Big Bend
Administrative History
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A Dream Delayed: Failure to Secure Public Funding for Big Bend National Park, 1937

Whatever their doubts concerning the future of Big Bend National Park, NPS planners and local sponsors focused all of their energies in the winter and spring of 1937 on the members of the Texas state legislature. There they hoped to convince the Lone Star lawmakers of the wisdom of purchasing land for the state's first national park. Publicity ventures that had accelerated during the year 1936 reached a crescendo, with newspaper stories and other media presentations saturating the Texas countryside. Walter Prescott Webb, dean of Lone Star historians, would undertake a highly publicized river-rafting trip through the canyons of the Big Bend, just as the legislature contemplated their vote on the land-purchase bill. Yet the vagaries of the state and national economy would compel Governor James Allred to veto the legislation, forcing park promoters to turn to the private sector for assistance.

As many lawmakers claimed allegiance to Texas's agricultural heritage, one of the more pronounced venues for park publicity in early 1937 was the ACCO Press. This journal described itself as a monthly magazine for the cotton farmer, with funding from Anderson, Clayton, and Company, identified as "an institution benefited by whatever benefits the cotton industry." In an article entitled, "America's Last Frontier and what a country!" the editor recounted the story of H.P. Attwater, a British immigrant who "at one time . . . was agricultural agent for one of the state's largest railroad systems." Attwater had spoken often of his love of the Big Bend country, which the ACCO Press editor experienced during a trip through the region in late 1936, joined by a companion identified only as "the Judge." Readers of the cotton trade journal learned of the romantic history of the Big Bend, from its geology to its Indian lore. The editor did mention the difference of opinion that people had about the etymology of the word "Chisos," which he reported as "commonly accepted as an interpretation of the Indian word ‘ghost.'" The editor then noted that "a few natives insist, however, that the interpretation should be ‘echo.'" He was "inclined to agree with the latter minority," as "the Judge's yodel rang on and on through the [crags]." The editor then turned his attention to local residents, remarking at length on the trading post operated by A.F. Hannold, which he described as "not only the last but only gasoline stop to the river." Within the store the editor found "fancy rugs and saddle blankets . . . made from wool - sheared, cleaned, carded, dyed and woven by Mexicans living in the vicinity." Hannold also impressed the ACCO Press editor because of his service as "Justice of the Peace Precinct No. 4, Brewster County;" an area of some one million acres (or nearly 1,563 square miles). [1]

Once the editor and his companion had left Hannold's store, they headed for the Rio Grande to sample the exotica of the border. He described the village of Boquillas, Texas, as "probably the most remote point in the whole United States." The party stopped at "Juan Sada's place," where they met the proprietor and his wife, Charlotta (known locally as "Chata"). The editor called Juan Sada "a courteous, highly intelligent Mexican who has a neat house and store on the American side." The editor could see that the town once was a thriving center of a silver mining region, but noted that "today Boquillas is a sleepy village which draws scant trade from scattered squash, bean and pepper farmers of the interior who drive for miles to barter and trade for the bare necessities of life." As the party drove upriver, they came to Hot Springs, which the editor characterized as making "the boast of being the only postoffice in the United States that is surrounded on three sides by the Republic of Mexico." The town consisted of "two souls; namely, J.O. Langford, the Postmaster and his wife." They received delivery of letters and packages once per week, and "ranchers [rode] horseback as far as 40 miles to get their mail." From there the party "spent several hours browsing about the old Mexican town of Boquillas (You would, too, if you went there)." They then "swam [their] horses back across the Rio, sat around for awhile on Juan Sada's veranda, and finally ‘pushed off' for home." [2]

