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Chapter 5
The Temporary Protection of Ruins
Ronald F. Lee

Until the Antiquities Act was passed in 1906, the chief weapon available to the Federal Government for protecting antiquities on public land was the power to withdraw specific tracts from sale or entry for a temporary period. As the problem of protection grew and as complaints reached the General Land Office in steadily increasing numbers, this power was exercised more and more frequently. An early example was Frijoles Canyon in northern New Mexico.

Bandalier's unusual novel of Indian life in this region, called The Delight-Makers (1890), gave imaginary life to his earlier reports of "cavate" dwellings at the base of the walls in Frijoles and neighboring canyons and to the nearby pueblo ruins. Edgar L. Hewett began intensive studies of these antiquities about this time. Before long a proposal developed for a Pajarito National Park, to embrace many of these ancient dwellings and the country around them. By July 1900 the General Land Office had withdrawn a large area around Frijoles Canyon from entry, sale, settlement, or other disposal pending a determination of the advisability of setting the region apart as a national park.57

About this time a movement was started in Denver, Colorado, to save the celebrated cliff-dwellings of Mesa Verde. A group of ladies organized the Colorado Cliff-Dwellings Association and launched a vigorous and effective campaign to establish Mesa Verde as a national park. Not content to wait for federal action, as early as 1900 they succeeded in leasing from the Ute Indians, for $300 a year, a portion of the land where cliff-dwellings were situated, and began planning for the repair of roads and erection of a rest-house. Mrs. Gilbert McClurg became the unusually able and effective Regent of the Association and Mrs. W. S. Peabody a strong Vice-Regent.58 Whether the Colorado Cliff-Dwellings Association borrowed the title of Regent from the widely admired Mount Vernon Ladies Association of the Union is unknown, but it seems possible. Pending a determination of the advisability of establishing the area as a national park, the General Land Office, sometime before 1904, withdrew an extensive part of the Mesa Verde area from sale, entry, settlement, or other disposal. 59

On April 4, 1905, Secretary of the Interior Hitchcock finally withdrew critical portions of the lands in Chaco Canyon which Special Agent Holsinger had recommended in 1901 be protected. The official withdrawal embraced the section of land containing Pueblo Bonito, Chettro Kettle and Pueblo del Arroyo on which Richard Wetherill had already filed a homestead claim in 1900. Special Agent Frank Grygla of the General Land Office was sent to investigate the conflict between Wetherill's claim and the withdrawal. He found that Wetherill had constructed buildings worth five thousand dollars on his land, was raising sixty acres of corn, five of wheat, two of vegetables, and reportedly had five thousand sheep, two hundred horses, and four hundred chickens. Furthermore, Wetherill informed Grygla he would relinquish his rights to the three major ruins on his homestead to the Government.60 Under these circumstances, the General Land Office concluded that a cancellation of Wetherill's claim for fraudulent entry would be "difficult and probably unjust," and that there was some evidence that instead of excavating the ruins at this time Wetherill was protecting them.61 Final resolution of the conflict, however, awaited passage of the Antiquities Act the next year.

From 1897 to 1906 Binger Herman served as Commissioner of the General Land Office and approved important withdrawals. He was followed by W. A. Richards, Commissioner from 1903 to 1906, who was equally active in the cause of preservation. Richards' enlightened attitude is well expressed in a letter he wrote to Hewett on October 5, 1904:

This office fully appreciates the necessity for protecting these ruins and the importance of furthering in every way possible, researches in connection therewith which are undertaken for the benefit of recognized scientific and educational institutions, with a view to increasing the knowledge of such objects and aiding in the general advancement of archeological science; and it desires to aid all such efforts to the full extent of its power, while, at the same time, endeavoring to effectually protect the ruins and relics on the public lands from ruthless spoliation by parties plying a trade in such matters.62

Commissioner Richards went on to describe public lands withdrawals already made. In New Mexico, in addition to the Pajarito Cliff Dwellers area, withdrawals had been made in the Jemez Cliff Dwellers region and at El Morro, or Inscription Rock; in Arizona at Petrified Forest and Montezuma Castle; and in Colorado at Mesa Verde. Custodians had also been appointed for Casa Grande, Walnut Canyon, and Canyon del Muerto, all in Arizona, but there were no funds for others.

