one day at a time…
Saturday, 12 June 2004

He Tried To Own The Grand Canyon
CREDIT: © Henry Karpinski/Shioshya
WHERE: Arizona, USA. WHAT: life & legacy of Ralph Henry Cameron.
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Ralph Henry Cameron © Henry  KarpinskiTwo characters emerged from our article about Cameron, Arizona: there is quite a contrast between the lives of Seth Benjamin Tanner (1828-1918) and Ralph Henry Cameron (1863-1953). Both were involved with mining operations in the Grand Canyon, but while Seth lived a modest and humble life, Ralph entered public life where he achieved some notoriety. Both had trails in the Grand Canyon named after them: Tanner Trail retains that name, but Cameron Trail was renamed Bright Angel Trail after Ralph's fall from grace.

Quite why later generations have singled out Ralph for vituperative condemnation is unclear. He used the law as a means to establish land ownership, rather than a means to confirm ownership. In a nation created by such a method it seems unduly sensitive to cavil about a particular individual taking such a route. Ralph also used political office as a way to defend his own interests, but as the Trevor Howard character in 'Ryan's Daughter' says when accused of taking advantage of his cloth, "That's what it's for!". The legislators seemed to have learned little from crossing swords with Ralph; at least until 1999, when Bruce Babbitt (at that time the US Secretary of the Interior in Bill Clinton's administration, and former governor of Arizona from 1978 to 1987) gave the following evidence before the House Committee on Resources:
• Beginning around 1890, a man named Ralph Cameron staked numerous mining claims on what was then public domain land along the south rim of the Grand Canyon and on the trails leading from the rim to the Colorado River. Rather than looking for minerals, Cameron used his claims to mine the pockets of tourists instead, by controlling access and charging fees for use of the Bright Angel Trail. This was the most popular hiking trail for access to the Canyon, then as now. Numerous legal challenges were eventually filed to these claims, but it took nearly 20 years to remove Cameron's claims so the public could enjoy this world-class area of federal lands free from such extortion.

• In the modern era, a fast-acting person staked mining claims on public land at Yucca Mountain after Congress selected the area for the national high-level nuclear waste disposal site, but before the federal government cranked up the machinery for withdrawing the land from the Mining Law. Rather than going through expense and particularly the time to contest his claims, the Department of Energy elected to pay him a quarter of a million dollars of taxpayer money to relinquish them.

• In 1989 the Department of the Interior determined that it had to issue patents under the Mining Law for 780 acres of land within the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area, an outstanding scenic and recreational treasure along the Pacific coast. (The mineral 'discovery' on the mining claims to be patented was a so-called 'uncommon' variety of sand.) Trying to avoid creating such an inholding in the National Recreation Area, the United States pursued a land exchange, intending to offer the patentee other public land of equal value in Oregon for the relinquishment of these claims. But when other public land was identified for such an exchange, and before it could be withdrawn, the holder of the claims in the Oregon Dunes filed mining claims on that other land, making it impossible to use them for the exchange.
The Las Vegas Review-Journal reported that Rep. James Hansen, R-Utah, chairman of the national parks, forests and lands subcommittee voiced an objection, saying Babbitt's actions were "…a good example of how (the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976) is not working to prevent executive abuse of withdrawal powers." We were unable to discover Rep. Hansen's views on abuse of the mining law to establish ownership (Babbitt had called Cameron "a crook of the first order"), but evidence of his support for the mining and logging industries was abundant.

Scott Miller, an Honors Program Attorney with the Solicitor's Office has written an article entitled 'Challenging the Antiquities Act' about Cameron v. United States. Horace M. Albright & Marian Albright Schenck in an online National Park [NP] publication entitled 'Creating the National Park Service: The Missing Years' offer a contemporary account [PDF format] of the NP's dealings with Cameron. The web site PoliticalGraveyard.com has a summary of Ralph's political career.

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Jules Laforgue (1860-1887)
"Ah! que la vie est quotidienne."
Oh, what a day-to-day business life is.
'Complainte sur certains ennuis' (1885)