Ross Maxwell: The first superintendent

Ross Maxwell, 1943
Ross Maxwell, 1943

NPS Historic Photograph Collection

The First Superintendent

Ross Maxwell (1904–1993) served as the first superintendent of Big Bend National Park, from the establishment of the park in 1944 through 1952.

Born near Sparks, Oklahoma on June 9, 1904, Ross Maxwell attended the University of Oklahoma and earned two degrees there. He received a Ph.D. in geology from Northwestern University in 1936, and later that year moved to the Big Bend to participate in a geological survey of the region for the National Park Service. Following the closure of the CCC camp in Big Bend in 1937, Maxwell worked at National Monument sites in Arizona.

Well versed with the area, Maxwell was seen as a logical choice to serve as the first superintendent of Big Bend. When he arrived on the job in July 1945, he supervised four employees and had an annual operating budget of $15,000. In the words of his successor, Maxwell presided over "the real rough-and-tumble beginnings of park establishment." At the time, the park had no paved roads, no electricity, and the nearest telephone was 100 miles away. While superintendent, Maxwell laid out the route of the road today named in his honor to highlight the more spectacular geologic features on the west side of the park.

After leaving the National Park Service in 1952, Maxwell taught at the University of Texas until his retirement. Until the end of his life Maxwell maintained a relationship with the Big Bend, and is remembered for his vocal support for the region.


To Learn More

  • Maxwell, Ross A. The Big Bend of the Rio Grande; A Guide to the Rocks, Landscape, Geologic History, and Settlers of the area of Big Bend National Park. Austin, University of Texas, 1968.
  • Maxwell, Ross A. Big Bend country: A History of Big Bend National Park. Big Bend National Park, TX: Big Bend Natural History Association, 1985.
  • Welsh, Michael. Landscape of Ghosts, River of Dreams: An Administrative History of Big Bend National Park. National Park Service, 2002.
  • Lassiter, Berta Clarke. We Come and Go: A Handbook for the Big Bend National Park. San Antonio, TX: The Naylor Co., 1949.
Ross Maxwell in Big Bend, probably 1978.
Ross Maxwell in Big Bend, 1980s.

NPS/Big Bend National Park

Last updated: September 18, 2017

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PO Box 129
Big Bend National Park, TX 79834-0129



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