Creating Mesa Verde National Park and Chartering the Archeological Institute, 1906

From 1900 to 1906, while the provisions of the Antiquities Act were being worked out, two other major proposals were also before Congress to establish large areas of public lands containing many ancient ruins as national parks.

The first was the proposed Colorado Cliff Dwellings or Mesa Verde National Park in southwestern Colorado. Interest in this area of spectacular cliff dwellings and canyons had been continuous since the December days in 1888 when Richard Wetherill and Charles Mason stumbled onto Cliff Palace and Spruce Tree House while pursuing their cattle. As early as 1891, the General Assembly of Colorado petitioned Congress for establishment of part of the Southern Ute Indian Reservation as a National Park to embrace the Mesa Verde ruins. In 1894 "sundry citizens of Colorado" again petitioned Congress for the same purpose.126 By 1900 Mrs. Gilbert McClurg and Mrs. W. S. Peabody of Denver had organized the Colorado Cliff Dwellings Association and begun to work with scientists and Congressmen for a park bill. On February 22, 1901, Representative John F. Shafroth of Colorado introduced H.R.14262 to create the Colorado Cliff Dwellings National Park, which he reintroduced in the next two Congresses. Progress finally began to be made in 1905 when Representative H. M. Hogg of nearby Cortez, Colorado, introduced H.R.5998 to create the Mesa Verde National Park.127

One of the main obstacles to the park was the fact that some of the most important cliff dwellings, including Cliff Palace, were not on public land, but within the Southern Ute Indian Reservation. In the spring of 1906 a survey was made by the Bureau of American Ethnology, with the help of Edgar Lee Hewett, to fix the park boundaries. Hewett accompanied the surveyors and identified the ruins to be included.128 As thus described, the proposed Mesa Verde park comprised a strip of land along the Mancos River fourteen and a half miles long and several miles wide, embracing a total area exceeding sixty-five square miles. Concerned over important omissions from the park proposal, Hewett wrote Commissioner Francis E. Leupp of the Office of Indian Affairs and suggested an amendment to Hogg's bill providing that all prehistoric ruins situated on Indian lands within five miles of the boundaries of Mesa Verde National Park also be included within the jurisdiction of its officers for administrative purposes. This strip contained an additional 274 square miles. The amendment was promptly accepted by the House Public Lands Committee.129 As Hewett wrote, "This secures what has been so much desired by all namely the inclusion of all the great Mesa Verde and Mancos Canyon ruins within the National Park."130

Impressive support for a Mesa Verde National Park poured in from all over the country. On January 11, 1905, in a public hearing, the many proponents of general antiquities legislation from Boston, New York, Washington, and other eastern cities went on record with Representative Lacey's committee in favor of the Mesa Verde proposal. Westerners were also prominent in their endorsement, including Governor Jesse F. McDonald of Colorado, the Nebraska Academy of Sciences, the Iowa Anthropological Association, the Davenport Academy of Sciences, the Pueblo (Colorado) Business Men's Association, the Colorado Equal Suffrage Association, the Colorado State Horticultural Society, and the Colorado State Forestry Association.131

On June 15 the House Committee on Public Lands reported the Mesa Verde National Park bill favorably, and eight days later it had passed both the House and Senate. It was signed by President Roosevelt on June 30, only twenty-two days after he approved the Antiquities Act.

Just why Mesa Verde was given special treatment as a national park instead of being scheduled for preservation as a national monument under the Antiquities Act is not clear. The proposed area may have been thought too large to be made a national monument. Its Colorado sponsors may also have insisted on national park status. In any event Mesa Verde was established as a "national park" in 1906 in the same sense that Chickamauga Battlefield was made a "national park" in 1890 and Gettysburg Battlefield in 1895. The Mesa Verde act did not refer to "the preservation of all timber, mineral deposits, natural curiosities, or wonders... and their retention in their natural condition," as did the acts for Yellowstone (1872), Sequoia, Yosemite (1890), and Mount Rainier (1899). Instead, in authorizing the Secretary of the Interior to prescribe rules and regulations for Mesa Verde, the law provided that "such regulations shall provide specifically for the preservation from injury or spoliation of the ruins and other works and relics of prehistoric or primitive man within said park, and, as far as possible, for the restoration of said ruins."132 The law also authorized the Secretary to issue permits to qualified persons for excavations. Mesa Verde National Park is essentially one of the historical units in the National Trust System.

Commenting in the fall of 1906 on the passage of this act, Dr. Francis W. Kelsey, classicist and archaeologist of the University of Michigan, soon to be elected president of the Archaeological Institute of America, wrote: "In the next session of Congress provision will undoubtedly be made for the care of the Park...Perhaps in the future a special bureau will be organized for the care of the national parks outside of Washington; it would seem as if much might be gained in both efficiency and economy of administration by placing them all under one management."133

Also between 1900 and 1906, a large area in northern New Mexico containing numerous Indian ruins was proposed as the Pajarito National Park, to embrace Frijoles, Pajarito, and five other canyons carved in a great volcanic plateau. The cavate dwellings along the base of the canyon walls, and the pueblo-like ruins on the canyon floors, had been described by Bandelier in the 1880's and 1890's. Here too was the setting for his unusual novel, The Delight Makers. It is remarkable that as early as 1888, Representative Holman of Indiana introduced a bill to establish this region as a public reservation "for the preservation from injury or spoliation of all natural and archaeological curiosities."134 In the 1890's Edgar Lee Hewett began careful studies of the ruins, an undertaking facilitated by his appointment as president of New Mexico Normal University. In 1899 the General Land Office made its own study of possible protective measures. On December 4 "Detailed Clerk" James D. Mankin submitted a report proposing the establishment of a 153,000-acre complex, containing cliff dwellings, large communal houses, defensive outposts, boulder-marked sites, and burial mounds and crypts, as the Pajarito National Park, named for Parjario Canyon. Mankin's report emphasized the large number of ruins, stating that one could see "from a single eminence on the Pajarito the doors of more than two thousand of these [cave] dwellings" which, "if arranged in a continuous series...would form an unbroken line...not less than sixty miles in length."135

