HARVEY GIRL MAKING PERFECT COFFEE AT THE EMPORIA, KANSAS, EATING HOUSE; INSET, FORD HARVEY, AROUND 1910
NINE MONTHS AFTER HIS FATHER’S DEATH, THIRTY-FIVE-YEAR-OLD Ford Harvey stood at the edge of the Grand Canyon, gazing out over the most stunning vision of America’s past and contemplating the future.
It was the last day of an enlightening and challenging expedition—by train, by stagecoach, on horseback, and on foot—that would mark the turning point in the development of the West and the way Americans view America. Everyone on this trip had been through the Southwest many times on business, but they all had always regarded the long, hot train ride as a journey across the turn-of-the-century equivalent of “the flyover states.” Now, for the first time, they were feeling the soul of the Southwest.
Santa Fe president Ed Ripley and his wife, Frances, had invited his inner circle—Ford Harvey, first vice president Paul Morton, and several other top Santa Fe executives—to join them on a rugged adventure through some of the most beautiful, sacred, and controversial sites in Indian Territory. Their guide was Charles Fletcher Lummis, the self-appointed “Apostle of the Southwest,” a Harvard-educated writer who had been publishing magazines and books about the West for years. A small, weathered man who had lost the use of his left arm after a stroke, Lummis was a brilliant and tireless promoter of Indian causes, of western environmental causes—and of himself.
Snagging him to lead the Ripley expedition was particularly impressive in late October 1901 because, to guide them, he had to blow off an invitation to the White House. Teddy Roosevelt, his Harvard classmate and longtime friend, had just become president under tragic circumstances. He had served as second-term vice president to William McKinley for only six months when an anarchist shot the president on September 6, 1901, at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo. When President McKinley died a week later, the forty-two-year-old Rough Rider became the youngest commander in chief in American history.
He summoned Charles Lummis to the White House, but was told his friend had too many deadlines to get there right away. In fact, Lummis decided that a weeklong walkabout with the top brass of the Santa Fe railroad might be more important to the southwestern causes he held most dear. So the new president would just have to wait until he had taken these powerful men and their wives on what he called “a Little Journey in the Wilderness.”
Ford met up with the Ripley expedition in Albuquerque, where the Santa Fe had begun construction on the Alvarado—the second of its grand trackside hotels, and a much more elaborate undertaking than the Castañeda in Las Vegas. The new hotel was being designed by Charles Whittlesey, a protégé of renowned Chicago architect Louis Sullivan who had gone out on his own and then moved his family to Albuquerque to undertake commissions from the Santa Fe. In addition to the Alvarado, Whittlesey had designed the large new depot adjacent to it, with enough office space and housing to enable both the Santa Fe and Fred Harvey to use Albuquerque as the main terminal point for all their operations in the Southwest. The buildings featured the Mission Revival style—with dramatic archways, towers, and arcades, all with rough stucco walls—that was becoming the Santa Fe’s distinctive visual signature.
Ripley’s party had nearly twenty members. Besides Ford and Ripley’s family—his wife, son, two daughters, a son-in-law, and a soon-to-be daughter-in-law—there were a half-dozen Santa Fe executives, some with their wives (although Judy Harvey had elected to stay home), as well as an artist, several stenographers, and a small army of porters and servants. Dressed in casual jackets, jodhpurs, and cowboy hats, the group boarded four private Pullmans near midnight and traveled west to the town of Cubero, where they watched the sunrise from their parked train cars and disembarked. Boarding horse-drawn wagons—although a few chose to ride saddle horses—they set out on the eighteen-mile trip south to Acoma Pueblo, the oldest continuously inhabited settlement in America and home to a small, independent Indian tribe called the Keresans. Their wagons wove through mesas, many of which had once been inhabited but were now just silent sentinels, guarding Acoma, which loomed in the distance.
Acoma Pueblo’s stunning “City in the Sky” was nearly 370 feet above them—and looked even higher when Ford and the others realized there was no road up and they would have to climb a steep “stone ladder” to get there. At the top, they discovered the mesa was high enough to have its own weather: Uncharacteristic for New Mexico at midday, it was misty up there, making the seventy-acre plateau town—with an ancient monastery and many terraced houses—appear rather spooky. Out of the mist to greet them came Acoma’s pueblo governor, Lorenso Lino, who wore a waistcoat, white shirt, tan hat, and a look of stolid resignation. He invited them to his home, where they all rested and enjoyed a big lunch.
