America's National Monuments
The Politics of Preservation
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Chapter 4:
The First Monuments

THE PASSAGE OF THE ANTIQUITIES ACT OF 1906 addressed regional issues rather than national ones. The demands of an industrializing society left little time to ponder the remnants of aboriginal Indian culture. To a nation not far removed from the rigors of frontier existence, the preservation of a non-European, non-English-speaking heritage offered little symbolic sustenance. A civilized past in what previously had been thought a cultural void had little meaning to the average American. The Southwest remained of peripheral concern to the United States as it modernized, and to many in the East, the region seemed a backward yet romantic place. Archaeological ruins evoked images of an intriguing past, but they were far from national centers of policy and power. Few urban Americans saw any reflection of the contemporary struggle to attain global power in the ruins of prehistoric societies. Archaeological preservation seemed likely to remain the province of the upper classes and intellectuals.

Yet the Antiquities Act was a harbinger of change in the Southwest and West. Its passage added a potent new method for the federal government to impose order upon public lands, and it provided an emotional and intellectual argument that merged with the scientific rationale advocating wise use of dwindling resources. The Act gave the aggressive administrations of the early twentieth century another means to implement their agenda of controlled regulation of the assets of the nation.

Although the framers of the Antiquities Act regarded the preservation of prehistoric ruins as an end in itself, others sensed an implicit affirmation of industrial America cloaked in the speeches that spurred its passage. The demise of prehistoric culture gave Americans confidence in their destiny. In the aftermath of the Spanish-American War, xenophobic Americans regarded their subjugation of the wilderness as evidence of the superiority of English-speaking people. The spread of industrial commerce in the Southwest offered a sharp contrast to the remnants of an aboriginal culture and reinforced that assumption. This quirky determinism suggested that the New World belonged to those who could master its often harsh environment. The ruins of previous attempts to bring order to a chaotic physical environment offered assurance that modern solutions were best.

Early in the twentieth century, the American public felt the beautiful and the scenic to be more accurate barometers of their superiority than were the ruins of lost civilizations. Americans found affirmation of their aspirations in the landscape of the national parks. The uproar over the articulation of the closing of the westward frontier and the back-to-nature cults it spawned revealed a general preoccupation with the relationship between humanity and its environment. Archaeological ruins were another way of confirming what the descendants of Europeans already knew: the North American continent was their rightful domain. From this perspective, the Antiquities Act was only the most recent law in a history descending from the Papal Intercaetara of 1493, which divided the unknown parts of the globe into halves ceded to Portugal and Spain.

The Antiquities Act also had some very practical functions given increased public interest in preservation. It allowed the Department of the Interior to protect the national parks, by creating an additional category for the permanent reservation of places of interest. One measure of the growing public acceptance for preservation was that congressmen began to covet national parks for their states or districts. Between 1900 and 1906, Congress created two national parks, Wind Cave in South Dakota and Platt in Oklahoma, as pork-barrel maneuvers. Sully's Hill, a tract of unspectacular scenery in North Dakota, also acquired informal designation as a national park. None of these areas compared in scenic beauty or size to previous parks like Yellowstone, Yosemite, and Mount Rainier, and the establishment of such parks called into question the motivation for the creation of national parks. The establishment of inferior parks prior to passage of the Antiquities Act emphasized the need for some other category in which to place proposed areas. The passage of the Antiquities Act allowed the Department of the Interior to fend off the park proposals it did not want; after 1906, if a congressman wanted a national park in his district but the Department of the Interior thought such a designation was inappropriate, the area frequently became a national monument.

The Act also expressed the middle and upper-middle class values of decision makers during the Progressive-era. The federal bureaucracy, operating as a managerial elite, acquired the right to make decisions in the interest of public good. As befitted the era, this power was unrestricted, yet narrowly conceived. The Act did not allow ad hoc funding for the new areas, and its punishment clauses were hardly sufficient to prevent vandalism. Progressive legislators believed that legal restrictions alone would inspire compliance and that a sign proclaiming federal property would deter a respectable citizen bent on excavating. They did not realize that the law might not have an impact upon someone not inculcated in middle-class traditions.

