25 Chapter 7: Controversy of Replacement of William F. Arant with William G. Steel as Superintendent: 1912-1913

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


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CHAPTER SEVEN: Controversy Involving the Replacement of William F. Arant with William G. Steel as Superintendent of Crater Lake National Park: 1912-1913


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One of the most bizarre stories surrounding the administrative history of Crater Lake National Park involves the year-long controversy to oust Arant as superintendent and replace him with William G. Steel. The controversy was shrouded in considerable political intrigue and maneuvering, resulting in a year of wrangling during which little attention was devoted to park management. The struggle ended in July 1913 amid scenes of comic-opera violence and subsequent lawsuits.

Learn more about William Gladstone Steel through Crater Lake Institute books, articles, images and more

In July 1912 a campaign was mounted by William G. Steel and Alfred L. Parkhurst, president of the Crater Lake Company, to oust Arant as park superintendent. In fetters to Senator Jonathan Bourne on July 2 and to Secretary of the Interior Walter L. Fisher on July 15, Steel made a number of somewhat oblique and incongruous statements that nevertheless revealed his intentions. To Bourne he observed:

The Superintendent is a man for whom I have a very high regard, and for whom I would do almost anything,—. He has been faithful to his trust, but the fact cannot be denied that he is not the sort of man needed if the park is to come into its own. —–. I dislike very much to express such a sentiment, but feel that the needs of the park are above those of any man, and when a friend stands in the way of a proper development! he ought to give way. However, I know there is no disposition to do so in this case, so it becomes necessary to consider other means. . . .

If the present Superintendent should be removed, the new man might be selected, as I understand it, by the Congressman from the First District who would probably name some friend, not because he is peculiarly fitted for the place, but because he has been useful in politics, so it is not impossible that the new man would be worse than the old one. No one will question the honesty of the present incumbent, but the new man may be both incompetent and dishonest, so we would be making a bad matter worse.

———. However, things are not as they should be in the park management, and never will be as long as the present official is continued, simply for the reason that he is not the type of man for such a place.

I am willing to make sacrifices in the matter, if necessary, and mean just what I say in expressing the fact that it is not the position of Superintendent that I want, but wholly a park management on a very much higher plane, which I believe I can bring to pass. . . .

In his letter to Fisher he noted:

I am not the only one here who objects to the present administration of affairs, for there are many others, several of whom have come to me with a request that I permit them to use my name for the place and they would at once start a move for a change of Superintendent. To this I will not agree, unless you think it is the proper thing.

Steel concluded the letter to Fisher by suggesting that he be favorably mentioned for the position of park superintendent.

On the same day that Steel wrote to Fisher, he sent a more lengthy letter to Assistant Secretary of the Interior Carmi A. Thompson, providing more details as to his involvement in the move to replace Arant. Steel observed:

Crater Lake conditions and prospects have given me a great deal of concern lately, and I have tried to think out a course of action that would produce the very best results, eliminating my own interests as far as possible. With that end in view I wrote to Senator Bourne on the 2nd instant . . . hoping that he would be able to work out a solution that would bring quick results. His reply has just been received, and I am sorry he feels that the Administration is so pronounced against him that a request from him would not receive serious consideration. While I disagree with him in this matter, still “it is a condition and not a theory that confronts us,” so I am doing what I probably ought to have done in the first place, writing to you. However, my special object in writing to him was to get the two of you together in consultation, which I had hoped would result in the formation of some plan, which I certainly would have approved.

I am not the only one here who objects to the present administration of affairs, for there are many others, several of whom have come to me with a request that I permit them to use my name for the place and they would at once start a move for a change of Superintendent. To this I will not agree, unless you think it is the proper thing. I dislike very much to participate in what would seem like a selfish scramble for official position. In the first place, I have never worked the Crater Lake matter for selfish reasons and it is too late now to begin. Just the same, I am intensely interested in the matter, and want to see the very best results obtained, in which case it is necessary to start the work of development right, under the appropriation we are after, which I think will be available this season.

