Increasing Scarcity of Water

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All of the statements that I have quoted conclusively prove by witnesses who had visited the Pima villages on the Gila and whose testimony is therefore competent, that, from time immemorial these Indians had an adequate supply, of water except in occasional years of extreme drought. They irrigated and cultivated their lands, producing crops more than sufficient for their needs. This was the condition in which the American Government found the Pimas when it extended its jurisdiction over them. It was a duty this Government owed to a dependent people to protect and maintain their water supply. This it has failed to do. I shall now present the testimony of another group of witnesses the greater number of whom will testify to the ever-increasing scarcity of water for the irrigation of the fields of the Pima Indians.


The first official mention of a shortage of water for irrigation is found in the report of Capt. F. E. Grossman, who established the agency at Sacaton in 1869. He states that he found the Pimas and Maricopas dissatisfied and complaining bitterly because there had been no settlement of the water question. In his second report (1871) Captain Grossman says:

‘‘The crops of the Indians (wheat and barley), the winter crop, were abundant during the past season, but the corn and melon and pumpkin crops will be a failure, owing to the scarcity of water in the Gila River.’’1

In the annual report of the Smithsonian Institution for 1871 is an extended account of the Pima Indians of Arizona, by Captain Grossman, from which the following is extracted:

"Each village elects two or three old men, who decide everything pertaining to the digging of acequias and making of dams, and who also regulate the time during which each landowner may use the water of the acequias for irrigating purposes. Their acequias are often 10 feet deep at the dam, and average from 4 to 6 feet in width, and are continued for miles, until finally the water therein is brought on a level with the ground to be cultivated, when the water is led off by means of smaller ditches all through their fields. Having no instruments for surveying or striking of levels, they still display considerable ingenuity in the selection of proper places for the 'heads of ditches.'

‘‘The Pima men plow the land with oxen and a crooked stick, as is done by the Mexicans; they sow the seed and cut the grain (the latter is done with short sickles). Horses thresh the grain by stamping. The women winnow the grain when threshed by pitching it into the air by basketfuls, when the wind carries off the chaff. The principal crop is wheat, of which they sell, when the season is favorable, 1,500,000 pounds per annum.’’2


The second agent at Sacaton was J. H. Stout, who, on August 31, 1872, advised the commissioner as follows:

‘‘These two tribes are poorer to-day than ever * * *. Not having sufficient water on their reserve for their purposes, many of these Indians have left it and moved over into Salt River Valley, where they now reside, and are making a living by tilling the soil.

The white settlers living there object to this on account of the horses and cattle of the Indians, which are constantly breaking into the settlers' fields and destroying their grain. Much trouble has resulted from this, and many of the Indians' horses and cattle have been sold by the settlers for damages, which action is not at all satisfactory.’’3

Again in 1873 Mr. Stout said:

‘‘The water question is with us an almost threadbare subject. The department has several times during my stay here been informed of the condition of affairs relative to that element, the want of which has been more severely felt this year than ever before.’’4


H. Bendell, an Indian superintendent, visited the Gila River Reservation in 1872. His report contains this statement, which is as true to-day as it was 52 years ago:

‘‘The water question is paramount to every other condition affecting the progress and well-being of the tribes belonging to the reserve. It is vital from every point of view, and the expectancy that schools may be established, the youth taught, the tribes remaining in the position of self-maintenance, susceptible of control by the agents and teachers, in the absence of one of God's greatest gifts to man, is simply preposterous and antagonistic to every particle of common sense.’’5

The water situation became so acute that the transfer of these Indians to lands in what is now a part of the State of Oklahoma was seriously considered. In his annual report for 1874 the Commissioner of Indian Affairs speaks of the 4,000 Pimas and 300 Maricopas and says:

