New Deal Archaeology in the West

by Bernard K. Means

C.C.C. excavations under M.R. Harrington at Nevada's "Lost City"

C.C.C. excavations under M.R. Harrington at Nevada’s “Lost City”

Following from a suggestion I made at last year’s Society for American Archaeology (SAA) annual meeting, during the History of Archaeology Interest Group (HAIG) meeting, Mark Howe and I have put together a session for the 2015 SAA annual meeting in San Francisco, California.  Mark has done the lion’s share of the work, including pulling together most of the session’s papers, and I am happy to be the discussant for the session. We will move forward with plans to publish this session, perhaps in an edited volume.

The session, formerly chaired by Mark Howe, has the following abstract:

A New Deal for Western Archaeology
Organized by Mark Howe

The New Deal agencies established during the Great Depression were important 1930’s economic programs that are a dynamic part of American history. This symposium will focus on analysis of these Alphabet Soup agencies, as they were commonly known, and the cultural heritage projects that were sponsored west of the Mississippi River, including those devoted to archaeology and to standing structures.  These Western New Deal projects were supported by many of the Federal agencies: Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), Civil Works Administration (CWA), Public Works Administration (PWA), National Youth Administration (NYA) and the Works Progress Administration (WPA). Contrary to what some scholars have implied, we show that New Deal archaeology is not confined to the southeastern United States.

The individual paper abstracts, in presentation order, include:

The International Boundary Commission (IBC) and Projects along the U.S. – Mexico Border (1928 – 1941)
Mark Howe (US State Department – USIBWC)

The International Boundary Commission (IBC) conducted many projects along the entire U.S. – Mexico border during the Depression. Many of the projects were in cooperation with the Mexican Commission (Mexico) as per treaty stipulations. These projects were conducted under funds from agencies such as the Public Works Commission (PWC), Works Progress Administration (WPA) and others. Examination of the original documents and maps at the present International Boundary and Water Commission (IBWC) offices in El Paso, Texas has shown an interesting range of individual and Commission attitudes to structures and projects. Discussion will focus on the projects along the border, pertaining to repairs, repainting and costs to the historic monuments defining the border that were established in the 1800’s. Additionally, a comparison of the monuments and those down the Rio Grande to the Gulf of Mexico will be examined and discussed.

New Deal Archaeology at Buena Vista Lake in the San Joaquin Valley and the Sierra Madre Mountains: The 1933-34 CWA-Smithsonian Institution Project in Southern California
Steve James (California State University at Fullerton)

Perhaps the earliest Federal Civil Works Administration (CWA) archaeological project in California was conducted during the winter of 1933-34 at five sites along Buena Vista Lake in Kern County by the Bureau of American Ethnology (BAE), Smithsonian Institution. The project location was chosen for several reasons: mild winter climate, high number of unemployed men from nearby oil towns, and large, deep prehistoric sites. At the height of the excavations, the labor force amounted to 187 men. BAE archaeologists William D. Strong and William M. Walker directed the work, with field supervision by Edwin F. Walker (Southwest Museum), and UC Berkeley graduate student Waldo R. Wedel, who later wrote the final report. As an outgrowth of the project and in order to determine the boundary between the Yokuts and eastern Chumash, Strong conducted a two-week archaeological reconnaissance in nearby Cuyama Valley and the Sierra Madre Mountains with local cattle rancher James G. James, who had explored archaeological sites in the region containing well-preserved perishable artifacts and was a distant relative of the author (my grandfather’s first cousin). The significant results of the CWA-Smithsonian Buena Vista Lake project and subsequent survey by Strong and James are discussed in this presentation.

Desert Digs: New Deal Archaeology in Southern Arizona, 1934-1941
Todd Bostwick (PaleoWest Archaeology) and Steve James (California State University at Fullerton)

The Sonoran Desert of Southern Arizona is well known for its wealth of archaeological sites left behind by PaleoIndian, Archaic, and Formative period cultures. During the Great Depression, archaeological surveys and excavation projects provided employment opportunities for hundreds of young men and women seeking jobs. Bryon Cummings and Emil Haury at the University of Arizona in Tucson and Odd Halseth at Pueblo Grande Museum in Phoenix took advantage of a variety of New Deal work programs to undertake these archaeological investigations at a scale previously unheard of. This presentation summarizes these important projects and discusses how their results significantly advanced our knowledge of the prehistoric cultures of Southern Arizona through published and unpublished reports, master’s theses, and museum exhibits. This New Deal archaeology was undertaken between 1934 and 1941 through the Public Works Administration (PWA), Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), and Works Project Administration (WPA) at Ventana Cave, Pueblo Grande, Besh-Ba-Gowah, University Indian Ruin, Valshni Village, Jackrabbit Ruin, and other sites.

The Legacy of New Deal Programs to Northern Arizona and Southwest Archaeology
Jeanne Shofer (Coconino National Forest) and Peter Pilles (Coconino National Forest)

During the 1930s, federal New Deal programs financed and supported a number of archaeological projects in northern Arizona. Within National Parks and Monuments, surveys and excavations were undertaken so that people could see archaeological sites, and visitor centers were constructed to display and interpret archaeology for the public. Several major expeditions by the Museum of Northern Arizona were also supported by New Deal programs. Excavations from 1933 to 1939 were directed by professional archaeologists employed by the Museum with laborers and students financed by the U.S. Civil Works Administration, Federal Emergency Relief Administration, and the Works Progress Administration. This work took place during a time when little was known about the prehistory of northern Arizona and the field of Southwestern archaeology was relatively new. The Museum’s excavations formed the basis for numerous publications by Harold S. Colton and his colleagues that greatly influenced the next 80 years of archaeological research and National Park Service interpretation. This paper explores the relationship of archaeological research conducted by the Museum with federal New Deal Programs and its enduring legacy to the archaeological profession and the American public.

