Historical Preservation Efforts

By Ken Shroyer

President Theodore Roosevelt would sign into law the Antiquities Act on June 8, 1906. This piece of legislation would, in effect, give the President of the United States sole authority to “in his discretion, declare by public proclamation 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 to be national monuments.”[1] President Franklin D. Roosevelt would create the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument on April 13, 1937 by. Its creation was more scientific than historic in nature, the main consideration being that of preserving a section of the Sonoran desert ecosystem. In hindsight, there is much more to Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument than merely a desert ecosystem. Even in such an inhospitable region, man found a way to leave his mark.

With the discovery of silver and gold ore in the southwest Arizona region, mining played a big part of the history of Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. While the most extensive efforts occurred from the late eighteen nineties through the first decade of the twentieth century, periodic mining efforts took place through 1976, operating under a special use permit from the National Park Service.[2] Mining did not stop until the designation of Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument as a wilderness area in 1976. The Victoria Mine would become the center for most mining in the area. In 1978, the Victoria Mine would be added to the National Register, at the state level, as one of the oldest known examples of mining immediately adjacent to the US/Mexican border in southwestern Arizona.[3] While there is little left of the stone stairway or masonry, the stone building still stands.

While it seems impossible that such a thing could be accomplished in such a dry and inhospitable region, ranching also played a major part in the history of Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. The Gray family would control the majority of ranching within the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument area for over sixty years. The first ranch, Dos Lomitas Ranch, would be established in 1919, and expanded to the Bates Well Ranch in the 1930s. These ranches would continue to operate until after Henry Grey’s death in1976.[4] The Bates Well Ranch would be added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1994.  This addition included over fifteen buildings. Among the listed structures include a blacksmith shop, a hay barn, a tack house, several corrals, three windmills, an ocotillo shed and the main ranch house. The main ranch house remains an interesting piece of history in its own right. Constructed utilizing the traditional practice of the frontier, that of utilizing “used” or “recycled” materials, I still stands today. Probably originating as a miners’ cabin, the northern portion was presumably added after its relocation to Bates Well from its original location at the Growler Mine.[5]

Often historical preservation is not merely limited to buildings, books or other articles of historical significance. Quitobaquito Springs would provide a unique opportunity for historical preservation and study. Quitobaquito Springs remains one of the few reliable sources of water found within the Organ Pipe National Monument, located just 180 meters from the Mexico/United States border in a U-shaped basin the foot of the lower Colorado Valley portion of the Sonoran Desert.[6] Quitobaquito Springs was also a regular stop for those traveling the Pima-Papago salt trail and the Spanish trail El Camino del Diablo, or “Highway of the Devil”, the route linking the northern frontier of Mexico and the Spanish settlements of California.[7] In 1980 the National Park Service mapped, documented, and repaired a native Sand Papago tribe cemetery located next to this “oasis of the desert”.

This undertaking was not just a matter of restoring the covers of the Papago graves that suffered from weathering or had been damaged by vandalism. Time was taken to map the cemetery, record the graves, and attempt through interviews and studying the offerings left on the cemetery’s ground surface to determine the age of the cemetery. The most daunting task of this project existed in the attempt to put names to those who were buried there. The survivors of the Sand Papago are now scattered, and it made the search for information difficult. That the researchers were able to develop a genealogy chart of those buried in the cemetery, not just names but kinship connections, shows the tenacity of the researchers in their quest.

Another aspect of historical preservation often overlooked involves the “paper trail” created by the people that work in taking care of the park. As a federal entity, the monument is required to “retire” a select five percent of records that no longer need to be kept for routine work to the National Archives.[8] The records for the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument are stored in the Rocky Mountain Region of the National Archives, located in Denver, Colorado. These records are preserved because they may have continuing practical value for government operations, but they also have research value for anyone interested in the social, economic or political development of the region served by the regional archives.[9] From a historical context, these records paint a vivid picture of the creation of Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, along with how it grew and developed into the monument that exists today.

While this reflects just a few of the historic preservation efforts associated with the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, they show how important historic preservation is. If one looks at the monument as nothing more than just an interesting desert ecosystem, then they miss the total picture. These historical pieces give Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument its color, its vitality. Without its history, Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument is just another spot off the main road. It’s the history that makes it ours, as Americans.


[1]National Park Service.“Archeology Program”. U.S. Department of the Interior. http://www.nps.gov/archeology/pubs/Lee/Lee_CH6.htm (accessed March 30, 2012).

[2] National Park Service “Organ Pipe National Monument: Monument Timeline.” National Park Service. http://www.nps.gov/orpi/historyculture/monument-timeline.htm (accessed March 30, 2012).

[3] National Park Service. “Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument” U.S. Department of the Interior. http://www.nps.gov/orpi/siteindex.htm  (accessed March 30, 2012).

[4] Van Horn, Lawrence. “National Register of Historic Places.” National Park Service. pdfhost.focus.nps.gov/docs/NRHP/Text/94000493.pdf  (accessed April 1, 2012).

[5]   National Park Service. “Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument” U.S. Department of the Interior. http://www.nps.gov/orpi/historyculture/historic-structures.htm (accessed April 1, 2012).

[6] Anderson, Keith M., et. al., “Quitobaquito: A Sand Papago Cemetery” Kiva , Vol. 47, No. 4 (Summer, 1982): 215-237. http://0-www.jstor.org.catalog.library.colostate.edu/stable/30247343?seq=1  (accessed March 30, 2012)

[7]U.S. fish and Wildlife Service. “El Camino Del Diablo: Highway of the Devil”.  Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge . http://www.fws.gov/southwest/refuges/arizona/diablo.html (accessed April 1, 2012)

[8] National Archives and Records Administration.Guide to Records in the National Archives-Rocky Mountain Region.Denver, Co. Reference Information Paper 97. 1996 edition.

[9]   National Archives and Records Administration.Guide to Records in the National Archives-Rocky Mountain Region.Denver, Co. Refernece Information Paper 97. 1996 edition.

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