Communication from Captain Samuel Adams Relative to the Exploration of the Colorado River and Its Tributaries

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Source: 41st Congress, 3d Session,House of Representatives. Mis. Doc. No. 12.

Captain Samuel Adams
[To accompany bill H. R. No. 2565.]

Captain Samuel Adams
Relative to
The exploration of the Colorado River and its tributaries.

December 19, 1870-Ordered to be printed.

WASHINGTON, D. C., March 29, 1867.


I take the liberty in this communication to call your attention to a few facts in reference to the great commercial importance of the Colorado of the West as being the central route between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. In the individual and difficult enterprise of demonstrating that it was capable of being ascended with steamers for over 620 miles from the mouth, I have, in connection with Capitan Trueworthy, been engaged for the last three years. In the spring of 1864 I descended the river 350 miles on a small raft, everywhere seeing the most unmistakable evidences that this natural thoroughfarehad been much misrepresented by published reports, as well as, by the exaggerated statements of those who professed to be familiar with the rapids, cañons, &c., of the same. I made my representations to Captain Trueworthy, of San Francisco,who consented to come to the Colorado for the purpose of relieving the mining community of the imposition which was practiced upon them, as well as upon the Government, by the only steam navigation company on the river, which for over ten years had monopolized the entire trade of the Colorado for 300 miles from the Gulf, this company being a branch of the powerful Combination Navigation Company of California, which controls at will the commercial interests, as well as each of the navigable waters of that State.

Every effort was made in San Francisco to prevent the expedition starting upon it mission. Insurance companies lent their aid by refusing to grant a policy of insurance upon the steamers, schooner, and cargo going to the mouth of the river, after agreeing to insure upon the same terms as they had other vessels going to the same destination. Arriving at the mouth of the river without insurance, this opposition manifested itself in a more formidable manner to prevent the purpose of demonstrating the navigation of this highway, so national in its character. At this time there was a bill drawn up to secure form Congress an appropriation of each alternate section of the most valuable mineral land along the river for 700 miles, and also to get the sum of $250,000 appropriated for the purpose of removing obstructions said to prevent the navigation of the river, which subsequently been proved to have...

The steamer for the last forty miles passed through a continued chain of cañons, the walls in many being perpendicular. The smoke and steam ascending these made it dangerous for the boat to lie in too close proximity. At this part of the river there is no timber, that having been cut down forty miles below by parties seeking to prevent the steamers ascending the river, The supply of fuel, in consequence of this, had been about exhausted, when, landing at an opening in the rock, which arose eight hundred feet above, we ascertained it to be a cave three hundred feet in depth, and forty feet in breadth at the entrance. Here we found several hundred cords of the best quality of wood for steam purposes. This consisted of white pine, pitch pine, cedar, ash, walnut, and cottonwood, which had been washed there for ages. This wood was much worn by the action of the water and the rocks in being carried by the freshets from the country above, appearing to indicate the rough nature of the falls and the streams above. At this place the steamer and barge took on board about twenty-five cords, which enabled us to reach Callville, thirty miles above, where the freight was delivered without any damage. Here, upon the highest sides of the cañon, they day and date of the arrival of the steamer and barge was written, in letters so broad and conspicuous that all the combinations which sought to crush out the enterprise can never erase. From Callville, six hundred and twenty miles from the mouth of the river, to Salt Lake City, Utah Territory, a distance of four hundred miles, there are forty-two beautiful cities, towns, and settlements, the first being established at St. Joseph and St. Thomas, thirty miles from the Colorado. Here, by a system of irrigation, the finest wheat, cotton, and fruit are raised. In passing this chain of settlements, the traveler unexpectedly finds, many neat buildings of stone, brick, and adobes, while the cotton and woolen mills, half concealed by the orchards and vineyards, add a peculiar charm to the scene.