On July 31, 1900, on the basis of Mankin's report, Commissioner Binger Hermann temporarily withdrew 153,000 acres of public lands in the region from sale, entry, or settlement pending Congressional consideration of the national park proposal.136 On December 8 Secretary Hitchcock sent the proposal to Representative Lacey with a draft of a bill, which Lacey promptly introduced. After adding an amendment allowing the Secretary to permit grazing, since there were indications of "excellent grama grass" in some parts of the area, as well as "heavy growth of pine, spruce, and fir" the bill was reported favorably by the House Public Lands Committed on January 23, 1901.137 But no further action was taken then.

Meanwhile, the Bureau of Forestry in the Department of Agriculture became interested in the timber resources of the region and arranged in 1903 for S. J. Holsinger to study the proposal in the field. His report, sent to the House Committee in 1904, supported deletion of the timber resources from the park proposal and their addition to a proposed Jemez Forest Reserve. This and other adjustments that Holsinger supported reduced the area of the proposed national park from some 240 square miles to less than 55.138 The Santa Clara Indians, with whom Holsinger met, also needed more land. On July 29, 1905, President Roosevelt transferred some 47 square miles, including much of the remaining area of the proposed park, to the Santa Clara Indians. This action killed the National Park, for the land thus transferred, wrote Hewett, "embrace all the great Puye and Santa Clara group of cliff dwellings, the principal center of interest in the proposed Pajarito National Park." He added that "there can be no question of the justice of this extension," but regretted that some of the better timber and grazing land had not been offered the Indians instead of this great group of prehistoric ruins.139 Although Lacey reported that amended bill favorably in 1905, no action was taken by Congress. Eleven years later, on February 11, 1916, President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed much of this area, some 35 square miles of the Santa Fe National Forest, as the Bandelier National Monument. It was administered by the Department of Agriculture until 1933.

A final archaeological measure enacted by Congress in 1906 concerned the Archaeological Institute of America. Formed in Boston in 1879 as a voluntary association, it had grown to include twenty-one chapters in all parts of the country. By 1906 its officers considered that the time had come to seek to incorporate the Institute formally by Act of Congress. A bill was prepared entitled "An Act Incorporating the Archaeological Institute of America" whose purpose was stated to be "promoting archaeological studies by investigation and research in the United States and foreign countries by sending out expeditions for special investigation, by aiding the efforts of independent explorers, by publication of archaeological papers...and by any other means which may from time to time be desirable."140 This bill was sponsored in the House by Representative Nicholas Longworth and in the Senate by Senator Henry Cabot Lodge. It passed the Senate April 6, the House May 21, and was signed by President Roosevelt on May 26. By granting this charter in 1906, Congress recognized the importance of citizen participation in archaeological programs in much the same way that in 1949 it recognized the importance of citizen participation in the entire historic preservation movement by granting a Congressional charter to the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

A whole generation of dedicated effort by scholars, citizens, and members of Congress, which had begun in 1879, culminated in 1906 with the passage by Congress of three important measures to advance archaeology -- the Antiquities Act, Mesa Verde National Park, and a charter for the Archaeological Institute of America. More important, this generation, through its explorations, publications, exhibits, and other activities, awakened the American people to a lasting consciousness o of the value of American antiquities, prehistoric and historic. This public understanding, achieved only after persistent effort in the face of much ignorance, vandalism and indifference, was a necessary foundation for many subsequent conservation achievements. Among them were several of great importance to the future National Park System, including the establishment of many national monuments, development of a substantial educational program for visitors, and eventually the execution of a far-reaching nationwide program to salvage irreplaceable archaeological objects threatened with inundation or destruction by dams and other public works and their preservation for the American people.


126. Rogers, House Vol. 58, Part I, p.1.

127. Ibid., Appendix A, for H.R.5998.

128. Francis W. Kelsey, "Recent Archaeological Legislation," Records of the Past, V (1906), p. 341.

129. Mesa Verde National Park, House Rep. No. 4944, 59th Cong., 1st Sess. (1906), pp. 1-2.

130. American Anthropologist, N.S., IX (1907), 233.

131. House Rep. No. 4944, 59th Cong., 1st Sess., pp. 1-5. See also Senate Rep. No 1423, 59th Cong., 1st Sess, (1906), pp. 1-3.

132. U.S., Department of the Interior, Laws Relating to the National park Service, The National Parks and Monuments, comp. Hillory A. Tolson (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1933) for enabling acts for all these national parks.

133. Records of the Past, V (1906), 342.

134. Rogers, VI, Appendix A.

135. Cliff Dweller's National Park, House Report, No., 2427, 56th Cong., 2d Sess. (1901), p.2.

136. Rogers, Vol. VI, Appendix C.

137. House Rep. No. 2427, 56th Cong., 2d Sess., p. 2.

138. The Pajarito Cliff Dwellers' National Park, House Rep. No. 3705, 58th Cong. 3d Sess. (1905), pp. 2-6.

139. American Anthropologist, N.S. VII (1905), 570.

140. American Journal of Archaeology, Second Series, X (1906), 174-75.

Part of a series of articles titled The Antiquities Act of 1906.

Last updated: March 6, 2023