Preservation of a Major Southwestern U.S. Landmark by a Leading Archaeologist
“This is essentially a biography of Jesse Logan Nusbaum, one of the more important figures in the establishment and development of Mesa Verde National Park, as well as of a wide range of archeological and other activities in New Mexico. These memoirs were recorded by the wife of the subject, who preserved these reminiscences with a nice sense of their historicity.
“Among many other accomplishments, Nusbaum was the second Superintendent of Mesa Verde National Park, establisher of many of the principles of administration which were developed there, and was the most influential figure in the establishment and implementation of the program of salvage archeology which has preserved so much of Southwestern prehistory by law requiring the cooperation of land developers and commercial contractors.
“The book is full of engaging anecdotes about places and people known and obscure, as well as insights into very early motorcycling over very primitive roads, setting records for distances and speeds in cross-country cycling at and just after the turn of the century. Nusbaum was an expert photographer and made many of the definitive early records in the region. His accounts of the Penitentes are some of the earliest and best. He was active in the recording of the first Carnegie Institute of Washington explorations in Mexico and Guatemala. He was an authority on Spanish Colonial architecture and design, and he superintended the construction of the Art Museum of the Museum of New Mexico.
“Jesse Nusbaum was a big man—physically and spiritually, ‘dedicated to the sciences but by no means stodgy, with a keen sense of humor; a prankster but with a gift of humility.’ Above all he was a complete man, and whatever went on in Santa Fe and the region in his time was likely to have been influenced by him.”
—Hugo von Rodeck Jr., P.M., Denver Westerners’ ROUNDUP
“What a delightful book! Reading it is like visiting a favorite uncle who is also a great storyteller with a sense of humor and a feeling for history. Now whether or not you believe all the facts in the stories is another matter but if you enjoy interesting stories combined with a bit of gossip, this is your book. There are anecdotes about such prominent Southwesterners as Edgar L. Hewett, Mabel Dodge Luhan, Sylvanus Morley and others. Considerable information is given about Mesa Verde and about early archaeological work. The photographs are excellent and have never before been published. These are candid reminiscences, some of which were taped by Mrs. Nusbaum. There is a bibliography but no index.”
—Marcia Muth, “Book Chat,” Enchantment
“Tierra Dulce is the title of a fascinating book by Rosemary Nusbaum, published by Sunstone Press, Santa Fe. Contents are the author’s late husband Jesse Nusbaum’s reminiscences. Most of the many photographs illustrating the volume are by Jesse, who was an avid photographer.
“Scholar, lecturer, teacher, author and archaeologist, Nusbaum served as a public servant in devoting much time to the National Park Service. He was director of the Museum of Anthropology, Santa Fe, superintendent of construction for the Museum of Fine Arts, and was for many years with the State Museum.
“The book is made up of four parts: ‘The Early Years,’ ‘The Deeper Song,’ ‘The Ancient City,’ and ‘The Old Time,’ each composed of a number of subjects with captions. A native of Colorado, Jesse spent his childhood and college years in Greeley. He became the youngest faculty member at the Las Vegas, New Mexico Normal School, followed by work in archaeology at Santa Fe with Edgar L. Hewett, first director of the Museum of New Mexico.
“There are memories of the Chili Line narrow gauge train, Penitentes, Hewett, John D. Rockefeller Jr., who was interested in assisting with promotion of a cultural center in Santa Fe, and Sylvanus Morley. Among amusing elements is the story of ‘Bryan Boru Dunn and the Badger.’ Artists Maurice Stern, Mabel Dodge Luhan, D.H. and Frieda Lawrence, and Dr. D.P. Martin appear under the caption, ‘Of Taos and Amigos.’ The Honorable Frank Springer and the ‘Art Museum’ are given prominence. In ‘Early Visits to Mesa Verde,’ where he was for many years superintendent and archaeologist, Nusbaum tells of early visits. The late Chapman Ballard of Taos is credited with having been one of the first to see the Mesa Verde ruins. Nusbaum was lauded by Life magazine with a cover story when he brought Mesa Verde ‘out of the mire of time and made it a piece of living history.’