So successful have the people everywhere been in raising the largest crops by irrigation in a desolate section, heretofore condemned, that it is of the utmost importance to the General Government that the public domain should not be granted to corporations, because it may be situated in a locality where there is not a regularity of rains. The practical experience of the past few years,and of the present, have demonstrated that the most profitable and abundant yield of grain has been produced by irrigation. Within thirty miles of Callville extensive veins of the finest salt are found seven hundred feet upon the sides of the mountains, and varies from ten to ninety feet in breadth. This is transparent, and is taken out by the pick and crowbar and powder, and is supplied to the inhabitants in the settlement, and taken to the silver mines at Pahranagat, to those at Eldorado Cañon, and to the mills along the Colorado River below. This salt mine must be of great value, as the unlimited territories of gold, silver, copper, iron, and lead in the immediate vicinity are developed. the quartz mines of this section, those along the river, and in the center of the Territory, must be to the country in their immediate locality what the placer mines on the headwaters of the Colorado and further inland in Arizona are to the surrounding country. Quartz mining requires at first more capital to operate successfully than placer. In Summit County hundreds of miles of the canals or ditches wind around the mountain, these carrying so much water that two men, with hose and pipe, can do more work (with less labor) than one hundred by the old system of the pick and shovel. The quantity of mining territory here is unlimited. The average pay to each miner is from six to seventy-five dollars per day.

Above Callville, the Black or Big Cañon continued for thirteen miles. In this there is no opening leading out on either side. No vegetation is seen struggling out from its bare rocks, and no clear streams fall into it to mingle their waters in the deep chasm below, as is seen in the cañ of the Grand and the Blue. The sides of this cañon, raising from eight hundred to one thousand five hundred feet almost perpendicular, look like polished iron. As far as the eye can reach is one continued chamber, whose sides echoed back the successive strikes of our paddles, like the sound of a muffled drum or a sepulchral voice. It would seem as if nature had intended that this strange solitude should never be disturbed by the throbbings of the steam-engine of the busy bustle of commercial trade. I am satisfied that with a small appropriation steamers could ascend and descend though this cañon and seventy miles beyond. For all practical purposes at the present time there is no necessity for this, as steamers can run at all seasons of the year to it mouth without any improvement of the falls.

Admitting, for the sake of the argument, that steamers cannot ascend the Colorado for more than six hundred and twenty miles, it does not follow that a proper knowledge of the river above will not produce great benefits to the Government, which, acting in common with other causes, must contribute to unlock the hidden resources of a vast country, larger than ten European kingdoms. No two rivers can differ so much in their appearance as the Colorado at its headwaters and that portion of it running five hundred miles from its mouth. Above, the steam is kept in its natural channel; below in many of the unconnected valleys through which it passes, it is changeable, and becomes of a redder color as it approaches the Gulf. In entering the succession of cañons through which we passed, the wildness of the scenery, the subdued lights, and the silence which regained in some of them, conveyed the impression that we were being carried far from the habitations of man to the inner recess of the earth. Our party of three descended through one of the deepest. During a severe storm the loud peals of thunder echoed and reached through the walls of this extended pass. Our boats were dashing madly ahead at the rate of twenty miles an hour over the white foam, which became more fearful from the dim twilight, which was lit up by the glare of the lightning.

