The Excavation and Repair of Betatakin
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The Indian appropriation act approved May 18, 1916, included the following:

For preservation and repair of prehistoric pueblo ruins and cliff-dwellings, under the supervision of the Smithsonian Institution, Navajo National Monument, Arizona, $3,000.

To carry out the provisions of this item the present writer was rather unexpectedly designated, early in March, 1917, representative of the Smithsonian Institution and special disbursing officer, Bureau of Indian Affairs. Availability of the appropriation was limited to the then current fiscal year, ending June 30.

Entraining at Washington March 16 I proceeded to Flagstaff, Ariz., engaged four laborers; and left with them by automobile on March 20 for Tuba; thence by 4-mule team to Kayenta; thence by saddle horses and pack mules to Betatakin ruin. This journey of approximately 200 miles from the railroad was not without its disagreeable features.

Navajo National Monument, at an elevation of 7,000 feet, is none too inviting in early springtime when sandstorms crowd the heels of retreating winter. We turned northward from Tuba into the face of wind-driven snow, camped about 6 miles short of Red Lake at some deserted Navajo hogans whose old timbers offered fuel and partial protection, spent the next night under frost-covered blankets in the open desert, and arrived at Kayenta March 24, just as a setting sun was painting the neighboring sandstone buttes with brilliant crimson.

My diary recalls the succession of discouragements under which our special task was pursued. Both economic and climatic obstacles intervened. We broke trail through snow 2 feet deep to establish camp at Betatakin, March 27; once there, each night brought freezing temperatures until May 1 and occasionally thereafter; rain, hail, and snow fell with annoying frequency. All this, so our irregular Navajo boarder insisted, was owing to the fact that our work in the ruin disturbed the spirits of the ancient people. But I am reminded that our last snowstorm occurred May 31; that ice covered our water pails on the morning of June 2. I am reminded, too, of our meager rations.

Foodstuffs were at a premium; trading-post stores were practically exhausted. Wool continued in demand and the Navajo, childishly prodigal in time of plenty, had bought freely. Having received twice the customary price for their last clip, the Indians still had credit to draw upon; native jewelry to pawn. None cared to work; winter lingered. Lacking forage, Indian ponies were poor; roads were ribbons of knee-deep mud; the wet-weather rate of $2.50 for each hundredweight from Gallup to Kayenta did not tempt freighters. In consequence, even the usual modest fare of desert travelers was unprocurable. If we had flour there were no beans; if beans, no flour. For days at a time, and repeatedly, rice formed our sole diet. The Navajo would willingly sell neither sheep nor goats. We substituted "Brigham tea" when coffee could not be had. At times, and in their own convincing way, my workmen expressed a measure of discontent.

Then, late in April, came, news of United States entry into the World War. My three remaining assistants, impatient to be in the fray, promptly registered in their respective States. And just as promptly they were ordered into service by the too-zealous local draft board. Regulations governing distribution of foodstuffs had been imposed; reservation traders could not replenish their empty shelves. Nevertheless, there remained the chance of forcing our assignment to conclusion.

Snow and lack of forage made it impossible to keep a saddle horse at camp; hence, on three separate occasions, it was necessary to walk the 20 miles to Kayenta seeking supplies. I happened to be there April 29 and joined the trader in going to the relief of two Indian freighters, then stuck in the mud 10 miles out, who had been on the road from Flagstaff since late December. The few sacks of flour received at Kayenta on May 20 immediately sold at $10 a 100; the next lot arrived June 10, on 20 burros driven by Indians from near Farmington, N. Mex. Navajo National Monument seemed altogether isolated in the spring of 1917.

This recital is offered not as an apology for a task left unfinished but rather as evidence that factors quite beyond one's control sometimes arise to handicap the field worker. Those unforeseen conditions we experienced might easily have forced early abandomnent of our undertaking except for the cordial cooperation of Mr. and Mrs. John Wetherill and Mr. Clyde Colville, of Kayenta. To these good friends I make public acknowledgment of my appreciation, however tardily. As with other transients before and since, Mr. and Mrs. Wetherill welcomed me whole-heartedly into their hospitable home; drew generously from their family larder at times of urgent need, and persuaded reluctant Navajo into our service when my own efforts failed.

I have said our task was left unfinished. The special appropriation cited in the first paragraph above was intended to cover the major ruins of Navajo National Monument. There are three such—Betatakin, Keet Seel, and Inscription House. We concentrated upon the first of these. The work there accomplished will be apparent from the pages which follow. That left undone includes repair of the southwest house group and adjacent retaining wall; partial reconstruction of missing rooms whose former positions were plainly evidenced in the east half of the cave; basal wall repairs with cement and the placement of steel tie rods in certain dwellings, as originally contemplated. The cement and steel we ordered for this purpose from Gallup on April 2 were not delivered in Kayenta. So impassable were the muddy roads, until June 8—too late to be relayed to Betatakin and positioned.

Since the World War and return from military service I have constantly entertained the hope that additional funds might be provided with which to complete not only the work herein described but also that intended for Keet Seel and Inscription House. It now appears this hope is not soon to be realized. Fairness to those coworkers who have need for certain facts at my disposal urges presentation of our observations in Betatakin without further delay.

Of the sum designated in the act of May 18, 1916, more than one-third was returned to the Treasurer of the United States, as required by law. This refund and the fact that it was not humanly possible in 1917 to conclude the repairs contemplated by Congress, seemingly would justify a new Federal appropriation to insure preservation of the incomparable cliff dwellings of Navajo Nation Monument.

Those ancient villages are not surpassed even by the marvelous ruins of Mesa Verde National Park, Colo., visited by nearly 17,000 persons in 1928; they stand as visible reminders of an enlightened, though primitive, people who played a most important part in the conquest of our arid Southwest centuries before European mariners dreamed of a New World; they merit restoration and protection as an irreplacable inheritance of our Nation from its prehistoric predecessors.

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Last Updated: 26-Jun-2008