Roosevelt Withdraws the Grand Canyon from Mining Claims Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

President Theodore Roosevelt used his executive authority to withdraw the Grand Canyon from mining claims, thus protecting it until Congress created the Grand Canyon National Park in 1919.

Summary of Event

President Theodore Roosevelt had long considered the “Canyon of the Colorado” to be the site of the most impressive scenery he had ever seen. In a personal letter in 1903, he described it as “beautiful and terrible and unearthly.” The Grand Canyon, he wrote, made him feel as if he were gazing at “a sunset of strange and awful splendor.” Grand Canyon National Monument Conservation;wilderness Wilderness preservation Mining National monuments;Grand Canyon [kw]Roosevelt Withdraws the Grand Canyon from Mining Claims (Jan. 11, 1908) [kw]Grand Canyon from Mining Claims, Roosevelt Withdraws the (Jan. 11, 1908) [kw]Canyon from Mining Claims, Roosevelt Withdraws the Grand (Jan. 11, 1908) [kw]Mining Claims, Roosevelt Withdraws the Grand Canyon from (Jan. 11, 1908) Grand Canyon National Monument Conservation;wilderness Wilderness preservation Mining National monuments;Grand Canyon [g]United States;Jan. 11, 1908: Roosevelt Withdraws the Grand Canyon from Mining Claims[02050] [c]Environmental issues;Jan. 11, 1908: Roosevelt Withdraws the Grand Canyon from Mining Claims[02050] [c]Government and politics;Jan. 11, 1908: Roosevelt Withdraws the Grand Canyon from Mining Claims[02050] [c]Natural resources;Jan. 11, 1908: Roosevelt Withdraws the Grand Canyon from Mining Claims[02050] Roosevelt, Theodore [p]Roosevelt, Theodore;conservation Pinchot, Gifford Muir, John

Roosevelt realized the need for greater conservation in the United States, and as soon as he became president, he began working toward that end. As early as his annual message to Congress in 1901, he emphasized the need for greater stewardship in the use of the expanses of the West. Roosevelt’s friendships with Gifford Pinchot, a man dedicated to the cause of conservation, and with John Muir, the famous Sierra Nevada naturalist, encouraged him to stress the preservation of the wilderness for posterity.

Despite congressional opposition, Roosevelt worked continually to further the cause of conservation. In February, 1907, the Agricultural Appropriations Bill Agricultural Appropriations Bill (1907) prohibited additional forest reserves in the six states of the Pacific Northwest. Before signing the bill, Roosevelt, by executive decree, established twenty-one new forest reserves, amounting to more than sixteen million acres, in the Pacific Northwest. Some complained that the federal government had thus become an “alien landlord.”

A year earlier, Congress had passed the Antiquities Act, Antiquities Act (1906) which authorized the president to declare federally owned historic landmarks, structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest to be national monuments. The law was designed to preserve artifacts and archaeologically important sites, especially in the desert Southwest. Roosevelt saw the absolute uniqueness of the Grand Canyon, and, knowing how slowly Congress usually moved to pass laws creating national parks, in 1908 he used the Antiquities Act as the means of preserving it. He stated his hope that nothing would ever “mar the wonderful grandeur, the sublimity, the great loneliness and beauty of the canyon,” and he counseled Americans to “keep it for your children, your children’s children, and for all who come after you.”

Roosevelt established Grand Canyon National Monument on January 11, 1908. As early as 1882, bills had been introduced in Congress to establish a Grand Canyon national park, but they did not become law. Tourists were beginning to visit the area by horse, buggy, and stagecoach. Prospectors arrived with their burros and built trails, bridges, and trams. The mines were not profitable, and many of the men stayed on as guides or hotel keepers. Tents, a post office, stores, orchards, and a school all appeared; civilization was coming to the canyon. The Santa Fe Railroad reached the canyon in 1901 and automobiles in 1902.

In 1893, President Benjamin Harrison created the Grand Canyon Forest Reserve by proclamation, and in 1906 Roosevelt proclaimed the area a game reserve. Soon thereafter, plans were being made to build a railroad through the Grand Canyon along the Colorado River. The Grand Canyon Scenic Railway Company Grand Canyon Scenic Railway Company proposed a twenty-five-mile train route only one hundred feet from the canyon’s rim. A tunnel was planned as well, along with a proposed fifteen-hundred-foot elevator down to the river. It was during the period when these things were being discussed, proposed, and planned that Roosevelt established Grand Canyon National Monument, effectively preventing that scale of development from marring of the natural beauty of the canyon.

