By Jeffrey Ingram 2019 - 2020
AN UNORTHODOX -- THOUGH TRUE -- POLITICAL HISTORY:
AN UNORTHODOX -- THOUGH TRUE -- POLITICAL HISTORY:
Grand Canyon National Park in Its Regional Setting
Two 1882 letters about the Grand Canyon exist between John Wesley Powell, Canyon explorer and new Director, United States Geological Survey:
and Benjamin Harrison, freshman Senator from Indiana, later, President of the United States:
There may have been more letters; --almost certainly were, in the 1880's. On Powell's side, however, fire in the early twentieth century destroyed the pertinent archives of the U. S. Geological Survey (USGS) under his directorship. And Harrison's collected correspondence contains nothing about the Canyon. Nor is there any other evidence of a relationship between the two. Yet these men -- Powell leading, Harrison taking the actions -- together constructed the founding political framework in which debate about a Grand Canyon National Park took place over the next 40 years and beyond. How did this partnership, so obscured, so fruitful, come about?
In trying to answer that question, and the multitude of others that have arisen from human efforts to gain control, exploit, enjoy, and yes, celebrate the Grand Canyon, we will see a multitude of people swirling about, often just briefly, some for decades. However, I wanted my view not to get stuck on personalities of individuals; for many, the Canyon was peripheral to their main concerns. Yet in taking the actions they did -- for better or worse, heroically or villainously in effect-- they placed themselves in the service of our attempts to cope with the astounding, the astonishing, physical fact and universal environmental meaning of the Grand Canyon. People's actions are my ingredients here; the Canyon is the grandest of banquets, a feast in which many have participated; contributions sometimes delightful; other dishes, unpalatable.
The Canyon's National Park -- as a narrative centerpiece, a concept, project, a goal -- is half again as old as its centennial, and still vibrant, still stimulating new and old heroics and villainies. And in 1880, as the concept was gestating, other claimants were stimulated by very different visions:
The U.S.Army was contemplating land bases for the Hualapai and the Havasupai. Present and petitioning were the Navajo, Southern Paiute, Hopi & Ute peoples, miners and Mormons, livestock owners, the Railroad; explorers tamed into tourists. This is drama with multiple stages and rosters of players. The narrative flow is bent, curved, entangled -- with Arizona, hydroelectricity &, ironically, loggers yet to appear.
Simply, the matter of the story is the drawing of lines, boundaries. Not simply, it is the question of who exercises jurisdiction, ownership, administration, exploitation rights, over the several pieces of the Canyon's topographic expression. That question seeks its many answers within a particular legal, political, governmental framework, that of the federal republic of the United States of America, arching inclusively above all other arenas in which decisions about the Canyon have been contended over.
To keep my narrative moving along, I will leave related non-Canyon material to be found at the reader's discretion. This is not a scholarly version. I intend it to be reliable, based on experiences, research, and sources I have personally worked on. I eschew footnotes, and will discuss my sources in a separate post. My purposes here are education and entertainment and advocacy. This is a great, tangled, tale, and deserves to flow as freely as I can make it. It is also as true as I can make it, though of course it is not the only true version possible. Mine is aimed at promoting an understanding of what advocacy for the Grand Canyon--in all its grandeur and iconic status-- consists of when placed alongside and against other claims.
1880 provides a splendid perch to view the Canyon's political landscape as it is readied to change radically. We would see the Hopi, figuring centrally in the spirituality the Canyon often evokes. The Hualapai had put up a fight for their lands, and the Army was considering where to fence them off. The Havasupai, more discreet and more settled, were being pecked at by a few of the plague of prospecting wanderers sure the Canyon, emptied of rock, was full of riches. The Navajo were gathering themselves for their long-term, insistent extension of their Reservation boundaries. The Railroad, organized as the Atlantic and Pacific, was becoming the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe, -- instantly one of the great land-holders in the region -- , and was already throwing its weight around. With the Fred Harvey Company it would be a major contender for decades. There were other nearby residents -- the Utes, Spanish, Pueblos, and peoples south of the railroad -- with other business. To the north, the Paiutes -- too often exemplary for being victimized -- and the Mormon settlers -- too often exemplary for the opposite -- were using and/or settling the Canyon's hinterlands north of the river.
