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Chapter 1
Beginnings of Public Interest in American Indian Antiquities
Ronald F. Lee

The abandoned and ruined dwellings of prehistoric man in the American West had aroused the interest and comment of explorers and colonizers for centuries. Not until after the Civil War, however, did these ruins, and the continuing discovery of still others, attract the serious attention of the eastern scientific community. Public interest in the continent's ancient civilizations brought about no less than five significant developments portentous for American archeology in the single year of 1879. They mark 1879 as the beginning of the movement that led, a quarter of a century later, to adoption of the Antiquities Act as the first national historic preservation policy for the United States.

In this year Congress authorized establishment of the Bureau of Ethnology, later renamed the Bureau of American Ethnology, in the Smithsonian Institution to increase and diffuse knowledge of the American Indian. Major John Wesley Powell, who had lost his right arm in the Battle of Shiloh and who in 1869 had led his remarkable boat expedition through the Grand Canyon of the Colorado River, was appointed its first director.1 He headed the bureau until his death in 1902. During this long period, he and his colleagues became a major force for the protection of antiquities on federal lands.

Five years earlier, in 1874, Frederic W. Putnam had begun his long and distinguished career as Curator of the Peabody Museum of American Archaeology and Ethnology at Harvard. For Putnam 1879 marked the appearance of a superbly illustrated book he had edited devoted to the ruined pueblos of Arizona and New Mexico and the archaeology and ethnology of the Indians of Southern California. This was Volume VII, Archeology, of the Report Upon United States Geographical Surveys West of the One Hundredth Meridian, in charge of First Lieutenant George M. Wheeler.2 For the next thirty-five years, until his death in 1915, Putnam profoundly influenced the rise and development of anthropology in America and served on several committees and boards concerned with federal legislation to protect American antiquities.3

In 1879 the American Association for the Advancement of Science for the first time elected an anthropologist as its president. He was Lewis Henry Morgan, then the foremost student in the United States in the comparatively new field of anthropology. Among many other works, he was the author of Ancient Society, or Researches in the Lines of Human Progress, published in 1877 to wide acclaim both in America and Europe.4 Frederic W. Putnam was also very active in the affairs of the Association. He served as its permanent secretary from 1873 to 1898, when he became president. During this period the Association inaugurated its "Section H, " in which growing numbers of students of anthropology gathered each year to read papers and discuss ideas. Eventually the Association established an influential committee to work for legislation to protect antiquities on federal lands.

On February 10, 1879, a group of interested person, called together by Professor Otis T. Mason of Columbian College and others, assembled in the Regent's Room of the Smithsonian Institution and founded the Anthropological Society of Washington.5 In 1887 it was incorporated "for the term of one thousand years"6 and in 1888 began publishing The American Anthropologist. This Society drew support from the anthropologists, ethnologists, and geologists then being brought into the federal government as well as from many other persons active in the life of the National Capitol.7 In 1902 members of the "ASW," as it became known, formed part of a group that founded the American Anthropological Association, and The American Anthropologist was adopted by the national organizational as its official journal. The American Anthropological Association, in turn, provided crucial support for the American Antiquities Act in 1906.

Lastly in 1879, Charles Eliot Norton, professor of the history of art at Harvard and for a quarter century one of its most influential scholars and teachers, with the help of friends and associates in and around Boston, founded the Archaeological Institute of America. Among those close friends was historian Francis Parkman. Almost thirty years before, as a young graduate of Harvard, Norton had helped the nearly blind Parkman prepare his first important work, The California and Oregon Trail, for publication.8 As one of Parkman's classmates at Harvard wrote long afterward, he "even then showed symptoms of 'Injuns' on the brain."9 He upheld the cause of American archaeology for support from the Institute. Other leading members in early years included William Watson Goodwin, professor of Greek literature at Harvard from 1860 to 1901 and first director of its American School of Classical Studies in Athens (1882-83); Russell Sturgis, architect, critic and writer; Alexander Agassiz, well-known zoologist and oceanographer, the son of Jean Louis Agassiz; and Henry W. Haynes, who for more than twenty years kept the Institute's members accurately informed about the progress of American archaeology.10

