Agate Fossil Beds
Administrative History
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The Solicitor Opines for the Park Service, 1971

Actually, the official request for a Solicitor's opinion did not leave the Midwest Regional Office until March 12, [6] but a speedy, unofficial opinion by Regional Solicitor Palmer King on March 17 favored the National Park Service. [7] On April 2, the Service conveyed the Solicitor's opinion to Robert Simmons. Solicitor King noted that settlement of the Cook Estate which conveyed title of the Cook Collection to the Service was done without "any contest of the will or any opposition on the part of the daughters to the distribution of the items of personal property":

The "Receipt and Record" signed by Mary E. Graham on June 16, 1916, and witnessed by Harold J. Cook in my opinion is without legal significance. The recitations in the document are simply a self-serving statement by Mrs. Graham, the purported recipient of the property, that she had conveyed certain land to James H. Cook (Captain Cook) and in return he had sold and transferred his collections to her. To have any significance, the document should have been signed by Captain Cook as the seller of the property rather than by the purported buyer.

Thus, there is no evidence that Captain Cook was ever a party to any such agreement, and there is no evidence that the collections were ever delivered into the possession of Mrs. Graham by Captain Cook, or that Captain Cook ever regarded his collections as belonging to anyone other than himself. The collections remained in Captain Cook's home, in his possession, and in his apparent ownership until his death in 1942.

As for the "Donation" to the

Cook Museum of Natural History dated September 24, 1931, signed by Mary E. Graham and witnessed by Harold J. Cook, John F. Cook, and Margaret C. Cook, it is my opinion it is likewise of no legal consequence. In light of the lack of legal significance of the 1916 instrument, I find no evidence that Mrs. Graham had legal ownership of the collections and thereby authority to make a donation of the collections. Here again, Captain James Cook did not witness or sign the instrument nor is there any evidence showing that he even had knowledge of its existence. In any event, it is questionable in several respects whether this instrument meets the legal requirements for the establishment of a valid trust, or whether, if a trust did result, it survived after the death of Captain and Harold Cook. As for the daughters' recent recollection of Harold Cook's statement that they were to be trustees, there is no such provision in the 1931 document for appointment of successor trustees in any such manner, and thus no basis that would give them standing to demand that the property be returned to Agate Ranch and placed in their custody.

I can readily understand the interest of the daughters in the collections, but I am sure that you also understand that Government employees have no authority to surrender property in their possession where title has been decreed to be in the Government except upon the clearest evidence showing that the decree of the Court conferring title was void. As stated above, it is my opinion that no persuasive facts, documents or other evidence have been presented that would cast any substantial doubt on the Government's rightful ownership of the property. [8]

With the firm Solicitor's opinion, Rouse reactivated curatorial plans for the Cook Collection. From April 20 to 23, Vera Craig, Harpers Ferry Center Curator; Paul Magyar, seasonal curator; and Roy Weaver were at Fort Larned to inspect storage facilities and assess needs. They found the collection scattered in four separate buildings: North Officers' Quarters (HS-09), Quartermaster Storehouse (HS-06), New Commissary Storehouse (HS-04), and South Officers' Quarters (HS-07). [9]

While the dispersal of the collection at Fort Larned caused Rouse much concern, he postponed any immediate action. The 1971 visitor season began for both park areas under his care. Two clean-up programs were undertaken at Agate Fossil Beds. The first was accomplished on April 3, when a local Boy Scouts of America troop cleaned out two garbage dumps along the banks of the Niobrara. The effort came about as part of a nationwide cooperative agreement between the Park Service's Save Our American Resources (SOAR) and the Boy Scouts' Conservation Good Turn programs. [10] The second project in mid-July involved hazardous rock removal from Carnegie Hill. Jack Gartner, an explosives expert from Rocky Mountain National Park, successfully applied his talent to a dangerous rock overhang on Carnegie Hill to prevent potential visitor injuries and large tort claims. [11] The work resulted from a major June 9 rockslide which missed the glass exhibit cases, but smashed the seating bench for visitors. [12]

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Last Updated: 12-Feb-2003