Ideas from the National Archives for National History Day
National Archives at Kansas City
The recognition that natural resources must be conserved and historically significant places preserved is a turning point in cultural history. Progressive legislation created the National Park Service in 1916 to "conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations." Related records available at NARA's Central Plains Region include, among others, Custer Battlefield National Monument, George Washington Carver Birthplace National Monument, Glacier National Park, Grand Teton National Park, Jackson Hole National Monument, Mount Rushmore National Monument, Theodore Roosevelt National Memorial, and Yellowstone National Park, established as the world's first national park in 1872. Park service records contain historical and anthropological reports of historic sites, as well as environmental, biological, zoological, and ecological studies of areas in National Park Service reserves. Of particular local and regional interest are records of proposed national, state, and local parks and monuments, as well as construction project files of the Civilian Conservation Corps. These records include correspondence, narrative reports, clippings, and maps. (Record Group 79, Records of the National Park Service)
In 1917, Congress granted service men and women volunteers the same rights as merchant vessels when it offered them a ten thousand-dollar insurance policy "payable in case of death or total permanent disability." The disposition of these claims, the decisions of the jurors, and the actions of the courts are important for understanding the treatment of veterans in what would become a century of war.
Testimony and depositions collected in War Risk Cases detailed the claimant's life before, during, and after the war in an attempt to certify eligibility for benefits. Information contained in these records includes occupational histories, battlefield narratives, and lay and expert accounts of "shell shock" or "war neurosis," better known to us today as "post traumatic stress disorder." These records are available at NARA's Central Plains Region in Record Group 21, Records of the United States District Courts.
The Indian Reorganization ("Wheeler-Howard") Act of 1934 was the keystone of the "Indian New Deal," the most important turning point in federal policy toward American Indians since the early nineteenth century. The New Deal prescribed tribal constitutions, reversal of Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) land policy, application of the First Amendment to tribal religions, and reservation economic development and social programs outside the control of the BIA. For the first time in living memory, the BIA reservation superintendents began to lose their positions as de facto colonial administrators with almost total power over their charges. Some historians, both Indian and non-Indian, have raised serious questions about the effectiveness -- and sincerity -- of the reforms. It would, nevertheless, be difficult to argue that the Wheeler-Howard Act and the other measures of the Indian New Deal were not perceived by many at the time as revolutionary or that its effects were trivial.
Many of the BIA records available at NARA's Central Plains Region include series relating to the Wheeler-Howard Act, the referenda held on reservations to accept or reject the tribal constitutional provisions of the Act, and controversies regarding the Act and its implementation. The easiest to find of these records are from the Pine Ridge (PR) and Consolidated Chippewa (CoCh) agencies. (Record Group 75, Bureau of Indian Affairs)
Brown v. Topeka Board of Education is arguably among the most significant federal court cases of the twentieth century. Filed in February 1951 by attorney Charles E. Bledsoe on behalf of Plaintiff Oliver Brown, this landmark civil case became the test case that overturned Plessy v. Ferguson, segregation, and Jim Crow laws. The case file, available at NARA's Central Plains Region, contains the complaint, orders, testimony, and related case papers filed in original case and subsequent litigation, spanning three decades. (Records of the U.S. District Court for the District of Kansas, Record Group 21, Records of the United States District Courts)
The issue of whether an Indian was a "human being" in the eyes of the law was the subject of this court case filed in the U.S. Circuit Court of Nebraska in 1878. Standing Bear, leader of a band of Ponca Indians, was taken into custody by the U.S. Army at the request of the Department of the Interior and delivered to General Crook, commander of the Department of the Platte. This case examined the legality of detaining Standing Bear and his band without charging them with a crime or holding them as "prisoners of war" when no state of war existed between the United States and the Ponca. Judge Elmer Dundy ruled that an "Indian" was a "person" under the definition of a human being and therefore was protected under the habeas corpus clause of the Constitution, which protects against unlawful imprisonment unless charged with a crime. Related records are available at NARA's Central Plains Region in the Records of the U.S. Circuit Court for the District of Nebraska, Record Group 21, Records of the United States District Courts.