If a change of administration is brought to pass, and the Department thinks favorably of me for the place, I believe if you will consult with Mr. Hawley, intimating to him that you would like to have me recommended, that he would cheerfully agree to it, although if left free to recommend whom he wishes, I do not believe he would select me. Both our Senators would recommend my appointment if the opportunity were offered.

I am trying to put this matter up to you exactly as conditions exist, and wholly regardless of myself, except as a factor in the premises. I want to do what is best, and believe if the opportunity is offered that I can make good with all concerned. Frankly, I believe I can give an administration that will please both the government and the public, and because I am so deeply interested in the matter, I am willing to make any sort of sacrifice that is necessary to bring it to pass. If, in your opinion, it is necessary to start a move here for a change of administration, I am willing that my friends shall start it.

In response to these complaints, Interior Secretary Fisher dispatched Inspector Edward W. Dixon to Crater Lake for an inspection on October 8-10 to report on the administration of the park. Dixon toured the park, examined park records and policies, and held interviews with the principals in the case. He described his interview with Steel and Parkhurst:

. . . they stated very positively that they knew Mr. Arant to be a man of sound integrity and good intentions; that he was well and favorably known in Klamath County, Oregon, where he had for many years been engaged in farming and stockraising; and that their personal relations with him always had been friendly and pleasant, but that his previous training and environment had made him unfitted to superintend the Crater Lake National Park, though so far, there having been little for him to do, he had gotten along very well and had given general satisfaction. However, they contended that, under development conditions, he would not measure up to requirements. I was unable to learn from other sources of any dissatisfaction with Superintendent Arant’s administration of the park.

Based on his investigation of park operations Dixon concluded with a favorable summation of Arant’s administration:

I found Mr. Arant to be a practical man with many years of mountain experience and familiar with all the territory lying within the park. While he does not, I understand, make any pretense to artistic attainments or to a knowledge of the science of botany, he is faithful and conscientious in the discharge of his duties and appears to take a wholesome interest in the welfare of this reservation, of which he has been superintendent for more than ten years last past. I consider Mr. Arant competent to perform the work now assigned him, and there is, in my judgment, no reason why a change in the position of superintendent should be made. [1]

The effort to replace Arant with Steel gained momentum after the election of President Woodrow Wilson in November 1912. As a life-long Republican Arant became expendable as park superintendent as members of the new Democratic administration began efforts to reward the party faithful and terminate the jobs of office holders under the outgoing administration of President William Howard Taft. Correspondence between Steel and Arant during the three-month period between November 1912 and January 1913 indicates that Steel attempted to use the political situation for his own advantage. On November 30, for instance, Steel wrote to Arant:

You probably are aware of the fact that since the election the woods are full of hungry politicians who are howling for pap, and that among them half a dozen or more are laboring industriously for the Crater Lake Superintendency, at least one of whom has journeyed from Klamath Falls to Portland, to canvas for names and incidentally to curry favor with Senator Elect Lane. There is absolutely no question but that a change will be made before the next season opens up, hence there is reason for all interested in the welfare of the Park to take counsel. I have sounded the situation very thoroughly and speak advisedly when I say, a change will be made by the incoming administration.

With such a change pending the best interests of the Park will be wholly overlooked in the wild scramble for office that will occur in the spring, and the man with the strongest putt will get the job, totally regardless of his qualifications. Under such circumstances we are justified in looking forward to the appointment of some nonentity, totally unfit for the place, and with no interest in the matter beyond his salary, which would prove nothing less than a serious disaster to the entire Crater Lake proposition.

I believe my standing with the Interior Department and with the Crater Lake project in general is such that, with your assistance, I can secure an immediate appointment, and that if made at this time, I could stem the tide against Democratic aspirants and prove of material assistance in the great development that will commence with the coming season.

Please give this matter your immediate and earnest consideration, and if you feel as I do and will send your resignation to the Secretary, together with a statement that my long service for the Park is such that you believe my appointment to fill the vacancy would meet with general approval in Oregon, I feel satisfied that immediate action would follow by the Department.

