Fort Laramie
Park History, 1834-1977
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1. Interim State Custodianship, 1937-1938

In April, 1937 R. J. Rymill of Fort Laramie town, who had played a key role in negotiations for the Old Fort property, was designated as custodian of the site by the Historical Landmark Commission of Wyoming (hereafter designated HLCW). Although this was a practical step in view of Rymill's residence just three miles distant from the Fort, it was also a gesture to honor a conscientious local citizen who had given vigorous and crucial support to the successful crusade to save Old Fort Laramie. Except for his chairmanship of the great public victory celebration of July 5, by way of dedicating the site to State ownership, the records are silent on any actions taken by him or the Commission at the site during his brief incumbency. [1]

At its annual meeting of July 31, 1937 in Cheyenne the HLCW passed a motion "that R. J. Rymill be assured of the appreciation of the Commission for acting in his temporary assignment without compensation." Such was now terminated and R. C. Hauf and his wife were designated "caretakers" effective August 1. Their reward for keeping an eye on things was their temporary use of the old Hunton residence, which the National Park Service would later designate Officers Quarters F. The Haufs had been engaged by Thomas Waters to farm his land and the Commission had evidence that both had "shown keen interest and diligence in the preservation of the property." [2] Presumably they had no maintenance obligations but were simply to keep intruders and vandals under surveillance. It is not known how well they discharged their function, or how long they remained on the premises. We find no further reference to them in State or Federal records, and so must assume that their role was brief.

The HLCW had indicated to the Governor the need for $3,000 over and above the purchase price "to take care of Fort Laramie until such time when the Government took it over, as the fencing of the property would have to be taken care of immediately; also, the placing of a caretaker attended to." We know that neither Custodian Rymill nor Caretaker Hauf received compensation. Though confirmation is lacking, we assume that the State did survey the boundaries and provided the original fencing, since this was part of the justification for the $3,000 on top of land acquisition needs. However, whatever fencing was provided must have been incomplete or otherwise inadequate since early Park Service records indicate further need for boundary fencing and fence repairs. [3]

Dan W. Greenburg, Director of the Wyoming State Planning Board and former Publicity Director for the HLCW, seems to have functioned as the principal liaison man with the National Park Service, keeping that agency posted on developments. [4] Presumably it was at his behest that on September 20, 1937 Director Arno B. Cammerer wrote C. E. Randels of Gering, Nebraska, Acting Custodian of Scotts Bluff National Monument, that he was to be the Service representative on Fort Laramie matters locally, since a plan to acquire the place was in the works. [5] Randels, an experienced engineer who had been put in charge of Scotts Bluff affairs during Civilian Conservation Corps operations there, served as Fort Laramie liaison man until June 1938 when the Scotts Bluff camp was disbanded, and he was transferred to Denver. Since the Fort remained technically under State ownership during this period it cannot be asserted correctly that C. E. Randels was the first "Acting Custodian" of Fort Laramie National Monument. Neither was it correct to state, as was sometimes done in his correspondence, that Fort Laramie had been placed under his "supervision", since there is no way one can legally supervise something not in legal custody.

It was this very technicality that made Randels' assignment so difficult. In effect, State of Wyoming officials had a hard time recognizing his limitation as a mere liaison man, and in the absence of a fully responsible functioning State Custodian on the premises, the State somehow expected him to provide actual custodial or protective services. Living in Gering, over 50 miles away, and having a CCC program there to supervise, he could get to Fort Laramie only occasionally, look over the situation, and write letters to the Director deploring evidence of continuing vandalism. During this awkward period, fortunately, the vandalism was relatively mild, and no buildings suffered drastically beyond their already forlorn state. This is remarkable since publicity concerning the Fort and its pending status as a National Monument brought out premature visitors who, in the absence of anyone to restrain them, occasionally broke into the decrepit buildings and helped themselves to souvenirs. Perhaps the most serious infraction during this period was the application of a cutting-torch to the door of the old safe imbedded in the Sutler's office, by parties unknown, in the vain hope of finding valuables. [6]

Although R. J. Rymill had supposedly been relieved of custodial responsibility, there is evidence that, possibly through the default of Caretaker Hauf, he got back into the picture, at least to the extent of remaining the local contact for the State's liaison man, Dan Greenburg. In any event the ever-helpful Rymill reappeared in March 1938 to assist Greenburg and Randels in the delicate matter of evicting certain unidentified parties, presumably tenant holdovers from the era of private ownership. Anticipating an early relinquishment to the United States, Greenburg advised Director Arno Cammerer that these tenants would move March 1, and that a Park Service representative should be on hand to prevent the simultaneous disappearance of "moveable historical relics." Although this would appear to have been a State responsibility at this point, Regional Director Tom Allen in Omaha directed Randels to proceed to the Fort at once. There he was joined by Rymill, to find the alleged relics intact but the "unsatisfactory" tenants in no hurry to vacate. When they final did, Randels and Rymill on their own initiative persuaded "a reliable farmer," Herman Harmeier, to occupy one of the Officers Quarters, assuming care-takership in exchange for free rent. [7]

