monument, comprising some of the best of the Indian mounds, would be desirable. I would recommend that a national monument be authorized, whenever suitable land is available for presentation to the United States, for the purpose of protecting and preserving the best examples of prehistoric mounds that are to be found in this region. [12]

In his endorsement of the Toll Report for eventual transmittal to Congress, Director Horace M. Albright suggested the states solve the problem of protecting the scenic areas along the Mississippi River through the same means used to create the Palisades Interstate Park on the Hudson River. (New York and New Jersey, in a joint effort, had cooperated to see the most beautiful scenic areas along the river.) Director Albright also held out the hope for some federal participation:

Our national monument system offers opportunities for the establishment and maintenance and development by the Federal Government of areas outstanding for historic and scientific purposes. . . .The preservation of such mounds, [the effigies] while there is still time to save them, will be of infinite value to posterity. It is believed that within this area can be found Indian mounds of national interest. Any Indian mounds of this type would add to the completeness of the prehistoric remains that are being protected in our existing national monument system. Provided that areas selected may be studied in advance and approved by experts of the National Park Service acting for this department, and that their acquisition and tender for national monument purposes be effected by the States or citizens of the States involved, I should be glad to approve the establishment of one or more such national monuments containing these prehistoric burial mounds under control of the Interior Department.

A national park in the valley of the upper Mississippi River, because of the adverse conditions mentioned, is therefore not practicable, and the establishment of State parks within that area to preserve scenic points of interest appears the logical solution. Furthermore, the establishment of a national monument or monuments comprising some of the still available mounds appears desirable. 13]

If this report's failure to recommend full national park status for the area discouraged the Iowa boosters of the project, their disappointment was short-lived. The Toll Report was ordered printed in Congress on February 23, 1932, and in early April a leading McGregor businessman and later Chairman of the State Conservation Commission, Logan J. Blizzard, spoke to the Kiwanis Club on the subject of the report. He pointed out that both Toll and Albright had recommended the establishment of a national monument or monuments, and that the time to act was at hand. At his suggestion, the Kiwanians voted to send a request to Congress for action on Director Albright's recommendations, and resolved to renew contacts with the scientists, conservationists, and historians who had made the survey with Roger Toll the previous summer. Willing support for the newly-modified idea came from the groups and individuals who had previously supported the national park proposal. The Northeast Iowa National Park Association, which had been about to disband, renewed its officers and continued its activities, although it was soon supplanted as the most important organization in getting the monument established.

Dr. Charles Keyes presented to the Iowa State Board of Conservation during its May 13, 1932, meeting the case for preservation of the Indian burial mounds in the northeastern part of the state. This board (which combined with the State Fish and Game Commission in 1934 to become the State Conservation Commission) then assumed the key role in relations with the U.S. Department of the Interior. The northeastern Iowa groups handled almost all local arrangements in connection with the several inspections by National Park Service and other Department of the Interior personnel. [14]

The first of these visits came in 1932 when Verne E. Chatelain, Chief Historian of the National Park Service, inspected three of the local mound groups near McGregor. State Archeologist Keyes, Ellison Orr, Mrs. Henry Frankel of Des Moines, and Mrs. Gilbert King and Walter H. Beal of West Union, Iowa, accompanied Chatelain on his visit. [15]

The Iowa Journal of History and Politics for January 1933 was devoted to the history, archeology, and geology of northeastern Iowa. Dr. William J. Petersen wrote on the history of the area, Dr. Keyes covered the archeology, and Dr. James Lees described the geology. The State Historical Society forwarded copies of the journal to Chatelain, who informed them it was one of the finest presentations ever made to the National Park Service in support of a national monument. In so stating, Chatelain continued the favorable comments made by previous Park Service visitors, who seemed to have been very impressed with the knowledge, altruism, and cooperation showed by the Iowans who supported the park. As Roger Toll had written two years before:

Mr. Walter H. Beall, President of the Northeastern Iowa National Park Association, and others associated with him, have handled the proposal for a national park in an admirable way. Their motives are purely public spirited, and their chief objective is to conserve the beauty of the river scenery. . . . The inspection trip was carefully planned and well conducted.