Once the editor had completed his circular tour back to Alpine, he speculated on the meaning of Texas's first national park. Given that his readership was primarily rural, he highlighted the vastness of Brewster County, especially its southern reaches. "It is 136 miles from Boquillas to Alpine," wrote the ACCO Press editor, "and between the two points there are 225 qualified voters." By comparison, "there are 46,745 white-face cattle in the country, some 75,000 sheep and lambs, and, ironically, 47 hogs." The editor further marveled that "in a day and a half the Judge and I passed on the road two cars and one man on horseback." This led him to compare Big Bend to "the Blue Ridges of West Virginia," which he considered "quiet, serene, soothing," and the Rocky Mountains, which were "majestic, awe-inspiring." "But how to describe the Big Bend," he asked rhetorically, using terms like "raw" and "wild." These words were "inadequate," as "that country gets in your blood somehow." But the editor somehow envisioned a future park much different from the desolate and haunting landscape he had just visited. "I am afraid," he concluded, "that by the time [my] children grow up the roads of the Big Bend will be lined with hot dog stands and soft drink places;" a reference to the encroachment on open space in the more-populous eastern and mid-western states. [3]

The ACCO Press's enthusiasm for Big Bend, and its editor's focus on the wildness of its landscape, fit the pattern of park promotion undertaken by the NPS and local interests throughout the 1930s. Behind the scenes, park service officials and their allies in west Texas prepared for an intense round of lobbying in Austin in the first months of 1937. Texas lawmakers would be asked for $1.4 million for the land purchase program, with the issue of mineral rights on school lands yet to be resolved. Maier had held several meetings in the Lone Star capital with state school officials. These encounters only echoed the common wisdom that "certain members of the [teachers' association] Executive Committee are emphatic in their statement that no legal precedent should be established permanently denying the rights of the School Fund to engage in mineral development where it holds such rights." As to the suggestion that the teachers' association support "a gift of its mineral rights within the area," Maier noted that "this is not constitutionally possible and would require special legislation which we doubt could be passed." In addition, the teachers' group could not authorize acceptance of payment from the state to purchase the mineral rights. Even if it could, Maier feared that the addition of one dollar per acre to the land-acquisition bill, increasing the appropriation to some $450,000, "might wreck its chances of passing." [4]

To move the discussion forward, Maier asked the NPS director "if it would not be possible, since there is admittedly only the remotest possibility of oil ever being discovered in this area," that "the [Interior] Secretary . . . accept the titles as they are, providing that a committee of the best geologists of the Department of the Interior were to advise him, following a thorough investigation of the area, of the apparent absence of any major mineral deposits." As evidence of this scarcity, Maier recalled that "the Chisos Range is igneous, and . . . the surveys as made by oil companies had not resulted in a single lease within the area." To insure the veracity of the Interior department's judgment, Maier suggested selecting geologists from the NPS, the Bureau of Mines, and the U.S. Geological Survey. Even with this review process, Maier could not predict the response of the school lands advocates. As long as the school lands remained under state control, wondered Maier, "could it [the teachers' association] force the Department of the Interior to permit drilling?" Maier believed that "it is unfortunate that the question of mineral rights must be so paramount," and he reiterated his call for a blue-ribbon committee of geologists to survey the Big Bend area before the Texas legislature began its deliberations. At the same time, Maier wanted "a man from the [NPS] legal division in Washington [to] be sent to Austin, to assist the State in drafting the bill." Coke Stevenson, who would introduce the Big Bend measure, and other sponsors had requested such help from the park service. Maier also thought that an appearance by Cammerer himself before the legislature would "be of tremendous help." The stakes were high, Maier concluded, as "there is opposition expected from the industrialists since the appropriation for land would come from the general tax fund which is already $15,000,000 in arrears." Yet he had faith in the competence of "the West Texas group, with what help we can officially give them," and he praised them for "working assiduously and with much hope." [5]

