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Hewett, Edgar Leefree

(23 November 1865–31 December 1946)
  • H. Allen Anderson

Hewett, Edgar Lee (23 November 1865–31 December 1946), educator and anthropologist, was born in Warren County, Illinois, the son of Harvey Hanson Hewett and Tabitha Stice. Although originally a participant in the California gold rush of 1849, Hewett’s father eventually became a farmer in Illinois, where he also raised stock and later engaged in land speculation in Chicago. Hewett’s mother’s family had befriended Chief Black Hawk and his Sauk band, and it was this fact that first stirred young Edgar’s interest in and sympathy toward American Indians. Energetic and precocious, the boy possessed a remarkable intellectual hunger and knack for research. Reverses in the family’s fortune led the Hewetts to move to Hopkins, Missouri, where Edgar attended high school. There he became acquainted with the early works of Lewis Henry Morgan and Adolph Bandelier, and his interest in anthropology was aroused.

After graduating (probably in 1886) from Tarkio College in Fairfax, Missouri, Hewett launched his teaching career in the rural schools of Missouri and Iowa. That same year he was appointed a professor of literature and history at Tarkio. Although he briefly studied law, Hewett chose to remain in academics; in 1889 he accepted a school principal’s position in Fairfax and later was superintendent of schools at Florence, Colorado. In 1891 he married Cora Whitford, a fellow schoolteacher whom he had met in Missouri; they had no children. The couple shared not only a common interest in education but also a mutual love for horses and the outdoors. In 1894 Hewett accepted a faculty position at the new State Normal College (now Northern Colorado University) at Greeley.

In 1896 Hewett made his inaugural summer field trip into New Mexico, where he conducted his first archaeological studies of Indian pueblo ruins in the Pecos Valley and the Pajarito Plateau. This research led to an invitation from Frank Springer, a member of the board of regents of New Mexico Normal University, in 1897 to give a series of lectures in Santa Fe on his findings, and in October 1898 Hewett was appointed first president of the newly opened New Mexico Normal (now New Mexico Highlands) University in Las Vegas, New Mexico, where he also offered courses in archaeology. During this period he helped to organize the Archaeological Society of New Mexico and led the movement toward the preservation of pre-Columbian sites throughout the United States. His efforts resulted in the passage of the Lacey Law, spearheaded by Congressman J. F. Lacey and designed to protect archaeological sites on public lands, in 1906.

Beginning in 1903 Hewett periodically journeyed overseas to the University of Geneva to study for a doctorate in anthropology, which he successfully completed in 1908. During these years he also conducted studies at the National Museum in Washington, D.C., made field trips to Mexico and Central America, and did surveys of the Indian ruins in Frijoles Canyon and Mesa Verde National Park. His efforts garnered him the friendship and support of other pioneer anthropologists, such as Adolph Bandelier, Francis W. Kelsey, Alice C. Fletcher, Charles F. Lummis, and Frederic W. Putnam. In January 1907 Hewett was made director of the School of American Archaeology (later the School of American Research) for the Archaeological Society of New Mexico. Between 1910 and 1913 he and his protégé, archaeologist Jesse Nusbaum, conducted the remodeling of the old Governors’ Palace in Santa Fe and made it the headquarters of the Museum of New Mexico (which Hewett and Judge John R. McFie created), as well as the society.

In addition to his duties as director of the museum and of the School of American Research, Hewett was made director of exhibits for the Panama-California Exposition in San Diego, California, from 1911 to 1916. Under his leadership the exposition’s New Mexico Indian Building was erected and subsequently turned into a branch museum and school of archaeology, which Hewett directed until 1929. In Santa Fe he helped begin the New Mexico Museum of Fine Arts and revive the Santa Fe Fiesta in 1919. From 1922 to 1927 Hewett was professor of anthropology at San Diego State Teachers College. He then became head of the newly organized anthropology department at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, a position he held until 1935; in 1928 his School of American Research became affiliated with the university.

As his teaching staff at the School of American Research increased, Hewett was able to direct more attention to his field trips, writings, and other interests of the school. In 1930 he was elected president of the managing board of the school in Santa Fe. That year he took steps to establish the American School of Archaeology in Mexico City, which became the School of Middle American Studies in 1934. In 1932 he established a third branch of the school at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, headed its new anthropology and archaeology department for two years, and afterward continued as that university’s director of research. His extensive field trips took him to South America, Spain, Greece, and the Middle East.

In addition to numerous archaeological reports and journal articles, Hewett published several books in his field, including Ancient Life in the American Southwest (1930), Ancient Life in Mexico and Central America (1936), The Chaco Canyon and Its Monuments (1936), Pajarito Plateau and Its Ancient People (1938), Ancient Andean Life (1939), Campfire and Trail (1943), Man and Culture (1944), and an autobiography, Two Score Years (1946). He also collaborated with other authors in producing several works.

Six years after the death of his wife in 1905, Hewett married Donizetta “Doni” Jones; they likewise had no children. Over the years Doni was her husband’s constant traveling companion and a gracious hostess. In the summer of 1923 the Hewetts were injured in an automobile accident in the Syrian desert, but their determination enabled them to complete their planned expedition through the Holy Land to Egypt, a tour funded in part by the Oriental Museum of Yale University.

Despite token opposition from New Mexico Republican party leader Bronson Cutting and other conservative political leaders, Hewett received firm backing for his work from the Santa Fe Railroad and the local chamber of commerce. He was instrumental in promoting Indian arts and crafts and in turning Santa Fe into a major southwestern cultural center, which attracted well-known artists and writers such as Carlos Vierra, Kenneth Chapman, Gerald Cassidy, Sheldon Parsons, William and Alice Corbin Henderson, Mary Austin, and Ernest Thompson Seton. His efforts resulted in the preservation of several ancient pueblo sites as state and national monuments. The Hewett’s adobe-style home on Lincoln Avenue became an informal gathering place for many of Santa Fe’s muses and intellectuals. Hewett died in Albuquerque, New Mexico.


Hewett’s papers are in the State Records Center, the Laboratory of Anthropology, the Museum of New Mexico in Santa Fe, and the Zimmerman Library at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque. The Hewett home in Santa Fe continues to be maintained as a center for the New Mexico Archaeological Institute. Additional sources include Donald D. Brand and Fred E. Harvey, eds., So Live the Works of Men (1939); Beatrice Chauvenet, Hewett and Friends: A Biography of Santa Fe’s Vibrant Era (1983); and Arrell M. Gibson, The Santa Fe and Taos Colonies: Age of the Muses, 1900–1942 (1983). Obituaries are in the Santa Fe New Mexican and the Albuquerque Journal, both 1 Jan. 1947, and in El Palacio 54 (Jan. 1947): 3–12.