America's National Monuments
The Politics of Preservation
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Chapter 2:
Pothunters and Professors

BY 1904 ARCHAEOLOGICAL PRESERVATION had become a point of confluence for a number of trends in the American social climate. Historic preservation by local groups, exploration of the West and discovery of prehistoric structures throughout the Southwest, and greater government control over public land through the implementation of laws centralizing power in the executive branch all played an important role in establishing social underpinnings for federal action. From these disparate actions came the impetus for legislation to protect archaeological ruins.

Historic preservation in the United States began as the province of elite social groups with the desire to protect historic structures. Abraham and Judah Touro, who helped finance the upkeep of the Touro Synagogue in Newport, Rhode Island; Uriah Levy, who purchased Jefferson's home at Monticello in 1836; and the Mount Vernon Ladies Association, chartered by the Virginia legislature in 1856 to accept title to Mount Vernon and spearheaded by a woman from a plantation in upcountry South Carolina, Ann Pamela Cunningham, typified the people and organizations responsible for early preservation. When such people had the ability to finance the purchase of the places they believed important, they often took personal initiative to ensure the safety of historic properties. More often, they tried to save historic buildings by raising a public hue and cry that led to action either by an organization of concerned citizens or by the state or local government. Before the Civil War, most efforts were unsuccessful, preserving in at least two noteworthy cases only the doors of the structures in question. But the emergence of a small group who publicly avowed the importance of preserving historic places planted the seeds for the intellectual climate in which preservation became important. [1]

Social, cultural, and economic catalysts spurred the preservation movement after the end of the Civil War. The war itself tore deeply into the American psyche, and the construction of memorials to important people on both sides of the conflict as well as local memorials to war dead became significant. Yet the heroes of the Civil War were partisan figures, intrinsically linked to one side or the other. The leaders from the generation of the Revolutionary War transcended the barriers of internecine conflict. George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and their peers seemed more representative of an all-encompassing view of the heritage of the United States than were the leaders of the Civil War. The industrialization of the North during the war led to an economic revolution at its close, and as Americans began to make fortunes in developing industries, more capital in circulation created additional opportunities for preserving historic places.

The regionalization of preservation arose within this climate of postwar change. Different kinds of historic places were preserved in each geographic region, with the cultural needs of the various sectors in mind. New England, the middle Atlantic region, and the South all developed distinct styles of preservation. The economic capabilities of each area and its cultural need for a link with its past provided an important impetus in determining the nature of preservation in differing locales.

In the words of the most important scholar of American historic preservation, New England became the "home of militant private preservation organizations." More individual homes were preserved by these groups than by groups in the other two regions in which historic preservation became a force. Most of these houses became museums commemorating important local figures, a practice the same scholar called "ancestor worship." Such places had a largely local focus, glorifying early inhabitants of the Northeast and appealing to local pride. [2]

The middle Atlantic region provided the best overall situation for historic preservation. Whereas New England preserved monuments recognizing localized themes, preservation in the middle Atlantic states took on broader realms. Historic preservation in this region focused upon the early national period in American history, with a particular emphasis on buildings and places associated with the Revolutionary War. Many battlefields from the Revolutionary War were located between the Hudson River valley and the Potomac River, and the area north of Philadelphia possessed a large urban population that expressed interest in preservation. Advocates of preservation in this region usually sought the support of local and state government.

Preservation in the South had a flavor all its own. Southern advocates sought to preserve places associated with famous people from the region. They formed organizations, and because of the desperate economic situation in the South for a generation following the Civil War, they often had to rely upon state governments for funding. After the founding of the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities (APVA) in the spring of 1888, preservation efforts in the South accelerated, and the efforts of the organization included preserving places of significance to both the Confederacy and the United States.

American women played a major role in local efforts at preservation. The two most important local groups, the Mount Vernon Ladies Association and the APVA, were both founded and dominated by women. At Mount Vernon, Ann Pamela Cunningham's dedication was responsible for the preservation and protection of Mount Vernon. She relied on women in the South to spread information and to raise money, and she singlehandedly convinced the Washington family that the Mount Vernon Ladies Association had the best interests of the family and the property in mind. Mary J. Galt founded the APVA; she was responsible for interest in preserving Jamestown and for the preservation of the home of Mary Washington, George Washington's mother, in Fredericksburg Virginia. The social efforts of women in the nineteenth century were confined to domestic and moral areas, and efforts to preserve the achievements of the past were among the many types of activities they carved out in a world that increasingly confined educated women to the home.

