History of Badlands National Monument
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Stimulated in part by various individuals and groups, the South Dakota Legislature in 1909 petitioned the federal government to establish a township of Badlands as a national park. As read before both houses of Congress on March 16, 1909, the petition stated in part:

Whereas there is a small section of country about the headwaters of the White River in South Dakota where nature has carved the surface of the earth into most unique and interesting forms, and has exposed to an extent perhaps not elsewhere found; and

Whereas this formation is so unique, picturesque, and valuable for the purpose of study that a portion of it should be retained in its native state . . . [69]

However, no legislation was introduced on the proposal until more than a decade later.

A 1919 report by the U.S. Forest Service recommended that the Badlands area be set aside as a national park. The report also recorded considerable tourist travel to the Badlands. "The travel this year was several hundred times greater than in any former year . . . Many visitors came over state route 40 (the Washington Highway) which connects the towns of Interior and Scenic with Rapid City. This road was under construction in 1919 and followed, more or less, the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul Railroad. Visitors also came on passenger trains. [70]

However, accessibility to the scenic sections of the Badlands Wall from the Washington Highway were already being closed in 1919 by the construction of fences, except for a few low passes in the wall where side roads had been constructed. The Washington Highway and the railroad are both located two to six miles from the most picturesque Badlands features. The same report recommended that a road be built "along the course of the scenic points of interest" and that campgrounds should be constructed "at well chosen camp sites." [71] (Such a road was completed 16 years later by the State of South Dakota; see page 43).

While other individuals and organizations played an important part in the establishment of Badlands National Monument, Senator Peter Norbeck deserves more credit than any other legislator. Norbeck was born on a farm in Clay County in southeastern South Dakota, August 27, 1870, and was the son of a member of the 1871 Dakota Territorial Legislature. His public career began when he was elected to the state senate in 1908 and he served there until 1915. In 1914 Norbeck was voted lieutenant-governor of the state, and was elected governor in 1916 and 1918. His achievements as governor were many, including the founding of a state-enterprise program designed to help farmers. Another of his great accomplishments was the establishment of Custer State Park.

In 1920 Norbeck was elected to the United States Senate where he served continuously until his death in 1936. Although his chief interest was in farm-relief legislation, he was instrumental in passing the Migratory Bird Act of 1929 and in securing federal funds for the carving of Mount Rushmore National Memorial. [72]

South Dakota's congressmen, William Williamson from Oacoma and Charles A. Christopherson from Sioux Falls, assisted Norbeck by their work in the U.S. House of Representatives. Christopherson's services in the House began in 1919, Williamson's in 1921. [73]

road through Cedar Pass
Figure 13. EARLY ROAD THROUGH CEDAR PASS, 1908 or earlier.

On May 2, 1922, during the second session of the 67th Congress, Senator Norbeck introduced the first bill (S. 3541) for making the Badlands area a national park. Entitled "A bill to establish the Wonderland National Park in the State of South Dakota," it proposed to set aside and withdraw from entry "all public lands lying and being within townships two and three south, ranges fifteen and sixteen east of the Black Hills meridian, and township three south, ranges seventeen, eighteen, and nineteen east of the Black Hills meridian." [74] The proposal provided that the Secretary of the Interior might add to the park from time to time any lands which may be donated to the United States for such purposes. It also stated that the Secretary of the Interior may authorize exchange of non-federal lands in the park for certain public lands of equal value outside the park. Finally, the bill provided that a sum not exceeding $5,000 annually be appropriated by Congress for the maintenance and improvement of the park, if the State of South Dakota made an equal contribution. After the bill was read, it was referred to the Committee of Public Lands and Surveys. [75]

On the same day, Congressman Williamson introduced a bill (H.R. 11514) in the House of Representatives, identical to the first one submitted by Norbeck in the Senate. This bill was referred to the Committee on the Public Lands and ordered to be printed. [76] No further action was taken on either the Norbeck or Williamson bills in the 67th Congress.

