CHAPTER TEN: Administration Of Crater Lake National Park: 1916-Present C. FUNCTION OF U.S. COMMISSIONER

Crater Lake National Park: Administrative History by Harlan D. Unrau and Stephen Mark, 1987

 CHAPTER TEN: Administration Of Crater Lake National Park: 1916-Present

On November 21, 1916, three months after enactment of 39 Stat. 521 established the position of U.S. Commissioner at Crater Lake, Judge Charles E. Wolverton of the U.S. District Court appointed William G. Steel to that position. Steel resigned as park superintendent on November 20 to assume his new duties. In this position Steel had authority to handle misdemeanor cases in the park. [27]

The position of U.S. Commissioner in the park apparently had few duties and responsibilities. In 1921, for instance, Superintendent Sparrow reported that during the year one man was brought before Steel “for rolling rocks inside the rim of the lake.” After a brief hearing the man was “reprimanded and escorted out of the park.” [28]

In February 1921 the Department of Justice informed the U.S. District Court for Oregon that Steel’s term had expired on November 20, 1920. While it is likely that officials of the new administration of Warren G. Harding were interested in naming their own man to the position, the department based its decision to terminate Steel on the premise that his appointment was limited to the same four-year term as other United States Commissioners as provided in an Act of Congress on May 28, 1896. In response the U.S. District Court for Oregon argued that the position of Crater Lake National Park commissioner was different from that of United States Commissioners as provided in the 1896 act and was thus a new office. The 1916 act (39 Stat. 521) contained no language for a fixed term, and thus the court argued that Steel’s position was “a continuing appointment.” After accepting the court’s arguments, the Department of Justice recommended that Steel be reappointed on a continuing basis retroactive to November 20, 1920, and that his authority and acts also be declared retroactive to that date. The reappointment process was ordered by Judge R.S. Bean on March 7, 1921.[29]

After his formal reappointment Steel continued to serve as U.S. Commissioner in the park until his death in October 1934. Park records indicated that he handled few cases during those years. In 1927, for instance, Superintendent Thomson reported that there were no automobile accidents and not a single arrest in the park. [30] Various records show that no cases were brought to the attention of Steel in 1929, 1930, and 1932. [31]

After the death of Steel in 1934, his daughter Jean Gladstone Steel was appointed park commissioner. She would remain in that position until the early 1940s. [32]

During the 1940s the U.S. Commissioner’s position at Crater Lake became a matter of controversy between the Department of Justice and the National Park Service. The position was vacated during the war when the Department of Justice asked for the commissioner’s resignation as an economy measure due to the reduction in park visitation and restricted park operations. After the war U.S. District Court Judge James A. Fee refused to appoint a new commissioner. His refusal affected Park Service law enforcement and irritated Superintendent Leavitt. In June 1947 Leavitt reported on the need for a U.S. Commissioner:

. . . it was found that we had an entirely different class of visitors to the park last year, people who had little or no appreciation of what the parks represented or what they stood for, so that there was a wanton disregard of the park rules and regulations and they did not take kindly to requests to obey these rules and regulations when they were called to their attention. We needed a U.S. Commissioner in the park last year as we have never needed one before, and there is every reason to believe that this need will continue in future years. . . .

For a year the National Park Service has been urging the Department of Justice to appoint a U.S. Commissioner for the park. The appointment, which is in the hands of Judge James Alger Fee of Portland, has been held up. Judge Fee has insisted that the Commissioner selected should be a law-trained man. It has not been practicable to secure a law-trained man who would be willing to “bury” himself in the park where his jurisdictional duties would be very light and where he would be too far away from a city to conduct a law practice on the side. If he remains in the city, he would be too far away from the park to satisfactorily handle the duties of his position there. The Superintendent has urged that a person without law training be appointed to the position, experience in the past indicating that such a person can handle that position satisfactorily.