Last updated: March 6, 2023
Jesse Logan Nusbaum was the first archeologist hired by the National Park Service. He was born in Greeley, Colorado, September 3, 1887, to Edward Moore and Agnes Strickland (Moodie) Nusbaum. Nusbaum attended local public schools in Greeley as well as the Colorado Teachers College there, receiving his B. Pedagogy in 1907. After graduation, Nusbaum went to New Mexico State Normal in Las Vegas to teach science and manual arts.
In the summer of 1907, Nusbaum began his connection with Mesa Verde as a photographer and archeological assistant to A. V. Kidder. In June of 1909, Nusbaum became the first employee of the School of American Archeology and Museum of New Mexico in Santa Fe under Dr. Edgar L. Hewett. While there he conducted archeological surveys, investigations, excavations, and ruins stabilization in Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Colorado, and New Mexico including the Pajarito Plateau. Nusbaum's work at the museum again brought him to Mesa Verde for the excavation, repair, and stabilization of Balcony House, an important major project that extended into the winter of 1910. He spent nine months in Washington, D. C., September 1911 to June 1912, working on exhibits for the Panama-California Exposition to be held in San Diego, California. While in Washington, Nusbaum took advanced courses at night and continued his advanced studies in Colorado during the summer of 1913. His innovations at Mesa Verde and manual arts background stood him in good stead during this supervision of the restoration of the New Mexico Palace of Governors in Santa Fe which was completed in Fall of 1913. In 1913, Nusbaum worked three months in the Maya ruins of Yucatan with Dr. S. G. Morley. During his many expeditions with the museum, Nusbaum also helped restore the mission church at Pecos. He used some of its design in the work of the state art museum, built in 1916-19 under his supervision.
Nusbaum attempted to become an aviator during World War I but instead became an engineer and served in France. He enlisted in May 1918 and was discharged April 1919. From May 1919 to June 1921, he was employed at the Museum of the American Indian, Heye Foundation in New York City. While Nusbaum was working in New York he took part in several southwest expeditions including those at Hawikuh Pueblo and Basketmaker Cave.
In 1921, while still in New York, Nusbaum was selected by Stephen Mather and Arno Cammerer to become superintendent at Mesa Verde National Park. Director Mather had become disgusted with the conditions that had developed there under a political superintendent. Nusbaum was a very effective superintendent, advancing the development of the park and preserving the archeological resources. He discontinued grazing, built a museum and developed good interpretive programs, especially ones designed to explain the Antiquities Act. His involvement with the Act led to his designation in 1927 as the lead archeologist and prime enforcer of the Act for the Southwest (while remaining Mesa Verde superintendent).
Nusbaum continued this dual capacity until 1930, when he took a leave of absence to organize and direct the Laboratory of Anthropology at Santa Fe, New Mexico. He continued as director of the laboratory until 1935, having earlier returned to the Park Service and resumed his dual duties as Mesa Verde superintendent and Department of the Interior archeologist enforcing the Antiquities Act. Nusbaum continued this dual position for many years. In 1946 he left to work at the NPS office in Santa Fe, where he took up increased duties as the senior archeologist of the NPS. In this capacity, Nusbaum began one of the first salvage archeology projects when he persuaded El Paso Natural Gas Company to allow archeological excavation along their pipelines. For this, and many other accomplishments, Jesse L. Nusbaum received the Distinguished Service Award from the Department of the Interior in 1954.
After a year's extension Nusbaum was forced to retire from the National Park Service at the age of 71 in 1957. However, he continued to do consulting work for many years. He died in Santa Fe in December 1975, at the age of 88.