Little Bits of History

June 8

Posted in History by patriciahysell on June 8, 2017

1906: US President Theodore Roosevelt signs the Antiquities Act into law. The Act was introduced into the House of Representatives on January 9, 1906 by John Lacey (Republican from Iowa) and passed the House on June 5 and the Senate on June 7 (with an amendment). The House agreed to the amendment on June 8 and it was signed into law on this date. The focus of the law is to permit the President, by authority of presidential proclamation, to create national monuments from federal lands in order to protect natural, cultural, or scientific features. The Act has been used more than one hundred times in the century since its inception.

The need to protect prehistoric ruins and artifacts, collectively called antiquities, stemmed from the egregious removal of these same artifacts from Native American ruins. Private collectors, called pot hunters, would either ransack sites or pay for others to do so in order to place these pots into their private collections. Ancient ruins were being plundered and even destroyed as private citizens looked for collectibles. Archeologists and anthropologists were appalled. Edgar Lee Hewett brought John Lacey with him on a trip to the Southwest to see the damages and he brought back a detailed report on the damages being done to irreplaceable pieces of history.

With the law passed, the President could set aside lands considered to be of significance and place them under protection. These would be called National Monuments. The lands had to be under federal jurisdiction prior to the declaration, but the law also made it possible for the government to accept private lands for the same purpose. It was hoped that all historic and prehistoric sites could thus be preserved and curated so as to preserve artifacts. This would enable protection to be immediately available rather than taking the time for Congress to create another National Park. The law stipulated that National Monuments were to be confined to the smallest area compatible with the care and management of the objects under protection.

The first area to be protected was a large feature known as Devils Tower, a massive butte made of igneous rock in the Bear Lodge Mountains in Wyoming. Roosevelt brought Presidential protection to the sheer rise, first ascended in July 1893 by William Rogers and Willard Ripley. The area covered is 1,347 acres and included the volcanic oval around the tower. Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument lies off the coast of the Hawaiian Islands and covers 583,000 miles, the largest protected area. The smallest monument covers 0.0074 acres and is Father Millet Cross in New York. The US Supreme Court has consistently upheld the proclamations under the Act with two exceptions, once in 1943 (Franklin Roosevelt) and in 1980 (Jimmy Carter).

Monuments and archaeological pieces serve as testimonies of man’s greatness and establish a dialogue between civilizations showing the extent to which human beings are linked. – Vicente Fox

It’s very important that we keep these special, wild places. It defines the United States. Imagine our country without our national parks and our monuments. Here in California, imagine if you didn’t have in Southern Cal the Channel Islands or the great Highway 1, Big Sur up to Point Reyes up to the Redwood country. – Douglas Brinkley

Indians walk softly and hurt the landscape hardly more than the birds and squirrels, and their brush and bark huts last hardly longer than those of wood rats, while their more enduring monuments, excepting those wrought on the forests by the fires they made to improve their hunting grounds, vanish in a few centuries. – John Muir

Protecting all this land, working with the President to establish all these monuments, to, you know… I think the President has a land protection record that’s second to no one in this century, maybe Teddy Roosevelt. – Bruce Babbitt


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