Later in 1908, President Roosevelt invited all of the state governors, his cabinet members, the U.S. Supreme Court justices, and leaders in science, education, and politics to a conservation conference at the White House. This conference focused the attention of the people of the United States on the need for serious conservation of their natural resources. Gifford Pinchot was appointed head of a national commission to inventory the natural resources of the United States.


The struggle for conservation in the United States at the beginning of the twentieth century took place in the midst of a period of dynamic development. Conservationists were quick to point out that they were not against development and constructive use of natural resources; rather, they were against the reckless exploitation of those resources. Pinchot wrote in 1910 that the first great principle of conservation is development. He believed that people should preserve resources for future generations, but they should also make use of the resources available to them. Roosevelt agreed with that concept.

John Muir’s emphasis was on preservation of the pristine wonder of the untouched wilderness. He envisioned people “sauntering in rosiny pinewoods or in gentian meadows, brushing through chaparral, bending down and parting sweet, flowery sprays; tracing rivers to their sources . . . and rejoicing in deep, long-drawn breaths of pure wildness.” Protecting the Grand Canyon was part of that vision of preservation.

The 43 million acres designated as forest reserves by U.S. presidents Harrison, Cleveland, and Roosevelt represented the beginning of the national forest system. At first, the forest reserves were managed by the General Land Office of the Department of the Interior. In 1905, the Forest Service Forest Service, U.S. was formed within the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and that agency took over the job of managing the forest reserves. Pinchot was appointed to head the Forest Service, which he did until 1910. The responsibility for administration of the Grand Canyon was in the hands of the Forest Service because the 800,000 acres of the Grand Canyon National Monument fell within the Coconino National Forest. The National Park Service was established on August 25, 1916, and President Woodrow Wilson signed the law that established Grand Canyon National Park on February 26, 1919.

The Grand Canyon would have been immeasurably changed had it not been for the efforts of Harrison, Roosevelt, Pinchot, Muir, and other conservationists who expended vast amounts of energy to save the area from commercialization. Roosevelt’s actions also established historical precedents that made it easier for later conservationist-minded presidents to preserve part of the nation’s natural heritage for those yet to be born. Grand Canyon National Monument Conservation;wilderness Wilderness preservation Mining National monuments;Grand Canyon

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Dolan, Edward F. The American Wilderness and Its Future: Conservation Versus Use. New York: Franklin Watts, 1992. Tries to balance the need for conservation with the need to use natural resources. Topics include replanting of forests, soil conservation, and the wise use of minerals. Discusses the roles of the National Park Service, the Forest Service, and other government agencies.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Harbaugh, William H. Power and Responsibility: The Life and Times of Theodore Roosevelt. 1961. Reprint. Newtown, Conn.: American Political Biography Press, 1997. One of the best single-volume biographies of Roosevelt, covering all aspects of his career, including his interest in nature and conservation.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Hays, Samuel P. Conservation and the Gospel of Efficiency. 1959. Reprint. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1999. Seminal study of the early history of conservation in the United States. The author argues that most early conservationists were dedicated to efficient use of natural resources rather than to preservation as an end in itself.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Nash, Roderick Frazier. Wilderness and the American Mind. 4th ed. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2001. Intellectual history of Americans’ relationship with the wilderness. Begins with the earliest days of European contact.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Sutton, Ann, and Myron Sutton. The Wilderness World of the Grand Canyon: “Leave It as It Is.” Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott, 1971. Descriptions of the beauty and physical characteristics of the Grand Canyon, with an overview of its history and climate. Relates tales of adventure in the canyon.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Wallace, Robert. The Grand Canyon. New York: Time-Life Books, 1985. Remarkable photography enhances this description of the canyon. Discusses the geology, history, and flora and fauna of the canyon.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Wiley, Farida A., ed. Theodore Roosevelt’s America: Selections from the Writings of the Oyster Bay Naturalist. New York: Devin-Adair, 1955. Insights into Roosevelt’s thinking from his own writings and from essays by people who knew him. Emphasizes conservation themes.

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John Muir Trail Is Completed

Categories: History