‘‘They have always been friendly to the whites but are the hereditary enemies of the Apaches. They are an industrious, agricultural people, who pride themselves on being self-supporting. The lack of water in the river for several years past has forced many to cultivate farms outside of the reserve, thus coming into contact and frequent collision with the settlers. For this reason a delegation from these tribes in September last made a visit to the Indian Territory looking toward removal thither. Though the report was favorable, the main body of the Indians opposed any such change.’’6


John C. Fremont passed through the Pima villages on his way from New Mexico to California in 1849. Unfortunately the manuscript of the second volume of his memoirs has not yet been published, so that I have been unable to read his account of what he then saw. In his report to the Secretary of the Interior as Governor of Arizona Territory in 1878, Fremont makes the following brief mention of these Indians:

"The Pimas are the most interesting of all the Indians. They own a very fertile valley on the Gila and are well supplied with money and arms. These three tribes have probably this year earned some $30,000 by farm products and rude manufactures. The Pimas and Maricopas are now in the midst of our people, who have built up to their valley, and there are already some misunderstandings growing up between them. * * *

‘‘The condition of the Pima Indians, who have shown themselves among the very best on the continent, could be raised and improved.’’


That there was no improvement in the agricultural conditions on the Gila River Reservation is shown by the report of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs for 1878, which describes the Pimas as worthy and industrious Indians who live by cultivating the soil and again directs attention to the depletion of their water supply. The report continues:

"The Indians were therefore driven to the necessity of seeking other lands to cultivate, or to obtain employment elsewhere to save themselves and their families from starvation. Large numbers of them were compelled to cultivate lands on Salt River and in other portions of the Territory. This caused considerable excitement on the part of citizens, and the Territorial legislature memorialized Congress at its last session, requesting that measures be adopted to compel these Indians to remove to their reservation and remain there. It was therefore deemed advisable to have a thorough investigation made of their condition and necessities, with a view to the adoption of some permanent measures of relief.

‘‘Inspector Watkins was instructed early in March last to make the required examination and such recommendations as to their condition as in his opinion might be advisable. He reported that to comply with the demands of the citizens and the Territorial legislature and insist upon a strict enforcement of the policy of the Government by confining these Indians to their reservations would, under existing circumstances, be an act of inhumanity, unless they were furnished regularly with rations, which would be very expensive and poor economy; besides the office had no means at its disposal with which to purchase such supplies.’’7


This statement by the commissioner is confirmed by the report of the agent for the Pimas, who writes under date of August 15, 1878:

"In consequence of the foregoing facts, as a matter of self-preservation, more than one-half of these Indians have been forced to leave their reserve in order, to use their own language. 'That they might not hear their women and children cry for bread,' and there are now about 2,500 of them living beyond its lines. Most of them are earning an honest support by tilling the soil in small patches in other localities, wherever they can find sufficient water for that purpose. Others of them are at work for the American and Mexican settlers, who have employment for them, and a few, I regret to say, are hanging around the settlement in idleness.

‘‘Believing that the reasons for such a change are yearly increasing, I can not let this occasion pass without earnestly urging that these Indians be removed to the Indian Territory at the earliest practicable time.’’8


There was no change in the situation until 1883 which was the beginning of a series of years of unusual rainfall. A. H. Jackson, then the agent at Sacaton reports:

‘‘The Pimas are located on either side of the Gila River, the entire length of the reservation, engaged in cultivating small patches of ground, from a decare to hectare. Their harvest just closed has been unusually good. It is impossible to give the exact number of bushels of grain and produce raised. A very careful estimate has been made by villages, and the result is, wheat, 1,263,245 pounds; corn, 15,696 bushels; barley, 10,709 bushels; and 9,126 bushels of beans. The wheat raised by the Indians is of excellent quality, and nothing raised by white settlers can be favorably compared with it. The Indians live together in villages during the winter months and remove to their fields during the summer to properly work and care for their growing crops.’’9


In his Resources of Arizona, printed in 1884, Patrick Hamilton describes the Apaches as the ‘‘most savage and bloodthirsty tribe of Indians on the North American Continent’’ and says of the peaceful Pimas and Maricopas:

"Both tribes are semicivilized, till the soil, own cattle and horses, live in permanent abodes, and are peaceful and industrious. Their wheat crop will average about 2,000,000 pounds a year. It is much superior to that of their white neighbors on the Salt, both in cleanliness and quality, makes a better article of flour, and commands a higher price.

