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Rainbow Bridge National Monument Collection, 1907-1988


Descriptive Summary

Creator: United States. National Park Service.
Collection NameRainbow Bridge National Monument Collection,
Inclusive Dates: 1907-1988.
Physical Description1 linear foot, 44 folders.
AbstractThe Rainbow Bridge National Monument Collection pertains to the Rainbow Bridge geological structure in southern Utah. The collection consists of correspondence, memoranda, published articles, government reports, and photographs pertaining to the history and management of Rainbow Bridge National Monument and its immediate geographic surroundings.
Collection NumberNAU.MS.239
Language English.
Repository Cline Library. Special Collections and Archives Department.
Northern Arizona University
Box 6022
Flagstaff, AZ 86011-6022
Phone: 928 523 5551
Fax: 928 523 3770

Historical Note

The Rainbow Bridge National Monument is located in San Juan County in southeastern Utah. The monument consists of 160 acres and adjoins the shores of Lake Powell. The world's largest natural bridge, Rainbow Bridge stands 290 feet tall and spans a distance of 275 feet. Its name is derived from the Navajo word "Nonnezoshi," which roughly translates to "rainbow of stone." The base of the bridge is composed of Kayenta Formation rock while the bridge's arch is Navajo Sandstone. The bridge was formed when the earth's geological forces caused an uplifting precipitated subsequent erosion of the soft sandstone deposits of the Colorado River and created several unusual geologic features such as the Grand Canyon and Rainbow Bridge. Rainbow Bridge became a National Monument by a proclamation from President William Taft on May 30, 1910.

The first publicized sighting of the Rainbow Bridge occurred on August 14, 1909. On this date, two parties of Anglo explorers and researchers led by Professor Byron Cummings of the University of Utah, and government land office surveyor William B. Douglass 'discovered' the bridge. The discovery of the Rainbow Bridge is a topic of much controversy. Though the two groups of explorers were united as one party on the date of the discovery, both party leaders, Cummings and Douglass, claimed the discovery for their own group. While this argument has never been resolved, historical evidence suggests that Cummings and Douglass were arguing a moot point. Both parties were led by Native American next hit guides who already knew of the bridge's existence. Mike Jim, a Paiute Indian , led Douglass' expedition while Nasja Begay, also a Paiute Indian, guided the Cummings party. Begay has traditionally been recognized as the first to "see" the bridge, and in 1927 a bronze plague was installed at the base of Rainbow Bridge in his honor.

There remains much debate and controversy as to the true discoverer of Rainbow Bridge. Despite the official recognition given to Begay and the 1909 explorers, there are claims that the bridge was visited by Anglo miners in the 1880's and 1890's. These claims are substantiated by reports and descriptions of Anglo names and dates carved in the base of the Bridge at the time of the Cummings-Douglass discovery. Additionally, personal statements and affidavits given by local miners and explorers note visits to the bridge prior to the official 1909 discovery. Finally, Rainbow Bridge was undoubtedly seen and visited by previous hitNative Americans next hit for hundreds of years before the arrival of Cummings and Douglass. This is evidenced by the presence of altars and religious manifestations at Rainbow Bridge at the time of its 1909 'discovery,' and by its traditional religious significance to local Navajo, Paiute, and Hopi Indians.

When the United States Congress and the Bureau of Reclamation began planning the construction of Glen Canyon Dam as an addition to the Colorado River Storage Project in 1958, the government initiated a controversy over the effects of water encroachment upon the bridge. The controversy centered around whether or not water from the resulting Lake Powell would submerge and weaken the foundation of the bridge. The controversy reached a boiling point in the early 1970's when the Lake Powell backed up into Bridge Canyon and threatened to reach the bridge itself. A lawsuit was filed by the Friends of the Earth in 1970 to stop the water's encroachment, and the resulting litigation eventually progressed all the way to the Supreme Court. The Friends of the Earth suit was finally rejected by the Supreme Court on the grounds that the waters of the Lake Powell did not pose a threat to the structural or aesthetic integrity of Rainbow Bridge.

