Canyon de Chelly
Administrative History
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The name Chelly, under the form Chegui, first appeared in the 1770s on maps drawn by Don Bernardo de Miera y Pacheco. The most readily available is his map of 1778, which has been published in color. [1] These maps show the headwaters of the Chinle Wash, erroneously depicted as draining into the Moenkopi Wash, but otherwise located in the proper relation to the Hopi villages, Zuni, and other clearly identifiable places. Surrounding the headwaters of the stream are little mesas surmounted by hoganlike structures. We do not know whether Don Bernardo ever visited the canyons (his errors suggest that he did not) or whether he relied solely upon the reports of others who had penetrated the area, perhaps as members of the poorly documented military operations during the war of 1774-75 that ended over half a century of peace between the Spaniards and Navajos. [2] In any case, the name Chelly with various spellings and used with reference to the canyon, the mountain range to the east, and nearby mesas, appears occasionally on documents from that time on. In 1786 Chelli was listed as one of the five "divisions" of the Navajo tribe, [3] while a 1796 list of ten Navajo settlements includes Chelle. [4] We do not know just how long Navajos had occupied the de Chelly area prior to these accounts nor exactly when the first Spaniards visited the area. The first mention of Spanish penetration of the canyons in extant documents is by Narbona during the war of 1804-5, [5] a campaign generally considered to have caused the Massacre Cave battle. While troops repeatedly passed the mouth of the canyons in later wars, actual entry into the canyons themselves is reported only occasionally. Many of the early Spanish and Mexican operations are so poorly documented that invasions cannot be entirely ruled out.

The first recorded Anglo-American entry into the canyons was that of the Walker expedition of 1847, which marched about 6 miles up the canyon. [6] The earliest description and illustration of the ruins appeared in Simpson's journal and Kern's drawings as a result of Washington's 1849 expedition. [7] Henry L. Dodge, accompanied by Navajo guides in 1853, was probably the first Anglo-American to traverse the full length of the canyon. [8] The earliest known license to trade at Cheye was granted in 1854 to Agustin Lacome, an itinerant trader with permission to conduct business in several localities. [9]

The first scientific expedition to enter the canyons was a part of the Hayden geological survey in the 1870s. A photographer with the survey, F. H. O'Sullivan, photographed White House in 1873 and the picture was subsequently published—backwards unfortunately. [10] Scientific investigation of the ruins did not begin until the next decade. James Stevenson visited the canyons in 1882, recording 46 sites and giving Canyon del Muerto its name, using the form "Canon de los Muertos." [11] Cosmos Mindeleff continued the work the following year, increasing the number of known sites to 134 and producing a map. [12] Mindeleff's work resulted in a detailed report. [13]

Secondary sources suggest that permanent trading at Chinle began in a tent store established about 1882 by a Spanish-American, known today only by his Navajo name of Nakai Yazhi. [14] Van Valkenburgh indicates that several other traders located at Chinle in the 1880s, but the earliest documentation found thus far dates from 1885 when C. N. Cotton bought J. L. Hubbell's interest in a post there. [15]

The earliest visit by a journalist was probably that of J. H. Beadle in 1871, who subsequently published a popular account in book form in 1873. [16] In 1890 F. F. Bickford discussed the area in a magazine article. [17] Visitation by sightseers was soon to follow, resulting in looting of the ruins and rock shelters for artifacts for private collections and for sale to museums.

The first recorded attempt by the Federal Government to protect the antiquities of the canyons was made in 1903. In April Professor Henry Mason Baum, president of the Records of the Past Exploration Society, wrote the Department of the Interior to report that he had visited Canyon de Chelly the preceding summer. He felt that the scenic values of the canyon rivaled the Grand Canyon, but was disturbed by the vandalism of the ruins by relic collectors, some of whom were digging for "commercial purposes." Because the Navajo agent was stationed too far from the ruins to give them protection, he recommended that "Mr. Day," the trader at Chinle, be appointed custodian of the ruins. [18] As a result of this communication, Charles L. Day was appointed custodian of the ruins by G. W. Hayzlett, Navajo agent at Fort Defiance. Day received an annual salary of $120 and was vested with authority to arrest violators. [19] Despite Baum's recommendation, Charles Day may not have been the best possible choice for this position. By early fall of the same year it was reported that he and his father, Samuel Day, had collected a large amount of "plunder" from the cliff dwellings, which the elder Day sold to Stewart Culin of the Brooklyn Museum. [20] A much later report suggests that not only the Days, but Richard Wetherill as well, had removed mummies from ruins in or near the canyons. [21]

Charles Day was not relieved of his post, because the following year he was still reporting to the agent in his capacity as custodian, but he may well have been reprimanded. In any case, he began dutifully reporting finds in the canyons and, in compliance with instructions, shipping them to the U. S. National Museum. He was also engaged in guiding visitors into the canyons. [22]

The Day family sold their trading post at Chinle in 1905, moving to Cienega Amarilla, present-day St. Michaels, Arizona. [23] The position of custodian seems to have lapsed, although the Indian Service continued to exercise jurisdiction. The Antiquities Act was passed June 8, 1906 (34 Stat. L. 225). In a report on the preservation of antiquities, submitted in 1909, the Navajo agent referred specifically to the ruins of Canyon de Chelly, among others, and stated that for some time the Government farmers stationed at various points on the reservation had been designated custodians of the ruins nearby. He reported that persons who intended to "examine closely these ruins" were required to exhibit the proper permit and even "mere sightseers" had to obtain a permit from his office, at which time they were informed of the regulations protecting the ruins. He noted that there was an increase each year in the number of "tourists and curiosity seekers" who came into the area. [24]

Publicity in the form of popular accounts, such as Charles L. Lummis's "The Swallow's-Nest People," [25] undoubtedly stimulated visitation. Lummis's visit appears to have been made with guides supplied by J. L. Hubbell, who was interested in promoting the tourist trade. By 1915 his two-story trading post with accommodations for tourists was in operation at Chinle. [26]

The Indian Service found that protection of the ruins entailed problems beyond the mere regulation of visitors. By 1917 there were threats of natural erosion. [27] Peter Paquette, then agent, investigated and confirmed a report that White House was endangered by the wash. He submitted an estimate of $1,000 for its protection. [28] There is no indication that the Indian Service was able to provide funds for this purpose, however. In 1919 Herbert W. Gleason repeated an earlier recommendation that the canyon be made a national monument, but did not identify the originator of the proposal. [29] There was apparently no immediate follow-up on the idea, and ultimately the influence of those involved in the tourist industry would be required to stimulate concerted Government action.

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Last Updated: 08-Mar-2004