History of Scotts Bluff National Monument
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Custodian Cook

Harold J. Cook
Harold J. Cook

When Custodian Mathers decided to run for Congress, he was obliged to resign his position. [62] His resignation became effective on June 15, 1934. Dr. Cook was made Acting Custodian and later on December 20 he was appointed Custodian and thereby became the third man to hold this position. The custodian's salary remained at $12 per year.

Dr. Harold J. Cook, born at Cheyenne, Wyoming, on July 31, 1887, had been a resident of Nebraska most of his life. As a paleontologist and geologist, he has been associated with the American Museum of Natural History, the Nebraska State Geological Survey, the Colorado Museum of Natural History, the Chadron State Teachers College, the Western State College in Colorado, and the Cook Museum of Natural History. He is a rancher, consulting geologist, lecturer, and author and resides at Agate, 50 miles north of the Monument. [63]

Through the Public Works Administration (P.W.A.), limited funds were made available for laborers to continue some grading and filling on the summit road. Plans were also formulated for construction of a museum, a new picnic grounds south of Mitchell Pass, and for water and communications systems.

A General Land Office Survey of the Monument boundaries in 1933, surprisingly, showed that all of the development on the east slope of the bluff was on privately owned land and not within the jurisdiction of the National Park Service. Henceforth, all attention was focused on the west side and nothing further was ever done with the facilities at the base of the Scout Trail.

It became apparent by early 1935 that more action was needed to speed up operations. Working through Congressman Terry Carpenter, before he left office in March, and with other interested persons assisting, Custodian Cook was able to get a Civilian Conservation Corps camp built in the "badlands" area of the Monument in April. A large consignment of C.C.C. men moved in immediately to commence work where the C.W.A. and P.W.A. crews had left off. [64] As many as 200 men were stationed at this camp at various times. The camp, No. 762, was constructed mostly of wood and adobe and was evidently intended to be semi-permanent. Other C.C.C. camps nearby included one near Mitchell, Nebraska, and one at the Wildcat Hills State Park. Crews from each of these camps stayed at Camp 762 for a short time while their own were being built.

Civilian Conservation Corps Camp 762
Civilian Conservation Corps Camp 762 was located in the "Badlands" area of the Monument from April, 1935, through May, 1938. As many as 200 men were stationed at this camp.

With the advent of C.C.C. labor at the Monument and new work projects being planned and executed, it was decided by the Washington Office that Dr. Cook should be appointed as Project Superintendent. Although this designation did not take effect until April 30, Cook had been informed of his new appointment and that his position as Custodian would have to be terminated. He was, however, designated as Acting Custodian until the end of June. The correspondence on this reads:

"April 11, 1935

Dr. Harold J. Cook,
Custodian, Scotts Bluff Nat'l Monument [sic]

Dear Dr. Cook:

You are hereby designated Acting Custodian . . . of Scotts Bluff National Monument for the duration of your employment under ECW as Project Superintendent. Formal notification of this appointment will follow as soon as effected.

Sincerely yours,
(Sgd.) A. E. Demaray
Acting Director"

"April 24, 1933

Mr. Harold J. Cook
     of Nebraska.


You have been appointed by the Secretary of the Interior, subject to taking the oath of office, a Project Superintendent Gr. 10 on Emergency Conservation Work, at a salary of $2,300 pa. effective on the date of entrance on duty; assigned to Scotts Bluff National Monument, Nebr., terminating Exc. A, as Custodian at $12 pa., regular service.

This appointment is for emergency work for such period of time as your services may be required on such work and funds are available therefor, but not to extend beyond June 30, 1935 . . .

(Sgd.) Guy W. Numbers
Acting Chief, Division of
Appointments, Mail and Files." [65]

During the year and a half that Dr. Cook served at Scotts Bluff, it would seem that he held five or six different positions at one time or another: Leader of the Research Group, Temporary Ranger, Acting Custodian, Custodian, Project Superintendent, and again, Acting Custodian.

Charles E. Randels, National Park Service engineer, arrived at the Monument at this time to assist in planning and supervising actual work. Mr. Randels divided his time between Scotts Bluff and Devils Tower National Monument where certain phases of federal relief programs were being conducted.

By late spring plans for the museum and headquarters building [66] had been completed and funds were made available for construction. The Fullen Construction Company of Gering (now located in Scottsbluff) was awarded the contract on their low bid of $9,507. [67] This contract was for construction of one room and a small lobby which was completed in the fall of 1935. This room was known as the "History Room" until 1960 when its name was changed to the Oregon Trail Room."

Oregon Trail Museum
Oregon Trail Museum under construction during October of 1925.

The C.C.C. crews resumed grading and filling operations on the summit road soon after establishing their camp in April 1935. Work also commenced on the new picnic grounds west and south of Mitchell Pass, a road from the site of the museum to the camp in the badlands by way of Scotts Spring and the Scotts Bluff Country Club, a water supply system, fencing of the federally-owned boundaries, and seeding and planting operations. The water supply system was vital since the demands of the camp were great. Pipelines were dug and pipe laid underground to the new picnic area and to reservoirs on the bluff above headquarters. This system, with some later modifications, is still being used for the water supply at headquarters.

On June 15, 1935, Custodian Cook was notified that he was being relieved of his position at Scotts Bluff. He continued, however, as Acting Custodian and Project Superintendent until July 15 when Secretary of the Interior, Harold Ickes, notified Mr. Randels that he was appointed to succeed Dr. Cook. [68]


History of Scotts Bluff National Monument
©1962, Oregon Trail Museum Association
history/chap9.htm — 26-Jan-2003