Toward the end of the century, the desire to preserve physical remnants of the past spread beyond the East Coast. During the 1880s, efforts to preserve the increasingly romanticized Spanish presence began in California and New Mexico. Some influential westerners sought the trappings of civilization, which at the end of the nineteenth century included concepts like historical societies and historic preservation. In 1881 the New Mexico Historical Society unsuccessfully tried to locate itself in the seventeenth-century Palace of the Governors in Santa Fe; after some artful maneuvering by L. Bradford Prince, a lawyer who headed the New Mexico Historical Society and who later became governor of the territory, the Department of the Interior granted the historical society two rooms in the palace in 1885. During Prince's term as governor, he used the palace as his official residence. Almost simultaneously, work to preserve the chain of Spanish missions in southern California began in earnest. Catholic priests raised money for the preservation of the San Carlos Borromeo Mission in Carmel, while in the 1880s, the Catholic church reopened Mission San Miguel near Pasa Robles. Soon an array of social organizations became interested in preservation in California. [3]

But even with all of this activity, at the end of the nineteenth century historic preservation remained a piecemeal process that was the province of local organizations and, on occasion, state government. Its focus was largely regional, and local and state interests determined its concerns. Congress or some bureau in the federal government sometimes expressed interest in the plans of local groups, but their interest was fleeting. Preservation remained the realm of those who sought the role of guarding patriotic feelings. The federal government was busy with tasks more suited to a nation that saw its best years in its future.

Among the obligations that the federal government laid out for itself at the end of the nineteenth century was a growing concern for the state of American land. The census of 1890 showed Americans that the frontier had closed, and this perception inspired anxiety about the future of the nation. [4] No longer constantly expanding westward, the nation instead began to fill in the gaps created by its seemingly random growth. Simultaneously, a rush to conserve the natural resources of the American West began, as it became apparent that a nation unlikely to grow into any more territory needed to establish regulations for the use of the land and resources it already possessed. More efficient use of resources required different values than those that had characterized the largely haphazard exploitation of the West during the nineteenth century. Fortunately for the advocates of conservation, in 1890 the public domain still contained vast areas of land, and early in the decade, many people in the Department of the Interior sought a way to protect lands from abusive practices.

Section 24 of the General Revision Act of 1891 was the first result. In the pattern of federal land legislation that stretched back to the Homestead Act of 1862, which allowed people who paid a filing fee, improved the tract, and lived upon it for five years to own 160 acres of land in the West, the Act of 1891 allowed the president the discretionary power to reserve forest lands in the public domain from the claims of citizens. In 1889 the law committee of the American Forestry Association conceived of the measure and the following year transmitted it to President Benjamin Harrison's secretary of the interior, Gen. John W. Noble. Noble added the section concerning the reservation of forest lands in areas called forest reserves to the bill. It was added as a rider to the bill, prompting later historians to suggest that Congress was not clearly aware of the significance of the clause. [5]

Both Benjamin Harrison and his successor, Grover Cleveland, made use of the provisions of the bill, and in 1897 Cleveland's actions were responsible for the passage of a clause that granted money to the forest reserves. During the remainder of his term, Harrison proclaimed more than 13 million acres of forest reserves. Cleveland followed with an additional 5 million acres and then stopped until Congress provided funding to protect the reserved land. But forestry advocates such as Bernhard E. Fernow, the chief of the Division of Forestry in the Department of Agriculture, and Wolcott Gibbs, the president of the National Academy of Sciences, prevailed upon Cleveland to proclaim an additional 20 million acres of forest reserve on George Washington's birthdate in 1897. Cleveland did so, and in the furor that resulted, westerners headed by Sen. Richard Pettigrew of South Dakota supported an amendment to the Sundry Civil Appropriations Bill for 1897 that allowed for management of the forest reserves as well as for a process through which homesteaders within the new reserves could exchange their claims for others elsewhere in the public domain. The management of federal forests had become a responsibility of the federal government. [6]

The earliest federal efforts at archaeological preservation developed from the same cultural sources as did regional attempts to preserve historic places and the increased federal desire to manage its natural resources. The cultural impulse to protect American prehistory was a logical extension of the actions of local groups interested in their own pasts, and the chain of federal laws governing land indicated the broadening of the obligations of government agencies. The constituencies for archaeological preservation and local historic preservation were different only in degree of emphasis. The same kinds of groups that supported historic preservation on the East Coast became critical advocates of efforts to preserve the prehistoric ruins of the Southwest. From the very beginning, these groups sought legislation that granted powers similar to those of the General Land Revision Act of 1891.

