Historian Jon Hunner lectures on the National Parks anniversary
When Jon Hunner talks about the history that is embedded in sites all around the United States, he draws from broad experience. Since May, he has driven approximately 20,000 miles to visit more than one hundred National Park Service sites and museums. “I go to a park, and I talk to the rangers at the visitor center and take notes. I look at the exhibit and the documentary film. Then I go out and wander around,” Hunner said recently. “If it’s a big place, like a battlefield park, I’ll pop my bicycle out of the trunk and ride it.”
The historian details some of his experiences in a slide-illustrated lecture, “Celebrating the National Parks: A Centennial Birthday Journey,” on the evening of Monday, Dec. 12.
Hunner earned his doctoral degree from the University of New Mexico and has been teaching in the history department at New Mexico State University since 1995. His previous books include The Mesilla Valley: An Oasis in the Desert (New Mexico Centennial History Series) and J. Robert Oppenheimer, The Cold War, and The Atomic West (The Oklahoma Western Biographies). “This is my passion,” he said about his road trips this year. “I’m on a sabbatical now, but I’ve been working on this since 2012. I’m writing a history of the United States from places where history actually happened.” In the meantime, he has been blogging. You can follow his journeys at www.drivenbyhistory.blogspot.com.
The first leg of his expedition was to Kansas and back, taking in the Santa Fe National Historic Trail and Bent’s Old Fort and Fort Larned national historic sites. Next he traveled north and west, investigating the Golden Spike National Historic Site in Utah; Idaho’s Minidoka, site of a World War II Japanese internment camp; the Oregon Trail, the Lewis and Clark Trail and Fort Vancouver in Washington state; the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park; Rosie the Riveter WWII Home Front National Historical Park in Richmond, California; and others. On the third leg, Hunner visited sites including Washita Battlefield in Oklahoma, where Custer’s cavalry killed Cheyenne peace chief Black Kettle, along with the Gateway Arch and the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial in St. Louis, Missouri.
He also has explored the Wright Brothers at the Aviation Heritage National Historical Park in Dayton, Ohio; the Women’s Rights National Historical Park at Seneca Falls, New York; and national military parks such as Gettysburg (Pennsylvania), Antietam (Maryland), Pea Ridge (Arkansas), and Shiloh (Tennessee). He included what he calls “sites of conscience” — among them, Indian massacre and civil-rights sites and the Flight 93 National Memorial in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, where the passengers and crew of a hijacked jetliner forced terrorists to crash on 9/11.
Hunner’s lecture, presented by Southwest Seminars, is at Hotel Santa Fe, 1501 Paseo de Peralta, at 6 p.m. on Dec. 12. Admission is $12 at the door. Call 505-466-2775 for more information. — Paul Weideman
Kay Morrison (left) and Marian Wynn, who welded pipes on Liberty ships built during World War II, at the Rosie the Riveter historical park; right, Jon Hunner, photo Greg Mays