While the park service sought to acquire funds from a depleted Texas treasury, it also learned that the senior citizens' pension program laid claim to the taxpayer's largesse. Carl White, president of a printing company in Port Arthur, Texas, wrote to Leo McClatchy about the NPS's media packet on Big Bend, and about his own conversations with business people in Texas regarding the new session of the legislature. The bill to appropriate $1.5 million, said White, came "at a time when all of the would be statesmen are trying to put all of the old people in the state on ‘Easy Street' without a sales tax." White feared that "anything which involves the expenditure of money on the part of the state is going to be hard to get through the legislature." White then supplied McClatchy with news clippings from the Houston Post and Fort Worth Star-Telegram endorsing the park bill. "Texas long has neglected exploitation of her natural beauties and recreational facilities," wrote the Post on January 24, "with consequent loss of substantial revenue from [the] tourist trade that could be built into a profitable industry." The Post claimed that states like California, Florida, South Carolina, and Colorado "reaped a golden harvest of tourist dollars, [while] Texas was content to plug along developing business and industry." Yet state lawmakers had proof, with the success of the 1936 Texas Centennial, "just how profitable tourist business can be." The Post believed that the Lone Star state "has an opportunity to acquire a tourist industry that will provide at least $1,000,000 a year in new business by taking advantage of the Federal Government's offer to establish a National Park in the Big Bend Section." "Conservative estimates," said the Houston paper, "indicate that income from the new park would exceed in two years the amount needed to buy land for the park." Citing statistics provided by the NPS for park visitation nationwide in 1936, the Post revealed that "more than 6,000,000 persons visited the twenty-six national parks of the United States." Only two NPS units, "one in distant Alaska," said the Post, "had attendance of less than 50,000." Appealing to its readers' pride in Texas, the Post noted that "in neighboring Oklahoma, Platt National Park, in an area without the scenic and recreational attractions of the Big Bend, the attendance was 235,000." Big Bend would, in the estimation of the Post, be more like parks such as Carlsbad Caverns (150,000 visitors), or Colorado's Rocky Mountain National Park (with 550,000 visitors in 1936, or nearly 10 percent of the NPS total). "There is every reason to believe," concluded the Post, "that the proposed Texas park would attract that many, or more, visitors annually [as Platt National Park]." This "appears to be an opportunity which the State of Texas can ill afford to ignore." [6]

From within the park service itself, the level of activity escalated once the legislative session opened. Horace Morelock wrote directly to Arno Cammerer with an invitation for the NPS official to speak before the Lone Star lawmakers. Because the Sul Ross president had close contact with leading Texas politicians, he advised Cammerer to focus on three points: the benefits accruing to states with national parks, the specific details of work at Big Bend, and the successful strategies of other states in securing NPS units. Morelock reiterated his own abiding interest in the creation of Big Bend, and hoped that "it may become a reality at an early date." He then noted in the margin of his letter to the NPS director that the state attorney general would be visiting Alpine and the Big Bend in his own aircraft in early February, and that the new president of the state board of education had agreed to accompany Everett Townsend on a sightseeing trip to the region. [7]

The issue of the international park became a selling point for Herbert Maier in his correspondence with Cammerer, as he reported to Washington on January 27 about the drafting of the Big Bend land-purchase bill. "It has been proposed," said Maier, "that along with the bill, a Concurrent Resolution be submitted to both [Texas] Houses, in which the Governor, Lieut. Governor, Speaker of the House, and other members would be delegated to visit the City of Mexico for the purpose of inviting the Mexican Government to participate in the creation of the international park." Maier had told the measure's sponsors that "such an action should prove to be an excellent gesture." In so doing, the park sponsors not only would "draw broad publicity to the project, but considering the fact that Mexico and the Republic of Texas were one time at war, such a personal visit and invitation to participate in an international peace park would be in line with the current stressing by Washington of the ‘good neighbor policy,' especially as it relates to Latin-American countries." Such a grand strategy might overshadow the discouraging news that "Governor Allred is not in favor of the Big Bend bill, covering the appropriation, . . . due to the fact that he is committed to a no-additional taxation policy." Endorsement of the "Resolution by the legislature providing for the official trip by the Governor would, however," said Maier, "bind the State administration definitely to the land purchase bill." The ECW regional director conceded that "there may be some federal constitutional prohibition which prohibits a state from dealing directly with a foreign government." Yet if Texas officials were to travel to Mexico as part of a federal delegation, the lawmakers could see for themselves the extraordinary nature of the international park designation, and remember that in their deliberations in Austin. [8]