However, in October 1922 President Harding issued an executive order temporarily withdrawing all public lands in the seven townships to be included in the proposed park for the purpose of classifying them "pending enactment of appropriate legislation." [77] The total area within the seven townships was about 161,000 acres, of which 35,410 were classified as vacant. [78]

On March 3, 1923, Congressmen Christopherson and Williamson presented memorials from "the Legislature of the State of South Dakota urging Congress to set aside the Bad Lands as a national park ..." [79]

In December 1923, in the 68th Congress, Williamson again introduced a bill (H.R. 2810) to establish Wonderland National Park. This proposal was identical to the one he and Norbeck introduced in the preceding Congress. [80] Like the earlier bill it, too, died in committee.

If the Norbeck papers, now at the University of South Dakota, are any indication of the public support the Senator received for his park proposal, only a few people in the early 1920's shared his views. Attorney General Byron S. Payne of South Dakota, Professor W.C. Toepelman of the University of South Dakota Geology Department, and W.H. Tompkins of the U.S. Land Office in Rapid City, all endorsed the Wonderland National Park proposal. [81] However, at that time the highways were relatively undeveloped. The automobile industry and tourism were both in their infancies. It was to take nearly another decade to gain the support of local and state chambers of commerce and other promotional groups for national parks and monuments.

It appears that the National Park Service did not give Norbeck encouragement for his idea of a national park in the Badlands. In a letter to a constituent in May 1924, the Senator wrote:

. . . regarding the Bad Lands National Park, [I] will state that the Park Service here will not approve a bill of that kind, — and therefore, we can not secure the legislation. They are, however, willing to approve the plan of having it designated by the President as a "National Monument". In practice, this means nearly the same thing, so Congressman Williamson and I have come to an agreement that we are going to accept that plan and work it out that way. [82]

Nevertheless, Norbeck continued to work for a national park instead of a national monument.

To insure that he would include the most scenic parts of the region in the proposed park, Norbeck made frequent trips there. In answer to a constituent's letter, he wrote in November 1927, "I have visited the Bad Lands every year for sixteen years. A year ago I spent four or five days in them and this year I have made five trips into that area." [84] During 1927 a number of eastern newspapers carried photographs of the Badlands in their Sunday photo sections. [85]

Vampire Peak
Figure 14. VAMPIRE PEAK, 1930's. Located near the present national monument visitor center, the peak has since lost its spires to erosion. According to local tradition the presence of bats around the formation caused J.I. Peterkin, a traveling artist, to give it this name around 1915. [83]

In the late 1920's Badlands visitors who arrived from the east via Kadoka or Cottonwood probably used Cedar Pass. The narrow and precipitous route through Cedar Pass was aptly described by one of those early visitors:

The passes become more crooked and the grades more steep. The road is bordered by profuse scrub cedar trees. There is a thrill in that drive! At first it looks dangerous, but the danger seems to minimize as we approach each more steep and more crooked and more narrow section. By taking it slowly the risk is small. [86]

The route passed the new Cedar Pass Camp (now Cedar Pass Lodge) and took visitors to the railroad town of Interior where they may have spent some time at Palmer's Curio shop and at Henry Thompson's souvenir stand which he called "The Wonderland." From Interior visitors traveled west over the Washington Highway to the railroad town of Scenic. In the late 1920's the Museum Filling Station in Scenic was widely known for its collection of Badlands fossils and Indian artifacts. They also provided guide services to visitors desiring to see Badlands features located off the road. Rapid City was reached by traveling northwest over 45 miles of good dirt road — except during rains. [87]

Support for the park proposal grew in the late 1920's. In October 1927 the Wonderland Hiway Association, in a letter to Senator Norbeck, wrote:

At a meeting of the Wonderland Hiway Association, an orgization [sic] comprising the business men and local residenters [sic] of the Towns through the Bad Lands, It was resolved;

That the Association would ask and petition the State Hiway Commission . . . for a State Hiway, Starting from Kadoka, West over Cedar Pass to Interior, S. Dak. West through The Bad Lands to Scenic over Hiway #40 and from Scenic to Hermosa, S. Dak., Providing a sutable [sic] location can be found. [88]

The State Highway Commission gave the proposal its wholehearted support. [89]