. . . Arrangements were made by which men who are especially qualified to furnish information on archaeology, history, geology, botany and other natural sciences . . . furnished material that is submitted herewith, including publications relating to the area in question, and especially prepared reports, lists, and other material not otherwise obtainable. [16]

The Iowa Conservation Commission drew up a plan for establishing a national monument to preserve the Indian mounds in the northeastern part of the state, and in October 1936, they submitted this plan to the Department of the Interior and the National Park Service. [17] This plan recommended the inclusion of the Yellow River mound group, the Jennings—Liebhardt group, and a cluster of mounds near McGregor. It also acknowledged the Sny Magill and Turkey River groups as worthy of preservation, but since they were owned by the U.S. Biological Survey, the Conservation Commission did not press for their inclusion in the national monument. The commission's plan also addressed the location of the headquarters complex, access to the mounds, and other matters pertinent to the establishment of the monument. As National Park Service Associate Landscape Architect Howard W. Baker wrote:

Prior to the submission of this report by the State, other representatives of the Park Service had visited the Mounds and considered them worthy of preservation in a National Area. However, prior to this request, no one from the Service had made boundary recommendations. [sic] [18]

Therefore, the year after the Iowa Conservation Commission submitted their plan, the Park Service dispatched a team of three investigators to look over the area covered by the proposal. The group consisted of Neal Butterfield from the Washington office, Edward A. Hummel, and Howard Baker. The latter two were from what was then called the Region II [19] office headquartered in Omaha, Nebraska. A Mr. [?] Priester, National Park Service Administrative Inspector for Iowa, accompanied the party. Originally, Chief Architect Thomas C. Vint of the Washington office had planned to make the inspection but when he was unable to do so, Mr. Baker took his place.

The party visited seven groups of mounds, from the Fish Farm group nearly thirty miles northwest of the present national monument to the Adams group approximately the same distance south of the existing monument boundary. [20] The Baker, Butterfield, and Hummel report of October 7, 1937, recommended the inclusion of only three of the mound groups in the proposed national monument. Two of these three groups, the Yellow River group and the Jennings-Liebhardt group, composed the monument when it was proclaimed twelve years later. The third cluster, known as the Sny Magill group, was excluded from the initial boundary. It was added in 1963 as the detached Sny Magill unit of Effigy Mounds National Monument.

National Park Service inspectors felt that three of the other mound groups were so remote from the three selected that they could not be integrated successfully into one monument, and that they were adequately protected from destruction by their current ownership and/or location. The northerly Fish Farm group was owned by the state and controlled by the Iowa Conservation Commission. The Adams and Turkey River groups were equally remote to the south, and while the Adams group was in private hands, the owners purchased it specifically to prevent possible destruction of its mounds. In addition, both of the southern groups were, from their locations on top of a high, narrow, steep-sided bluff, relatively safe from serious damage.

The fourth group to be eliminated was the McGregor group, adjoining the town of the same name on the south, and at that time being developed by the state for recreational purposes. Since the National Park Service opposed such development so close to the mounds, and since State development of this area would relieve pressure on the federally—controlled units for parallel services (picnic and camping grounds, etc.) once they were developed, the Service preferred to leave this area under control of the state of Iowa. [21]

The units recommended for inclusion comprised 131 acres owned by the state or federal governments and 799 acres that were privately owned. In addition the Baker, Butterfield, and Hummel report recommended the inclusion of "five to ten acres on which we could locate an administrative building, residence and utility area" in or near the town of McGregor. [22] Dr. Charles Keyes to some extent modified the boundaries recommended in the Baker, Butterfield, and Hummel report, and the Secretary of the Interior approved the modified boundaries in March 1938. [23]

By 1934 the federal government was utilizing a number of programs aimed at alleviating the Great Depression by creating jobs. Under one of these programs Dr. Keyes received a grant of Federal Emergency Relief Authority (FERA) funds for the purpose of conducting an Iowa Archeological survey in 1934. Funding for the survey was continued through 1938 with Works Projects Administration (WPA) money, thus enabling Dr. Keyes to hire a crew of workmen each year and to hire Ellison Orr as his field supervisor. The choice of Ellison Orr doubtless caused some comment, as Orr was in his late seventies in 1934 and had already retired from at least two jobs. Nevertheless, no better choice could have been made. Ellison Orr probably knew more about the archeology of the upper Mississippi valley than any other living person. His stature in the field was such that one of the locations important to upper Mississippi archeology, the Orr Focus of the Oneota Culture, was named in his honor during an archeological conference held in Indianapolis in 1935.