Many ruins were not on public lands but in forest reserves and therefore, although still under the jurisdiction of the commissioner of the General Land Office in 1904, subject to different land laws. Richards' letter to Hewett said he was issuing new instructions on the care and protection of the ruins to forest officers responsible for patrolling the forest reserves, especially where important prehistoric structures were known to be located -- for example, in the Gila River Forest Reserve, New Mexico, and the Black Mesa and San Francisco Mountains Forest Reserves in Arizona.63

Ruins on Indian Reservations presented still another problem. They were under Commissioner A. C. Toner of the Office of Indian Affairs. He also supported preservation objectives, however, and on October 22, 1904, he wrote Hewett that he was that day again instructing officials in charge of the various reservations -- particularly the Navajo, Moqui, and Hualapi -- "to use their best efforts to keep out intruders and relic hunters and to see that such remains of antiquity...are kept intact until such time as proper scientific investigation of the same can be had."64

The total effect of these combined measures was considerable. As Hewett saw it, even before general legislation was enacted a force of forest supervisors, rangers, special agents, Indian school superintendents and teachers, Indian agents, farmers, police, and the Indians themselves had been mobilized to protect the ruins from vandalism and unauthorized looting and to save them for scientific investigation.65

The early 1900's was a great period for applying scientific management to the public lands and forest reserves of the West. President Theodore Roosevelt, Gifford Pinchot, the father of American forestry, J. W. McGee, until 1902 Powell's principal assistant in the Bureau of American Ethnology, and their many followers envisioned that in the Roosevelt administration the basic policies and the management programs for western lands and waters would emanate from scientists and engineers rather than from legislators and politicians.66 Close collaboration between the General Land Office and Dr. Hewett bore out this concept. As Hewett wrote in Science in November 1904: "A system of governmental protection of archeological remains is manifestly an accomplished fact, as much so and after the same manner as is the protection of timber on public lands."67

Hewett's comparison of archeological sites with timber resources was significant. Beginning in 1891, timber resources on the public lands benefited from special legislation. In that year an amendment to the General Land Revision Act of 1891 granted the President authority to create permanent forest reserves by executive proclamation. By 1901, under this authority, 41 forest reserves had been set aside containing over 48 million acres. In his first year as President, Theodore Roosevelt created 13 new forests containing more than 15 million additional acres.68 Until 1905 these forest reservations were administered by the General Land Office. When the problem of permanently protecting selected prehistoric ruins on the public lands arose, it was natural for officials of this agency, who were familiar with timber protection procedures, to propose that the President be granted similar authority to create archaeological reservations, citing Congressional authority for forest reservations as a precedent.

But in their view the authority should go further than antiquities and include permanent protection of scenic and scientific resources on public lands as well. Interesting discoveries were constantly being made of caves, craters, mineral springs, unusual geological formations, and other scientific features that appeared to merit special protection by the nation. Bill after bill was introduced in Congress to set aside one or another such area as a public reservation, to be permanently protected for the public benefit. Because no other designation seemed as appropriate, these proposals usually called for establishing the feature as a national park. The General Land Office made investigations of many such proposals. For example, in his annual report for 1900, Commissioner Binger Hermann stated that in the year reports had been made on two groves of mammoth trees in California, Wind Cave in South Dakota, a petrified forest in Arizona, the proposed Pajarito National Park, and a proposed Shoshone Falls National Park. Some of these natural areas were temporarily protected by withdrawals -- Petrified Forest, for example. Others were the subject of special acts of Congress. In this manner Crater Lake became a national park in 1902, Wind Cave in 1903, Sullys Hill in 1904, and Platt in 1906. Meanwhile, the proposed establishment of Colorado Cliff Dwellings National Park, Colorado, and Pajarito National Park, New Mexico, were also pending before Congress. From 1900 to 1906 Commissioners Hermann and Richards of the General Land Office consistently recommended general legislation to authorize the President to establish prehistoric and scientific resources on the public lands as national parks just as he had already been granted authority to create forest reservations.69

Contents | Chapter 4 | Chapter 5 | Chapter 6



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