Throughout the nineteenth century, prehistoric ruins in the Southwest had attracted the attention of American explorers on federal surveys, and as the scientific bent of such efforts became more important, more observers of the West commented upon the ruins of prehistoric civilizations. Army Lt. James H. Simpson was a member of Col. John M. Washington's puntative expedition against the Navajos with specific instructions to find out all he could about the Old Spanish Trail from Santa Fe across the Upper Colorado to Los Angeles. In 1849 Simpson added his name to the historic and prehistoric inscriptions at Inscription Rock (El Morro National Monument) in western New Mexico. Simpson's report described El Morro and Chaco Canyon and elicited much surprise among government officials. In 1874 William Henry Jackson, the photographer on the survey headed by renowned scientist Ferdinand V. Hayden, took photographs of ruins in the Mesa Verde area of southwestern Colorado. Jackson made models of the ruins he had seen for the exhibit of the Department of the Interior at the Philadelphia Centennial in 1876. The sophistication of the ruins astonished observers, and gradually a small but influential minority became peripherally interested in the fate of American prehistory. [7]

The founding of the Bureau of American Ethnology in 1879 (changed to Bureau of Ethnology in 1894) also contributed to growing interest in American prehistory. Under the guidance of Maj. John Wesley Powell, the one-armed Civil War veteran who went down the Colorado River on a raft and became the preeminent power in federal science, the Bureau sponsored numerous projects in the West and Southwest. Interested individuals also contributed to exploration of the region. Mary Hemenway, an affluent Bostonian, financed the work of Frank Hamilton Cushing, the erratic and frequently ill genius of the Bureau, at Zuni Pueblo. Others followed her lead. [8]

Privileged and educated easterners were the first to recognize the value of American prehistory. In 1882 Sen. George F. Hoar of Massachusetts presented a petition to the Senate from the New England Historic Genealogical Society. The antiquarians sought a general designation for prehistoric ruins in the Southwest that made them distinct from the rest of the public domain. This proposal died in congressional committee, deemed impractical by eastern and western members alike. Reaching national consensus apparently required more than the desire of elite organizations.

But in 1889 the persistence of advocates and a change in their tactics led to the creation of the first national reservation from the public domain. On 4 February 1889 Hoar presented another petition to the Senate from easterners interested in the preservation of prehistoric remains. This petition asked that the Casa Grande ruins, in Pima County, Arizona, be designated a national reservation, reserved for its cultural value. Many prominent Bostonians, including Oliver Wendell Holmes, Anna Cabot Lodge, R. Charlotte Dana, Mary Hemenway, Edward Everett Hale, Francis Parkman, and the governor of Massachusetts, Oliver Ames, signed the petition. Congress quickly acted upon it, passing legislation that appropriated funds for the repair and upkeep of Casa Grande and allowing the president to permanently set aside the land on which the ruins stood. Three years later, on 22 June 1892, Benjamin Harrison officially sanctioned the action when he established the Casa Grande Ruins Reservation. [9]

But Casa Grande was an unusual case, from which little precedent could be drawn. The petition that established it only requested the reservation of the 160-acre quarter section that contained the four-story adobe ruin. Unlike its earlier counterpart in 1882, the petition offered no provisions for American antiquities in general. The bill had many prominent and influential supporters and it asked only for a small, one-time appropriation, which probably explains why it passed. Preservationists were interested in it because Casa Grande was a link between prehistory and the written past. It was a testimony to the architectural and engineering skill of its builders. Father Eusebio Kino, a Spanish missionary, wrote of it in 1694, and other Spaniards who traversed the region had also described it. Europeans had seen Casa Grande before the nineteenth century, an idea that fascinated the American antiquarians who supported the bill.

In 1890 Americans in general were not yet prepared to think in terms of a need to preserve prehistory on any great scale. Yellowstone National Park had become reality, and Yosemite was undergoing the transformation from state to national park; federal preservation of scenic wonderlands was becoming accepted practice. Any specific case that piqued the interest of prominent and affluent Americans had a good chance to be the subject of protective legislation, but action to protect unspecified ancient sites in the West was liable to meet with opposition.

