Flagstaff, AZ – Earth Notes: John Wetherill and Navajo National Monument
This year Navajo National Monument celebrates its one-hundredth birthday. The park, in northeast Arizona, is home to three outstanding ancestral Puebloan sites Keet Seel, Betatakin, and Inscription House.
President William Howard Taft designated the monument in March of 1909 to protect these stunning archaeological treasures. The natural choice for the first caretaker was a local man: John Wetherill respected Indian trader, explorer, and guide in the Four Corners country.
Wetherill became part-time custodian at the meager salary of one dollar a month, which he rarely received. In those early years there was no housing, so each spring he left his trading post in Kayenta and lived in a tent on the monument grounds.
John and his wife Louisa Wade Wetherill befriended local Navajos, spoke their language, and enjoyed mutually respectful relationships. Many Navajos called him "Hosteen" (HAH-steen) John a title of honor and esteem.
Among Wetherill's clients were author Zane Grey and President Theodore Roosevelt. They sought him out to guide them through the intricate redrock maze of the Tsegi (SAY-ghee) Canyon system and on to places like Rainbow Bridge.
In 1938, after three decades overseeing the monument, Wetherill was seventy-four years old. It was time, he said, to yield his position to a younger man.
During his tenure, the National Park Service was created, and the parks system had grown greatly in size. A century later, John Wetherill would have reason to be pleased with what has been preserved in the canyon-country landscape he came to know so well.