We did not know when we would reach the mouth of this cañon, when suddenly turning and abrupt angle in the river, an unexpected light burst upon us. Looking up, a beautiful rainbow, arched directly over our heads, was seen, while for miles beyond we had a view of a magnificent park, with its green grass, timber, and clear streams winding their way down the valley, or falling in cascades to mingle with the waters below. I regretted from the first the embarrassments connected with the prosecution of our enterprise, but never so much as at this particular time, when unable to put this gorgeous spectacle, upon canvas. We are in the habit of alluding to the scenery of Europe; our artists visit those localities, forgetting that in the center of our own continent a more inviting field is opened up before them, as much superior in grandeur and magnificence as the snow-capped mountains of our Western empire tower above the hills of the Rhine. For seven hundred miles from the Gulf of California, but three streams enter the Colorado: the Gila, one hundred and fifty miles from the mouth, Bill Williams's Fork, four hundred miles; and the Virgin, six hundred and sixty miles; while in the distance of three hundred miles from where we started, on the main divide of the Rocky Mountains, twenty streams carry their water to the Colorado, the principal of which are the Swan, Snake, Ten Mile, Eagles, Roaring Forks, Little Grand, and Granite. In passing by the mouths of many of these we were apt to be deceived in the extent of country and quantity of timber along each. In ascending several of these streams, I was in every instance surprised to find the largest pine and cedar, and the most luxuriant grass and wild grain, the latter not confined to a few acres, but extending as far as the eye could reach. Along these and the country south-west the finest facilities are offered for stock-raising, where herds can change their grazing without scarcely changing their position. Here the ox can fatten without knowing his master's crib. Tarwells or springs are found about thirty miles north of the Grand, below the entrance of Elk Creek, two hundred and sixty miles from Breckinridge. This sticky or inflammable substance comes out of the ground over and extended section of the country, and is similar to that used at Los Angeles, California, for making pavements and roofs. Birds and squirrels are found in this, where they have perished in their efforts to extricate themselves. At a number of the smaller streams I saw oil floating upon the surface, similar to that of Pennsylvania, and near Bear River, Utah Territory.

At the entrance of two cañons I found slate banks, rising five hundred feet high; through these were a number of coal veins. I believe there is an abundance of this in the vicinity. At the mouth of Salt River the finest quality of salt is seen. The salt licks near this are frequented by vast herds of deer and sheep. Above and below these the steam from the warm springs resembles smoke from camp fires in the distance. The Utah Indians inhabit this country from the base of the Rocky Mountains. Southwest five hundred miles, a constant warfare is waged between these and the Arapahoes, Cheyennes, and Sioux Indians, who frequently come to the parks. The only explanation given of the cause of their hostility is, that their forefathers fought each other. The skulls and bones of buffaloes found on every plain, and in every valley and stream, and the deep-worn trail of these, frequently three feet in depth, indicate that at one time these must have been very numerous. For some cause they have disappeared years since, but the case herds of elk, deer, and sheep, the streams filled with the finest fish, and climate and water unsurpassed, make this emphatically the hunter's paradise. Below the country occupied by the Utah tribes, the Moquis Indians live, in stone houses; they raise sheep and goats, grapes, and peaches, and manufacture the finest blankets. This tribe acts mostly on the defensive. Their humanity, their customs, and their knowledge of astronomy, although limited, place them far above the Apache and other tribes living further in the interior of the Territory. The silver manufactured by this remarkable people into ornaments must be smelted from the silver quartz by a process known to themselves, or taken from the slag everywhere found around the abandoned mines to the southeast, which evidently have been worked centuries ago. Some of the trees grown over these indicate their age to have dated back long before the first establishments of settlements upon the Atlantic coast. Many of the customs of the Moquis are similar to those of the Pima and Maricopa Indians, who live upon the Gila River, and have successfully raised grain in the same fields, without diminution,for the last two hundred years, and whose boast it is that they have never shed a white man's blood. the overflow yearly of the Gila, like the Nile, enriches the soil, some of their fields being fifteen miles in length. The number of these tribes and their locations on the plains operate as a wall of protection from the attacks of the Apaches.

