History of Scotts Bluff National Monument
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Custodian Randels

Charles E. Randels was the first regular National Park Service employee to hold the office of custodian at the Monument. He carried the designation of "acting custodian" during the three-year period he was in charge. Randels was also responsible for all construction work until he left on June 25, 1938.69

Merrill J. Mattes arrived on October 1, 1935, from his seasonal ranger position at Yellowstone National Park and was given the designation of Junior Historian. He took charge of the interpretive program of the Monument and worked out of the new one-room museum building when it was completed by the contractor in the fall of 1935. [70]

Oregon Trail Museum
First building at Scotts Bluff National Monument was the one room Oregon Trail Museum shown here in early 1936. Two additional rooms and offices were added later.

Charles E. Randels
Charles E. Randels

At this time, C. B. Turner was appointed superintendent of the C.C.C. camp, but he resigned in November 1936 and Harlan G. Hutchins was appointed in his place. [71] Mr. Hutchins was also part-time superintendent of the C.C.C. camp located at the Wildcat Hills State Park. Among the foreman in charge of the various operations were Charles E. Humberger, C. W. Nichols and E. L. Hoyt. Camp 762 also published its own newspaper, the Adobe Echo, a monthly, printed by the Gering Courier.

After the excavation of the third tunnel and the guniting of all three tunnels by the contractor Gross & Stevens, [72] all excess rock and dirt were removed from the summit road and grading and filling operations were completed so that paving could be done. The Northwestern Engineering Company of Rapid City, South Dakota, won the contract for this phase of the work and spent the summer of 1937 laying the cement paving. [73]

Meanwhile, the new museum building (renamed the Visitor Center in 1956) was completed. Art exhibits from the Western Museum Laboratory at Berkeley, California, together with objects from donors, were installed. It was decided to officially dedicate the facility with appropriate ceremonies. Thursday, July 16, 1936, was chosen because of its connection with the Oregon Trail Days, an annual celebration held in Gering. H. J. Dollinger, Secretary of the Scottsbluff Chamber of Commerce, acted as Master of Ceremonies for the dedication. Speakers on the program included Acting Custodian Randels, A. B. Wood, former Custodian Mathers, T. L. Green of Scottsbluff, and H. J. Wisner, editor of the Scottsbluff Daily Star-Herald. William Henry Jackson, 93-year-old artist and photographer of the West, was the principal speaker of the afternoon. Jackson had passed through Mitchell Pass 70 years before on his way to California as a bullwhacker with a wagon train. (An interpretive marker in Mitchell Pass marks the site where he and his group of freighters camped in August, 1866.) Sioux Indians and band music added color to the dedication. [74]

Custodian Charles E. Randels and William H. Jackson
The Oregon Trail museum was dedicated on July 16, 1936, The dedication coincided with the annual Oregon Trail Days celebration. Custodian Charles E. Randels left, is shown talking to William H. Jackson who was the principal speaker at the dedication ceremonies.
—Charles Downey

interior of Oregon Trail Museum
The photo above shows the interior of Oregon Trail Museum as it looked on dedication day, July 16, 1936.
—Charles Downey

The summit road was completed and officially opened on Sunday, September 19, 1937. A reported 550 cars used the new facility the first day. [75] During this time C.C.C. workers started work on a new adobe wing of the museum for geological and paleontological displays. Offices and a rest room were also added. Other construction at headquarters included a three-room residence and a utility building. Landscaping and planting operations continued to help erase the scars of construction around headquarters, on the summit road, and the parking areas. These operations continued until the abandonment of the C.C.C. camp on May 31, 1938. [75]

Increased visitation to the Monument and the heavy use of the picnic grounds made it necessary to employ additional protective officers. In 1935, a seasonal ranger was provided and in 1937, a second such position was added. Paul 0. McGrew, who was the first seasonal ranger in 1935, became a C.C.C. foreman in 1936, and in that capacity took charge of archeological and paleontological collections. He was again a seasonal ranger during 1937. Kenneth Wolcott was the seasonal ranger during 1936. Nearly 64,000 people visited the area in 1937. [77]

seasonal rangers
First staff of seasonal rangers: Hollingsworth, Mapes, Fredenberg and Harry Jantze. Ranger Wolcott and Historian Mattes are on the right. Photo taken at C.C.C. camp, August, 1936.

When most of the planned work was nearing completion in early 1938, it was decided to remove the C.C.C. camp and transfer the men to other assignments. Dismantling operations started and were completed in April 1939 by skeleton crews from the camp near Mitchell and W.P.A. labor. [78]

By May 1938, the second wing had been added to the museum building, [79] along with the two offices (upper and lower), and the "tower" room. The adobe residence was completed and Historian Mattes moved into it in early May. [80] During the last months that C.C.C. labor was available, the old road between the Scotts Bluff Country Club and headquarters was obliterated (this was a "short-cut" road which led from headquarters to the C.C.C. camp) and the Mitchell Pass highway, State 86, (now State 92) was nearly finished. The reconstruction of graveled trans-monument Highway 86 had begun in 1937 with realignment, grading, and filling and sodding on the shoulders as a C.C.C. project. It was continued as a W.P.A. project with the State of Nebraska oil-surfacing it in 1940. The designation of this highway was changed from 86 to 92 in early 1961.

Acting Custodian Randels left Scotts Bluff at the time the C.C.C. camp was dismantled. He continued to work as an engineer with the Region Two Office of the National Park Service and died in April 1944 at Tucson, Arizona. Merrill J. Mattes succeeded Randels as Custodian on June 25, 1938. [81]


History of Scotts Bluff National Monument
©1962, Oregon Trail Museum Association
history/chap10.htm — 26-Jan-2003