We celebrate Theordore Roosevelt as one, and the most energetic, of the Grand Canyon's protecting angels. Yet untangling the history of the twentieth-century's first decade does not seem to leave us with much. It should have been a time of triumph, a time to build on the previous years' work to launch a Grand Canyon National Park effort. It was not, and indeed seems a time of splendid words and thin action.
First, recall that the Antiquities Act dates to June 1906, with a not unusual legislative history of half a decade or more. Then in 1907, congressional anti-conservationists had schemed away Presidential power to proclaim national forests. TR and Pinchot did create a bunch of "midnight" forests before the prohibition became effective, but presidential discretion and power to protect western land was heavily curtailed.
The GLO had for some years been pursuing national park status for the Grand Canyon. It had also made efforts to report on and withdraw from some entry other significant places. The Antiquities Act of 1906 dovetailed into that effort, according to Hal Rothman's history of the National Monuments, with the first (Devil's Tower in Wyoming) declared in September 1906 for its historic and scientific value. In December, the next three, El Morro, Montezuma Castle, and Petrified Forest even more firmly established the breadth of the Act, including archeological, geologic and other scientific considerations as well as natural, scenic, and historic worth. All were worthy destinations for any citizen, as were the four set up in 1907, e.g., Chaco Canyon and Lassen (volcano) Peak.
More heft was added to this tool by the Muir Woods story, which combined a donation of private land with controversy, in this case over private uses competing with values based on redwoods biology. It also gives the flavor of the times because it was a big-name transaction: A conservationist Congressman made the donation, acting directly by contacting Pinchot and FEOlmsted in the Forest Service, as well as Interior Secretary Garfield. Within two weeks of the gift, TR signed the proclamation on Jan 9 1908. Oh, and two days later, he brought the Grand Canyon National Monument into existence.
Second, I want to ponder a question I have never seen the answer to: How come the hero of the Grand Canyon never pushed for a Grand Canyon National Park?
Another review: TR and Pinchot had been friends and colleagues in conservation since 1899, while TR was still governor of New York. Pinchot had visited northern Arizona several years earlier, about the same time John Muir and Pinchot became friends in 1892. In 1896, they were members of a National Forest Commission, camping out together on the Canyon's rim, according to Timothy Egan's colorful depiction. The Commission recommended that the Canyon be made a national Park, and in 1898, Pinchot, as head of the Dept. of Agriculture's Forestry Division, wrote the Secretary of the Interior reiterating the recommendation to convert part of the GC Forest Reserve into a national park.
John Muir and TR became great mutual admirers as well. Muir visited the Canyon again in 1902 (after the railroad had reached the rim), and wrote a long Canyon rhapsody in the November Century Magazine. He did not, however, mention a national park. The next Spring, TR made his majestic Presidential western tour. He was in the Canyon on May 6, and we know what he said. A week later, he was in Yosemite with John Muir, camping out. Without knowing comprehensively what they talked about, still, can we credit that the glories of the Grand Canyon and possible park status never came up? Although, as I mentioned elsewhere, in his 1913 Autobiography, TR did not list proclaiming the Grand Canyon National Monument as one of his achievements.
So, why did TR not do the obvious, and send off a message in 1903 to Congress asking it to create a National Park? Why did he not deluge the Secretary of the Interior, GLO, and USGS with demands that they get moving? He sees the Canyon himself in 1903 and leaves office almost six years later, He had celebrated the Canyon (in words), without ever having made a Grand Canyon National Park a cause.
Alright, maybe he did make inquiries, and was told the necessary surveying was being done. And then was told there were those railroad sections to dispose of. Except that doesn't work, since the surveying and railroad relinquishment were done together and complete by 1906. And then Santa Fe officials were telling USGS of a park's advantages. Indeed, USGS, with the Director's endorsement, sent the Santa Fe a map and draft bill at the beginning of 1907. Then it and the administering Forest Service went back to dithering.
But such excuses don't really work, when you consider TR. Had he wanted a bill sent to Congress, he would have talked to Pinchot and Walcott, and they would have done it. But 1907 went by, with USGS on record that it was considering both park and monument proposals, and nothing happened.
All those friends and colleagues, hunters and conservationists, park boosters and preservationists; all those thousands of rhapsodic and bureaucratic words, and here is what he said:
Annual Messages; Dec 6 1904: The Canyon of the Colorado should be made a national park. Half a line for the Canyon; the preceding six lines extolled protecting game as a general matter, and at Yellowstone.
Dec 5 1905: In my judgment, the Grand Canyon of the Colorado should be made into a National park. Better.
Jan 11 1908, he proclaims the National Monument. Was that supposed to be enough? He does not
mention the park idea again.
mention the park idea again.
Dec 8 1908, his last annual message, urged consolidating management of those national parks adjacent to national forests under the Forest Service, removing them from Interior and the US Army, but only mentioning Yellowstone and Yosemite.
Other than that, and in all other of the eight messages, nothing.
And we also know, as I wrote earlier, the Game Preserve was not about the Canyon. So we are left with:
The 1903 visit; some great words.
A few words in the 1904/5 annual messages, but no follow-up.
A Monument proclaimed. Which seems to be, not part of a crusade, but more of an anomaly of action in a sea of words. Time to take a look.