I would not think for one instant of writing a letter like this to you, except that I feel you know I have always been loyal to you, and I believe you will give me credit for having the good of the Crater Lake proposition at heart. Under such conditions, and knowing what will happen if matters are allowed to drift, I am trying to write to you with perfect frankness, trusting that you will accept it in the feeling of thorough good fellowship it is intended, and act accordingly, and let me know the result as soon as you can. However, I believe no good can follow in either of us talking about what is herein contained, under any circumstances. [2]

Nearly a month later on December 24 Arant responded to Steel’s request by describing the turmoil over the park superintendency as he understood it. He observed that Ranger H . E. Momyer was mounting an effort in Klamath Falls to have himself replace Arant by circulating rumors that Arant was going to resign and arguing that if Steel received the job it “would be equivalent to turning the whole crater lake proposition over to Parkhurst and the Crater Lake Company and Medford.” As for his intentions Arant indicated that he would not resign. [3]

Thereafter, Steel sent two letters to Arant on December 26, 1912, and January 15, 1913, strongly urging him to resign and intimating the political consequences of not cooperating with the “lame-duck” administration officials in the Department of the Interior. In the former he stated:

I have not owned one cent’s worth of stock in the Crater Lake Company for several weeks past, and my selling was a portion of an understanding with the Department of the Interior.

You will relieve Mr. Fisher of an embarrassing position if you can see your way to resign, for he is at this moment considering the necessity of taking steps to prevent the position of Superintendent from descending to the pie counter of the new administration. I know what I am saying, when I say that in case of a vacancy no time will be lost in appointing a Superintendent AND that if appointed by Mr. Fisher I will not be disturbed by the Democratic administration. Mr. Fisher knows this also. What I am saying to you is not intended for the public, so the less said the better for us all.

Do not let Mr. Momyer disturb you, for he represents a condition that we are all trying to prevent and Mr. Fisher is in dead earnest, but greatly dislikes to say anything to you about resigning. If you do so, he (Fisher) will promptly do his part. If you do so by wire it might be even better, as it is the intense desire of the Department to escape just such a calamity as a Momyer.

Policies and plans of the Interior Department are not discussed in Klamath Falls, so the sputtering of a few candidates will not affect them even to a limited degree, so do not discuss matters with them. [4]

In the January 15, 1913, letter Steel even more forcefully urged Arant to resign, hinting that he had had communication with Interior officials in Washington. He noted:

First will say, the Department feels very friendly to you, and at the same time is anxious to do that which will be for the best interests of the Park. Conditions, however, are such as to place the Honorable Secretary in a very awkward position, hence he and certain other officials of the Department are somewhat embarrassed.

The policy of the Democratic party has been announced in as far as it pertains to federal offices outside of civil service, and you doubtless know it is, that all such shall be given to faithful members of the party as soon as they can be reached, and no time will be wasted in reaching them. Aside from that, individual attention has been given to the Superintendency of the Park by the Democratic Senators of Oregon, and they do not deny that a change will be made.

These same Senators have said that on account of my long and unremunerated service for the Park, that, if Mr. Fisher should appoint me, that I will not be removed during the Wilson administration, but, if no such appointment is made by the present administration they will cause a change as soon after the 4th of March as they can reach the matter.

These facts are known to Mr. Fisher and other leading Republicans, all of whom would like, if possible, to keep the office in Republican hands through the Wilson administration.

Now, if matters are allowed to drift much longer, it will be too late for Mr. Fisher to act and the matter will be flatly on the Democratic pie counter, in which case no attention whatever will be given to a candidate’s ability, or the best interests of the Park, and we must expect an appointment similar to Mr. Momyer, which would be a positive disaster not only to the Park, but to the entire state.

There are only two ways in which this can be prevented, and that is either for you to resign, or for Mr. Fisher to remove you, and to the latter course I feel there is positive objection, in that it is a manifestation of force that conditions do not seem to justify, for I feel that if you could but know the exact and all the conditions, you would not hesitate for one instant to send in your resignation, for you would not care to shoulder the responsibility of turning the office over to Democratic manipulation, and particularly as you would thus relieve the Honorable Secretary of embarrassment, and permit him to as he desires in the premises.