Explorers and scientists were busy, too, especially on that north side. One towers: John Wesley Powell. Civil War Major --one-armed since--, organizer and captain of the first flotilla to run the Colorado's great canyons, popularizing writer, went off to Washington to head federal agencies of the Geological Survey and the Ethnology Bureau. Powell had acquired knowledge and wisdom about the American West and its proper uses, as well as an abiding desire to herald, protect, and present to the public, the Grand Canyon. And in Washington, he met and made a fellow advocate for the Canyon of Indiana's freshman Senator, Benjamin Harrison. They both took up their first Washington posts in 1881. Somehow, something like respect, friendship formed.
Out of Mystery, Action
Signal though it was, the only evidence of this fruitful relationship is the two letters. The first, handwritten on 26 April 1882 from Senator Harrison to Powell at his second post as Director of the Bureau of Ethnology, says
I received the draft of the bill which you sent me providing for setting apart the Cañon of the Colorado as a National Park. By some mischance it has got away from me...I do not see any other way than to ask you to rewrite this bill and send it to me and I will try to present it before I lose it again.Powell replied on May 5th, taking "pleasure in sending you" a bill, and "thanking you for your kind attention to" this matter of the Canyon. Now there is no mystery about Powell's interest; his involvement with the Canyon is well recorded (though not with a recognition of this particular relationship) including in his own books. Powell, a Civil War major (Harrison made it to general, but there seems to be no connection there, nor in the fact that they were mid-westerners), led his epic voyage down the Colorado, including the Grand Canyon, in 1869, and spent more time in the 1870's doing field work in its region. His books about his travels helped popularize the Canyon. He drew, or had drawn, maps. As a public official in Washington in the 1880's, he outclassed anyone else as a Grand Canyon expert.
In 1872 Yellowstone had been legislated our first National Park as a sort-of square of about 52x60 miles, laid out on latitude and longitude, That must have made sense for Yellowstone's attractions; it retains much of that shape today. It is not too much of a stretch, though undocumented, to think Powell took inspiration from this lead to celebrate the Canyon, his place of glory and cost. So he was prompted to find someone to introduce a similar Grand Canyon National Park bill, and he chose Harrison. The draft bill he sent Harrison described, like Yellowstone, a quadrilateral along parallels and meridians, of about 56x69 miles. Maybe people thought straight then, or maybe copying Yellowstone seemed politically shrewd. The devil was provided much detail for future mischief, however, because the Canyon fits no four-sided box with anything but discomfort. We have been fighting over boundaries ever since.
The Powell-Harrison Partnership
If Powell had been in Congress and put his name on the bill, there would be no mystery. Instead he picked out this brand-new senator from Indiana. Harrison had no so-far discovered connection with Powell, the Grand Canyon, or the West and its wonders. Two Union veterans with beards seems thin. Yet somehow the new USGS Director sought out the new senator, and enlisted him, not just for a gesture, but for the long term and with real consequences.
Harrison introduced John Wesley Powell's Grand Canyon National Park bill on 9 May 1882, five months into the first regular session of the 47th Congress. In what would seem to be routine actions, S. 1849 was referred to the Public Lands Committee, and then sent to the Secretary of the Interior on May 15th to obtain the Department's views.
The Committee chairman was P. B. Plumb, Republican of Kansas, a far-seeing legislator and Civil War Lt. Colonel concerned with the West and its myriad resources. He held the post until his death in 1891. Earlier that year he oversaw passage of an extensive revision of the public land laws that included this last section:
Sec. 24. That the President of the United States may from time to time set apart and reserve, in any State or Territory having public land bearing forests, in any part of the public lands wholly or in part covered with timber or undergrowth, whether of commercial value or not, as public reservations: and the President shall, by public proclamation, declare the establishment of such reservations and the limits thereof.We will get to that.
It is a fixture in U.S. land history that there is dilatory, even corrupt, behavior to be expected in matters dealt with by the 19th-century bureaucracy of the General Land Office (GLO). When not selling off public land, part of its remit was to comment on such land legislation as S.1849, although making Parks was a brand-new American endeavor. Somehow on this matter, the GLO was the opposite of bureaucratic; the Secretary had its reply on May 24th. Could this have been usual? Powell's USGS was in Interior; did he personally take a hand? Or with the GLO's kind evaluation, viz. "The objects to be attained by the bill ... appear to me to be worthy the consideration of Congress."