‘‘Besides wheat, corn, pumpkins, beans, sorghum, and vegetables are raised in large quantities.’’


C. W. Crouse was the first Indian agent to suggest a reservoir on the Gila River as a means of providing the Pimas with their proper share of water. In his report for 1890 Mr. Crouse said:

"There is not an acre of the four reservations of this agency that will produce any kind of cereal without irrigation. The soil is rich, but nothing grows on it naturally except mesquite, cottonwood, paloverde, a variety of cacti, and stunted shrubbery. 'Water is king.' It is water and cultivation that is rapidly transforming these valleys into fields of grain, fruit, and vegetables. These Indians farm a much greater acreage than they did formerly. As they become civilized their wants increase. These boys and girls who have been attending school for two or three years have new wants; they desire better food, clothing, and shelter than they had when they were induced to begin the school work, and this makes a demand for larger farms and better farming; hence, they need more water with which to irrigate this increased acreage of farming land.

‘‘A storage reservoir for these Indians, or a bountiful and permanent interest in a reservoir or canal, would certainly be not only a humane act but an economical outlay of funds, for without it these people will soon cease to be styled 'self-supporting.'’’10


The next agent at Sacaton was J. ROE YOUNG, who also exhibited a keen interest in the problem of water storage on the Gila. In 1894 he submitted the following observations to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs.

"The Pimas, who number 3,300, are tractable, good-natured people, and are disposed to accept the teachings of civilization. They have never been the enemy of their white brother. In the early days of western emigration, when the gold excitement brought thousands through this region on their way to California, a Pima's lodge saved many from the scalping knife of unfriendly tribes. They deserve better treatment at the hands of the Government now, when they are being driven to destitution for the want of water in their well-prepared irrigation ditches. Before the settlement of the territory on the river above, when they could take the water as needed, they never called for subsistence.

‘‘As a result their grain crop was a failure last year and their agent was forced to call for aid to prevent starvation. Again this year they must have subsistence or suffer the pangs of hunger. The Gila River is now full and overflowing, but the water comes too late to benefit the Indian and can be but little good. If a reservoir could be built that the water might be stored which is now going to waste, and utilized when they most need it, there would never be a cry for help heard from the Pima Indians.’’11

Again in 1895 Mr. Young said:

"I was compelled during last winter to ask authority to purchase and issue to them 225,000 pounds of wheat to prevent starvation among them. Their crops are short again this year and a few will have to be fed this winter.

‘‘The water question on this reservation has gotten to be a serious one. The Gila River is a peculiar stream. During the months from September to December we have a surplus of water. After January 1 the supply begins to decrease and by April 1 it is all gone. I made a very lengthy report on this matter to you under date of April 27 last, to which your attention is invited.’’12

In his third annual report for 1896, Agent Young makes a statement regarding irrigation for the Pimas which shows his disappointment that so little had been accomplished:

‘‘Nothing new can be said on this important subject. It has been discussed and viewed from every reasonable standpoint, and enough has been written about the need of water for the starving Indians to fill a volume. It has been urgently presented to your honorable office time and again, and yet the need of water is just as great and the supply no greater than in past years. Until the time comes when the Government is ready and willing to come to the assistance of its wards, I consider any further discussion of the subject unnecessary.’’13


In his annual report for 1894 Louis C. Hughes, Governor of the Territory of Arizona, says of the Pimas:

‘‘During the last year, since the settlement of the lands on the Gila above the reservation and the diversion of the water on new lands, the Sacaton Indians have been much troubled on account of a scarcity of water. The result was light crops. In fact, the failure was so serious as to necessitate Government aid to prevent starvation among them.’’

