Grand Canyon National Park

Grand Canyon National Park

Grand Canyon History

The Paiutes call the plateau that the canyon cuts through Kaibab, or "Mountain Lying Down." John Wesley Powell was the first to consistently use and publish the name, "Grand Canyon," in the 1870s. No matter what name it is known by, Grand Canyon is ever awe-inspiring.

American Indians

About 10,000 years ago, paleo-hunters chased big game in the Southwest, but left few signs of their passage. In time, they were followed by hunter-gatherers of the Desert Archaic culture who inhabited the Grand Canyon region until about 1000 B.C. Evidence of their presence at the canyon was found in 1932 in the form of small animal hunting fetishes made from willow twigs. These were discovered in caverns in the Redwall Limestone cliffs of the Inner Gorge. Radio-carbon dating has revealed the figurines to be approximately 2,000 to 4,000 years old. 

The introduction of agriculture allowed family groups to settle in one place by supplementing game and native plants with cultivated corn. By A.D. 500, a new culture known as the ancestral Puebloan (Anasazi), could be found at Grand Canyon. They inhabited dark and smoky semi-subterranean pit houses, hunted deer, rabbits and bighorn sheep, and made fine baskets which led archeologists to name them, "Basketmakers." The Basketmakers lived peacefully alongside the Cohonina people, who shared many similar cultural traits.

About 2,000 ancestral Puebloan sites have been found within park boundaries, the most impressive of which is Tusayan Pueblo, which was constructed in A.D. 1185 and was occupied by about 30 people. By the time Tusayan Pueblo was built, the ancestral Puebloans were reaching the apex of their culture. The Spanish word pueblo, meaning "town," referred to the apartment-style masonry compounds the ancestral Puebloans excelled in building. Communal living and a sedentary lifestyle led to many new breakthroughs such as irrigation farming of corn, squash and bean crops, elaborate ceremonial rituals in underground chambers called kivas, beautiful black-on-white and corrugated utilitarian pottery, and extensive trade with other cultures in the Southwest, in Mesoamerica and along the Pacific Coast. 

It is speculated by some that a prolonged drought exhausted natural resources, and perhaps internal strife and overpopulation led the Cohonina and the ancestral Puebloans to systematically abandon their homes in the late 1200s. The ancestral Puebloans moved beside the Rio Grande and the Little Colorado drainages where their descendants—the Hopi and the 19 Pueblos of New Mexico—continue many of the traditions of their ancestors.

Native Newcomers

In the 1300s, a new hunter-gatherer tribe, the Cerbat, moved into Grand Canyon. Descendants of these people make up the Hualapai and Havasupai tribes which occupy reservations in the western canyon. At the same time, small bands of hunter-gatherer Southern Paiutes began venturing to the Grand Canyon's North Rim. The Southern Paiutes worked closely with the Mormons who colonized southern Utah and the Arizona Strip in the 1850s. 

The last American Indians to arrive at the Grand Canyon were the Navajo, or the Dine (Athabascan people related to the Apache), who moved here from the Northwest around A.D. 1400. The Navajo were hunter-gatherers who learned agriculture from the Pueblos and later obtained horses and sheep from Spanish settlers. There was also a raiding component to their lifestyle (much as the Apache's). Their adaptability allowed them to dominate the region. Today, after centuries of sporadic intertribal conflict as well as clashes with new Spanish, Mexican and Anglo arrivals, the Navajo are the largest American Indian tribe in the United States. Their huge reservation abuts the eastern section of the canyon.

The Spanish

In 1540, a Spanish nobleman, Francisco Vàsquez de Coronado, led the first expedition of Europeans from Mexico into the Southwest in search of the fabled Seven Cities of Cíbola that were reputed to contain great riches. While Coronado continued on to modern-day New Mexico (perhaps as far as Kansas), he dispatched Garcia Lopez de Càrdenas and several men northward. With the help of Hopi guides from the nearby mesas, Càrdenas became the first European to see the Grand Canyon, but the single-minded Spaniard left frustrated—unable to cross the impassable void. Coronado and his men returned to Mexico empty-handed, where their lack of success on behalf of the Spanish Crown led to their court-martial. Not until the late 1500s would the Spanish return—this time as colonists.