Due to its isolated location and rugged surroundings, Rainbow Bridge National Monument was sparsely visited in its early years of existence. Today, the bridge is a common tourist venue because of its easy accessibility from the waters of nearby Lake Powell.

Scope and Content Note

The collection consists primarily of publications, memorandum, and correspondence regarding different aspects of the bridge and its history. This collection was arranged based on topical categories. Within these topical categories. Within these topical categories, the documents were arranged chronologically in order to promote historical context and continuity.

This collection is important because it provides information on one of America's most unusual geologic features. In addition to providing a reference source for the history of Rainbow Bridge, this collection provides insight in to the exploration of the American West and its attendant issues. These issues include the presence and role of previous hitNative Americans next hit in both historical and pre-historical times, the nature and issues of exploration and discovery in the southwest, and the role of government agencies such as the Bureau of Reclamation and the Department of the Interior in developing and managing the natural resources of the American West.


Organized in 5 series.
I.General Information, 1907-1979.
II. Discovery, 1908-1978.
III. History, 1910-1974.
IV. previous hitNative Americans next hit, 1910-1970.
V. Technical Information, 1958-1988.





It is the responsibility of the user to obtain permission to publish from the owner of the copyright (the institution, the creator of the record, the author or his/her transferees, heirs,legates, or literary executors). The user agrees to indemnify and hold harmless the Arizona Board of Regents for Northern Arizona University, its officers, employees, and agents from and against all claims made by any person asserting that he or she is an owner of copyright.

Related Material

Access Points

Family Name(s)
Douglass, William Boone.
Wetherill, John.

Corporate Name(s)
Friends of the Earth--Trials, litigation, etc.

Geographic Name(s)
Glen Canyon Dam (Ariz.)
Powell, Lake (Utah and Ariz.)
Rainbow Bridge National Monument (Utah)--History.
West (U.S.)--Discovery and exploration.

Dams--Environmental aspects--Utah.
Hopi Indians.
Indians of North America--Southwest, New--Government relations.
Indians of North America--Southwest, New--Religion.
Landforms--Southwest, New.
National monuments--United States--History.
Natural bridges--Utah.
Navajo Indians.
Paiute Indians.
Reservoirs--Environmental aspects--Southwest, New.

Genre Form(s)
Rainbow Bridge (Utah)--Discovery and exploration.

Administrative Information

Credit Line

Rainbow Bridge National Monument Collection., NAU.MS.239, Cline Library. Special Collections and Archives Dept.

