Lake Roosevelt
Administrative History
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From Simple to Complex: Cultural Resource Management

Cultural resource management at Lake Roosevelt National Recreation Area has been fraught with challenges. Initially the needs of recreation and industry took precedence. Early park managers were not much concerned with cultural resources because the two obvious historic sites, Fort Spokane and St. Paul's Mission, were outside the original boundaries and most archaeological sites were hidden under reservoir waters. This changed in the 1960s with the acquisition of Fort Spokane, passage of the National Historic Preservation Act and subsequent legislation, and the start of drawdowns for construction of the third powerhouse at Grand Coulee Dam. Today there are four federal agencies, two Tribal Historic Preservation Offices, and one State Historic Preservation Office — with the shared goal of resource protection but often differing agendas — who participate in some capacity in the complex task of cultural resource management at Lake Roosevelt National Recreation Area (LARO).

Grave Removal and Columbia Basin Archaeological Survey, 1939-1940

Archaeological investigations of the reservoir area were essentially an afterthought in the late 1930s, during the bustling period of construction at Grand Coulee Dam and the associated reservoir clearing. Elsewhere in the country, the Tennessee Valley Authority had conducted salvage archaeology operations at each of its major reservoirs during the 1930s, but the United States Bureau of Reclamation (Reclamation) did not play any serious role in archaeological investigations until the (Missouri) River Basin Surveys Program in the mid-1940s. Nonetheless, Reclamation got involved, at least peripherally, with a hurried program of archaeological salvage at the Columbia River Reservoir (Lake Roosevelt) in 1939-40. [1]

One non-archaeological aspect of the project began ca. 1938 when the tribes became concerned about the imminent flooding of their cemeteries at various locations along the Spokane and Columbia rivers. The Office of Indian Affairs (OIA) intervened on their behalf and began negotiations with Reclamation for relocation of known cemeteries as well as isolated burials. This function was later formalized in the Act of June 29, 1940 (Acquisition of Indian Lands for Grand Coulee Dam, 54 Stat.703). That legislation authorized the Secretary of the Interior to acquire Indian cemeteries, essentially trading them for new lands to be used for the same purpose. All human remains, grave markers, and "other appurtenances" were to be removed to the new site, with costs borne by the Grand Coulee project. [2]

Work began in September 1939 when the Spokane undertaking firm of Ball & Dodd was awarded the contract to relocate both Indian and non-Indian graves away from the area to be flooded; this was strictly a burial relocation project, separate from the subsequent archaeological investigations. The locations of most Euroamerican cemeteries were known, but Reclamation hired non-Indian resident Cull White and knowledgeable tribal members to help locate Indian burial sites. Other Indians worked for Ball & Dodd building wooden boxes to hold human remains; these containers were small, just long enough for the leg bones and deep enough for the skull. (It is not known if the remains of non-Indians were reboxed in the same fashion or not.) During the process of exhumation of Indian burials, workers discovered hundreds of artifacts that had been buried with the deceased. Many of these were not reburied with the bones and instead were collected for their intended return to the tribes. Archaeologists who followed Ball & Dodd a year later called the undertakers' work a "major calamity, from the archaeological point of view" because their methods of exhumation completely destroyed all scientific evidence. [3]

Accounts vary concerning the total number of graves that were relocated with such haste in late 1939. Reclamation reported a total of 915 graves moved at a cost of $19,642.60; another source listed the reburial bid as $10,728. Howard T. Ball, who supervised the field work, initially reported that his crews relocated 1,027 graves, but he later changed this figure to 1,388. Tribal leaders reported another 2,000 sites in the fall of 1940, with additional discoveries expected, but Reclamation refused to continue the relocation. All remaining graves were soon covered with water. [4]

Archaeological recovery was first considered when the Inland Empire Indian Relics Society approached Reclamation in 1939 with a plan to have an archaeologist supervise a crew hired by the Work Projects Administration (WPA) to conduct salvage archaeology in the reservoir area. Neither Reclamation nor WPA had funds for such work, however. The Relics Society then joined with the Eastern Washington State Historical Society, which provided funding for a reconnaissance survey of the reservoir area from the dam to the Canadian border. When that was completed, the University of Washington and State College of Washington (later known as Washington State University) accepted archaeological oversight of the Columbia Basin Archaeological Survey (CBAS). The Historical Society also interested the National Youth Administration in providing manual labor and camp costs for field work that began in the fall of 1939 and continued for a year, with numerous test excavations at promising locations. Crews concentrated on three kinds of locations: habitation sites, shell middens, and burial sites; the last contained the most artifacts. [5]

This first archaeological project has been strongly criticized by recent archaeologists for both its methods and conclusions, but it is clear that the staff struggled with a difficult situation in 1939-1940. Time was limited as the waters rose relentlessly, forcing the inexperienced crews to move farther up the reservoir. They were pushed to work rapidly and often "superficially . . . as the water lapped about our heels," they reported. Supervisory personnel changed several times, and those remaining had trouble making sense of others' field notes. Heavy sod cover protected and hid many sites that have been found by subsequent archaeologists. The CBAS conclusions that the area was sparsely populated and the cultures were "simple" have since been disproved. More recent archaeologists have been able to find many additional sites that have been exposed after decades of water fluctuations and wave action eroded banks. The layers of stratigraphy have been destroyed, however, making interpretation difficult. [6]

Cemetery removal continued to be a problem for Reclamation, especially during the first decade of the reservoir when the banks continued to shift as they sought a stable angle of slope. Crews moved forty burials, for under $725, from the Klaxta cemetery in 1941 when the site was at considerable risk of sliding into the water. Another 850 graves from four slide areas were located in 1949 and removed the following year for approximately $20,000. Reclamation placed riprap on part of the Spokane Arm to protect a cemetery in 1965, slowing erosion at the site. In a much smaller project in April 1972, Barnes Funeral Home in Grand Coulee removed parts of sixteen burials in scattered graves along the Spokane River and reburied them in a common grave in the Westend Presbyterian Cemetery, at the request of the Spokane Tribe of Indians (STI). The tribe also asked that any artifacts found with the graves be turned over to the tribe. Some high banks continue to slump as they erode toward a new angle of repose. Such activity threatens the sites at Mission Point, requiring regular monitoring by the LARO archaeologist. [7]

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Last Updated: 22-Apr-2003