Cultures at a Crossroads: An Administrative History
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"Whereas, it appears that the public good would be promoted..." So reads a portion of President Harding's proclamation setting aside Pipe Spring as a national monument 75 years ago. What did its creators have in mind when they referenced "the public good?" Might it be something entirely different for today's computer-age visitor than it was for the family that arrived at Pipe Spring during the 1920s in a Model T?

Since the time Pipe Spring National Monument was established, the National Park System has grown, not only in physical terms - through the addition of hundreds of areas of national significance - but in terms of social awareness. Since the 1920s, the nation's conscience has been awakened and challenged by World War II, the Holocaust, the Nuclear Age, the Cold War, wars in Korea and Viet Nam, and the Civil Rights Movement. Voices of women, Native Americans, Hispanics, and others have all been raised since the 1960s, along with the insistence that American history recognize the sacrifices and contributions of all Americans. To its credit, the National Park Service now strives to interpret historical sites in ways that do justice to the plural society we live in. Admittedly, our resolve to now "tell it like it really was" creates a host of challenges. Hopefully, this non-exclusivistic approach toward researching, writing, and teaching about the past will generate histories that ring true to more of its citizens.

As the administration of Pipe Spring National Monument profoundly knows, there are two communities that feel compelled to convey their story at this historic site. For most of its history, particularly while Leonard Heaton administered the site, it can be argued that interpretation was presented mostly from the perspective of the Latter-day Saints. By the late 1980s, the pendulum appears to have swung toward a more generic "pioneer" history, although the reasons for this are not very clear. Understandably, given that Pipe Spring is the only Church-associated site that has gained national recognition, the perception that its history is not "correctly" being passed on has upset some members of the community. Yet it is important to ask, were monument administrators afraid their interpreters would be accused of proselytizing if they spoke too much of the Church's history or its role at Pipe Spring? Were they uncomfortable with the religious tenets of those responsible for the fort's existence and for the settlement of surrounding communities? Some documentation suggests this may be the case. In a country that advocates freedom of religion as well as separation of church and state, it is understandable that to interpret Pipe Spring is to walk a fine line.

The fact is, however, Pipe Spring's late-19th century history is inextricably bound to an important religious movement. Unlike many other religious and secular movements of the last century, this one thrived. Since it was first organized with six members on April 6, 1830, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has become one of the world's fastest growing religions and one of its largest churches. When Utah attained statehood in 1896, most of the Church's 250,000 members lived within the state's boundaries. The Church now claims over 10 million members, with only half of that number living in the U.S. It directs the largest volunteer missionary force in the world, operating 330 missions in 162 countries; the Book of Mormon is available in 91 languages. [2389] Rooted in the utopian and revivalist fervor prevalent in the country during the first half of the 19th century, Latter-day Saints are arguably the most enduring example of religious communitarianism. Many descendants of those who fled to the West 150 years ago to escape religious persecution are deservedly proud of their accomplishments, their faith, and their story.

The Kaibab Paiute also have survived generations of persecution, along with dispossession of their lands and associated resources. Yet they cling proudly and tenaciously to their own values and traditions. They, too, have important stories to share.

These are by no means the only stories that can be told at Pipe Spring, however. The interpretive possibilities at Pipe Spring - the opportunities to explore important, thought-provoking questions relevant to our times - are almost limitless. What has been learned from past experience, however, is that the success of interpretive programs can be strengthened by community understanding and support. With its 30-year history of partnering with its Kaibab Paiute and Mormon neighbors, Pipe Spring National Monument is prepared more than most for the years ahead. Indeed, many other parks and monuments could benefit from the lessons learned there.

"Diversity" - whether based on differences of race, sex, ethnicity, or religion — is a word we hear a great deal today, thanks to changing demographics and social sensitivity. Diversity was most certainly not a consideration in the early 1920s when people first contemplated making Pipe Spring into a national monument. Latter-day Saints were still considered a "peculiar" people by many of their fellow citizens, unable to shake the legacy in the public mind of their most controversial social experiment: polygamy. As was mentioned in Part I, the fact that Pipe Spring played an important part in Mormon history was never mentioned in the proclamation establishing the monument "to serve as a memorial of western pioneer life."

In fact, documentary evidence suggests that, to Park Service Director Stephen T. Mather and others, the significance of Pipe Spring in 1923 was decidedly more logistical than historical. And yet, on the eve of the 21st century, we can see that Pipe Spring National Monument offers its visitors much more than a rest-stop, that the "public good" can indeed be promoted at this remote site, and that the springs there can perhaps quench a different kind of thirst, one for understanding and reconciliation.

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Last Updated: 28-Aug-2006