The purpose of the Institute was to promote and direct archaeological research, both classical and American; maintain schools for young classical scholars to Athens, Rome, and Palestine; publish the results of archaeological explorations and research; and hold meetings and sponsor lectures on archaeological subjects.11 Classical archaeology received substantially the larger support, but the Executive Committee from the beginning also held the view that "the study of the aboriginal life in America is essential to complete the history of the human race, as well as to gratify a legitimate curiosity concerning the condition of man on this continent previous to its discovery."12

In formulating its very first project in the field of American archaeology, the Institute turned naturally for advice and assistance to Lewis Henry Morgan. He believed that the most promising field for exploration was the social organization, usages, and customs of the Pueblo tribes of Indians and the architecture of the structures they occupied. "With the light thus gained," the Council reported to the Institute in 1885, "he thought a careful exploration and survey thought a careful exploration and survey should be attempted of the numerous remains of similar structures still to be found, especially in the San Juan region, near the point where Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, and Arizona join; and in other parts of New Mexico and Arizona."13 Morgan drew up a comprehensive scheme of the methods for prosecuting such an exploration, and he suggested that it should be extended to the imposing ruins in Mexico, Central America, and Yucatan. He emphasized the importance of architectural history and advanced the unique theory that "all the various ruined structures on this continent can be explained by the analogies of the existing communal buildings of New Mexico. Springing from a common mind, these exhibit only different stages of development, and form one system of works, from the Long House of the Iroquois to the Joint-Tenement structures of the Aztecs and Mayas."14

Not only did Morgan outline a program, he also recommended an investigator. Adolph F. Bandelier of Highland, Illinois, then forty years old, was born in Berne, Switzerland, but his family moved to America in 1848 and settled in Illinois. As a youth an ardent naturalist, he returned to Berne in 1855 and studied geology under Professor Streder at the University. Here, too, he met Alexander von Humboldt, who impressed him deeply. Back in America in the late 1850s, Bandelier turned to the study of history and ethnology, at first in his spare time, and acquired valuable knowledge of several European languages and of linguistics generally. Beginning in 1877, he published several scholarly works on the ancient Mexicans through the Peabody Museum at Harvard and also became known to Frederic W. Putnam.15 With the help of Parkman, Putnam and Morgan overcame Norton's reluctance and led the Institute to engage Bandelier to undertake its first project in America archeology -- an exploration in the Southwest exactly as recommended by Morgan.16

In August 1880, after calling on John Wesley Powell in Washington, DC, Bandelier journeyed to New Mexico and began a preliminary study of the great ruined pueblo of Pecos, about thirty miles southeast of Santa Fe. Knowledge of relevant Spanish documents persuaded Bandelier that Pecos has first been visited in 1540 by Alvardo, Coronado's lieutenant, during his search for the "Seven Cities of Cibola." Making elaborate architectural measurements of the ruins, Bandelier concluded that Pecos was "probably the largest aboriginal structure within the United States, so far described."17 He promptly wrote an account of his first season's works. In 1881 the Institute published it in two parts, entitled "Report on the Ruins of Pecos" and "An Historical Introduction to Studies among the Sedentary Indians of New Mexico."18

In Bandelier's report appeared these striking sentences on the condition of the great Pecos ruin in 1880:

Mrs. Kozlowski (wife of a Polish gentlemen, living two miles south on the arroyo) informed me that in 1858, when she came to her present home with her husband, the roof of the church was still in existence. Her husband tore it down, and used it for building out-houses; he also attempted to dig out the cornerstone, but failed. In general the vandalism committed in this venerable relic of antiquity defies all description...All the beams of the old structure are quaintly...carved...much scroll work terminating them. Most of this was taken away, chipped into uncouth boxes, and sold, to be scattered everywhere. Not content with this, treasure hunters...have recklessly and ruthlessly disturbed the abodes of the dead.19

Bandelier's revelation of the great historical interest and incredible neglect of Pecos aroused wide interest and deep concern among the members of the Archaeological Institute of America and their friends, who noted that Pecos was of such great antiquity that it was "even older than Boston." Marshall P. Wilder, president of the New England Historic Genealogical Society, and a far sighted, scholarly but practical man undertook to do something about Pecos. He has been one of the founders of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Massachusetts Agricultural College as well as a leader in the Massachusetts Horticultural Society.20 His interest in history and antiquities was of long standing, as was that of the Historic Genealogical Society's Corresponding Secretary, Edmund F. Slafter, for forty years a dedicated editor of source materials on American history.