Lino then invited the Ripley party to do some climbing down the scenic but dizzying “Split Trail”—with its rugged footholds and long drops onto wide boulders—and then back up the precipitous “Staircase Trail.” The women, led by Mrs. Ripley, were brave enough to try the climb, but Ford and most of the other men chickened out. Instead, they spent the afternoon meeting other Keresan families, taking pictures, and buying Navajo blankets, prehistoric arrowheads cut from agate and obsidian, and bracelets and earrings made by Vicente, the pueblo’s silversmith. When the climbers returned, Governor Lino ordered a ceremonial dance in their honor. Ford, Ripley, and the other visitors sat close to the dancers so they could capture every measured beat of the tombe drum, every step and chant. Above them, the Acoman families watched from their rooftops.
Everyone in the party was invited to stay over, but, again, Ford, Ripley, and most of the other executives demurred, heading back to sleep in the Pullman cars. Five of the women and three of the younger men remained in the pueblo overnight, and were treated to even more displays of big war dances and then, late at night, a very private performance in one family’s home by their four-year-old son, dancing in what Lummis described as “a G-string,” accompanied only by his father’s quiet drumming. The next day, when everyone gathered at the train station, Ford and the others heard all about what they had missed.
Ripley’s private train headed west to Thoreau, then the Santa Fe depot closest to the Navajo Reservation, which straddled the border between New Mexico and Arizona and had been carved out of land that the U.S. government forced the Navajos to leave during the Civil War. In 1864, the Indians were led across New Mexico—in what became known as “the Long Walk”—to a government internment area at Fort Sumner. Three years after the war ended, the government led them back to where they had lived; though 3.5 million acres of the land was given to them as a reservation, their society had been decimated. Thirty years later, they were still trying to pick up the pieces.
The party slept in their Pullmans, parked on a side track at the Thoreau depot. After breakfast, Ford was astonished by the scene outside their train car—a huge procession of wagons and saddle horses, including a hundred-member Navajo escort party for their journey into the reservation. This horse-drawn convoy had been organized by their host for the next part of the journey: controversial relic hunter Richard Wetherill, a former Colorado cattle rancher in his early forties with a dark full beard, beady eyes, and an uncanny ability to spin tales of things that he was the “first white man” to see or do. Wetherill was the leader of the famous—and in some quarters infamous—Hyde Exploring Expedition, funded by a New York family whose fortune had been made selling “Babbitt’s Best Soap.” He would be escorting them for the sixty-mile trip to Chaco Canyon.
The spiritual center of the Navajo reservation, Chaco Canyon was considered the earliest hub of civilization in North America, home of the very first Indians—whom the Navajos referred to as Anasazi, “the ancient ones”—before they spread out to the Four Corners region where New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, and Utah meet. Chaco was also an archaeologist’s dream, the site of some of the world’s oldest and best-preserved native ruins. That’s why so many people were outraged that the artifacts Wetherill discovered for the Hyde Expedition were being removed and shipped to the American Museum of Natural History in New York—one of the epicenters of the growing national fascination with “ethnology,” jump-started by the Indian exhibits at the 1893 Chicago world’s fair. Wetherill had recently added to the outrage by declaring that he should be able to own the sacred Indian grounds he was excavating, and by submitting a homestead claim to the government. To stop him, politicians and scientists were attempting to make Chaco Canyon a national park, and declare much of Wetherill’s work illegal. (He would later become a major reason the first American law protecting antiquities was passed in 1906.)
With Wetherill and dozens of Navajos on horseback leading the caravan, Ripley’s party navigated mesas and the tortuously windy trails down into the Cañon Agua Negra Chiquita, where they set up camp for lunch by the river, laying out large white blankets near a spray of bent trees that seemed to be bowing toward them. Afterward, the group posed for some photos—in which they look more like a bedraggled posse who have rescued some ladies from train robbers than high-paid railroad executives and their cosmopolitan wives—and then continued on for several more hours. They stopped for the night at Pueblo Pintado, where a camp with seven large tents had already been prepared by Wetherill’s people. After supper, Ford and the others sang around the campfire in the pulsing star-shine, and then, as the moon rose, sixty Navajos did an entrancing dance.
The next morning, the sixth day of the ambitious expedition, they finally reached Chaco Canyon and proceeded to Pueblo Bonito, the largest and best-preserved ruin, where Richard Wetherill lived. Not only had he built a small shelter for himself in the ruins, but he was personally occupying some of the 180 rooms he had already excavated.