Despite the values of Progressive America and the ease with which national monuments could be established, the Act revealed a general lack of consensus over what should be preserved. The category it established—the national monuments—lacked the cultural trappings attached to national parks. These monuments were only proclaimed. Soldiers did not guard them, as they did the national parks. Railroads rarely promoted national monuments, and tourists did not go out of their way to find these often remote places. Established with little fanfare and sometimes with less thought, the monuments came to include an increasingly diverse spectrum of features.

Progressive sensibility alone did not account for the diversity of the monuments. In fact, the Antiquities Act lent legal sanction to an informal system already firmly entrenched in the GLO. Beginning in the early 1890s, the commissioners of the GLO actively pursued a policy of withdrawing places with archaeological, historical, or natural significance from settlement and other kinds of land claims. GLO special agents in the field brought these places to the attention of the bureau. To prevent development and exploitation, commissioners Binger Hermann and W. A. Richards removed a broad array of locations, including the homestead that Richard Wetherill staked out in Chaco Canyon, from the sections of the public domain available under the terms of the Homestead Act. A "temporary withdrawal" only required that the area had potential for something other than agriculture. The interesting features of many made them candidates for the then-amorphous national park category. [1]

The Antiquities Act allowed the conversion of the commissioner of the General Land Office's de facto system into a reality grounded in law. The GLO played an important role in questions of the disposal of land and worked to make its position understood throughout the legislative battles in Congress over the preservation issue. Its officials feared that measures like the Lodge-Rodenberg bill of 1904 might restrict their options. Edgar L. Hewett's close connections with the GLO made him aware that its officials needed considerable leeway. If the areas already withdrawn from entry could not be converted to permanent status, the work of early preservation advocates and their allies would be wasted. The Antiquities Act solved this problem. The transformation of land from temporary withdrawal to national monument status protected the work of prior commissioners of the GLO.

After the passage of the Antiquities Act, the commissioner of the GLO began to convert previously withdrawn places into national monuments. During the summer of 1906, the GLO staff reviewed withdrawn tracts and drew up preliminary proclamations for the secretary of the interior. On 24 September 1906 President Theodore Roosevelt signed the first of these proclamations, making Devils Tower the first national monument in the United States.

An 865-foot-high geological abnormality rising above the plains of eastern Wyoming, Devils Tower had first come to the attention of the Department of the Interior fourteen years earlier. In 1892 Sen. Francis E. Warren of Wyoming received a letter from GLO special agent L. S. Hanchett concerning this "great natural curiosity." Warren wrote to the commissioner of the GLO, Thomas Carter, to promote the region as a possible national park. He requested that the GLO "formulate a bill or suggest provisions for one which would cover the ground and receive the support of [the D]epartment [of the Interior]." [2]

But in 1892, the time was not ripe for the concept of preservation of its own sake. The regulation of natural resources, however, did already figure in federal policy; the Forest Reserve Act of 1891 allowed the president to select wooded areas of the public domain as forest reserves, primarily to protect watersheds. As a result, Carter developed a two-pronged justification concerning Devils Tower for the secretary of the interior. He argued that the feature had served as a landmark for early settlers in the West and that reserving it would help preserve the watershed of the nearby Belle Fourche River. Symbolic value and practical function, Carter insisted, made Devils Tower worthy of reservation. [3]

Six years later, in 1898, Carter's suggestion became reality. Although a temporary withdrawal required only a proclamation by the commissioner of the GLO, it was not a desired prize in the early 1890s. The GLO initially sought a more permanent solution. But the significance of the temporary withdrawal as an important tool increased throughout the 1890s, and in 1898, Commissioner Hermann completed what Carter had begun. He withdrew Devils Tower from the public domain. [4] As the scientific management of natural resources became an important social issue to Americans adjusting to the idea of a culture without a westward frontier, Hermann's move fit the changing political and cultural climate.

Yet until the passage of the Antiquities Act, Devils Tower remained in limbo, neither large enough nor important enough to become a national park. But there was no other category for it. It was ludicrous to add Devils Tower to a category that held Yellowstone as the standard to which other park areas were compared. In the federal system before 1906, Devils Tower was an anomaly. Its primary value was natural, which would have left it out of the preservation system had the Lodge-Rodenberg bill passed in 1904. Because the Antiquities Act of 1906 covered a greater range than did its predecessors, the main impetus for the first national monument did not come from the archaeologists, academics, or scientists who worked so fervently to pass the Antiquities Act. The proclamation reflected the dual function Thomas Carter suggested in 1892. An "extraordinary example of erosion in the higher mountains," Devils Tower was preserved for its historic and scientific value. [5] Inappropriate as a national park or forest, it became the first national monument.