The difference between the perspectives of easterners, government officials, and settlers in the West generated this resistance. The easterner's definition of the past encompassed land still active in the present of the western settlers, and frequently the withdrawal of public land meant impositions upon homesteaders. To many southwestern settlers, the lands containing prehistoric ruins had more immediate uses; in that arid region, settlers coveted land with water, and the majority of prehistoric sites were located near sources of water. The survival of homesteads and ranches depended upon access to water, and giving up their livelihood to reassure anxious antiquarians made little sense to people struggling for subsistence. With no obvious economic advantages in the age before mass tourism, preservation meant little to settlers, many of whom had recently battled what they incorrectly thought were the descendants of the cliff dwellers. Some westerners argued with disdain that these relics of an ancient civilization were only houses, and abandoned ones at that. As eastern society began to mythologize its past, the practical perspective of westerners put them at odds with emerging public sentiment.

One important development in the East at this time was the professionalization of a variety of fields, particularly medicine and the sciences, which had begun during the late nineteenth century. By the 1880s, it was no longer possible to become a doctor by simply hanging out a shingle; the fledgling group that later became the American Medical Association required credentials for its members, preferably from the new medical school at Johns Hopkins University. As the range of scientific knowledge expanded, similar transformations took place in other scientific disciplines; many specializations developed that explored new areas of inquiry.

Among these offshoots was the science of anthropology, which crystallized into a scientific discipline in the 1890s. To the practitioners of the new discipline, Indian culture past and present was of great interest. The recent recognition that the American Southwest contained archaeological ruins and the subsequent setting aside of Casa Grande were milestones in the emergence of the field. By the end of the 1890s, the American Association for the Advancement of Science began to consider official sanction for the field of anthropology.

Training in the discipline also developed during the decade. Franz Boas, a Jewish emigre from Germany, taught anthropology at Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts, which in 1892, granted the first Ph.D. in anthropology in the United States. When he moved to Columbia University in 1899, Boas developed the first comprehensive anthropology program in the United States. Perhaps the most eminent anthropologist in America at the turn of the century, Boas saw that tangible field achievements would hasten the coming of respectability for the new science and he encouraged interest in American subjects. Meanwhile American archaeologists, long preoccupied with European and Middle Eastern antiquities, began to develop training programs, with Harvard University and its Peabody Museum appearing in the forefront. They too discovered and became interested in southwestern sites.

As they defined their discipline, anthropologists and archaeologists became concerned with unauthorized excavation of archaeological sites. Training in the two fields developed, but reports of excavations by everyone from dentists to cowboys circulated among the professional community. Scientists began to worry over the fate of unattended ruins on both federal and private land. The Southwest was their crucible, from which peer acceptance of their discipline had to emerge. They believed that they held the key to unlock the secrets of prehistoric life, but if pothunters were allowed to comb the ruins for artifacts, overturning walls and destroying the evidence of the past, then the future of anthropology and archaeology as important sciences could not be realized.

The excavation of southwestern ruins actually predated the rise of anthropology as a science. A rush to excavate began in 1882, after Senate Public Lands Committee member Preston B. Plumb told the groups who favored the first preservation legislation that they should beat other vandals to the ruins. Plumb pointed out that reputable institutions were rushing to make collections for their museums as quickly as vandals were destroying the sites. [10] During the 1880s and 1890s, federally sanctioned excavators included Victor and Cosmos Mindeleff, Dr. J. W. Fewkes, and Dr. Walter Hough, who published accounts of their fieldwork in the annual reports of the Bureau of American Ethnology. At the same time, Adolph F. A. Bandelier and Charles Lummis, noted southwestern explorers, both ventured into the commercial market with actual and fictionalized stories about the Southwest. [11] Gradually, the public discovered another kind of American past, and officials of the General Land Office in the Department of the Interior became interested in prehistoric structures and relics.

At the end of the 1890s, changing cultural conditions throughout the nation, the development of the new sciences, and the magnitude of the task of preserving prehistoric remains combined to propel the federal government into the business of preservation. As the century closed, the American government began to broaden its agenda to include a more extensive array of obligations than ever before. Social change directed by the federal government began to play a more important role in shaping policy, and a spirit of reform labeled Progressivism entered American political and social discourse. Sparked by the images of realist artists such as Robert Henri, John Sloan, and the rest of their group known as The Eight or the Ash Can school, and put into practice by activists like Jane Addams at Hull House, the principles of social reform took root in American society. The confluence of science and reform had a particularly powerful impact upon the management of natural resources, and the input of scientists in this field laid the basis for the eventual entrance of federal agencies into the preservation of prehistory.