Whatever his crimes against archaeology and anthropology, Wetherill was a genius at exciting people about ancient Indian culture. He made a marvelous tag team with Charles Lummis, who was so lovingly obsessed with Indians that he could almost be forgiven for trying to draw attention to their plight by referring to them as “living ruins.” Together, the two held Ford, Ripley, and their colleagues spellbound with their vivid descriptions of Indian history and customs. The excavated dwellings at Pueblo Bonito were absolutely breathtaking, and the stories Wetherill wove of what had taken place in these ancient rooms—many of which still had the wooden ceilings and lintels intact—brought Ford and the others a whole new understanding of these very early Americans and their lives. Wetherill also guided them through several other legendary Chaco Canyon sites he had excavated—Chettro Kettle, Pueblo del Arroyo, and Pueblo Viejo—before they decided to head back to the train, another long, rugged sixty-mile trip. On Sunday, October 27, the group reboarded their Pullman cars at Thoreau and headed west.
They stopped for a long leisurely supper at the Harvey House in Gallup, New Mexico, which was the closest Harvey location to the reservation—and very much looked it. The walls were decorated with fine Indian blankets, and there were pieces of turquoise and silver jewelry for sale at the checkout counter, next to the customary selection of candy, newspapers, and, of course, cigars. Back on the train, Ford, Ripley, Paul Morton, and Lummis sat up late talking and smoking cigars—Lummis smoked four himself—as they crossed the Arizona desert under a full moon.
At Williams, they were diverted off the High Iron onto the new branch line the Santa Fe had built all the way to the rim of the Grand Canyon. And by doing so, they became among the first people ever to travel by train to the edge of forever.
WHILE THE GRAND CANYON had a rich life during the time of the Anasazi—who inhabited the rim and the caves and cliffs at the base—white people had long considered it a big pain in the neck: too wide to cross and far too long to circumvent. It was more than a mile deep, and big enough to easily fit the state of Rhode Island, all five boroughs of New York City, and Washington, D.C. The canyon was not really near anything—the closest town was twenty miles away—and could not be seen from a distance; it appeared completely without warning after a long journey through the dense pine Coconino Forest. For travelers on their way to somewhere else, it was the world’s largest and most spectacular dead end.
“Ours has been the first and will doubtless be the last party of whites to visit this profitless location,” wrote the first U.S. government representative to visit the canyon, Lieutenant Joseph Ives, after his trip there in 1857, “the region is, of course, altogether valueless … after entering it there is nothing to do but leave.”
It was another decade before geologist John Wesley Powell convinced the fledgling Smithsonian Institution to fund the first expedition down the Colorado River to explore and map the canyon. He led a harsh one-hundred-day trip, in which three of his eight men were killed by Indians and two of his four boats were destroyed, along with many of Powell’s notes. But he returned two years later, and this time was more successful, painstakingly mapping, measuring, photographing, and naming various canyon formations. In 1880, an expedition for the recently created U.S. Geological Survey, led by Powell’s protégé Clarence Dutton, surveyed the canyon from the perspective that most visitors would eventually experience it—from the rim, particularly the South Rim, rather than from the bottom. Within a few years, daring tourists began arriving at the South Rim on horseback and in carriages.
Charles Lummis was one of those early tourists—visiting for the first time in 1885. He saw the local Indian tribes, the Hualapai and the Havasupai, already being pushed out by the U.S. government so that mining and logging companies might have their way with the canyon and its surrounding pine forests. As he explained to Ford, Ripley, and the rest of his rapt audience, the Grand Canyon was saved from the miners only because it proved too difficult to excavate, lacking veins rich enough to justify the risk and expense. Frustrated miners had to find another way to make money from the trails they had worked so hard to blaze, and realized that tourists would pay to walk them, and pay even more to ride them—on saddled mining burros.
The prospectors suddenly found themselves with new careers as guides and trail owners, some even turning their houses into primitive bed-and-breakfasts. In fact, when Fred Harvey took over the two Arizona eating houses closest to the canyon—in Williams and Peach Springs—in 1887, there was already regular stagecoach service from the depots to the canyon, and Harvey House managers often arranged trips for their more adventurous guests. One miner turned trail master actually built his own seventy-mile road from the railroad town of Ash Fork all the way to the South Rim, connecting to his trail down into the canyon.