The National Park Service, however, continued to oppose the area as a national park on two grounds. For one thing much of the land was in private ownership. Senator Norbeck explained in a 1927 letter:

The Park program is not as easy as it seems on account of so much of the land having gone into Private ownership. The Federal Government will not purchase land for park purposes. They never have. The State must and that will come slow. [90]

In the second place, the National Park Service believed that the area was more suitable as a national monument. The Senator continued in the same letter:

The Park Service is opposed to making it a National Park as they try to limit the Parks to the areas that are principally recreational. They would favor a plan to make the Bad Lands a "National Monument." [91]

Despite the objections of the Service to the Senator's park proposal, Norbeck's continued desire for a national park in the Badlands was stated in a letter written in November 1927 to Hubert Work, Secretary of the Interior:

The Congressional delegation from this state will be united in an effort to create a Bad Lands National Park in South Dakota. If this is impossible they will desire to have certain areas set aside as national monuments. [92]

Peter Norbeck
Figure 15. SENATOR PETER NORBECK (1870 - 1936)

In April 1928 Norbeck wrote Representative Williamson asking him to help draft a bill for the park. The first part of the bill, Norbeck indicated, would "include the Badlands Wall proper, from a point about 4 miles east of Interior to a point 12 or 14 miles southwest of Wall." [93] The establishment of the park would be contingent on the building of a road by the State through the proposed area and the State acquiring 90 percent of the privately owned lands within it. The second part of the bill would authorize a national monument which would include Sheep Mountain and the surrounding area, some six to seven miles southwest of Scenic. The authorization of this area would be conditional upon the construction of a highway from Scenic to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation and acquisition of the lands within the proposed monument by the State of South Dakota. The third portion of the bill would authorize the abandonment of Wind Cave National Park! [94]

The bills as finally presented to Congress by Norbeck and Williamson were somewhat different from the one which the Senator planned.

During the first session of the 70th Congress, Norbeck and Williamson introduced identical legislation in their respective houses on May 8, 1928, to set aside the Badlands as a national park. Norbeck introduced S. 4385, "A Bill To establish Teton National Park in the State of South Dakota . . . " The bill authorized the Secretary of the Interior, through negotiation, to exchange privately owned lands within the proposed park for public lands of equal value outside. The bill contained a provision that when 90 percent of the privately owned lands within the proposed area had been acquired without expense to the federal treasury and transferred to the government for park purposes, the park would be set aside for the people, " . . . Provided, That the State of South Dakota shall have first constructed" approximately 40 miles of suitable road to specified points inside and outside the proposed park. [95]

Norbeck's bill was referred to the Committee on Public Lands and Surveys. On May 19 the bill was reported out without amendment. The accompanying report (No. 1246) gave a strong endorsement to the proposal. [96] On May 23, the bill was considered as in Committee of the Whole and passed the Senate. [97]

However, in the House where Williamson had introduced an identical bill (H.R. 13618), the park proposal ran into trouble. In a circular letter dated November 7, 1928, the National Parks Association claimed that the proposed Teton National Park had not been examined for standards by the National Park Service before the Senate acted on the proposal and that the bill was hurried through that body. Asserting that the proposed area was reported below standard by the National Park Service, the association charged:

Neither of these Senators [Norbeck and Nye], nor the Public Lands Committee which reported the bill and resolution, nor the Senate sessions which carelessly passed them, discussed the national aspects of this legislation. They did not consider the plan and standards of the national system which Congress had been building unit by unit, each painstakingly chosen, since 1872. They ignored the half century Congressional custom of awaiting the report of the Interior Department, to which Congress had entrusted the System's shaping from the beginning. They ignored the American people's enthusiastic interest in the plan and purpose of this unique world-famous institution, and its insistence in recent years upon park selection by the expert National Park Service . . . .

Thoughtlessness, apparently, but in practice this amounts to localism defying national aspirations. It seriously threatens national park standards. [98]

In a letter to Robert S. Yard, Executive Secretary of the association, Senator Norbeck accused the association of sending out a misleading report:

You criticise me for introducing and securing action in the Senate on a bill fifteen days after it was introduced and especially in view of the fact that it had not been investigated by the National Park Service.