The number and type of monuments grew rapidly. On 8 December 1906 Theodore Roosevelt proclaimed three more national monuments: El Morro, a rock abutment in western New Mexico that bore the inscriptions of Spanish and American soldiers and travelers as well as the petroglyphs of prehistoric people, and two areas in Arizona, the Petrified Forest, two extensive clusters of prehistoric petrified forests, and Montezuma Castle, a prehistoric cliff dwelling tucked into a hillside in the Verde River valley. Along with Devils Tower, the three December 1906 national monuments covered the gamut of potential monuments in the American West. All had previously been included in temporary withdrawals. These initial proclamations defined the boundaries of the monument category for the coming decades.

Rising above the surrounding desert, El Morro was a spectacular sight. Its small pool of potable water had attracted prehistoric people and later travelers. Beginning with don Juan de Oñate in 1605, Spaniards inscribed their names on the face of El Morro. During the nineteenth century, American military explorers, including Lt. James H. Simpson, who investigated Chaco Canyon in 1848-49, continued the tradition and left their mark. Late in the 1890s El Morro attracted the attention of the Smithsonian Institution. "A more beautiful and imposing bit of scenery is not to be found in the United States," the acting secretary of the Smithsonian wrote to the secretary of the interior on 22 December 1899. "I recommend immediate attention in this matter for many of the early inscriptions have been despoiled by vandal bands." The forestry report of the GLO in 1900 also noted the significance of the El Morro, a place "of such historical interest that ample protection should be thrown around it, especially in as much as added years attach new interest and value," and suggested that "if the lands upon which the rock stands were reserved from settlement, the property would be measurable [sic] protected for the present." [6] Because it was a unique and irreplaceable monument to the continuity of human existence in a harsh environment, El Morro was withdrawn by the GLO to await either national park status or the passage of a bill to preserve antiquities.

The Petrified Forest region in Arizona also attracted considerable attention in the period prior to the passage of the Antiquities Act. By the turn of the century, casual vandalism was threatening its features. Reports that thieves were using dynamite to break up the formations to haul them away reached the GLO. The crossing at the nearby Rio Puerco was littered with formations discarded when drivers found them heavy enough to prevent their autos from fording the creek. After numerous complaints by concerned people, the GLO withdrew the tract in 1903, pending consideration of a national park in the region. There was little progress toward a park bill in Congress that year, but in 1904 GLO special agent Stephen J. Holsinger received authorization to appoint an unpaid assistant with a specific purpose: to "prevent all persons from doing further damage to the natural curiosities within the proposed national park." [7] Park status for the Petrified Forest never progressed beyond the proposal stage, and like El Morro, it lingered in limbo.

In Arizona, Montezuma Castle was in a similar position. Nestled under a cliff overlooking agricultural fields, Hohokam and Hakataya aboriginals had built the "castle" as a defensive site. Nineteenth-century Americans, immersed in the romance of what they believed to be Aztec culture in the American Southwest, misnamed the secluded fortress. Cosmos Mindeleff of the Bureau of American Ethnology surveyed the site in 1892, and before 1900 it attracted the attention of the Department of the Interior. The GLO, nominally in charge of the area, did little until Gov. Alexander Brodie of Arizona wrote Secretary of the Interior Ethan A. Hitchcock inquiring about the ruins. In 1904 GLO special agent George Wilson inspected the ruin. He advocated the establishment of a national park, reporting that there were many visitors and that the ruin required better supervision. [8]

But a problem of semantics plagued such areas. Like the Petrified Forest, Devils Tower, and El Morro, Montezuma Castle differed from already established national parks. It did not have the scenery that characterized the national park class; it was a solitary, if massive, cliff dwelling. Wilson suggested that Montezuma Castle be proclaimed a national park because he recognized the need for its protection. But from the perspective of the Department of the Interior in Washington, D.C., Wilson's suggestion was implausible. In 1904 the interior department had already expressed concern about the inferior national parks, and if Montezuma Castle became a national park, the department would appear to contradict its emphasis. Although it clearly merited preservation, Montezuma Castle did not merit recognition as a national park.