“Under ‘Salvage,’ Nusbaum tells about his numerous appeals to Congressmen in an attempt to administer the Antiques Act and how it led to a most ‘gratifying experience,’ shared not only by himself but by many others ‘who cooperated in the consuming effort’ in 1950.
“Rosemary L. Nusbaum moved to Santa Fe in 1932 and during World War II worked as a medical pathologist at Bruns General Hospital. She grew up in Michigan and received her R.N. degree from University Hospital, Chicago. She has a long involvement in the arts, studied sculpture and ceramics and her short stories have appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies. Among her many honors are the Sophrosyne Award presented by St. John’s College Class of 1960; and membership in Composers, Authors and Artists of America. Her first full length book, The City Different and the Palace, the story of the Old Palace of the Governors and its role in Santa Fe, was also published by Sunstone Press.”
—Regina Cooke, The Taos News
“Jesse Nusbaum is best known for his dedication to studying and preserving the archaeological site, Mesa Verde, of New Mexico. The book is a short and scattered collection of his memories, recounting his childhood in Colorado, his archaeological trips to Central America, but principally his interest in the U.S. Southwest. The book has numerous photographs—Nusbaum was selected for his Mesa Verde work, in part, because of his photographic skill—and is full of anecdotes of people and places. A chronological guide to Mesa Verde and a bibliography are provided.”
“The road up the north escarpment of the Mesa Verde was once a nearly insurmountable combination of deep ruts, washboard bumps, hairpin curves, and steep grades. But the condition of the park at the top of the lofty table mountain was rougher to face for the newly appointed park superintendent who made the journey in 1921. ‘It was an unholy mess,’ recalled Jesse Nusbaum, who in 1907 travelled the roadless region on horseback and foot, photographing the ruins that a year later would become Mesa Verde National Park.
“Nusbaum’s predecessor had apparently devoted most of his energy to political errands for Colorado’s Republican party elite in southwestern Colorado and had left the job of running the park to his ranger, Fred Jeep. Visitors were allowed to climb over the crumbling ruins and collect whatever artifacts they wished, a practice known as ‘pothunting.’ Ranger Jeep proved to be the worst pothunter of all, laying claim to all the precious relics he had excavated in the park. Jeep’s wife was the daughter of the man who owned the park’s concession: the lodging, dining room, store, water, toilets, and guiding service. According to Nusbaum:
the eight-year old son of the ranger and other boys would jump on the running boards of incoming cars and competitively solicit their services as guides to all the ruins, for a fee, on the premise that they knew all about the Mesa Verde and its archaeology.
“The token public campground was so remote it was never used. ‘Methods had always been directed to force all advantage toward the concession and keep the Park Service clear out of the picture,’ Nusbaum concluded.
“Nusbaum proved to be an indefatigable and innovative superintendent, building campgrounds, stabilizing ruins, organizing interpretive tours, and designing many of the buildings and interior furnishings that are in use today. But his performance was not enough to please Colorado’s two U.S. senators. According to Nusbaum, L.C. Phipps, who had reluctantly appointed him to the post,
instructed me to return promptly to Mancos, where all previous superintendents has resided…. He then stated: ‘It’s your responsibility to … attend to Republican lines in that region and let the ranger run the park.’ I informed him I would continue to reside in the park, that I’d pledged to administer the park in the public interest and I planned to devote full time to this responsibility.
“Rice Means, the junior senator, arranged for the Ku Klux Klan to hold a torch light parade at the Sun Temple ruin because he wanted to be inducted ‘by the light of a burning cross in the ruin.’ Nusbaum told the senator that his rangers, who armed themselves with pick handles, would break up the rally. The Klansmen cancelled the ceremony. These bizarre events comprise the final quarter of Tierra Dulce, a collection of Nusbaum’s reminiscences primarily tape-recorded by his wife Rosemary.
