Reference Service Report: Information about the background of the Antiquities Act of 1906

Author(s): Robert Claus

Year: 1945


This report provides an overview of the political and legisltative activities from 1900 to 1906 that led to the passage of the Antiquities Act of 1906. It includes descriptions of the passage of general legislation to protect American antiquities and the involvement of government and non-government agencies in the passage of the law.

The records of the Department of the Interior in the National Archives indicate that the Department took an active interest in promoting the passage of general legislation to protect American antiquities throughout the period from 1900 to the passage, in June 1906, of the Act for the preservation of American Antiquities (Public No. 209, 59th Congress, 1st session) It appears also, however, that the basic stimulus to the passage of the act came from non-Governmental entities, such as archaeological and educational institutions and individuals interested in historical and anthropological research and relics, and from the Bureau of American Ethnology of the Smithsonian Institution. The records of the latter agency, which are still in its custody, should contain significant information on its part in the movement.

The Department of the Interior, as shown by the records of the Office of the Secretary and the General Land Office, consistently favored and encouraged the passage of a general act for the protection of antiquities on the public domain; its part in the successful movement to secure such legislation is described in the report. Throughout the six-year period of activity in this direction, however, the Department urged that the law be broad enough to include natural wonders or curiosities, springs of medicinal or other value, and areas of scenic interest as well as aboriginal ruins and relics. That the bill as finally passed covered only "historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest" was probably a concession to political expediency. It seems true, nevertheless, that the act, though supported by the Interior Department, was fathered rather by

the Smithsonian Institution and the archaeolgists than by the Department of the Interior.

It should be pointed out that efforts to protect antiquities on the public lands were by no means restricted to the attempt to secure a general law for the purpose. Areas on which aboriginal ruins or other antiquities were located were withdrawn from sale or settlement in a number of cases, and Casa Grande Ruin was withdrawn and established as a reservation by Executive Order of June 22, 1892, in accordance with specific authorization by Congress (25 Stat. 961). In the latter case, appropriations were also made by Congress to the Interior Department for the purposes of repairing and protecting the ruin. It has not been possible here to determine how extensive this practice was, but there is

no doubt that, during the period from 1900 to 1906, both the Department of the Interior, through the General Land Office and the Office of Indian Affairs, and the Department of Agriculture, were well aware of the danger of deterioration and despoliation of antiquities on the public lands and were able, to some extent, to prevent the latter by withdrawing lands from other uses and appointing custodians or instructing officials already in the areas to take all possible measures for preservation of historic and

prehistoric ruins.

Cite this Record

Reference Service Report: Information about the background of the Antiquities Act of 1906. Robert Claus. Washington, DC: Division of Interior, Department of the Archives. 1945 ( tDAR id: 372480) ; doi:10.6067/XCV8ZG6R0K

Individual & Institutional Roles

Contact(s): Francis McManamon

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