The Santa Fe showed its first real interest in the canyon during the turbulent early 1890s, as the railroad was deciding what to exhibit at the Chicago world’s fair. An AT&SF executive reached out to Thomas Moran, a renowned naturalist painter with a Moses-like beard who had brought his dramatic, Turner-esque palette to the American West. Congress had bought two Moran paintings to hang in the Capitol, one depicting what was then called the “Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone,” in Yellowstone Park, Wyoming, and the other depicting the canyon in Arizona, then still referred to as “Grand Cañon of the Colorado,” but seen from the North Rim. Both paintings illustrated views that were most easily accessible from the tracks of the Santa Fe’s rival, the Union Pacific.
The Santa Fe offered Moran an all-expenses-paid trip—including two railroad employees just to haul his stuff around—if he would go to the South Rim, closest to AT&SF tracks, and create similarly iconic paintings. He could paint and stay there as long as he liked; in exchange, the railroad wanted a single canvas to display, just one. Although Moran’s painting was never exhibited at the world’s fair, the railroad printed up thousands of copies of a handsome six-color lithograph and made it omnipresent. Framed lithographs hung in every Santa Fe depot, as well as on the walls of schools, offices, and government buildings across the country. Prints were even given away as a premium for subscribing to the Los Angeles Times.
Moran’s painting from the South Rim became perhaps the single most recognizable image of the American West. And with that single act of Machiavellian art patronage, the fates of the Grand Canyon, the Santa Fe, and Fred Harvey were inextricably linked.
BY THE TIME FORD HARVEY arrived with Ed Ripley’s entourage on a cloudy Monday morning at the end of October 1901, the South Rim of the Grand Canyon was a bustling village of bearded white men and their Indian employees. It featured a handful of rustic boardinghouses, several profitable trails, and a little photography studio offering “instant” portraits that were ready by the time the tourists came back up on their burros. By then, there were about two thousand visitors a year, mostly in the summer. They all wanted a chance to see what naturalist John Burroughs—on his recent first visit with his friend John Muir—had called “the Divine Abyss,” where one looks “into the earth as through a mighty window or open door.”
When Ford looked into the Divine Abyss, he realized that his life was going to change forever. He was thirty-five years old and had been working full-time, largely without a break, ever since he left college at nineteen. He was a man possessed by his responsibilities—to his father, to his wife and children, to his employees, and, most recently, to his widowed mother. A creature of routines, he woke up early each morning so he could walk to work (in fact, he walked everywhere he could, because he heard it was good for his heart), he went to bed at precisely the same time every night, and even though his office was in the train station, when he returned from a business trip, he always went home first to have a meal before checking in at his office. He had no distractions, no hobbies. When he went to a party or to the country club to golf, it was invariably about business; when he traveled, it was all business. What he longed for in his life was a passion—a passion of his own, not one he inherited.
In the Grand Canyon, he was seeing something profound and unexpendable, a vision that would take more than a lifetime to absorb, a frontier that even the potent modernizing forces of America could not civilize. Although Ford belonged to a church, he had always considered himself a secular man. Gazing into the Grand Canyon, he realized he had found something sacred and mystifying.
Ford rejoined Ripley, Lummis, and the others, and the conversation turned to the hotel the Santa Fe was planning to build on the South Rim—a hotel that Ford would be running. But their discussion soon devolved into a huge fight, with Lummis arguing that the railroad men were plotting to defile the canyon.
“You want to put the hotel on the brink?” he cried incredulously.
Apparently, Ripley’s architect, Charles Whittlesey—who had never actually been to the canyon—was designing a building with protruding porches and balconies that would jut out over the South Rim. The design would create dazzling views for hotel guests—and destroy the experience of an unimpeded vista for everyone else.
Lummis shouted at Ripley’s vice president Paul Morton, who favored the site—two friends of Teddy Roosevelt’s now going at it on the canyon’s edge over the future of that edge. Eventually, Morton backed down, and Ripley agreed the hotel would be moved. Someone borrowed Lummis’s camera to take a picture of him, Ford, and two other executives sitting serenely on the ground with their legs dangling over the rim. On the train back to Williams, Lummis rode in Ripley’s car with Ford and the others. They talked a lot about the hotel, and Lummis was pretty sure they would honor the promise they had made at the rim.
But just to be certain, when he finally went to Washington to meet with Roosevelt, Lummis told the president all about the dispute—to ensure that Teddy would side with him if the issue ever came up again.