Two years of NPS and local-sponsor efforts resulted on February 23, 1937, in the introduction in the Texas house and senate of a bill for the purchase of land for Big Bend National Park. State representative Coke Stevenson, no longer speaker of the house, addressed his colleagues on the matter of spending precious state tax money on a recreation area far from the centers of population in the Lone Star state. Beyond the one million dollars that potential visitors to the park would spend, said the Junction representative, "property values along main roads would be increased by Big Bend travel to an extent that would undoubtedly exceed by many times the $1,400,000 the Legislature is being asked to appropriate." Private employers would profit from the circulation of new money throughout the economy. Finally, said Stevenson, "the Texas Legislature should keep faith with the National government by enabling Texas to do its share in making possible the establishment of the Big Bend park." [9]

In the Texas Senate, H.B. Winfield of San Angelo offered S.B. No. 308 to his colleagues, who on March 24 reported favorably on the measure. Winfield called upon the lawmakers to authorize establishment of a "Board for the Acquisition of land within said area," which the state senator estimated at 736,000 acres. He also gave the board the authority to "acquire such additional lands in such amounts just so the total amount purchased in said area does not exceed one million acres." The land board would consist of "the Attorney General for the State of Texas, Chairman of the State Board of Control and two members of the State Board of Education." The members would receive no compensation for their services, "except to be reimbursed for all necessary and actual traveling expenses." The members also would serve "from the effective date of this Act to the time when the purpose for which this Act was created is completed." Winfield gave the board "the power of eminent domain . . . to condemn for park purposes within the said area." Also, the board could "institute, maintain, and prosecute suits in the name of the State of Texas, for that purpose applicable to the condemnation of lands by counties or by railroads or any other method authorized by law." The Texas State Parks Board would own all of these lands, and the Brewster County attorney would be asked to assist the state in the pursuit of any necessary legal action. [10]

To expedite the purchase of these lands, Winfield asked his colleagues to offer the State School Fund one dollar per acre for their properties. In exchange, "the Legislature of the State of Texas hereby transfers and conveys all mineral estates now owned by the State of Texas for the benefit of its Public Free School Fund in the area defined in this Act to the State of Texas for park purposes in consideration of the sum of fifty cents per acre." Mindful of the controversy over such a transfer, Winfield noted: "It is the purpose and intent of this Section of the Act only to place a value upon the mineral estate in lands where the mineral estate has been severed from the surface estate, the State Public School Fund having no interest in the surface." For lands in private hands, the board could offer no more than two dollars per acre, "exclusive of improvements, thereon for voluntary sales, provided this limitation shall not apply on lands acquired through condemnation proceedings." Where owners had purchased school lands "on the deferred payment plan and there are now outstanding balances," the board could "place a value on the purchasers' equity therein and pay such purchaser" no more than two dollars per acre, and then "pay the State of Texas for the benefit of the Public School Fund the amount of unpaid balance due thereon." Winfield estimated that the total operation of the board would require no more than two million dollars, which he wished to be expended by the close of the 1938 fiscal year (August 31). [11]

Once Senator Winfield had determined the scale and cost of the land-purchase program, he then turned his attention to the relationship between the state and the NPS. When Texas wrote its deed of conveyance, Winfield wanted the Lone Star state to reserve to itself "concurrent jurisdiction with the United States over every portion of the lands so ceded." This meant that "all process, civil or criminal, issuing under the authority of this State or any of the courts or judicial officers thereof, may be executed by the proper officers of the State." These laws would be applied "upon any person amenable to the same within the limits of the land so ceded as the area for Big Bend National Park, in like manner and like effect as if no such cession had taken place." The state further had the right "to levy and collect taxes on sales of products or commodities upon which a sales tax is levied in this State." Texas also could "tax persons and corporations and franchises and properties, on land or lands deeded and conveyed under the terms of this Act." Residents in the park area would have "the right to vote at all elections within the counties" comprising the park, "upon like terms and conditions and to the same extent as they would be entitled to vote in such counties had not such lands been deeded or conveyed as aforesaid to the United States of America." Winfield closed his legislation by noting that Congress already had authorized creation of the park, and that "the lands lying within said area [are] of little, if any, value for any other purpose." Texas would gain a great measure of economic and recreational opportunity from the purchase of these lands for the NPS, and he asked his colleagues to consider the bill "an emergency and an imperative public necessity," allowing it to be read and approved quickly. [12]