In his 1895 report to Hoke Smith, Secretary of the Interior, Governor Hughes points out the necessity for water for irrigation on the Gila River Indian Reservation:

"The large area of land set apart as reservations for those respective Indian tribes are in every way adequate to their necessities, furnishing ample grazing and lands capable of reclamation to agriculture, provided water for irrigating the same can be had. The Indians are not only willing but anxious to secure farm lands from which they can support themselves. They would rather work than steal. The conditions which drive them from their reservations are not of choice, but of necessity, to allay hunger.

"To emphasize this fact I quote the following from the Florence (Arizona) Tribune of recent date:

"Wee Paps and three other Pima Indians were tried in the district court this week, pleaded guilty of grand larceny, and were sentenced to one year each in the penitentiary. It seems they had stolen some ponies and traded them for food. Wee Paps made a pathetic speech to the court which was translated by an interpreter. He said, in effect:

‘‘'For hundreds of years my people have lived on the banks of the Gila River. We have always been honest and peaceful and have supported ourselves and never asked for any help from the Great Father at Washington. We have raised our own wheat and corn, and ground it in our own metates. Until the past few years we have always had plenty of water to irrigate our farms, and never knew what want was. We always had grain stored up for a full year's supply. We were happy and contented. Since the white men came and built the big canals and acequias we have no water for our crops. The Government refuses to give us food and we do not ask for it; we only ask for water, for we prefer to earn our own living if we can. I am no thief, and I will not beg, but my wife and children were hungry and I must either steal or they must starve. So I took the horses and traded them for grain, and hunger of my family was satisfied. You can do with me what you will. I have spoken.’’'


Governor N. O. Murphy recommended the construction of the San Carlos Dam in his annual report for the year 1899:

"At San Carlos, on the Apache Reservation, there is another site, to which much attention has been directed during this year's series of investigations. The conditions there are exceptionally favorable for economical construction.

"The Gila River Reservation embraces 357,120 acres and at least 200,000 acres can be covered by irrigating canals. Under a storage system this reservation could be made to support all the civilized Indians in the territory and still afford a large surplus of land for white settlers. It being an Executive order reservation, the land controlled by the Indians could be curtailed to the area actually required for their support, and the remainder thrown open to public settlement simply by the order of the President.

‘‘It would seem that here is an exceptional situation which warrants Congress in making the necessary appropriation for the construction of a reservoir, quite independently of the broad question as to the advisability of the Government adopting a general policy of reservoir construction. The wisdom of enabling the Indians to become self-supporting is universally admitted. When, as in this case, that policy can be carried out on lines financially profitable as well, there can be no objection urged on any valid ground. Not only would the Indians gladly pay for water but the farmers in the valley between any reservoir and the reservation would be good customers for any surplus.’’


The first bill to authorize the construction of the San Carlos Dam was introduced by Hon. J. F. Wilson, Delegate to Congress from the Territory of Arizona, on December 12, 1899. The preamble of the bill is in part as follows:

"Whereas the Indians located upon the Sacaton Reservation have since time immemorial supported themselves by agriculture through utilizing for irrigation the waters of Gila River; and

"Whereas these Indians have at all times been friends of the whites against the attacks of the Apaches, and through this fact the whites have been encouraged to settle near the reservation and utilize the waters of Gila River; and

"Whereas the development of irrigation along Gila River consequent upon the settlement of the public lands has diminished the flow in that stream until the Indians have been deprived of water and are forced to become dependent upon the charity of the Government for food; and

"Whereas the result of the investigation shows that water can be obtained in an economical manner only by means of storage reservoirs; and

‘‘Whereas suitable locations for these have been found at a number of places--notably at the Buttes, Riverside, San Carlos, and Guthrie, and also on Queen Creek--and an examination of all these, and comparison of costs and benefits, shows that the San Carlos locations is to be preferred.’’

