Top 50 Stories: 1921 -- Craters of the Moon

'Two Gun Bob' Limbert's Statesman story, photos helped lead President Calvin Coolidge to set aside unique Idaho site as a national monument

rbarker@idahostatesman.comJune 28, 2014 

Craters of the Moon story from 1921


A three-page story and photo spread in The Idaho Sunday Statesman on April 10, 1921, by Robert Limbert resulted in the creation of Craters of the Moon National Monument in 1924.

Limbert, a taxidermist, guide, trick-shooter and roper, introduced Idaho and the world to the wonders of the lava flows of the relatively recent - geologically speaking - volcano eruptions that cover hundreds of square miles in the Gem State.

"Two Gun Bob," as he was known, called for action.

"I offer this as a plea, not just to the people of Idaho but to the entire nation," Limbert wrote. "They may have a new national park or monument, in many respects the equal and in some easily the peer of many of the 45 now within our boundaries."

Limbert was well known to Idaho Statesman readers. Beginning in 1917, he became a regular contributor of stories about nature and the outdoors. His first story was on Oregon's Malheur Bird Preserve, but Statesman editors cut out Limbert's references to how an irrigation project threatened the area.

Others were on "camera hunting," the secret lives of beavers, the petroglyphs of the Bruneau Canyon, and Shoshone Indian Chief Nampuh, or Big Foot, for whom the city of Nampa was named. In many ways Limbert was to Statesman readers then what Pete Zimowsky has been for this generation.

In 1920, Limbert and Walter Cole made a 17-day journey over the lava fields from Minidoka to near what is today the headquarters for the monument. The story of this adventure ran in the newspaper.

The Idaho Statesman then sponsored a 15-person expedition, led by Limbert, back to the area. In the June 5, 1921, edition of the paper, Limbert said he hoped to bring back one or two specimens of the "dwarf grizzly" that inhabits the area. Instead, Limbert photographed a full-size grizzly.

The entire town of Arco turned out for the expedition's return.

Twin Falls resident Addison T. Smith, Idaho's 2nd District congressman, joined Limbert's campaign. He wrote to Gilbert Grosvenor, president of the National Geographic Society, and Stephen T. Mather, director of the National Park Service.

Mather replied: "We might even, on the basis of information provided by R.W. Limbert in his article in a Boise newspaper, have it established as a national monument although I would not want to commit myself at this time."

Grosvenor was less impressed with Limbert and wanted scientific proof. He contacted geologist Harold Stearns in 1923. Stearns, a friend of Limbert's, went to the lava fields and confirmed Limbert's accounts, and he recommended it be preserved as a national monument.

That convinced Grosvenor to publish Limbert's "Among the Craters of the Moon" article in National Geographic in 1924. On May 2 of that year, President Calvin Coolidge proclaimed Craters of the Moon as a monument, using the Antiquities Act of 1906.

The Idaho Statesman reported the proclamation May 7 on the front page and included comments from Limbert.

Limbert continued to write for the Statesman through the 1920s from his home in Stanley, where he built Redfish Lake Lodge. In 1926 he led another expedition into Crater's "Lost Valley," now known as Blacktail Butte.

Limbert died in 1933.

In 2001, President Bill Clinton expanded the monument to include much of the area to the south and west that Limbert first explored. It came after two visits by Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt and a supporting editorial by the Statesman.

Rocky Barker: 377-6484

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