Following the lead of the nineteenth-century scientist par excellence, John Wesley Powell, the federal government laid plans to manage natural resources. With government encouragement, scientists began to apply their skills and ideals to create a coherent federal resource policy. [12] Influential people like Bernhard Fernow in forestry and W J McGee, a close associate of Powell's at the Bureau of Ethnology and the man who coined the famous conservation phrase "the greatest good for the greatest number," favored the systematic organization of resources in accordance with newly recognized scientific principles. They sought to protect scarce resources from depletion while conserving the more abundant ones for future use. [13] If the closing of the frontier told Americans they would not be expanding into new territory, modern science gave the nation a way to counter the anxiety created by its loss. Conservation allowed for the planning of the future through goals of increased efficiency and equitable distribution.

But westerners feared the intrusion of scientists and scientific dogma in their lives. Most particularly, they worried about the potential consequences that the less-developed West would face at the hands of government bureaucrats and their professional advisors in Washington, D.C. [14] Their needs were unique, westerners felt, and many times the involvement of federal officials insensitive to or unaware of conditions in the West created more problems than it solved. Federal officials already had too much power, westerners such as Colorado senator Henry D. Teller and congressman John F. Shafroth argued, and many sympathized with their point of view.

Federal actions after 1897 did little to allay western suspicions. President Cleveland's proclamation of extensive forest reserves that year became the catalyst for increased mistrust, and as a rule, westerners generally opposed bills that granted the federal government additional power over federal lands. Even the Reclamation Act of 1902, which provided funding for the reclamation of arid land in the West for agricultural purposes, met with strong resistance from western congressmen. They were wary of the strings they felt certain were attached to any exercise of centralized power. [15] From a western perspective, decisions affecting the future of western land too often came from the Atlantic seaboard.

Western sentiment against the exercise of federal power was strong, and so was the distaste for easterners who offered book knowledge as a substitute for years of actual experience in the West. Those in the West saw these people, their fortunes already secure, as hypocrites, pontificating about conservation to others who still inhabited a world of potential abundance. Westerners were also reluctant to share their source of wealth with the established East. They could not understand why the West should mortgage its present for the future of the rest of the nation. Traditional American individualism was at odds with the new techniques of management promulgated by scientific experts and their institutional backers.

This political dichotomy between the old individualism and the new public policy trapped advocates of the preservation of prehistoric ruins. The focal point of western resentment was the federal policy of withdrawing land in the public domain from homestead claims. As long as a tract was withdrawn, it remained the property of the federal government. No one could enter claims of ownership upon it, and prospecting, grazing, and farming necessitated government permission. To western farmers and ranchers, withdrawal seemed an arbitrary policy designed to deny them their living. This posed a real problem for supporters of legislation designed to protect and preserve the remains of prehistoric Indian civilizations in the Southwest. [16] Preserving the unique but obscure heritage of the region required the withdrawal of lands that contained tangible ruins. More often than not, these lands also included resources that had commercial value.

Little middle ground existed between the two points of view. The land that archaeologists and anthropologists wanted to use to piece together the ethnological and social history of the pre-Columbian Americas was the same land from which some settler earned a living. Scientists were often insensitive to the needs of the settlers, and the overview that science sought was foreign to people concerned foremost with their own survival. Each side misunderstood the motives of the other. Preservation and development seemed incompatible; progress toward the protection of antiquities frequently became impaled upon this question.

The upsurge of interest in contemporary and prehistoric Indian cultures resulted from the public sense that the Indian, like the frontier, was a relic of the past worth preserving. The World's Columbian Exposition of 1893 in Chicago housed the most comprehensive display of American Indian artifacts ever assembled. Under the direction of such rising talents as Franz Boas and William Henry Holmes, who trained during the 1870s on the F. V. Hayden surveys, the exhibition surpassed even the Columbian Historical Exposition of 1892 in Madrid, noted as the most important collection of artifacts assembled to that point. The exhibition ignited a general interest in the southwestern relics, furthering the development of public interest in Indian cultures.


America's National Monuments: The Politics of Preservation
©1989, Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois
©1994, University Press of Kansas
All rights reserved by the Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois

rothman/chap2.htm — 04-Feb-2005

Copyright © 1989 by the Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois. Material from this edition published by the University Press of Kansas by arrangement with the University of Illinois Press and may not be reproduced in any manner without the written consent of the author and the University of Illinois Press.