The most significant happening during the Rymill-Randels interim was a Meeting held at the Fort in mid-November, 1937 "for the purpose of discussing the problem of the repair and reconditioning of the buildings." This was the first planning session ever held at the Fort by the National Park Service, anticipating National Monument status. Because of the importance of this kick-off meeting, it is appropriate to call the roll of the principals present: R. S. Ellison, former chairman of the HLCW who had started the official state ball rolling in 1927; Dan Greenburg, the State's liaison man; R. J. Rymill and George Houser, local leaders in the Crusade; Landscape Architect Howard W. Baker and Architect Wilfred Hill of Omaha, representing the Regional Office; T. L. Green of Scottsbluff; C. E. Randels, NPS liaison officer, and Merrill J. Mattes, Scotts Bluff Historian. After a thorough inspection, agreement was reached that architectural research and design work should have highest priority for funding; meanwhile a project should be initiated for a complete set of measured drawings of all historic buildings. [8]

Although the Fort was not yet a National Monument, the measured drawings project could be undertaken as legitimate Government assistance to the State of Wyoming under the terms of the 1936 Park, Parkway and Recreational Study Act. Accordingly a project was set up under the technical direction of Wilfred Hill, assisted by E. L. Hoyt, Scotts Bluff CCC Camp foreman, and ten enrollees of the Lake Guernsey CCC Camp. The thirty day project for making a "Topographic and Building Survey of Fort Laramie" began November 29 and continued until Christmas, with the production of photos and preliminary drawings, and discovery of the fact that much mystery cloaked the architecture of the time-shattered historic buildings which could only be dispelled by intensive study. This was the initial impetus of a Fort Laramie research program of several years duration by Historian Mattes. It was launched on the site during a visit of early December there with Paul Henderson, Oregon Trail historian of Bridgeport, and given official blessing in a later December visit there by Mattes in company with Chief Historian Ronald F. Lee of Washington, D.C. and Regional Historian Edward Hummel of Omaha. [9]

On May 3, 1938 Dan Greenburg wrote the Director a fateful letter:

This is to advise you that on Monday, May 2, on behalf of the Historical Landmark Commission of Wyoming, the deed conveying the land of Old Fort Laramie, comprising 214.41 acres, to the U. S. Government, was placed on record with the County Clerk of Torrington, Wyoming, in Goshen County.

The opinion of the Solicitor, in which were pointed out slight defects in the title which you conveyed to us some time ago, has been perfected and the papers in connection thereto have been filed. . . All of the factors involved in the title matters have been cleared up.

In this connection I made a trip to Old Fort Laramie yesterday and asked Mr. Charles E. Randels. . . at Gering, Nebraska to meet me at Torrington and go with me and on that occasion we formally turned over to Mr. Randels possession of the property. . .

We feel confident that the National Park Service will use its every consistent effort to preserve and protect the property against vandalism and to make it a shrine worthy of the standards of the National Park Service.

No doubt you will take proper steps for the assignment of a ranger or official to live on the property. In this connection I wish to bring to your attention that already hundreds of tourists are visiting that area and thousands more will be there during the summer, and I find like any other place where it is not properly policed, the public is no respecter of the rights of ownership and do not hesitate to damage property, etc. etc. [10]

Concurrently, Randels wrote to Regional Director Allen that Greenburg had emphasized that the State would take no more responsibility concerning the area, and that he would need some funds for the procurement of padlocks and lumber "to nail up some of the windows and doors so that relic hunters do not carry away the buildings." He likewise urged the assignment of a ranger in residence to patrol the area. Allen cautioned that Greenburg's action was "a little previous" since the Service had no authority to accept the property until final clearance of title by the Solicitor, acceptance by the Secretary of the Interior, and issuance of a Presidential Proclamation. Furthermore, he pointed out that the Director's request for $2,640 to manage the anticipated Fort Laramie National Monument in Fiscal Year 1939 (the year beginning July 1, 1938) had been turned down by the Bureau of the Budget. Likewise rejected was a six-year program totalling $70,000 which had been proposed to the Federal Emergency Administration of Public Works, to make a start on "stabilization, restoration and repair." [11]

In effect, Randels was told to carry on, "keeping as close a watch on the area as is physically possible under present arrangements." The frustrated engineer did his best with a thankless job, reporting further deterioration and vandalism which he attempted to combat by "nailing up windows and doors with old discarded lumber from Scotts Bluff." Peering into the future, he suggested the wisdom of placing Fort Laramie under management of the Scotts Bluff National Monument Custodian, with a ranger to be stationed at the Fort. Mr. Cammerer concurred in this plan, with the result that the 1940 budget of $2,610 (effective July 1, 1939) provided $1,860. for a ranger at Fort Laramie. Later this organizational decision was quietly reversed, presumably upon protest by Dan Greenburg, who was mindful of the earlier uproar in Wyoming caused by the thought that Fort Laramie might become a mere satellite of Scotts Bluff National Monument. Although Scotts Bluff personnel would continue their technical involvement in Fort Laramie affairs for several more years, the Fort would be separately managed by its own Custodian as soon as it was on its own financial feet. [12]

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Last Updated: 01-Mar-2003