You could truthfully have said that this legislation has been pending for a great many years—at least five years.

You could also have said that I have been trying all these years to get the Park Service to investigate the proposed area.

You could also have added that the Government land in this area was withdrawn by Presidential Proclamation many years ago in anticipation of park legislation. Why carry the idea that it was all a fifteen day affair when it is all of five years? It would be a hard rule to apply that the failure of the Park Service to investigate an important project should preclude a member of Congress from taking any action whatever . . . .

You also state that the project has been investigated by the Park Service and reported adversely. It is an astonishing fact that the knowledge of such reports should be withheld from me. Therefore, I doubt very much that any report has been made. I therefore wired the Park Service, asking who made the report and when. I have no response. [99]

Acting Director Arthur E. Demaray of the National Park Service, meanwhile, wrote Norbeck advising him that the Service had never prepared an official report on the park proposal and that the statement by the association that the proposed park was "reported below standard by the National Park Service" was without authority. [100]

Ben Millard
Figure 16. BEN MILLARD (1872 - 1956)

In the House of Representatives where the proposal was considered in the second session, the bill (S. 4385) underwent substantial revision. After being considered by the Committee on the Public Lands, it was reported out with amendments on February 19, 1929. [101] The revised bill changed the boundary of the proposed area, reducing it from 69,120 acres to about 50,760 acres [102] (50,830 acres according to another source [103]). The name was changed from Teton National Park to Badlands National Monument. It modified the requirements for the road which the state had to construct from 40 miles to 30 miles of total length. The requirement that 90 percent of the privately owned lands had to be acquired before the park could be established was dropped. Instead, it was now at the discretion of the Secretary of the Interior to decide when enough privately owned lands within the proposed boundary had been purchased so that the area could be proclaimed a national monument by the President. As before, the bill stipulated that the lands would have to be acquired without cost to the federal treasury. The amended bill had a new provision that the Department of the Interior could grant hotel and lodge franchises in advance of the fulfillment of the conditions. [104]

The amended bill was considered by the Committee of the Whole House on February 25, six days after the Committee on the Public Lands had acted on it. Two additional amendments were offered on the floor of the House and were accepted. The idea that the Secretary of the Interior could decide when enough privately owned land had been purchased so that the area could be proclaimed as a national monument was dropped in favor of requiring all privately owned land within the proposed boundary be purchased before the area could be established. The provision giving the Department of the Interior authority to grant franchises in advance of the establishment of the national monument was also deleted. This amended form passed the House of Representatives on the same day, February 25. [105]

When the House act was referred to the Senate on the next day, Norbeck asked his colleagues not to concur with the amended proposal. He asked instead that the modified bill be considered in a conference committee of the House and Senate. [106] On March 2, the conference committee recommended that the two amendments that were attached to the bill on the floor of the House on February 25 be dropped, returning the bill to the form it had when it was originally reported out on February 19. [107]

On the same day, March 2, the final bill was passed by both houses. [108] Known as Public Law No. 1021, the act authorizing Badlands National Monument was approved by President Calvin Coolidge on March 4, 1929. The signing of the act took place on the last day of Coolidge's term as President of the United States. [109]

The area authorized under this act (45 Stat. 1553) included 50,830.40 acres; of this amount, 39,893.85 acres were in the public domain. The remainder was state land or privately owned land. [110]

It is interesting to note that Senator Norbeck introduced a new bill (S. 5779) to establish Badlands National Monument on February 11, 1929. It was identical with the House amendments proposed for S. 4385 which were later reported out by the Committee on the Public Lands on February 19. The new bill, after being referred to the Committee on Public Lands and Surveys, was returned on February 20 with Senate Report 1842. [111] Meanwhile, Williamson introduced H. 17102 in the House, which was identical to S. 5779; it was referred to the Committee on the Public Lands. [112] Both of these bills died without further consideration.


History of Badlands National Monument
©1968, Badlands Natural History Association
badlands/sec3.htm — 04-Feb-2005

Copyright © 1968 by the Badlands Natural History Association and may not be reproduced in any manner without the written consent of the Badlands Natural History Association.