The GLO efficiently noted that the "Yavai Suppai" reservation was so new it was on no map, but would be within the proposed Park boundary and should be excepted. Also, any lands "settled and improved upon" should be exempted. Finally, since the technical means to determine the latitudes and longitudes were not available, the GLO re-defined the boundary in miles. Instead of lying between 111° 45' and 112° 45', and 35° 45' to 36° 45', the revised language read:
from the junction of the Colorado and Little Colorado, go east 2-½ miles. Then go north 40 miles, west 56, south 69, east 56, then back north 29.
For Powell, the rivers' confluence deserved inclusion.
These dimensions were then drawn on the new 1879 federal map of what was to become Arizona. That accompanied the GLO report to the Secretary of the Interior on S. 1849. As noted, the just-proclaimed Yava Suppai reservation was not shown though exempted in the language, thus missing the opportunity to mark cartographically the continuing, and too often difficult, entanglement of Park and Havasupai.
The map shows another entanglement, marked just below the darkish line (fold in the map) by the dashed line of the northern 40-mile limit of the gigantic alternate-section grant to the Atlantic & Pacific Railroad. The railroad itself, further south, is solid and labelled, though it was still being built. And thats it for human imprint: one Reservation, one railroad line.
The Grand Canyon story I tell could almost be done with maps alone; it cannot be clear without them. For Powell's idea, I also have a more modern version, for which I am indebted to John McComb. In 1972, he was the second Southwest Representative for the Sierra Club; I had been the first, 1966-9. We had been co-workers in the 1960's successful effort to prevent dams from being built in the Canyon. After the dam fight, in the early 1970's, he and I were deeply involved in working up proposals for enlarging the National Park to be an appropriate size and shape (like the dream map that heads this blog). Yet we were only beginning to discover how little we knew of the Canyon's history.
Back then there was also a dearth of decent, multi-use Grand Canyon mapping. John combined large-scale (1:250,0000) regional maps to make a base map, and then drew the rectangular 1886 56x69-mile Powell-Harrison boundary, overlaying the then-current 1972 boundaries of the Park, Marble Canyon & the second Grand Canyon National Monuments, the Havasupai Reservation, Kaibab National Forest, Lake Mead National Recreation Area, Hualapai & Navajo Reservations -- all of which were to be affected by events of the mid-1970's.
But the item to contemplate is that 1880's rectangle, what it includes, what it doesnt. This cartographic expression is so at odds with what the Canyon is. What if, to play that game, Powell had used his actual, on-the-ground, on-the-river, knowledge to better approximate the Canyon in all its sprawl? What if, having boated its full length, he had included it all within his proposal?
What Powell had wrought was a large rectangle that included to the north almost all of the Kaibab Plateau, and to the south all the forested lands, halfway to the Flintstones. More than half of Marble Gorge is included. The western boundary goes beyond Kanab & Havasu Canyons. Yet the western half of the Canyon is completely ignored, while a huge amount of ponderosa forest is included. Strange for Powell not to have applied his on-the-ground knowledge, and depressing to see right from the start how issues of inappropriate boundaries existed.
Powell was not completely wrong-headed, nor were we completely ignorant a century later, though we knew less than we thought we did. And not just about topography; there was so much of the century-long political history we friends of the Grand Canyon did not know when we came along in the 1960's to encounter Grand Canyon issues. We were not scholars, but activists who had cut our advocacy and lobbying teeth in 1963-8 fighting to prevent the authorization of the two dams, called Marble and Bridge/Hualapai. They would have been built in the Grand Canyon as generators of high-cost electricity to help pay, ultimately, for importation of water from the Columbia River to southern California.
After that success, we hoped to secure the Canyon's future through establishment of a "complete" Grand Canyon National Park. The concept underlying our proposal was not based on what we knew of previous attempts to enlarge the Park, but on the idea that all of the Canyon, its drainage and approaches, deserved to be protected, presented and preserved as an entity. So we were quite excited as we came across references to proposals going all the way back to the 1880's. Subsequently, that excitement carried me across the country for a few years of archival research that along with my experiences of Canyon advocacy comprise the material for this history.
