Edgar Lee Hewett and the Political Process

An Act for the Preservation of American Antiquities

After completing his Mesa Verde report, Hewett began preparation for the Mexican part of his AIA Fellowship research. While he was in the field his draft Antiquities Act passed both houses of Congress early in June and was signed by President Roosevelt on June 8, 1906. Both Lacey and Holmes relayed the good news to Hewett, who responded from his camp on the headwaters of the Yaqui River in eastern Sonora, "estoy muy contento" (Hewett to Holmes, 3 July 1906, NAA). Just 24 years and a month separated Senator Hoar's petition to save Pecos and the passage of a law that protected the archaeological resources on "all lands owned or controlled by the United States." The passage of the Antiquities Act was testimony to the important role that the "antiquities bill alliance" played in the political process, but the alliance was successful in large part because of Hewett's excellent relationship with Lacey.

The previous efforts of the General Land Office to provide temporary protection for ruins was ratified by Section Two of the new law, which authorized the establishment of national monuments. Richards had wanted the language of Section One of the act to include objects of "natural wonder" as well as those of antiquity, but the phrase "and other objects of historic and scientific interest" in Section Two resulted in an interpretation that amounted to about the same thing. Although the law was titled the Antiquities Act, potential national monuments did not have to be exclusively archaeological to qualify (Lee 1970: 74, p. 240; Rothman 1989: 69–70). For example, the first monument to be proclaimed was Devil's Tower in Montana and the fourth was Petrified Forest in Arizona, one of Lacey's favorite places (Lubick 1996). He had three times gained House approval for a Petrified Forest National Park without getting Senate support. It was one of the first areas given temporary protection by the General Land Office (Hewett 1905c: 592). Lacey (1915d: 206), campaigning for public pressure on the Senate to pass his bill, commented: "That lover of nature, the President, will be glad to sign such a bill." Although that "lover of nature," Theodore Roosevelt, was denied that opportunity by Senate inaction, he was encouraged to take action by John Muir and other conservationists (Wild 1987: 32, n. 30). He used the Antiquities Act to proclaim that the Petrified Forest was "of the greatest scientific interest and value," creating Petrified Forest National Monument on December 8, 1906, six months to the day after signing the act that authorized him to do so. Congress finally honored Lacey's oft-repeated request by converting that national monument to a national park in 1962.

Much of the literature on the Antiquities Act appropriately emphasizes the importance of the authority in Section Two to create national monuments (Ise 1961; Lee 1970: 87–116, pp. 247–65; Righter 1989; Rothman 1989; Runte 1979). When Hartzog (1988: 220) referred to the Antiquities Act as "an old and reliable authority," he was thinking primarily of its value for creating national monuments, but as Haury (1983: 8) has pointed out, "each of the places set aside for its natural wonders…has its own wealth of ruins and a human story to tell." The original purpose of the act was to "preserve American antiquities." That is certainly what Edgar Lee Hewett thought it was when he prepared the draft. When he and Lummis wrote to Roosevelt in 1907, they reinforced that view, stating that "the purpose of this act is absolutely plain" (Righter 1989: 284). Hewett, "a man of adroit administration" (Fowler 1986: 142), was concerned about a clearly articulated purpose that had straightforward policy implications. His draft was successful because it had such implications. They, in turn, have given structure to the development of the nation's archaeological policies ever since.