“Nusbaum acquired a reputation as one of the most influential preservationists in the West during his nearly fifty years with the U.S. Department of the Interior, first as Mesa Verde superintendent, then as department archaeologist. Some of his policies are still in effect, although powerful political interests which once condescended to help him are today attacking those policies. They are now represented by Interior Secretary James Watt who told a convention of national park concessioners last March, ‘We will use the budget system to be the excuse to make major policy decisions.’ Watt has reportedly eliminated about half of the archaeological regulations at the Office of Surface Mining and has slashed funding to state historic preservation offices that help to monitor compliance with antiquities laws. Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona are reasonably committed to heritage conservation; other states, such as Utah, openly ignore laws they consider a needless burden on development.
“As department archaeologist, Nusbaum greatly expanded the practice of ‘salvage’ archaeology whereby significant sites are studied and sometimes excavated before they are destroyed by roads, mines, and other construction projects. The first breakthrough came in 1950 when he persuaded a natural gas company to fund the excavation of important ruins in the right-of-way of a new pipeline. Today, ninety percent of U.S. archaeology is financed this way, according to Joel Lischka, a professor of anthropology at the University of Colorado. Salvage archaeology is a compromise strategy that seeks a middle ground between wholesale destruction and unrestricted investigation. Paul Roebuck, a former crew leader and employee of the Colorado Historical Society, says:
Inherent in the enterprise is a short-sightedness because our studies are limited to non-representational samples taken from the right-of-way. Agencies have tried to overcome this bias by requiring contractors to search for studies of similar contexts, but the cultural manifestations in many parts of the West are not well known. There are documented cases of people being fired for studying sites outside of the right-of-way and companies certainly don’t want to fund such studies.
“Although it is a science, archaeology has often been treated as a luxury. In the past, wealthy patrons were sometimes the only sources of funding. John D. Rockefeller, Jr. made two crucial appearances in Nusbaum’s career by providing money for the New Mexico Laboratory for Anthropology and the Mesa Verde Park Museum. Then, as now, archaeologists’ access to certain ruins was controlled by powerful companies. United Fruit Company owned the ruins Nusbaum recorded at Quirigua, Guatemala. Armour Company ‘controlled the whole Chichen [Itza] complex and [they] were raising cattle there.’ Nusbaum recalled that Harvard’s Peabody Museum plundered some of the jade and gold from the Sacred Cenote there. President Theodore Roosevelt pressured the museum to return some of it to Mexico.
“Archaeologists are arguably the most eclectic of scientists. They must combine in varying degrees the ability to deal amicably with bureaucrats and billionaires, generals and primitive peoples. They must be adept at languages, mechanics, botany, photography, geology, anatomy, cartography, corporate practices, and garbage analysis. They must cope with the most primitive living conditions and the most exotic diseases. Archaeologists often are the last people to see a place before it is destroyed—this is especially true with respect to salvage archaeology—so they must be keen and dispassionate observers.
“Nusbaum displayed many of these talents and skills during his long career. His experiences as an administrator have a timely significance, but his early adventures are decidedly romantic and speak of a much different world. In northern New Mexico, he stole glimpses of the ‘almost pagan rites’ of the Penitentes. In southern Yucatan he and a Mayan scholar, Sylvanus Morley, surreptitiously entered the ancient walled city of Tulum, which lay in territory controlled by the Sublevado Maya ‘who remained unconquered and unchristianized.’ This sortie, ordered by the School of American Archaeology of Santa Fe, ranks as one of the best episodes of the book.
“Tierra Dulce is a lively, informal introduction to the history and problems of southwestern archaeology. It should interest historians as well as people who are concerned about the future of the national park system and federal land management policy.”
—David Smyth, The Bloomsbury Review