Administrative History
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The establishment of Navajo National Monument was a direct result of the professionalization of science in the U.S. and the move by Anglo-Americans in the late nineteenth century to settle the Southwest. As more and more people came to the region, the subsurface and above ground ruins of prehistoric cultures fell prey to callous and avaricious hands. Prehistoric pots were smashed for sport and the walls and building stones of ruins were dismantled for use in newer structures. In the era of the end of American perception of a westward frontier, it seemed to many that the remnants of an important cultural heritage were being wantonly destroyed.

Nowhere was this feeling stronger than among the denizens of the subfields of anthropology and archeology. Beginning with the founding of the Bureau of Ethnology in 1879, interest in American prehistory grew in influential circles. By the 1890s, with the end of the frontier accepted as dogma, concern for the preservation of the past gained momentum. For aspiring professionals in the twin fields of anthropology and archeology, the preservation of antiquities offered a crucible in which to prove the value of their work to the scientific community and the public at large. [1]

The study of prehistoric and American Indian people had great value to Americans at the end of the nineteenth century. Since the end of the Civil War, American society had been transformed by industrialization, seemingly overrun with immigrants, and appeared to have lost much of the democratic virtue the founding fathers envisioned. The last decade of the century embodied a search for order that became the Progressive movement. Using the theories of Lewis Henry Morgan, the founder of modern anthropology in the U.S., anthropologists and archeologists could present the scholarly study of Indians and their prehistoric antecedents as affirmation that the world had not gone haywire. In the long view, they asserted, this evolutionary stage, however dislocating and uncomfortable, provided evidence of the superiority of the American achievement. [2]

Simultaneously, a rush to conserve the natural resources of the American West began. The general acceptance of the end of the frontier meant that the idea of scarcity entered the American lexicon. A nation with no more room to expand had to more wisely use the resources available to it. The "wear-out-the-farm-and-move-on" ideal of the nineteenth century ceased to be acceptable as legislators and officials in government agencies began to pay closer attention to the management of resources. Legislation such as Amendment 24 of the General Revision Act of 1891, which allowed the president to establish forest reserves (national forests) from the public domain with the stroke of a pen, was one kind of result. Stepped-up efforts by the General Land Office of the Department of the Interior to survey and assess the resources of federal lands in the Southwest and West was another.

This move resulted in greater awareness of the vast quantity of prehistoric remains in the Southwest at the very moment federal officials began to implement systematic programs to manage and administer western resources. Conservation, the idea of wise use, gained a strong following in the federal bureaucracy long before it emerged as a priority of Theodore Roosevelt's administration. Under this loose rubric, there was also room for the preservation of prehistory. Beginning in the 1890s, there were piecemeal efforts to preserve individual ruins. One such measure authorized the Casa Grande Ruin Reservation in 1889. With the influence of prominent easterners and the power of John Wesley Powell, head of the Bureau of American Ethnology, an entity established to promote understanding of native cultures, the move to preserve prehistory gathered momentum. Anthropologists and archeologists hurried to the Southwest to experiment with their waiting crucible.

Ironically, at the beginning of an era stressing the management of natural resources by trained experts, there were no laws that protected other kinds of treasure in the West. Experts similar to those who clamored for regulations in forestry and hydrology competed vigorously for access to prehistoric artifacts and structures to enhance the position of their institution among its peers. Blind to conflict of interest and resulting depredation, federal and private excavators hurried to enhance their personal reputations. While natural resources required scientific management to insure fair distribution and continued availability, non-renewable cultural resources were pillaged wholesale. Issues of public good had not yet emerged from the chaos of the transition to an industrial society.

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Last Updated: 28-Aug-2006