Well informed men, including the Honorable Secretary, believe that the Republican party will be returned to power in 1916, at which time many members of the party who do not now contemplate it, will then feel anxious for political preferment, and much will depend on their party record for harmony. If you have resigned in the interest of the party and the Park, your record will simply be perfect, and a strong factor in your favor. If, however, you have held your office so long as to cause it to fall into Democratic hands, it may be construed as a reflection against you, and thus seriously injure your changes. You know enough about politics to realize that this is true.

Now a point that you may or may not know. Several years ago you were slated for removal and a successor was agreed upon, when I interfered, without consulting you, and prevented such a move. It seems to me that under existing conditions, when you must know what everybody else knows, that you will not be permitted to serve more than two or three months at best, that you would be willing to resign, even if for no other reason than that you thus strengthen your prospects with the party, to say nothing of any gratitude to me.

It is not wholly a selfish desire on my part to bring this change to pass now, for practically my whole life has been given to the creation and welfare of the Crater Lake National Park, and I would consider it nothing short of a genuine misfortune, to have a man like Momyer direct affairs for four years or more. No one can prevent this but you, and you can do it. In fact, conditions are such as that you cannot evade either turning the management of the Park over to a Republican or a Democrat. Which will you do?

Kindly give this matter your serious consideration, and remember that if there is aught that I can do to help you I will do it, but at this crisis the matter is wholly up to you. You’ must shoulder the responsibility. The Department is waiting on you and so are many friends of the Park as well as some of our prominent Republicans. [5]

Irked by these letters Arant replied to Steel on January 15 with a cryptic note in which he reiterated his earlier statement that he would not resign. He noted:

I have been giving the matters you mention some consideration but cannot quite understand how it is that in case of a vacancy and your appointment that you will not be disturbed by the incoming administration, but that if I do not resign, the position of superintendent of the park will “descend to the pie-counter of the new administration” as you term it.

As to your having a pre-appointment understanding with the Department of the Interior that you should sever your connection with the Crater Lake Company and then become the superintendent of the park, I can not conceive of it, but will say that it would certainly be a most unusual thing.[6]

Within several weeks the Portland and Rogue River Valley factions of the Oregon Republican Party initiated a campaign to oust Arant in the hope that Taft could appoint Steel as superintendent just before leaving office. It was stated in newspaper accounts that this scheme would keep the park superintendency in Republican hands for the duration of Wilson s term in office because of Steel’s political influence in Washington. Arant, however, continued to refuse cooperation with such political machinations. [7]

Aside from the purported merits of the proposed scheme it appears that Steel had personal ambitions for the park superintendency and had strong feelings that Arant was hindering park development. In a letter to Oregon Democratic Senator George E. Chamberlain on March 1, several weeks prior to Wilson’s inauguration, Steel wrote:

I have the support of 86 out of 90 members of the Legislature (two were out of the city, one refused to sign and one was not asked to do so). I also have the leading banks and business men of Portland, the Chairman of the Democratic State Central Committee, Mr. Jackson, of the Journal, prominent members of both political parties and many other reliable citizens of Oregon.

On my own account will say, my life has been devoted to making Crater Lake famous, in doing which I have freely given of my substance and time without hope of reward. Now, however, a crisis has arisen because of the contemplated activity of the government, and the presence of an official in charge, who is not in sympathy with the movement, and who is totally unfitted by temperament, experience and otherwise, to secure the best results from present conditions, so that if Crater Lake is to come into its own, it is necessary to bring about an immediate change.

I have developed the proposition in the past and know the possibilities of the future. More than that I know the danger of a narrow, short-sighted policy at this time, which can only be overcome by a change of Superintendents. By this I do not mean that I am the only one who can get the best results, but merely that an immediate change is necessary for the good of the Park, and among the applicants I can get the best results, because my heart is in the work, and I do not seek the place wholly because of the paltry salary. Then, too, I feel that my long service without compensation entitles me to consideration.

Already matters are drifting the wrong way for the season at hand, and if a change is to be made at all, it ought to be made quickly, so that the new man can make his own plans for field work. I have plans already worked out for the present season, that I sincerely hope can be put into execution for the good of the Park. I want the office as much for the good of the Park and the state as for myself, so, it is fair to say, I do not want it wholly for selfish purposes, and for that reason have filed with the Honorable Secretary of the Interior a formal application for the appointment.

