Celebrate a Monumental Act on June 8

teddy

What do starry skies, a rising monolith, Teddy Roosevelt, and a revolutionary federal act have in common this June 8th?

The Antiquities Act of 1906, signed into law by then-President Theodore Roosevelt on June 8, authorized the President of the United States to use his own discretion to create by public proclamation National Monuments from “ historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest that are situated upon the lands owned or controlled by the Government of the United States.”[1]

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Devils Tower in Wyoming became our first National Monument as a result of the Antiquities Act of 1906.

A few months later, on September 24, Roosevelt used the 1906 act in conjunction with Proclamation #658 to create our first National Monument, Devils Tower in Wyoming, noting that it was “an extraordinary example of the effect of wind erosion in the higher mountains as to be a natural wonder and an object of historic and scientific interest.”[2]

TR, as he preferred to be called, also noted “it appears that the public good would be promoted by reserving this tower as a National monument.”[3]

young-teddy-roosevelt

President Theodore Roosevelt preserved 18 National Monuments through the Antiquities Act of 1906.

Public good? I’d say so!

The National Park Service recently reported “416,994 visitors to Devils Tower National Monument in 2012 spent $24,517,000 million in communities near the park. That spending supported352jobs in the local area.” These numbers provide us with a persuasive example of the power of preserved landmarks in contributing to the economic vitality of a region.[4]

Having those numbers is a boon to preservationists who often find themselves advocating for a site on the sole basis of cultural significance, an issue that preservationists take seriously all by itself. And certainly Devils Tower has plenty of that.

Today, Devils Tower is well known not only for its geological resources, but also for its historic significance as a sacred cultural site for over 20 Native American tribes, among those the Lakota, Cheyenne, Arapaho, and Kiowa. Standing at its base in the thoughtful hush it inspires, one can easily appreciate and be just as awed by the natural creation of this magnificent formation as early Native Americans must have been. They passed down myriad stories about the creation of their Mato Tipila (Bear Lodge, Lakota), also known as Aloft on a Rock by the Kiowa, and Bear’s Tipi by the Cheyenne and Arapaho. The Kiowa legend is particularly compelling as it tells of how seven Indian sisters, being chased by a bear, clambered onto a large rock while praying to their Great Spirit. The rock rose, even as the bear clawed at its sides (explaining the crevices so apparent today) and the little girls were born into the sky to become the stars of the Big Dipper.[5]

It’s been 108 years since TR signed the Antiquities Act, created Devils Tower National Monument as the first monument of its kind, and acted decisively upon the philosophy he articulated when he said “We have fallen heirs to the most glorious heritage a people ever received, and each one must do his part if we wish to show that the nation is worthy of its good fortune.”[6]

Certainly, Devil’s Tower has promoted “public good” in more ways than TR probably anticipated. And certainly the Antiquities Act of 1906 is a federal act worth celebrating as one more way to preserve and provide public access to the most wondrous of our natural landscape and cultural heritage.

More resources:

http://www.nps.gov/archeology/sites/antiquities/profileDevilsTower.htm for more information on Devils Tower

http://www.cr.nps.gov/local-law/anti1906.htm for the Antiquities Act

(http://www.theodore-roosevelt.com/images/research/trproclamations/658.pdf) for the Proclamation

 Notes:

[1] American Antiquities Act of 1906, 16 USC 431-433 section 2

[2] http://www.theodore-roosevelt.com/images/research/trproclamations/658.pdf

[3] http://www.theodore-roosevelt.com/images/research/trproclamations/658.pdf

[4] http://www.nps.gov/deto/parknews/devils-tower-creates-24-million-dollars-in-economic-benefit.htm

[5] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CLw5QnR61IU Pulitzer Prize winning author N. Scott Momaday tells the Kiowa legend.

[6] http://www.nps.gov/thro/historyculture/theodore-roosevelt-and-conservation.htm

About Bari Oyler Stith, Ph.D.

Director, Historic Preservation Program, Ursuline College

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