Edgar Lee Hewett and the Political Process

Hewett and the General Land Office

The General Land Office, one of the nation's oldest federal agencies, played an important role in the effort to protect antiquities. Established in 1812, it supervised the use and disposition of the huge federal landholdings until 1946, when it was combined with the Grazing Service to create the Bureau of Land Management (Muhn and Stuart 1988: 9, 31). At the turn of the century, Land office Commissioners Hermann (fig. f) and Richards (fig. g) were active protectors of the federal archaeological resources (Lee 1970: 39-46, pp. 219-23). William Afton [Alford] 1 Richards was a seasoned politician and an experienced land manager (Kallenbach and Kallenbach 1982: 591-92). He had worked as a government surveyor in Nebraska, Wyoming, and California [and Colorado] before becoming U.S. Surveyor [General] for Wyoming and he served one term as Governor of Wyoming Territory [State]. He had been Assistant Commissioner of the General Land Office for four years when he was appointed Commissioner in 1903 upon the resignation of his predecessor, Binger Hermann (Treese 1997: 1204). Hermann, a longtime member of the Oregon delegation to Congress where he was one of the original sponsors of the bill to create Crater Lake National Park, was a strong proponent of the "national park" approach to preservation. In 1900, when Secretary Hitchcock asked him to comment on the Dolliver and Shafroth bills, he prepared a substitute bill that gave the President power to establish national parks (Lee 1970: 52, p. 227). He used his annual reports to encourage passage of such legislation and Richards followed his lead (Claus 1945: 13-18). Hermann also made temporary withdrawals to protect both archaeological ruins and natural wonders, such as Pajarito Park and Petrified Forest. Richards made even greater use of temporary withdrawals. Both Hermann, contrary to the bad press caused by scandals during his administration (Frome 1992: 17; Pinchot 1947: 193-94; Robbins 1942: 338), and Richards were deeply concerned about archaeological conservation and used their positions most effectively in promoting the preservation of ruins in the Southwest (Rothman 1989: 163). The Commissioners made extensive use of temporary withdrawals because there was no hope that Congress would create many individual national parks. Their emphasis on the "national park" approach to legislation was necessary because the temporary withdrawal system depended for its success on some ultimate means of making the withdrawals permanent (Rothman 1989: 55).

When Richards became Commissioner in 1903, he noted that repeated requests for legislation from the General Land Office and the Secretary of the Interior were not getting the desired results in Congress. He saw also that the several bills then before Congress in Lee's "Round Two" (1902-1904) were getting the same kind of treatment as those in "Round One" (1899-1900) and for the same reason (Lee 1970: 52, 57, pp. 227, 230). The traditional reluctance of Congress to chose between competing bills of similar intent, but involving conflicting approaches, was alive and well, so much so that Richards could see little hope for action on the competing bills then before the Congress. He realized that his office had to become more proactive and that he needed the opinions of credible experts outside the General Land Office to back up his recommendations. On August 14, 1904, he received a request from the Acting Secretary of the Interior seeking comments on the Lodge-Rodenberg and other bills (Claus 1945: 16).

Hewett was barely off the boat when Richards requested that he prepare a report on the archaeological resources in the Southwest. Six weeks later, on September 3, 1904, Hewett submitted to Richards his celebrated Memorandum Concerning the Historic and Prehistoric Ruins of Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Utah, and Their Preservation (Hewett 1904c). Hewett also provided Richards with an assessment of the various bills before the Congress, including Lodge-Rodenberg, in a letter dated September 14, 1904 (Claus 1945: 15-16). He was highly critical of Lodge-Rodenberg (Rothman 1989: 44-45). Richards transmitted Hewett's Memorandum to Secretary of the Interior Hitchcock on October 1, 1904, with a general endorsement of Hewett's views. He also used Hewett's "comprehensive statement" extensively in his annual report for 1904 (Claus 1945: 18). Hewett was able to complete his Memorandum in such short order because his doctoral research also involved an overview of Southwestern archaeology (Schroeder 1993: xi-xii, xvi) and because he received a great deal of assistance, both official and unofficial, from colleagues in Washington (Hewett 1904b: 722-23; 1904c: 4, 10; 1905c: 596). That assistance gave credibility to his report and helped to document the existence of a new approach to securing antiquities legislation. Hewett's Memorandum was given wide distribution with the financial assistance of the Committee on American Archaeology of the Archaeological Institute of America (Bowditch 1905: 42).

The pamphlet printed with this AIA subvention (Hewett 1904c) included illustrations of ruins and letters from officials of several government agencies documenting steps taken to implement Hewett's recommendations (also in Hewett 1904b). The inclusion of this material gave Hewett an opportunity to show the Congress that at least part of the solution to the archaeological problem was already being carried out successfully by the appropriate government agencies. The nature of these letters and the speed with which they were published indicate that Richards and Hewett had already worked out a plan of action (Ise 1961: 148). The first letter in the sequence is dated October 5, 1904, and the last, November 19. The entire sequence was published in Science on November 25 and was included as an addendum to the reprint of Hewett's Memorandum. During the following year Hewett (1905a, 1905c) presented similar information many times, in talks to organizations such as the American Scenic and Historic Preservation Society, as well as in print. Richards' request, Hewett's prompt response, and the immediate wide distribution of his report had the short-term goal of influencing the Congress in the upcoming final consideration of the Lodge-Rodenberg bill. Richards also saw these actions as the first steps in establishing a more proactive position for the General Land Office in what he realized could be a very lengthy political effort. As it turned out, Hewett's report also played a critical role in identifying possible national monuments after the passage of the Antiquities Act a year and a half later. Fowler and Wilcox (1999: 218) point out that in addition to outlining "the scope and nature of ruins in the region," Hewett did "no less than formulate a national policy for the protection of archaeological sites."

Important as Hewett's Memorandum was, it had its limitations. It was, after all, a purposely brief administrative document designed to highlight the magnitude of the problem, to support the preservation efforts of the General Land Office, and to urge the Congress to take action that would permanently preserve the ruins. It could not include detailed definitions of the Southwest and its archaeological resources, thorough discussions of the problems, and careful reviews of the reasons for the recommendations. Therefore, Hewett published almost immediately a more extended treatment of the material in the Memorandum in a paper, "General View of the Archaeology of the Pueblo Region," that provided additional insights into his thinking (Hewett 1905c).

1 Corrections in [brackets] are made to the original text. Courtesy of Lucia McCreery, November 2006.