Charlie Steen

Charlie Steen kneels next to two children and one adult visitor in the Lower Cliff Dwelling. Partial ceiling and walls surround them.
Charlie Steen in Lower Cliff Dwelling with visitors

NPS Photo

Prior to 1933, Tonto National Monument was administered by the National Forest Service, which was too understaffed to adequately supervise and maintain the site. The Southern Pacific Railroad made an informal arrangement with the Forest Service to provide access to and maintenance of the Monument.

They graded a road from Route 188 to a parking area and constructed a trail to the cliff dwellings. A small stone cottage with piped water and a fireplace was constructed and Apache men were hired as custodians. One of the caretakers later built an adobe house; the stone cottage became a tool and storage shed.

Such were the living conditions when Steen was appointed as the first National Park Service employee at the Monument: sparse housing, dirt roads, water drawn from a spring, scorpions, and sites which had been seriously vandalized with little funding. Appointed in July 1934, he spent his first full month at Tonto in September, where temperatures reached the mid to high 90s.

During his year as "Ranger in Charge" at Tonto, Steen diligently submitted reports, including visitation totals.

In December 1934, he reported that 266 people had visited the Monument, with 169 viewing the lower site, and 16 touring the upper site. He further reported that February 1935 was "a virtual League of Nations. I had cordial invitations to "Come and See Us" when I get to Bogota, Honolulu, and Kobe. The folks from Edmonton, Fairbanks, Bangkok, Frankfurt, Budapest, London, and Sydney are either not as hospitable as the others or figure that my chances of dropping in for a meal are mightily slim."

Read more of Charlie Steen's monthly reports

Steen made his last official report from Tonto in July 1935, then moved to the park ranger position at Casa Grande Ruins near Coolidge, AZ. He continued his interest in both archeology and in Tonto. In 1938, Steen, then with the title of Junior Naturalist, returned to Tonto National Monument. From January to April of 1940, he worked on the excavation and stabilization of the Upper Cliff Dwelling. Although some of his work is controversial, his documentation is still a source of information. By 1955, Steen had become the regional archeologist based in Santa Fe, New Mexico. He tangled with the Tonto Superintendent over the proposed site of Tonto's headquarters, which he lost. Again, in 1957, he lost a dispute with the same superintendent over the location of a trail. These losses did not deter Steen. One year later, in 1958, he acquired the assistance of a geologist, and compiled a geologic history of the Monument.

Although not stationed at Tonto National Monument for long, Charlie Steen's archeological records are the most complete and useful source for park rangers today.

Last updated: October 11, 2020

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