You know, as well as I, that practically the entire population of the state recognizes my claim and wishes me well in this matter. [8]

Once the new administration was in office Chamberlain recommended Steel to Secretary of the Interior Franklin K. Lane for the position of park superintendent at Crater Lake. On June 13 Lane formally requested Arant’s resignation and appointed Steel to the superintendency effective July 1 . While Lane admitted that a Democrat from every Oregon county had applied for the position, he stated that Steel “brings home the bacon.” [9]

Arant protested that he was in the classified civil service and continued to defy Lane’s order, transacting official business and refusing to turn over possession of government property to Steel. Finally in mid-July a U.S. Marshal and a deputy arrived at the park to enforce the government’s orders to remove Arant. The scene was described by Steel to Senator Chamberlain on July 22:

. . . Friday evening Leslie Scott, U.S. Marshal, and one Deputy, arrived from Portland to support me and enforce my orders as Superintendent. Saturday morning we called on Arant, who was both defiant and insolent. Against him was pitted the diplomacy and determination of Scott, who showed great patience and constant wisdom. After a time Arant was given until 8 o’clock Sunday morning, at which time we again filed into the Superintendent’s office in the Headquarters building, where we found Mr. and Mrs. Arant, his brother, two sons and his lawyer, a Mr. Carnahan, of Klamath Falls. Arant was as defiant and insolent as ever.

Scott carefully explained conditions, asserted his authority, which was denied by Arant’s lawyer, and made very clear his determination to enforce my orders as Superintendent, warned Arant and Carnahan of the consequences of any interference, again showed great patience and displayed rare diplomacy. When all other means had failed, I demanded immediate possession of the office and all government property in the Park, which was indignantly refused. I then ordered Arant’s forcible removal, when he swelled up and said, “I would like to see somebody try to remove me from my own home.” However, in less than one minute he was passed through two doors and landed in the front yard. He returned immediately and was again ejected without ceremony but with dispatch.

I instantly took possession of the desk and papers, following which a generally turbulent condition continued until after 2 o’clock, when Arant and his attorney realized that a cyclone had struck them and they were effectually ousted. . . .

Parkhurst and Arant met at Fort Klamath yesterday, when Arant made an unprovoked and disgraceful assault on Parkhurst in the presence of Mrs. Parkhurst.

Arant, his brother and family, and one son are still here, by my sufferance, occupying government buildings, while they finish a contract of Arant’s brother, to repair a bridge, work on which was commenced late last season. It seems he has already received his pay, which at least looks irregular.[10]

Subsequent to his forced removal as park superintendent, Arant initiated legal proceedings against Lane. The courts, however, upheld Lane’s contention that Arant was a political appointee and as such could be removed from office. [11]

After Steel had settled into his new job, he reflected on the political struggle that had taken place. On August 16 he confided to a friend:

Yes, I had quite a fight. In the first place my appointment was bitterly opposed by the Southern Pacific, the Klamath Development Company, a very rich California corporation that controls the Klamath region and the Northwest Electric Company of Portland, another very rich corporation. Besides that I was opposed by four Democratic candidates, to say nothing of the then incumbent. Notwithstanding the fact that I am a Republican and refused to deny it, I had the support of the Democratic State Central Committee, and leading Democratic politicians of the state, nearly all the banks and business men of Portland, the leading Democratic newspapers as well as the Republican, every member of the state government, including the Supreme Court and every state commission, together with every member of the Legislature but two, one of whom was not asked to sign the petition and one refused. [12]

Years later Horace M. Albright confirmed the political background to the appointment of Steel as park superintendent. In his The Birth of the National Park Service: The Founding Years, 1913-33 Albright wrote:

Crater Lake’s superintendent William F. Arent [sic] was a politician who had begun his patronage job in 1902, and now needed to be replaced. We hired Will Steel, who had virtually founded the park. . . . What Steel lacked in administrative know-how he made up for with his love of the land and his ability to work with the concessioners and the people in the area. [13]


Appendix A7: Inspector Edward W. Dixon’s Report on Park Operations and Conditions: 1912