The choice of Ellison Orr as field supervisor was a fortunate one in another respect. The field work of surveying, mapping, clearing and excavating usually went on from mid-April to early December, and during that time the super visor was too busy overseeing projects to create and arrange the paperwork necessary to document the project. Ellison Orr spent his winters from 1934 through 1939 producing the detailed typewritten reports, each with its attached maps, plats, drawings, and profiles, that marked the completion of that year's work. Because a WPA supervisor received pay only for the time spent working with his men, Orr's labor from December to April was unremunerated and even his living expenses were his own responsibility. [24] It was fortunate Keyes selected Orr, a man so generous with his own time and dedicated to the project, as supervisor.

Figure 8: The Yellow River and Jennings-Liebhardt mound groups, recommended for inclusion in a national monument by the Baker Butterfield, and Hummel report of 1937, became the core of Effigy Mounds National Monument upon President Harry S Truman's proclamation a dozen years later.

The FERA/WPA survey's work was not confined to what is today the national monument, although the crew excavated at least one mound and accomplished other work there. Much of the New Deal work occurred in northeastern Iowa along the Upper Iowa River; the survey also included Glenwood Culture sites in southwest Iowa as well as Mill Creek Culture locations in the far northwest of the state. The FERA/WPA projects were virtually the only archeological work done in Iowa during the 1930s. While no startling revelations came out of them, the archeologists uncovered some 50,000 artifacts representing all five principal prehistoric cultures in the state, and produced detailed reports which the archeologists placed in the State Archeological Laboratory. The work done under federal work program auspices is the basis on which middlewestern archeologists have been building ever since. [25]

For several years, the state of Iowa had been acquiring land in its northeastern corner. By 1937 the state owned about 400 acres in the region, although not all of them were intended for inclusion in the monument. However, as the National Park Service insisted upon 1,000 acres as the minimum necessary for the unit, the state embarked on a program to purchase or condemn the needed land. In some cases this was relatively easy, as nearly 540 of the 799 acres in private possession were owned by banks, possibly as the result of repossessions during the preceding years of the Great Depression. Although the Conservation Commission still had not acquired all the land, in April 1941 the General Assembly of Iowa passed an act authorizing the conveyance of a gift of up to 1,000 acres to the United States government for national monument purposes. [26]

The Second World War interrupted Iowa's land acquisition strategy, just as it disrupted a great many other plans. In fact, the National Park Service itself, as a "cultural enterprise" not essential to the war effort, had its head quarters decentralized to Chicago for four years. Appropriations were cut to the bone and park units were on a "maintenance budget," which meant no building or other construction, no development, and very little travel. Iowa's program of acquiring land was probably not hurt as badly as was the Park Service, for the state purchased a small amount of land in 1942, and in 1944 condemned more than 126 acres so it could be used for the monument.

By 1946 the state had title to just more than 1,000 acres for the monument. State and federal officials reached agreement on the name the unit was to bear: Effigy Mounds National Monument. This suggestion apparently came originally from the Region II office. It was agreeable to members of the Iowa Conservation Commission, and accepted by the Department of the Interior and the National Park Service without objection. In addition, the Bureau of the Budget had reviewed the transactions establishing the new unit, and had certified the finding of the Advisory Board on National Parks, Historic Sites, Buildings and Monuments that the area was nationally significant. [27] The stage was set, and all that remained to do was to claim title to the land and proclaim the monument. With so little left to do, supporters of the park must have been surprised when the federal government took no action for three years.

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Last Updated: 08-Oct-2003