Administrative History
NPS Logo


In the first decade of the twentieth century, proclamation of a national monument had none of the connotations of the modern park system. A proclamation was an announcement to law-abiding citizens that an area was reserved. It contained no clauses concerning development or funding, staffing, or use. A reserved area meant exactly that: an area protected from land patents, mineral claims, and other forms of officially authorized settlement.

A kind of protection best described as "warning sign" preservation developed as a result of the proclamations of this era. [1] Despite the hullabaloo surrounding Navajo National Monument, the interest of scientists, the Smithsonian Institution, and the formal structure of government science, no formal system of protection arose. John Wetherill remained the nominal custodian, and while he took an active interest in the fate of the ruins of the Tsegi Plateau, he was also involved in numerous other activities. Like the vast majority of national monuments, Navajo remained subject to the wind and rain, the depredations of passers-by, and the intermittent interest of officialdom. Ignored by the federal bureaucracy, places like Navajo National Monument were best protected by their remote location.

In the middle of the western Navajo reservation, far from the railroads and roads that increasingly traversed the West, Navajo National Monument was out of the mainstream of the twentieth century. As yet poorly mapped and surveyed, it was inaccessible to the principal arteries of travel, the nearest of which was the railroad spur from Williams, Arizona, to the Grand Canyon, built at the beginning of the century. Yet from Flagstaff or the Grand Canyon to the Marsh Pass area was still a significant distance--more than one hundred miles. In addition, trails to the region were poorly marked. Most of the people that used them knew the way and had little reason to place signs for outsiders. Only the hardiest and most adventuresome of mainstream Americans endured the long trip from civilization to the ruins. Archeologists composed the majority of visitors, for they had more or less free run of the monument. Most other visitors who did make the trip had a pre-existing interest in archeology. Few people simply wandered up to the monument in this era.

This inaccessibility and lack of formal protection characterized Navajo National Monument for the subsequent quarter of a century. The federal agencies responsible for the monument, including the National Park Service, allocated few resources for Navajo. There was no live-in caretaker, nor were structures or quarters constructed. Formal interpretation did not exist, nor did the kind of infrastructure that brought people to a park area. As a result, Navajo remained among the least developed national monuments, an example of both the advantages and drawbacks of warning sign preservation.

In 1912, the General Land Office retained responsibility for Navajo National Monument and the other places in the monument category. Perennially understaffed and possessed of a reputation for corruption, the GLO had a vast range of management responsibilities in the West. Its special agents reported on conditions in the monuments as well as on land claims, homestead patents, the disposition of natural resources, and a range of other activities. [2] In the view of the bureau, individual national monuments were far from positions of primacy in the system.

As a result, much of the interest in Navajo emanated from the Smithsonian Institution, the Bureau of American Ethnology, and the archeologists interested in the region. Neil Judd, Byron Cummings' nephew and assistant, took a job at the U. S. National Museum in Washington, D. C., bringing him in contact with the leading people in federal science and building links between what had formerly been the western archeological community and the powers in Washington. [3] As the divergent viewpoints in archeology came closer together and younger scientists like Judd bridged remaining gaps, the distinctions drawn by people like William B. Douglass became less important. A decrease in competition and rivalry resulted.

GLO special agents in the West also paid closer attention to the resources in their care after 1910. Their job had evolved from pointing out the salient features of the western landscape to suggesting ways for its utilization. By 1916, two different special agents, Roy G. Mead in 1914 and W. J. Lewis in 1916, had visited the monument and filed reports on the conditions there.

The reports showed the situation and predicament of Navajo National Monument. Betatakin and Keet Seel showed signs of excavation, while Inscription House appeared to be in the poorest condition of the three. Mead recognized that the differences in construction materials and the open nature of the ruins there contributed to the situation at Inscription House. Both Keet Seel and Betatakin were protected from the elements by the natural overhangs above them.

Cummings appeared to be the person responsible for most of the excavations at Keet Seel and Betatakin. In 1914, Mead attributed work at both to Cummings, who held permits from the Department of the Interior, but also suggested that even the first-rate custodial care provided by John Wetherill was not enough to protect the ruins. Because he was not on the premises, Wetherill could only deter vandalism when he visited the area. At other times, anyone who happened by could do as they pleased.

Mead also articulated visitation as an objective. This followed from Fewkes' suggestion in 1910 that either Betatakin or Keet Seel be reserved as a type ruin. Mead suggested that ladders be installed at both Betatakin and Keet Seel and construction of a "goat-proof" fence for the base of the cliff below Inscription House. There was also need for guest registers to keep track of the people who visited the ruin. [4] In the eyes of federal agents charged with evaluating land, despite the remote location of the monument, it had potential.

When he visited Navajo late in June 1916, W. J. Lewis came to similar conclusions. The national monument was a "permanent institution," he declared, designed for educational purposes. The monument had to be accessible and useful for those purposes. This required better marking of trails to the ruins and a sign indicating that these ruins were within the boundaries of a federal reserve. The worsening condition of walls in the ruins led Lewis to suggest Cummings, who had served as his guide, as the logical man to supervise restoration at Navajo. He also recommended some trail work to make the Tsegi Canyon trails easier for visitors. [5]

Ironically, one of the issues that Lewis' report pointed out was how poorly the boundaries of the monument protected the wide range of cultural resources in the area. Other important sites were not reserved. Typical of these were Twin Caves ruin and Bat Woman cave, excavated by Cummings in 1912 and 1913. Cummings indicated to Lewis that the two areas were worthy of inclusion in the monument, and Lewis advocated the addition. The limits of the haphazard original proclamation were once again apparent.

Even in 1916, three non-contiguous ruins in one monument meant that any management of Navajo would be fraught with complications. Centralized administration and protection were difficult, for forty miles separated Inscription House from Betatakin and Keet Seel, eight miles apart. Despite the creation of one monument for the three ruins, their fate was linked mostly on paper. Each would require separate trails, approaches, and ultimately protection. Even John Wetherill could not effectively supervise all three at any one time. He informed Lewis that he was powerless to prevent vandalism to the ruins.

Lewis also clearly articulated visitation as an objective for the monument. He perceived a trip to the monument as a benefit for high school or college classes. He advocated printing descriptive fliers for each unit of the monument, an early form of interpretation, and leaving them by the register for visitors to take. "It would seem," Lewis concluded his report, "that a month spent in this vicinity by a class would be the finest kind of educational experience." [6]

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

Last Updated: 28-Aug-2006