The Powell-Harrison bill was a grand if awkward gesture, like a sweeping bow that knocks over some of the furniture. Secretary of the Interior Henry Teller was unimpressed. Teller had been Secretary only a month. He had served Colorado in the Senate as a boom-and-boost Westerner, and would return for a longer stint after three years as Secretary. His May 24 transmittal of the GLO report added language whose spirit resonates with every exploiter's hopes since:
It is questionable whether the withdrawal of so large a tract of the public land from sale and settlement is advisable at the present time...The natural scenery along the Colorado River of the West, within the boundaries of the proposed reservation does not require the creation of a public park to preserve it. Believing that its full benefits can be enjoyed by the public without interfering with the right of settlement or entailing upon the United States the expense of the care and improvement of the proposed reservation, I am of the opinion that this Bill ought not to become a law.This did not seem fatal, for the GLO version of the bill was back in the Public Lands Committee for only a few days before being reported out to the Senate on May 29th. However, this speedy transit -- three weeks from introduction to coming out of committee -- was misleading and did not portend any future. No further action was taken on the bill. Nothing in the records indicates responsibility for this demise, though its origin from a freshman non-western Senator might be a hint. Its life as a gesture did continue. During the next two Congresses, in 1883 & 1886, Harrison introduced the amended version early in the first sessions (S. 541 on 10 Dec 1883; S. 863 on 5 Jan 1886). However, in those Congresses he chose to serve on the Territories Committee, not Public Lands. His proposal seemed moribund.
The Powell-Harrison Gesture Solidifies
Harrison was elected to the Presidency in 1888, after failing to be given a second term in the Senate. In 1891, he took a 10,000-mile western trip, that did not include the Grand Canyon! Meanwhile the foresighted Senator Plumb was working to revise the land laws, including language that totally altered the direction of the West's development:
The President might reserve "any part of the public lands wholly or in part covered with timber or undergrowth, whether of commercial value or not, as public reservations".
The man was in place; Now he was handed the means.
On 14 Feb 1893 (Harrison, by the way, had been defeated in his re-election effort a few months earlier and would be out of office in a month), Powell (still USGS Director) "in compliance with your oral instructions" reported to Secretary of the Interior J. W. Noble on a public reservation of lands:
The region ... embraces the most important scenic features of the Grand Canyon ..., the most stupendous chasm known on the globe, the picturesque features of which are elsewhere unequaled... The plateaus on the north and south ... are covered with great forests which will thus be protected from spoliation. ... The region has been topographically surveyed and mapped and can be defined with accuracy.So what had seemed superfluous forested plateau in 1882 was the the necessary ingredient for a presidentially created Forest Reserve. Interestingly, in this version Powell reverted to a description given in latitude and longitude. Puzzlingly for a Forest Reserve, he lops off the forested northernmost 15', setting the boundary at 36°30', and leaving 18 linear miles of great forest not "protected from spoliation". Perhaps revealingly, when he comes to repeat that number he writes 58 instead of 36. The area, he says, will include 2,893 square miles, about 1.85 million acres.
Secretary Noble, with a more expansive national view than Teller, endorsed the proposal, sending it to the GLO Commissioner for "early" report and a proclamation creating a Forest Reserve. Just a few days later, the Commissioner returned the proclamation in duplicate, with an official map of Arizona, saying that the land is unsurveyed, and the greater portion comprised of "granted and indemnity lands of the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad". All flowery language is eschewed in favor of public lands that "are in part covered with timber" and "the public good would be promoted". Indeed there is no mention of the Grand Canyon, except in the title. Moreover, the efficiency or sympathy of 1882 is gone, for there is no mention of the "Yavai Suppai" either. What is ordered to be "unaffected" takes three paragraphs, to wit: any settlement that is legal or covered by lawful filing or made pursuant to law; all mining claims duly located -- only excepting if the claimant or entryman does not comply with the law or tries anything untoward after this Reserve is in effect.
Noble's cover letter is a bit more expansive, back to speaking of "the great forests". This, he says, "I deem one of the most important and valuable reservations to which I have had the honor to invite your attention. The forests are the most magnificent on this continent, and the wonders of the Cañon of the Colorado should be preserved in this connection as an inheritance for the people." He goes on to protection: "The rail roads have not yet reached this region and settlements have not been made. It is a fortunate opportunity to reserve control of the timber and protect the approaches to the river from early individual appropriation, and subject them to the rules and regulations of this government)." If only... Long into the future, Noble's sentiments would be both honored and breached.
The proclamation establishing the Grand Cañon Forest Reserve went to Harrison on 20 Feb 1893 and he signed it the same day. One might hope that, at least, Powell and Harrison had a cigar and raised a glass together, toasting their heroic, if unheralded, act.