Once Winfield had brought the Big Bend measure to the attention of his peers, local sponsors extended to the state senators an invitation to inspect the area personally. Herbert Maier discussed with CCC camp superintendent Morgan the details of this visit, scheduled for mid-March. Maier asked Morgan to solicit the services of Ross Maxwell, attached to the CCC as a geologist, to speak to the lawmakers. "He should stress the academic side of it," said Maier, "and give the story in general without being too technical." Maxwell, however, "should not unconsciously convey the idea that the area has strong mineral value, since we know that such is not the case." Maier reminded Morgan that "since to the average Texan the word geology is synonymous with oil and commercial deposits," Maxwell should "bring out the fact that there has never been a single oil lease in this area and our access to confidential reports of Texas oil companies show that none of them entertain any hope of finding oil within the proposed park area." Maier then cautioned the CCC superintendent: "For this reason, I suggest that the party not be taken to Terlingua, which is outside the area, and where false impression of local mineral deposits may result." [13]

Horace Morelock saw another angle for the NPS to pursue with the legislative tour of Big Bend. He wrote to Cammerer with a suggestion given to him by a member of the local chapter of the American Legion. "I have been told," said the Sul Ross president, "that certain provisions have been made by which disabled veterans of the [First] World War were given accommodations in the Yellowstone National Park." Morelock noted that "it so happens that a large portion of New Mexico and West Texas have no facilities for accommodating the disabled veterans in this territory." Thus he wondered "if the National Park Board could provide suitable quarters for this group in the Big Bend National Park." Morelock believed that Cammerer knew that "the recreational facilities and the climate in that area would be fine" for the veterans. In addition, the NPS "would be rendering a great service to a worthy group, who, incidentally, would naturally be influential in Texas in obtaining through legislative enactment the money necessary to purchase this land." Morelock wanted Cammerer's thoughts on the matter, as "this weekend sixteen legislators are to pay the Big Bend National Park a visit, and next weekend thirty additional members are to make the trip to the Chisos Mountains." It was his hope that "the situation will so impress these groups that the park bill will go over in good form;" hence the need for the NPS director's opinion on the disabled-veteran proposal. [14]

While Morelock pursued his ideas for attracting legislative support for the Big Bend bill, Herbert Maier corresponded with Senator Winfield in advance of his party's arrival in Brewster County. Maier wanted Winfield's opinion on a measure working its way through the Texas state house of representatives to increase the tax on oil by one-quarter of one cent per barrel (to three cents). "The suggestion was made," wrote Maier, "that it may be possible to slap an amendment on the bill in the Senate adding 1/2 [cent] or 1/4 [cent] per barrel (which would probably be enough to meet the land cost)." Maier's contact within the legislature believed that "the oil companies might favor this because they are expecting increases in the tax anyway and would favor this particular fraction because it would last for one year only." Once the lawmakers arrived in the Chisos Mountains, this and other ideas received much attention as they rode horseback with Everett Townsend and Robert Morgan. Townsend had arranged for a Texas railroad to absorb the cost of transporting the larger party of state legislators to the Big Bend. He then asked the Alpine chamber of commerce to fund the meals and incidental expenses for the state senators' party, among which he listed "dinner for gang at [Dona] Chata's (and extras)" ($25.70 for a group of eleven), and a box of cigars worth $2.35. [15]

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Last Updated: 03-Mar-2003