Container List

Series One, General Information, 1907-1979.
Five topically and chronologically arranged folders which consist mainly of published articles detailing different aspects of Rainbow Bridge. These aspects include general discussions of Rainbow Bridge documenting its geologic specifications, natural origins, geographic location, and general history.
This series also includes articles on the different trails to and from Rainbow Bridge, brochures and advertisements highlighting Rainbow Bridge, and photocopied drawings and photographs of the bridge.
1.1 General media Clippings, 1927 - 1977.
1.2 Geology and Geography Media Clippings, 1907 - 1976.
1.3 Trails, 1926 - 1979.
1.4 Brochures and Advertisements, c.1930's - 1969.
1.5 Images, 1930-1974.
Series Two, Discovery, 1908-1978.
Nine folders pertaining to the discovery of Rainbow Bridge which are arranged by correspondent and chronologically within folders and reveal the convoluted nature of the bridge's true 'discovery.' These folders include personal correspondence from many of the members of the 1909 expedition including William B. Douglass and John Wetherhill. This correspondence reveals the feelings and intentions of two rival factions involved in the controversy and highlights their attempts to gain official recognition.
This series also contains many documents which promote a revisionist approach to the discovery controversy. Folders nine and ten contain documents highlighting the roles of Mike Jim and Nasja Begay in the discovery of the Bridge, while folders twelve and thirteen contain personal statements by early Anglo pioneers claiming to have seen the bridge before 1909.
1. 6 Correspondence and Memorandum, 1908-1964.
1.7 William B. Douglass, 1908-1964.
1.8 John Wetherhill, 1923-1937.
1.9 Nasja Begay, 1924-1957.
1.10 Jim Mike (Mike's Boy), 1908-1977.
1.11 Neil M. Judd, 1927-1973.
1. 12 William Franklyn Williams, 1929-1955.
1.13 James Black, 1930.
1. 14 Media Clippings, 1927-1978.
1910-1974., Series Three, History,
Six folders relating to the history of the Rainbow Bridge National Monument. Folder fifteen houses a copy of the original Presidential proclamation designating Rainbow Bridge as a National Monument. Other documents of interest include monthly and yearly visitation statistics and a copy of the official report of the 1934 - 35 Rainbow Bridge - Monument Valley survey and research expedition.
1.15 Creation of Rainbow Bridge National Monument, 1910.
1.16 'Monthly Reports,' , 1935 - 1950.
1.17 Visitation Information, 1935 - 1974.
1.18 Visitation Media Clippings, 1920-c.1970's.
1.19 Rainbow Lodge, 1935 - 1966.
1.20 Rainbow Bridge - Monument Valley Expedition, 1934 - 1935.
Series Four, previous hitNative Americans next hit, 1910-ca.1970's.
Five folders documenting the relationship between previous hitNative Americans and Rainbow Bridge. Folder twenty-one contains an article on the cultural and religious significance of Rainbow Bridge for local Indians. The series, other folders include documents illustrating the relationship between Rainbow Bridge and Navajo, Paiute, and Hopi Indians. Folder twenty -five houses documents pertaining to the proposed land exchange between the National Park Service and the Navajo nation in the federal government more control over the Rainbow Bridge National Monument.
1.21 Cultural and Relegious Signifivance, c.1970's.
1.22 Navajo, c.1940's - 1972.
1.23 Paiute, 1910 - 1958.
1.24 Hopi, Undated.
1.25 Navajo Land Excahnge, 1958 - 1962.
Series Five, Rainbow Bridge-Lake Powell Contoversy, 1959-1978.
Sixteen folders documenting the controversy surrounding Lake Powell's encroachment upon Rainbow Bridge. This series is the most extensive of the collection and provides excellent insights into the motivations and actions of all involved parties.
Folders twenty-six through twenty-eight contain government reports, photographs, diagrams, and correspondence regarding the effects Of Lake Powell on Rainbow Bridge. Folders twenty-nine and thirty house correspondence between congressmen and their constituents as well as congressional documents on the Rainbow Bridge-Lake Powell issue. Folders thirty-one through thirty-eight hold media clippings on the controversy arranged chronologically by year. Folders thirty-nine and fort contain public coverage of the controversy in the newsletters, brochures, handbills, and personal litigation surrounding the Rainbow Bridge -Lake Powell controversy.
1.26 Government Reports, 1959 - 1971.
1.27 Government Photographs, Diagrams, and Illustrations, 1959 - 1971.
1.28 Government Correspondence, 1959 - 1973.
1.29 Congressional Correspondence, 1960 - 1974.
1.30 Congressional Documents, 1963 - 1973.
1.31-38 Media Clippings, 1961 - 1978.
1.39 Public Coverage, 1971 - 1974.
1.40 Public Correspondence, 1961 - 1976.
1.41 Litigation, 1970 - 1975.
Series Six, Technical Information, 1958-1987.
Three folders pertaining to technical geologic and management aspects of Rainbow Bridge. These folders include monitoring information and statistics, Bureau of Reclamation aerial photo-graphs, maps and media clippings.
1.42 Monitoring, 1958-1988.
1.43 Maps and Photographs, 1983 - 1987.
1.44 Media Clippings, 1978.