There is a large section of Arizona, commencing at a point five hundred and fifty miles from the mouth of the Colorado River, and running in a direct line nearly southeast to the southern boundary of the Territory, the river forming the western side of this extended angle. The country comprised in this,(with the exception of the lands immediately along the Colorado or Gila Rivers,) is one extended irreclaimable waste. The development of the mines, miles back from each, and the distance from water and timber, must be always attended with much expense. Across this belt and desert,up the Gila, the Government has expanded millions in the transportation of supplies; the length of the road, the poor inducements for settlements, the facilities offered for successful attack and escape of the Apaches, and the uncertainty of raising grain or stock must continue to keep the country in the unenviable situation that it has been for years. Immediately opposite to this angle, in California, there is also a section of equal in bareness, but far greater in extent than the country I have described. Had this been settled first, and the same tenacity shown to remain in this state of superlative desolation, as unfortunately been the case of parts of Arizona, the position of each would be similar. But how different are the relative positions! From the first millions have been taken and thrown into circulation from the rich minerals in the mountains, while in the other, throughout the length and breadth of her territory, (although possessing resources second to no other,) is written in unmistakable lines the "masterly inactivity" which has been insuperably connected with her existence. What Arizona demands is not the self-inflation of the inferior sections now pretended to be settled or improved, but progressive practical development. When this is accomplished, the yield of her precious metals and her soil will be appreciated by the national Government, and no longer be as she is now, and has been, a pensioner and a burden upon the military department of the nation.

In Central Arizona the most numerous ruins are to be found of cities, fortifications, canals, mines, &c. It would be impossible for me to enter into a description of all these. One of the most prominent is that of Cases Blanca, or the Hall of the Montezumas. This stands several storied in height, and looms far above every other object on the plains around. The walls are six feet thick, plastered with a lime or cement which appears to defy the power of the elements. Over the door and windows the cedar timber is in a perfect state of preservation, although it must be ages since theses were hauled over the long route from their native forests. The Indians can trace it back two hundred years. Such is the dryness of the atmosphere that time has produced but a slow change upon it. The streets of the city of which this structure formed a prominent part can be traced by the broken pieces of crockery-ware and the elevation of each side. Immediately back is seen the canal, which once conveyed water to this city of the past, and to the extended fields bordering the river below. At Tuback a more modern ruin is to be found. The walls of the cathedral are yet perfect; the alter is covered by shrubbery,which had grown up spontaneously; and over the cross, on the windows and doors, the vine yet clings, as if to protect them from the beams of the sun as they shine throughout this roofless temple. This city was but a few years since inhabited by a large population; by the Apache had been there and made a common waste, the evidence of whose vandalism is seen over every beautiful valley and deserted ranch. So complete has been their desolation that all that is now left to tell the tale are a few grape-vines, a half-filled spring, and silent, isolated cross standing over the graves of their victims.

A Company have succeeded in turning the water again into one of the ancient canals; for miles it ran around the hills and across the valleys, where it discharged itself over a beautiful sloping plain, embracing thousands of accurse of the richest land, which makes this the most successful farming settlement in the Territory. At the summits of some of the highest hills, fortifications, with their narrow passes, yet frown upon the country below. The solitary cross, the abandoned alter, the broken arch, and the deserted mine, are all we have to speak of a people for whose history we may search other records in vain. Perhaps these may be the ruins erected by the Spaniards at a time when the ships of Spain rode in triumph upon every sea, and the glittering arms of Castile and Aragon were seen upon every land. The richest quartz-mining districts in most mineral countries are generally in the immediate vicinity of a limited extent of good agricultural land. Although this Territory may not be large, yet the soil can produce much more profit, as the demand is great, and consequently the price of every article the farmer raises, higher. I believe there are no richer gold and silver mines in the United States than those commencing at the western slope of the Rocky Mountains and extending throughout Arizona, but a combination of causes have heretofore prevented the development of the latter; among the most prominent have been the facts that the western country not having been on the direct line of communication between the East and West, the injudicious system of sending inexperienced agents to take charge of mines, and the high prices and uncertainty of getting provisions and machinery to the different places of operation.