Blast Caps and Other Stories of the CCC on the Gila National Forest: Imaging and Reimagining the North Star Road
Wendy Sutton (USDA Forest Service, Gila NF)

The CCC and other New Deal agencies were active across the Gila National Forest during the 1930s. The North Star Road (which experienced earlier use as a Military Road) runs alongside the Gila Wilderness, the nation’s first wilderness area, established in 1924. The road is now sandwiched between the Gila Wilderness and the Aldo Leopold Wilderness (part of the first Wilderness established in 1964, under the Wilderness Act). Significant work was conducted along the North Star Road by the CCC. How does the work conducted within this corridor reflect community priorities and values associated with the early wilderness movement? How do we manage this unique landscape and it’s cultural, recreational, and natural values into the future?

Ruins and Restoration on the Colorado Plateau: Earl Morris and the PWA (Public Works Administration)
Kelly Pool (Metcalf Archaeological Consultants, Inc.)

In 1934, the Carnegie Institution “loaned” archaeologist Earl Morris to the National Park Service to supervise the repair of ruins in Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado, and Aztec Ruins National Monument, New Mexico. The NPS had received funding in 1933 for long-term development projects through New Deal emergency work relief programs, one of which was the Public Works Administration. The PWA provided money for physical improvements in parks and monuments, including funding for restoration and stabilization of prehistoric ruins. Morris was recommended for the job as an acknowledged expert, with previous reconstruction experience at sites such as Chichen Itza and Canyon de Chelly’s Mummy Cave. With the help of unemployed locals, Native Americans, and experienced fieldhands, Morris reconstructed the Great Kiva he had excavated a decade earlier at Aztec and stabilized the Mesa Verde ruins, most notably Cliff Palace. Morris’ work served as a model for future projects, and a permanent MVNP stabilization team headed by PWA foreman Al Lancaster grew out of this work. After the PWA, other New Deal programs such as the CCC continued to undertake stabilization projects in these and other Colorado Plateau parks and monuments.

The Civilian Conservation Corps in Chaco Canyon, New Mexico
John Schelberg and Carla Van West (SRI Foundation)

In 1937, a unique Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) sponsored “Indian Mobil Unit” was established in Chaco Canyon. The camp was located east of Pueblo Bonito and the goal was to train Navajo men and a woman in stone masonry, ruins stabilization, drainage control, archaeological excavation, and associated administrative tasks. In 1939, under the direction of National Park Service (NPS) archaeologist Gordon Vivian, men from the Indian Mobile Unit excavated a small village site in advance of the construction of CCC camp NP-2-N, designed to house a regular 200 man unit. Camp NP-2-N was closed in 1941 and the Indian Mobile Unit was closed in 1942. The success of the Mobile Unit program resulted in the establishment of permanent Ruins Stabilization Units at parks in the Southwest. The 1939 excavation of the archaeological site, the CCC Site, exposed nine rooms and associated sheet trash. In 1949, two deeply buried kivas were excavated by the NPS. In the mid 1970s, the Chaco Project re-excavated portions of the two kivas and Room B in order to obtain archaeomagnetic dates.

Combatting the Erosion Menace: The Enduring Legacy of the CCC Within the Silver City Watershed
Elizabeth Toney, Gila National Forest, Silver City Ranger District

By the summer of 1933, the Civilian Conservation Corp (CCC) had constructed over 3000 checkdams within the Silver City Watershed.  Men working in  Little Walnut CCC Camp located a few miles outside of Silver City, New Mexico were focused on rehabilitating the Silver City Watershed from 1933-1940.  Many of these features are still visible and functioning on the lands administered by Gila National Forest, Silver City Ranger District.  These water and erosion control features are not only a testament to the craftsmanship of the CCC men who constructed them, but also a testament to conservation ethic that in large part began with Aldo Leopold’s assertion that soil erosion was a “menace” to the social and economic future of the Southwest.  The CCC built upon this ethic and rapidly acquired the techniques in building checkdams throughout the Silver City Watershed so that by the end 1934 over 15,000 erosion control features had been constructed within the watershed.  This paper explores the enduring legacy of these features within the Silver City Watershed and explores how to manage these CCC landscapes.

Asa T. Hill, the WPA, and the Fluorescence of Systematic Archaeology in Nebraska
Sandra Barnum (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Omaha District)

The most prominent New Deal work-relief program with regard to archaeology was the Works Progress Administration (renamed in 1939 as the Work Projects Administration; WPA), which existed from 1935 to 1943. Functioning through sponsoring universities, historical societies, and other agencies, the WPA supported major field and laboratory projects. In Nebraska, almost all of the New Deal archaeological projects were carried out with WPA-funded labor.  Between 1936 and 1941, the University of Nebraska or the Nebraska State Historical Society drew on such WPA laborers to excavate numerous sites under the direction of Asa T. Hill. Marvin Kivett deemed Hill the “father of systematic archeology in Nebraska.” Hill was a self-educated archaeologist. Hill’s archeological work led, in 1933, to his appointment as Director of the Museum and Field Archeology for the Nebraska State Historical Society. Between 1933 and 1941, extensive surveys and excavations of sites in Nebraska and Kansas were carried out under his direction, much of which was funded by the WPA. He mentored or worked alongside a number of prominent figures in early Nebraska archaeology, including Paul Cooper, Waldo Wedel, John Champe and Duncan Strong. Hill initiated the excavation methods still used for plains earthlodge villages.

Discussant
Bernard K. Means (Virtual Curation Laboratory)

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