By 1776, the Spanish were headquartered in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where they were attempting to convert the natives to Christianity and extract tribute from them for Spain. In that year, two Franciscan friars, Francisco Atanasia Dominguez and Sylvestre Velez de Escalante, left Santa Fe in search of an overland route to Monterey, California. Their punishing journey took them through the Rockies, the Arizona Strip and up into Utah before they gave up and returned to Santa Fe, crossing the Colorado River in Glen Canyon. They missed seeing the Grand Canyon, but their trailblazing journey through hostile, unexplored territory would not be forgotten.

America's Westward Expansion

When the Santa Fe Trail, linking Missouri to New Mexico, opened to east-west trade in 1821, intrepid fur trappers, traders and fortune hunters traveled through the region en route to California. In 1848, much of the Southwest was ceded to the United States following the war with Mexico, leading the government to dispatch army surveyors to chart the unknown Southwestern territory. The year 1857 brought a U.S. Army survey party led by Lieutenant Joseph Ives to explore the Grand Canyon region. In his 1858 report, Ives was pessimistic, "The region… is of course altogether valueless… Ours has been the first, and will doubtless be the last, party of whites to visit this profitless locality." But Ives was soon to be proved wrong.

John Wesley Powell

In 1869, Major John Wesley Powell, a fearless, one-armed Civil War veteran, and his nine companions became the first men to journey 1,000 miles on the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. Equipped with four stout, wooden boats and meager rations (because so much was lost when the boats capsized), Powell and his party braved dangerous rapids, searing heat, sinking morale and the loss of three men to complete their remarkable feat. Powell's notes about the trip, and a second 1871—1872 trip provided invaluable information about one of the last unexplored parts of the United States. Like John Muir, Powell was one of a distinctive 19th-century breed. A self-taught Renaissance man, he traveled extensively, advocated wise use of water in the West and defended American Indian rights. He went on to found the U.S. Geological Survey and the U.S. Bureau of American Ethnology, and to negotiate American Indian peace treaties with the government.

The Canyon Booms

In the late 1800s, the U.S. government promoted the West as a land of abundant resources waiting to be exploited, and the discovery of zinc, copper, lead and asbestos in the Grand Canyon in the 1870s and 1880s led many miners to stake claims there. Extraction and transportation of ore from the canyon to the rim proved difficult, though, and some miners abandoned their claims in order to pursue a more lucrative, less dangerous option, tourism. 

As a new century dawned and transportation improved, Americans were changing how they viewed their young country. Writers, artists and photographers led the aesthetic revolution and, along with environmentalists, newspaper magnates and railroad barons, fought for the establishment of protected recreational areas called "national parks."At the Grand Canyon, writer/geologist Clarence Dutton and painter Thomas Moran produced imaginative works that celebrated the glory of the canyon. Soon, visitors clamored to see for themselves. 

Fred Harvey Company

In the early 1900s, the Fred Harvey Company undertook the project of providing the finest visitor services on any public land. The elegant El Tovar Hotel, designed by Charles Whittlesey, opened in 1905. The forerunner of "rustic architecture," its style was later promoted by architects like Gilbert Stanley Underwood and the National Park Service as a means of suiting buildings to park environments. In 1902, the Fred Harvey Company first hired Mary Elizabeth Jane Colter as an interior decorator. Colter remained with the company until 1948, during which time she was responsible for the architecture of many of the distinctive buildings at the Grand Canyon. The Fred Harvey Company became the principal concessioner at the South Rim in 1920.

National Park Status

The 1906 Act for the Preservation of American Antiquities paved the way for President Theodore Roosevelt, a devoted outdoorsman and park supporter, to change Grand Canyon's status from game reserve to national monument in 1908. Congress authorized the expansion and upgrading of the monument to a national park in 1919. Current park boundaries were established in 1975, when Marble Canyon and Grand Canyon national monuments were joined to the park. Grand Canyon was named a World Heritage Site in 1979 in recognition of the universal value of its exceptional natural resources.