Administrative History
NPS Logo


With support from Washington, the National Park Service's Region Three Office in Santa Fe soon organized an investigative trip to Fort Union. On May 9, 1939, Hillory A. Tolson, director of Region Three, led a "reconnaissance party" to the old fort. This well-balanced team included George Hammond, dean of the Graduate School at the University of New Mexico, Herbert O. Brayer, assistant director of the Coronado Quarto Centennial Commission, Aubrey Neasham, regional historian of Region Three, Kenneth F. Woodman, statistician of the Park Service, and Charles A. Richey, assistant landscape architect of Region Three. The purpose of this trip was to investigate possible routes to the fort. [12] Since the area had not been accurately surveyed, it was necessary for Richey and his assistant to return on the following day in order to determine the boundary and acreage of the fort. [13] This investigative trip also helped to determine the willingness of the Park Service to establish a national monument at Fort Union.

Five days later, Tolson sent a contingent (Hammond, Brayer, and Neasham) to meet with Edward B. Wheeler, agent for the Union Land and Grazing Company, at his office in Las Vegas, New Mexico. [14] Wheeler had bitterly opposed government intervention because he had claimed $100,000 damages for illegal timber cutting on the estate of the Butler Cattle Company. This claim was based on the idea that the United States Forest Service had incorrectly surveyed the area. Both the House and Senate once voted for compensation, but President Franklin D. Roosevelt vetoed it. [15] Despite Wheeler's hostile feeling, the Park Service delegation persuaded him to cooperate with the government. At the meeting Wheeler agreed to recommend that the Union Land and Grazing Company donate to the United States Government approximately 1,000 acres of land for the establishment of a national monument. He also agreed to give a 200-foot wide right-of-way for an entrance road to the fort from Highway 85 (present day Interstate 25). [16] In return, the government agreed to fence the donated land, build a house for the company agent, furnish water and electricity, and construct at least three underpasses on the road for cattle passage. The agreement included a reversionary clause saying, "if at any time the land is not used by the United States as a national monument or reservation, title shall revert to the Union Land and Grazing Company or to its successor." [17] In the coming years, this clause was to prove the greatest single obstacle in creating a national monument at Fort Union.

For several weeks Tolson and Wheeler exchanged letters concerning minor points of disagreement on the entrance road. Both of them agreed to send another boundary survey team to the site. The news of the successful preliminary negotiations with the Union Land and Grazing Company quickly spread in the New Mexico press. On June 1, 1939, Governor John E. Miles of New Mexico wrote to Regional Director Tolson, expressing his hope that the National Park Service would "do everything within its power to expedite the establishment of the Fort Union National Monument." [18]

The Region Three Office in Santa Fe attempted to speed up the process for the establishment of the Fort Union National Monument. In a memorandum of June 8, Arthur E. Demaray, acting director of the National Park Service, told Tolson that the Advisory Board on National Parks, Historic Sites, Buildings, and Monuments had "not as yet classified this area as of national significance." [19] In answer to Demaray's memorandum, Tolson wrote back, "it is urgently recommended be submitted for classification and approval for establishment as a national monument at the Advisory Board's next meeting." [20] Meanwhile, Tolson asked Richey to do another survey of the proposed boundaries and the road. On June 8 and 27, Richey and his assistant made separate trips to Fort Union. They discussed various details of the proposed area with Wheeler: the right-way and scenic easements. [21] In July 1939, Tolson submitted to Washington a special report, in which he recommended that the federal government establish Fort Union National Monument by presidential proclamation. Convinced of the efficacy of New Deal legislation, he also thought to set up a Civilian Conservation Corps camp at the site "to preserve and develop the site adequately." [22]

The plan to establish Fort Union National Monument, therefore, was progressing well in the first few months. At the same time that Edward Wheeler presented his case to the board of directors of the Union Land and Grazing Company, the Park Service submitted its proposal for a national monument at Fort Union to the Department of the Interior, with recommendation that it be submitted to the Bureau of the Budget and the President. Almost without delay, the Department of the Interior agreed to the proposal. By early fall of 1939, the administrators of the Park Service were so confident that Fort Union would be a national monument that they had already sent out copies of the draft form of the proclamation, even before securing title to the land. [22]