Prior to the passage of the Antiquities Act, federal preservation efforts could not be comprehensive. Many areas worthy of preservation did not meet the amorphous standards for national parks. In addition, many were in the territories of Arizona and New Mexico, which had only a nonvoting territorial delegate in Congress and lacked the pork-barrel influence that often contributed to the establishment of national parks. Increasing private demand for land in the Southwest made the future of unclaimed areas uncertain. The GLO combated such problems with the power of temporary withdrawal. GLO commissioner Binger Hermann knew that Congress would never establish the Montezuma Castle as a national park, but late in 1904 he withdrew the ruin because he hoped for the early passage of the Lodge-Rodenberg bill or one of its counterparts. After the passage of the Antiquities Act two years later, GLO officials began to formalize such withdrawals.

As a result of GLO activism, the monuments became a much broader category than many of the supporters of the Antiquities Act had envisioned. Montezuma Castle was the first of many prehistoric ruins to attain national monument status. El Morro had historic and prehistoric significance; its walls held the answers to many questions about Spanish endeavors in the north of old New Spain, and its ruins were associated with some of the mystique of prehistoric life. Devils Tower and the Petrified Forest were natural areas, evocative of the culturally significant landscapes of the national parks.

The GLO used the Antiquities Act to codify in law what had been its standard procedure during the previous fifteen years. Although the Antiquities Act granted the president discretion in proclaiming sites, in practice the GLO made those decisions. Between 1906 and 1909, most monument proclamations formalized earlier temporary withdrawals, so that there was little argument about the suitability of reserving the places in question. Long in advance of the Antiquities Act, all had been withdrawn to protect them from the forces that the new law addressed.

The GLO carved the early national monuments out of the public domain and forest reserves, from land unclaimed by the public that lacked apparent economic value and that was predominantly located in remote, undeveloped sections of the country. Unproductive from an agricultural standpoint and generally too distant from the nearest railroad to support a profitable tourist industry, none of the early monuments had sufficient value to private citizens to make their reservation worth contesting.

The Antiquities Act had a severe limitation because it applied only to federal land. Railroads and other industries had acquired considerable land in the West and Southwest, and the GLO had little control over ruins upon railroad sections. The Homestead Act of 1862 had facilitated private ownership of land throughout the West, and by 1900 homesteaders claimed numerous objects of natural and cultural interest. In such cases, the Antiquities Act offered little protection for pictographs and petroglyphs, ruins, or other objects of value on private land.

The case of the pictographs and ruins of San Cristobal pueblo in northern New Mexico typified the response of the GLO to suggestions involving privately owned sites. In January 1907 the Los Angeles Times, which circulated widely throughout smaller towns in the West, ran a Sunday article that featured these pictographs. In Beatrice, Nebraska, William Wolfe, president of the German National Bank, saw the article and asked Congressman John Lacey to bring San Cristobal to the attention of Congress. [9] Wolfe had visited the pictographs and was willing to attest to their importance as relics of human history on the North American continent.

But the GLO found itself powerless at San Cristobal. Lacey thought that the pictographs were an interesting possibility for a national monument and passed the request on to the Department of the Interior. It landed on Commissioner W. A. Richards's desk at the GLO. On 5 February 1907 Richards concluded that the Arroyo San Cristobal lay within the confirmed E. W. Eaton land grant. Unless the owners, including New Mexico land baron Thomas B. Catron, wanted to make a gift of the tract, the GLO could not act. [10] Congress had not provided appropriations to purchase land for monuments, and a national monument was not sufficiently valuable to engineer an exchange of lands.

San Cristobal was not the only worthwhile archaeological, natural, or historic area that remained outside of federal control. The GLO had limited resources for preservation and could not justify the time and effort that acquisition attempts required. Monuments were little more than a symbolic triumph, not worthy of extensive effort by the GLO. There were more than enough places of interest in the public domain to fill the time Commissioner Richards and his staff could devote to national monuments, and like most Americans, they lacked comparative standards to make qualitative assessment of such areas.

