Excerpts from Capulin Volcano National
Monument An Administrative History
by Dr. Jon Hunner and Shirley G. Lail
The late 1800's were a time of change for public lands in the United States. Vast acquired lands, held by the U.S., underwent various transactions to re-establish them as private lands with private owners. 83 As with the Capulin Volcano region, homesteading, railroad acquisitions, and various commercial endeavors were common privatization methods throughout the United Sates. Mining, drilling, logging and other resource exploitations left many once pristine environments damaged and unusable. Resources were being wasted and beautiful landscapes destroyed. Capulin was not immune to these problems. ...a large pit from early cinder mining is visible at the base of Capulin Volcano...
These drastic changes in the one time seemingly endless frontier did not go unnoticed. Early environmentalists...advocated to set aside and preserve areas of public land, thereby preventing any further exploitation of these reserved lands. Other progressive conservationists... advocated managed use and protection of special public lands. 84 Despite their opposing stances of managed use versus protection with no use, conservationists worked together to withdraw some public lands... The conservation and withdrawal of lands around Capulin Volcano focused on saving a natural wonder and promoting tourism.
The withdrawals served as big news for the small communities surrounding Capulin. Inspector W.D. Harlan of the General Land Office made the local papers when he visited the volcano in December of 1890. 85 Approximately 1,900 acres in the region were being considered for withdrawal from public entry. In his letter to the General Land Office, Harlan stated that "Prof. Dana of Yale College, who is regarded as the best authority in this country on Volcanoes says that 'Capulin is the most perfect specimen of extinct volcanoes in North America'." 86 Harlan further explained in his letter that citizens of Folsom...wish to attract tourists to the natural curiosity by building a road to the top of the volcano. 87 John Noble, Secretary of the Department of the Interior, agreed... On January 16, 1891, the area considered important to the integrity of Capulin Mountain was withdrawn from "settlement, entry or other disposition under any of the public land laws until such time as Congress may see fit,"...
In 1906, the Antiquities Act passed ... This milestone legislation gave the President the power to set aside and protect any federal lands deemed historically or scientifically important. 90 ...President Woodrow Wilson also took advantage of the "Act for the Preservation of American Antiquities," and on August 9, 1916, he declared Capulin Mountain a National Monument. One local who took a special interest in the volcano was Jesse Jack, who along with husband William ran the Crow Foot Cattle Ranch. ... Mrs. Jack eventually became the first part time custodian of the volcano, beginning in 1916 and ending, unofficially, in 1921, when she asked Homer Farr to take her place. 96 ...
In 1907, twenty-two year old Homer Farr, born in Kansas in 1885, came to the town of Des Moines, N.M. His brother-in-law asked him to come out and help him run his Des Moines store. Homer eventually bought one hundred and sixty acres located where the town of Capulin currently exists. 100 He greatly admired Capulin Volcano and decided that he would work to preserve the volcano as well as bring in tourists and settlers to the community. He hoped to sell his land to settlers and profit while building a new community. Homer proved to be quite an entrepreneur, starting businesses, bringing in new residents, and promoting Capulin Mountain as a must see tourist attraction. Farr started a lumber business, served as post master, ran a newspaper, speculated in land sales and generally promoted the town of Capulin. According to historian Francis Stanly, he ultimately became the "one man Chamber of Commerce" for the town of Capulin. 101
Because of his interest in the volcano, Mrs. Jack eventually asked Mr. Farr if he would like to look after the monument once she resigned her position as custodian. In 1921, she asked Mr. Farr to unofficially take over her position. 102 Homer Farr accepted the unofficial position and would later, in 1923, become an official custodian of Capulin Mountain. Farr took great interest in the volcano for he saw the monument as a profitable park and tourist attraction. Farr officially served the National Park Service and Capulin Mountain National Monument, later to be renamed Capulin Volcano National Monument, from 1923 to 1955. ...
The fledgling monument of Capulin Mountain needed amenities for visitors and funding for caretaking. Mr. Farr believed that better access to the top of the volcano would bring more tourists to the monument while boosting the local economy. ... For many years, early visitors to the volcano would park their wagons at the base of the mountain and hike to the top. 109 This strenuous hike was difficult for many and impossible for some. In 1925, Farr asked Congressman John Morrow if he would plead his case in Washington and secure the funding he needed to build a road. Morrow acquired two thousand dollars for Farr to use at the monument. ...Farr used mules to drag weighted boards up the volcano to create a spiraled road to the top. On December 25, 1925, the road was finished and Mr. Farr drove the first car to the top. 111 ...
The road to the top of Capulin Mountain National Monument brought Farr a whole new set of funding problems. In order to keep the road open, retaining walls, drainage ditches, and other basic road maintenance funds were needed. The steep slope of the volcano caused continual cinder slides and threatened the integrity of the volcano. ...Thanks to President Roosevelt's New Deal, some relief was just around the bend for the volcano.
In March of 1933, Homer Farr wrote to the Director of the National Park Service, Horace M. Albright, requesting that Capulin Mountain National Monument be considered as a project for relief work under President Roosevelt's program. Farr explained: "There are thirty heads of families and ten single men who desire and really need relief and are more than willing to work for as little as $1.00 per day and their food or even less." 114 ...
By November of 1933, a Civil Works Project was approved for Capulin Mountain... The project employed Farr as foreman and twenty four other men. ... The men worked together to repair the road winding up Capulin Mountain, and to widen the parking area at the top. ...
Additional building was completed after Homer Farr retired in 1955. The crater rim shelter was built in 1955 and the first of the retaining walls along the road was completed in June, 1961. More retaining walls, trail rehabilitation, water, sewer and phone lines were planned and begun. By the end of 1963, the visitor center and two residences were complete. More retaining walls were built over the years, most recently in 1987 when the road was first paved as well. Capulin Mountain National Monument was changed to Capulin Volcano National Monument December 31, 1987.
83 Michael Bean and Melanie Roland, The Evolution of National Wildlife Law (Westport:Praeger Publishers, 1997) 340.
84 Michael Malone and Richard Etulain, The American West, A Twentieth Century History (Lincoln:University of Nebraska Press, 1990), 67-69.
85 Folsom Centennial Book Committee, Folsom Then and Now, 1888-1988 (Folsom:Centennial Book Committee, 1988), 113.
86 Inspector W.D. Harlan, to the Commissioner of the General Land Office, 14 December 1890. Typed Letter. Capulin Volcano National Monument Archives.
90 William Everhart, The National Park Service (New York:Praeger Publishers, 1972), 12.
96 Iris M. Boggs, "Capulin Mountain National Monument," Historical Binder, (Capulin, National park Service, Intermountain Support Office Archives, Santa Fe) 7.
100 Homer Farr, transcribed interview, 16 March 1971, (National Park Service, Capulin Volcano National Monument, 2002) 7-8. 101 Francis Stanley, The Capulin(New Mexico) Story, (Nazareth Texas:1970), 7.
109 Capulin Volcano National Monument Administrative Records, Area and Service History File H1417, 3.
111 Homer Farr to the Superintendent of Southwestern National Monuments, 17 March 1972. Hand Written Letter, Capulin Volcano National Monument Administrative Records, File H2017.
114 Homer Farr to the Director of the National Park Service, 23 March 1933. Typed Letter. National Archives and Records Administration, Denver, RG 79, File Box 57.
Last updated: February 24, 2015