D. W. VANDEVANTER AND THE NATIONAL MONUMENT THAT WASN’T
By Ernie Bulow
It is hard to say which one is more elusive, D. W. VanDevanter or his pet project, the Anasazi National Monument. They are both pretty well forgotten almost eighty years after the fact.
VanDevanter and the Gallup Chamber of Commerce, including such local notables as Harry Dunbar, Dominic Rollie, Glen Emmons (later Secretary of the Interior), and M. L. Woodard, long time secretary of the chamber, thought a national monument protecting extensive Anasazi ruins in the Mentmore area was a done deal in 1938. Today it is hard to find any mention of the project.
VanDevanter, a local accountant, spearheaded the project, which only needed title to 6,000 more acres to become a reality. The National Park Service had already signed off on the new monument. As it turned out, getting clear title to land in New Mexico wasn’t that easy.
It is an apparently little known fact that there are extensive Chacoan ruins all along the Rio Puerco. Luckily for future scientific research, they remain almost totally undisturbed. Just south of Mentmore there is a very large ruin with an impressive tower, much like the ones in the Hovenweep complex.
These ruins didn’t go completely unnoticed, of course. The colorful trader who occupied the large alcove near the Arizona border, Indian Miller, once got national attention trying to sell the theory that the real Seven Cities of Cibola were many miles north of Zuni. Crazy as he was, Mr. Miller was written up in Desert Magazine.
In 1947, almost ten years after the monument was announced, the Independent posted a three-paragraph piece calling Manuelito, “gateway to the proposed Anasazi Monument in the mountains to the south . . .” It suggested that the project wasn’t yet completely dead.
The brief article had an interesting historical note, pointing out that the location of Mike Kirk’s trading post had originally been called Cook’s Ranch. The railroad established a station there which was the railhead for Fort Defiance. The station and its post office was called Ferry Station, reason unknown.
The article also mentioned the large prehistoric ruin on the mesa top to the west. Ambiguously, the local Navajos called it “Homely House.” The informant seems to be having a little fun with the reporter because he added that when the Navajos hunted mountain bighorns near there the sheep would escape by leaping off the cliff. “They just put their heads down and rebounded from their big horns.” I believe that.
VanDevanter’s given name was Decater and he was born in 1886 in West Virginia. He came to Gallup in the early thirties and was employed by a local bank. His salary must not have been too generous because he ran a notice in the want ads that he was available for accounting work.
His wife is mentioned several times in the gossip columns, but in the 1940 census, he is listed as single and working as an accountant for the utility company. The only other mention of him was in the Independent for April 3, 1941. The headline read, “Photograph Works Displayed at Center,” referring to the Gallup Art Center. The show included 60 photographs of “scenes familiar to Gallup people.”
He was also invited to show at the University of New Mexico’s annual Photography Exhibition where two of his images were included. Though he was referred to as “local amateur photographer,” VanDevanter was a little more important than that.
VanDevanter published a number of real photo postcards, in the tradition of J. R. Willis and Tom Mullarky. Frasher’s studio in Pomona, CA, sold hundreds of thousands of them, many of Gallup. These cards were quite popular until color lithography took over after WWII. Some of VanDevanter’s cards are rather amateur, with his penchant for captions that take up a third of the space. His subject matter was pretty universal for Gallup photographers.
He took many photographs of El Morro and other rock art around the area, obviously a major interest of his. He also liked to photograph ruins, but they are not his best images. He does better with landscapes like eroded rock formations and the Petrified Forest, another of his favorites.
VanDevanter (I just can’t call him Decater) naturally found plenty of Navajo subjects, but they are often spoiled by his captions, like one of two shy young Navajos getting to know each other. The use of the word “squaw” was common in those days.
His best and most important photos are of Ceremonial, and mostly unpublished. The Archive has a whole roll of film of a Ceremonial parade, shot looking at the Delmar Hotel on the corner of First and Railroad Ave. (Route 66). Though the Ceremonial was widely photographed, pictures from this early period are not so common.