Just as the Park Service was preparing to celebrate its victory, unpleasant news arrived from New Mexico. On November 19, 1939, Wheeler sent Governor Miles a telegram saying, "Fort Union National Monument proposal encountered legal obstacle yesterday in Washington." [24] The U.S. Government wanted to omit the reversionary clause from the deed. According to the reversionary clause, the government would revert title to the company if the donated land remained "inactive." The federal government believed that such a guarantee was unnecessary even though the Union Land and Grazing Company insisted on it. Negotiations between the government and the company deadlocked.

Nevertheless, the Region Three Office of the Park Service reopened the dialogue with a new proposal. In December 1939, Tolson suggested that Fort Union be developed as a Public Works Administration project. Wheeler felt that this action would be a sufficient guarantee to satisfy the company. [25] On January 15, 1940, E. K. Burlew, acting secretary of the interior, wrote to President Roosevelt and John M. Carmody, administrator of the Federal Works Agency, asking for an allocation of $98,000 to establish Fort Union National Monument under the supervision of WPA. [26] Of the $98,000 of Public Works Funds, $13,500 would be used to acquire 837.367 acres of land for the monument, and $84,500 for improvements. [27] Unfortunately, the Public Works Administration could not allot $98,000 for the project due to limited funds. Later, the Bureau of the Budget asked the Park Service to submit an annual budget of $12,000 for Fort Union. In July 1940, President Roosevelt gave his approval to proceed in acquiring the site for a national monument, provided that the maintenance costs would not exceed the fees collected from the public. [28]

The president's approval made it possible for the Park Service to begin a new deal with the Union Land and Grazing Company. Later that July, Tolson, then acting associate director of the National Park Service, wrote to Andrew Marshall, attorney for the company, to schedule a conference working out the details of the title transaction. The representatives of both sides met on October 28, 1940. [29] Since Andrew Marshall had advised the board of directors of the company not to transfer title of the land to the government unless the deed of transfer contained a reversionary clause, the representatives of the company were unwilling to give in on this point. [30] Marshall explained that because the site lay practically in the middle of the company's holdings, acquisition of this site by a third party would create an intolerable situation. On the other side, the government negotiators argued that the provisions of the Antiquities Act of 1906 were not broad enough to permit the U.S. government to accept less than fee simple title to land transferred to it for national monument purpose. [31] But the government pointed out that it could accept the title with a reversionary clause under the Historic Sites Act of 1935, which assigned broad powers and duties to the Park Service. Marshall was interested in this idea; however, the conference did not reach any agreement.

The Park Service then decided to draft a new deed for the establishment of Fort Union National Historic Site under the Historic Sites Act of 1935. Its hope soon died when Tolson received a letter from Wheeler. On February 19, 1941, Wheeler wrote to Tolson, quoting Marshall, "there are so many pressing things to be done in connection with Mrs. Ames' estate, and there is so little enthusiasm in the family about making this gift to the government, that the matter has had to be postponed somewhat to await the doing of more important things." [32] Similarly, the nation was concerned with more important issues surrounding the Second World War. Thus, the movement to establish a national monument at Fort Union was again interrupted for a few years.

After World War II, people in New Mexico revived the campaign to create the Fort Union National Monument. New Mexicans had learned that the previous efforts failed because of the lack of local interest in the project. This time local citizens and interest groups decided to lead the movement to ultimate success. At a Masonic Lodge meeting in Las Vegas in 1946, William Stapp read a paper entitled "Chapman Lodge No. 2, A.F. & A.M.," in which he again asked his brothers to pay attention to the significance of Fort Union. [33] The paper also brought back memories of their 1929 campaign to preserve the fort.

<<< Previous <<< Contents >>> Next >>>

Last Updated: 22-Jan-2001