A change will rapidly be produced in all these respects when the natural avenues leading to these are known and improved. The wonder then will be, why so long a night of darkness and uncertainty has rested upon this valuable portion of the public domain. Then population and capital will pour into Arizona, where a Territorial government was established years ago, and which has been noted for retrogression ever since, until it was not a question to be decided whether there was a government and population with strength to stand, but rather if there was a sufficient circulation or pulsation to prove that it has an existence. The history of Arizona proves her to have been an unfortunate exception to her sister Territories. With none of her advantages, these have been rapidly filled up by a large population; capital has been profitably invested in them; yet Arizona, with a population of 6,000 in 1863 and 1864, at the last election for delegate to Congress did not contain 400 legal voters in the entire Territory, and there were not two quartz mills in successful operation. There must be a cause for this inactivity and retrogression, which must be remedied by settling up more favorable parts of the Territory, that these may give strength and security to those in other parts, rather than by the unsupported and unreliable statements of a former executive of the Territory, (made against the repeated remonstrances and appeals of the suffering settlers,) that there were but 600 hostile Apaches in the Territory, the result of which has been (as predicted) great expenses to the Government, no protection to life and property, and the massacre by Indians of hundreds of settlers, whose graves mark every trail and road throughout the lines of communication of the Territory, until she presents to-day one extended cemetery of the dead, and its numbers still increasing. I a warranted in saying that had it not been for the military post, around which the contractor and settler have remained, the limited population of one of the richest Territories of the United States must have been much less than it is at the present time. The history of all our early settlements, Kentucky among others, has demonstrated that the richest portions of the country have been those sections where game was abundant and the Indians most hostile to the advancement of civilization. This has been preeminently the case in that portion of the Territory inhabited by the Apaches, and who have for three hundred years driven the effeminate Mexican, compelled the States of Sonora, Chihuahua, and Sinola to pay them tribute. Most of the vast section of country, sufficient for four States, extending from the San Francisco range of mountains on the west to the western range of the Rocky Mountains on the east, is well adapted for the agriculture and mining operations.

Had this country and that further south been settled up first, there would have been that permanency to every interest which is calculated to give character to the mineral and agricultural resources, instead of seeing to-day a Territory which can almost be said to be one of unlimited mines without mills, fields without occupants, churches without worshippers, and millionaires without capital. These are the inevitable results which have been produced from the mistaken policy of following close in the wake of the idle Mexican, whose settlements have been made under compulsion, and who ever since, has not had the energy or the courage to change them. The whole history of Arizona, in the past and in the present, presents nothing encouraging, unless a different policy be adopted than that which has characterized her development for the last fifteen years. This is indelibly written, in unmistakable language, over the entire Territory-so self-evident as not to require an argument.

The immense yield of silver and gold from Nevada, Idaho, and Montana, (discovered long after those of Arizona,) has drawn to these immense capital, and a large population of permanent residents; while the latter, having the advantage of soil, climate, water, mines, and geographical position, remain unimproved; and the continued inaction is only broken by the noisy politicians, clamoring for the votes of a class most of whom neither know nor care for their responsibility as American citizens. It revolves itself into a question of political economy, to be warned by the history of the past, and to examine the real causes which have produced a prostrating effect upon the territory settled, as well as preventing in valuable resources are unsurpassed by the most favorable localities in other States or Territories. I am aware, in making these statements, that they may not be popular, but my duty compels me to give you the facts as they have developed themselves under my immediate observation.

In all the individual explorations directed toward the center of Arizona and further east, and southwest from Prescott, Arizona; Callville, Nevada; New Mexico and Colorado Territories, each have returned with the most favorable results. The snow-capped summit of San Francisco Mountain, which can be truly called the Mont Blanc of the West, looms far above every other object around. From the base of this, and the range of which it forms a part, many streams water the valleys and discharge themselves into the Colorado, the common reservoir of a territory thousands of miles in extent. On the heads of the streams running into the river more evidences, perhaps are found of ancient successful mining operations than in any other portion of the United States. Owing to the excessive labor and exposure in descending the river with our boats from the summit of the Rocky Mountains, and the loss of our mining tools in the cañons, we were unable to prospect as we desired. All the instrument used in washing dirt for gold was an imperfect pan for baking bread, yet in every trial we succeeded in getting a fair prospect. I am satisfied that fruit and grain could be raised at any point ninety miles southwest of the point where we descended from the mountains.

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