On February 26, 1919, Congress passed An Act to Establish the Grand Canyon National Park in the State of Arizona. The Grand Canyon of the Colorado River in northwestern Arizona is one of the earth’s greatest natural wonders. Comprising over 1 million acres of northwestern Arizona, the park includes the most spectacular area of the 277-mile canyon cut by the Colorado River. Still inhabited by Native peoples with at least 2,000 years of history in the area, some of the tribes of Grand Canyon region are the Hopi, Navajo, Zuni, Paiute, Havasupai, and Hualapai.
The first bill to create Grand Canyon National Park was introduced in 1882, and again in 1883 and 1886 by Senator Benjamin Harrison. As president, Harrison established the Grand Canyon Forest Reserve in 1893. President Theodore Roosevelt created the Grand Canyon Game Preserve by proclamation in 1906 and Grand Canyon National Monument in 1908. Senate bills to establish a national park were introduced and defeated in 1910 and 1911; the Grand Canyon National Park Act was finally signed by President Woodrow Wilson in 1919. The National Park Service, established in 1916, assumed administration of the park.
Before the middle of the nineteenth century, very little was known about the geography of the Grand Canyon. Because of its remote location, the area in and around the canyon was not explored or mapped in detail by Europeans, although it was probably visited in 1540 by the Spanish expedition of Garcia Lopez de Cardenas, who searched with Vasques de Coronado for the seven legendary cities of Cibola. In 1776, two Spanish priests, Francisco Dominguez and Silvestre de Escalante, crossed the Colorado River while exploring the area, but little knowledge of the region was passed down in written form to later generations. The primary source of information about the magnificent canyon was an oral tradition sustained by the reports of fur trappers and traders and so-called “mountain men,” most of whom were escorted through the rugged terrain by Native American guides.
Only one early visitor, Warren Augustus Ferris, is known to have produced a map showing the Grand Canyon. Drawn in 1836, it was not published until 1940, too late to be of use to the geographers and explorers who first traveled to the Colorado River and the canyon during the late nineteenth century. Ferris did, however, write and publish several articles in the 1840s, one of which described the canyon. His account added to the available information about the existence and approximate location of the Grand Canyon and helped to increase interest in further exploration of the area.
- For a vivid description of the Grand Canyon, read famed essayist Charles Dudley Warner’s account of his trip west in 1890. Warner’s report is one chapter of his book Our Italy, found in “California as I Saw It”: First-Person Narratives of California’s Early Years, 1849 to 1900.
- Mapping the National Parks documents the history, cultural aspects and geological formations of areas that eventually became the U.S. National Parks. A search on Grand Canyon will produce, among other items, a 1919 Rand McNally map of Grand Canyon National Park.
- Historic American Buildings Survey/Historic American Engineering Record/Historic American Landscapes Survey includes drawings and photographs of buildings in the Grand Canyon as well as of roads and walls leading to and from the canyon. Search on Grand Canyon to view images such as the Grand Canyon Railroad Terminal.
- Search on Grand Canyon in the Detroit Publishing Company collection. Explore with keywords such as Hopi to find Native American images such as that of a Hopi woman making pottery.
- Read about the Spanish exploration of the American southwest in Parallel Histories: Spain, the United States, and the American Frontier, a collaborative digital library project between the Library of Congress and the National Library of Spain.
- View collection items related to Native Americans. Search, for example, the Curtis (Edward S.) Collection on keywords Hopi, Navajo, Zuni, Havasupai, and Hualapai for images of peoples native to the Grand Canyon region.
- Search the pictorial collections on Grand Canyon to view hundreds of images including buildings in the park, various park views, and more.
- To learn more about the movement to conserve and protect America’s natural heritage, see the chronology in The Evolution of the Conservation Movement, 1850-1920. For additional resources concerning that material, view the Overview to the collection included in the Collection Connections section of the Teachers Page.
- Also, don’t miss the Today in History features on Yosemite and Mt. Rainier parks, and the establishment of the National Park Service in 1916.