The GLO had few options in such cases and its officials chose the earliest national monuments from the best available areas that remained in federal hands. Barring donation by its owners, private land was out of the question. The public domain, the national forests, and military reservations formed a pool from which the GLO selected "objects of prehistoric, historic and scientific interest"; many places outside the category were of equal or greater importance than established national monuments.

Despite the limitations of the resources of the GLO, pressure to establish monuments mounted as Theodore Roosevelt's tenure continued. Private donations, threatened exploitation and development, and pressure from members of Congress, government employees, and individuals played a significant role in shaping the national monument category.

In a typical instance, the establishment of the Muir Woods National Monument resulted from conflict between the interests of utilitarian development and preservation in the San Francisco Bay area. Progressive-era administrators favored public control rather than private development of irreplacable resources, and Muir Woods became the first donation of private land for the establishment of a national monument.

California congressman William Kent, a long-time supporter of conservation and preservation causes, was the pivotal figure in the Muir Woods issue. On 29 August 1905 he purchased a large tract of redwood trees near Mill Valley, California, from the Tamalpais Land and Water Company. Aware of the increasing competition for land in booming northern California, Kent was determined to protect the few remaining stands of redwood trees in the San Francisco Bay area. [11] But when the massive San Francisco earthquake of 1906 decimated the city, local interests placed considerable pressure upon Kent to give up the land for development. Individuals and companies offered fair market value for the timber, but Kent regarded the redwoods as an irreplaceable resource and declined their offers.

The prospective purchasers saw the land only as a commodity and intensified their efforts. Rebuffed, James Newlands, the head of the North Coast Water Company and a nephew of the influential Nevada senator Francis Newlands, threatened to use his uncle's influence to wrest the land from Kent. Newlands filed a condemnation suit on a forty-seven-acre segment of Kent's redwood tract. The North Coast Water Company proposed to build a reservoir on the tract and to sell the water to the city of San Francisco.

In the name of the public good, commercial interests challenged private prerogative. Water was important to the city, and the North Coast Water Company sought to fill the need. Kent believed that Newlands selected the redwood tract to force him to divide his estate. The wooded area would make an adequate reservoir, but it was not the only place that could serve the purpose. From Kent's perspective, the reservoir was a short-term solution that future generations would regret. But he held a minority view; public opinion was more interested in water than in the preservation of trees. If it came to a court battle, Newlands's lawyers intended to present Kent as a European-style "lord of the manor," whereas Newlands and the North Coast Water Company offered a public service, albeit at a profit. They could easily seem civic-minded in comparison with the caricature of Kent that might have emerged in court. Under the conditions that existed, Newlands had an excellent chance to win the condemnation suit in state court.

Kent had few options, but he made the most of them. As an ardent conservationist during his years in Congress, he was aware of the potential of the Antiquities Act. In response to the suit, Kent mailed the deed for 295 acres of his land, including the forty-seven disputed acres, to Secretary of the Interior James A. Garfield on 26 December 1907. Kent requested that Garfield accept it as a national monument under the terms of the Antiquities Act and that the monument be named Muir Woods, in honor of noted outdoorsman John Muir. [12]

Kent's situation required immediate action by the federal government. His attorney, William Thomas, explained the situation to United States forester and conservation advocate Gifford Pinchot. Thomas also urged Frederick E. Olmstead, chief inspector of the San Francisco branch of the USFS, to convince the government to accept the donation promptly. Kent had not been served with court documents and could still escape the lawsuit. "If I am forced to answer on behalf of Kent before the United States has any vested interest in the property," Thomas continued, "the result will be disastrous, as our statute provides that actions of this character will be given precedence on every court calendar." If the government acted quickly, federal ownership of the tract might preclude private or state-ordered condemnation. Secretary of the Interior Garfield believed that "these lands were deeded and accepted before the service of the process" and asked the Justice Department to protect the interest of the government. [13]

Kents donation furthered his reputation for public service and gave the redwood grove the protection of the federal government. On 9 January 1908, twelve days after Kent sent his initial offer, Theodore Roosevelt signed the proclamation establishing the Muir Woods National Monument. The North Coast Water Company found itself suing the United States of America in federal court. Intimidated but undaunted, Newlands persisted. The court granted continuances in the case until Kent sold the North Coast Water Company another tract suitable for a reservoir, and Newlands finally withdrew the suit.


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/chap4.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.