Supported by the Society's membership, Wilder and Slafter determined to raise in the Congress of the United States for the first time the whole question of legislation to protect American antiquities on federal lands. They decided to prepare a petition to Congress and to persuade Senator George Frisbie Hoar of Massachusetts to present it. They had reason to anticipate his sympathetic interest. He had served in Congress since 1869 and the Senate since 1877. He served for several years as a trustee of the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, an overseer of Harvard College, a regent of the Smithsonian Institution, and president of the American Antiquarian Society and the American Historical Association.21

On May 10, 1882, Senator Hoar presented the petition on the floor of the Senate:

SOCIETY HOUSE, (18 Somerset Street),
Boston, Massachusetts, May 8, 1882.
Your memorialists, the members of the New England historic Genealogical Society, would respectfully represent:
That there are in the Territories of New Mexico and Arizona twenty-six towns of the towns of Pueblos Indians, so called, in all containing about ten thousand inhabitants; that the number of their towns was once very much greater; that these remaining are the remnants of very ancient races in North America whose origin and history lie yet unknown in their decayed and decaying antiquities; that many of their towns have been abandoned by the decay and extinction of their inhabitants; that many of their relics have already perished and so made the study of American ethnology vastly more difficult; that the question of the origin of those Pueblos and the age of their decayed cities, and the use of some of their buildings, now magnificent ruins, constitute one of the leading and most interesting problems of the antiquary and historian of the present age; that relic-hunters have carried away, and scattered wide through America and Europe the remains of these extinct towns, thus making their historic study still more difficult, and, in some particulars, nearly impossible; that these extinct towns, the only monuments or interpreters of these mysterious races, are now daily plundered and destroyed in a most vandal way; that, for illustration, the ancient Spanish cathedral of Pecos, a building older than any now standing anywhere within the thirteen original States, and built two years before the founding of Boston, the metropolis of New England, is being despoiled by the robbery of its graves, while its timbers are used for campfires, sold to relic-hunters, and even used in the construction of stables.
Your memorialists therefore pray you honorable body that at least some of these extinct cites or pueblos, carefully selected, with the land reservations attached and dating mostly from the Spanish crown, of the year 1880, may be withheld form public sale and their antiquities and ruins be preserved, as they furnish invaluable data for the ethnological studies now engaging the attention of our most learned scientific, antiquarian, and historical students.
President of the New England Gen. Society
Corresponding Sec. of the New England
Historic Genealogical Society.22

Senator Hoar noted that not only this society but also the American Antiquarian Society and others in New England and elsewhere were now paying great attention to "this matter of ethnology," and spending large sums of researches in Yucatan, Mexico, and the western Territories. By reserving selected lands from public sale and protecting these antiquities from ruthless destruction, the Government could, at small cost, give much aid to their researches. He moved that the petition be referred to the Committee on Public Lands.

The issue was new in Congress, and in spite of the high character of the sponsors it received a reserved response from Senator Preston B. Plumb of Kansas, the recently designated chairman of the Senate Committee on Public Lands. Speaking on the floor of the Senate, even before his Committee had deliberated on the subject, Senator Plumb foresaw serious difficulties. He had visited Pecos, he said, and did not question its antiquity or the reported vandalism. But the southwestern country contained many similar ruins. It would be impossible for the government to protect them all. It would be better, he thought, for interested societies "to avail themselves of the license which now exists of going to the different localities and gathering up the relics, as I know has been done." He mentioned that such a party had been sent out from Philadelphia the previous year "and got some very significant relics," and that other expeditions had been sent out from Yale College. Furthermore, he said, "I have no doubt that there are today many curiosities under the control of tribes who have a right to the land...as sacred under the law as that of any man to his property, and which, by reason of their occupancy, will be preserved."23

The petition was nevertheless referred to Plumb's committee, where it quickly died. Many years were to pass, and much more vandalism and pot-hunting were to occur, before Congress was ready to act to stop it. But the presentation issue had been officially raised, and that was a significant first step.

Contents | Chapter 1 | Chapter 2



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