The following report was made on the bill:

[House Report No. 2934, Fifty-sixth Congress, second session]

"The Committee on Irrigation of Arid Lands, having had under consideration the bill (H. R. 3733) to authorize the construction of a reservoir near San Carlos, Ariz., to provide water for the irrigation of the Sacaton Indian Reservation, and for other purposes, and having duly considered the same, beg leave to submit the following report:

"Your committee find that the Indians known as the Pima Indians are located on the Sacaton Indian Reservation, on the Gila River, in the Territory of Arizona, some 20 miles below Florence, in Pinal County. They and other Indians with them, mainly dependent upon the products of the soil coming from that reservation, are in number about 8,000. These Indians from time immemorial have occupied this particular section, now known as the Sacaton Reservation, which contains about 50,000 acres of land, 30,000 of which is the most productive soil of the valley, and have supported themselves by agriculture by utilizing for irrigation the waters of Gila River. They have always been the friends of the American people, and at times, when the savage warrior made it dangerous for the Americans and pioneers in that country to be there at all because of their cruel warfare, they became the defender of the white man against the fierce Apache, and their reservation was a safe retreat for him; and now their chief boast is that not one of their tribe has ever stained his hands in white man's blood.

"As civilization progressed and that country became settled the lands of the Gila River have been taken up by the white settlers above this reservation, who bought them from the Government, which lands carried water rights, etc., and they have appropriated the waters of the river as they flow naturally down the stream, until now these Indians have not sufficient water to irrigate exceeding from one to two thousand acres of their land in the dry seasons. With sufficient water, which they crave so much to irrigate the lands which they desire to put into cultivation and to till, these Indians would be able to cultivate and raise products of the soil sufficient to pay all of the expenses to which the Government has been put on their account, and to create a sinking fund in the Treasury besides. In other words, it would take them off the expense list entirely, and that is great. The Government of the United States now has appropriated through Congress $30,000 for their maintenance, simply to feed them, while the other expenses which the Government must bear on their account amounts to about $39,000 a year, making the expense about $70,000 every year that the Government must bear on account of these Indians, all of which would be avoided if this dam should be erected and the reservoir constructed as provided in the bill.

"That it is practical and would be profitable to the Government to build this dam seems to have been established by the Government's experts who have investigated the facts concerning it. The preliminary report published in Senate Doc. No. 27, Fifty-fourth Congress, second session, and also in Water-Supply and Irrigation Paper 33, lately published by the Geological Survey, show plainly and conclusively that it is practical and that it would be profitable to build this dam, and that it should be built and this reservoir constructed. * * *

"These facts seem to be well established--indeed, uncontroverted.

‘‘Your committee having found such things to exist, therefore recommend that the bill do pass and become a law at an early date.’’

The bill did not become a law, the chief objection to it being that up to that time Congress had not adopted the policy of providing for the irrigation of arid lands. An amendment to the Indian appropriation bill appropriating $100,000 for an investigation of the San Carlos dam site was defeated in the House on February 26, 1901, for the same reason.


In 1900 S. M. McCowan, superintendent of the Phoenix Indian School, said:

"The Pima and Maricopa Tribes, practically inseparable, are located on the Gila Bend and Gila River and Salt River Reservations. Nearly the entire population is dependent upon the resources of the Gila River reservations for support, the others being small in area. The Pima have been an agricultural people from time immemorial, and are notably peaceable, industrious, and independent. During the last 10 years they have suffered greatly from scarcity of water. As a result, they have gradually fallen from a condition of independence and prosperity until they are practically on the verge of starvation, and are largely dependent upon Government rations for support.

‘‘The Gila River Reservation contains about 357,120 acres, of which it is estimated one-half would be cultivatable if it had a sufficient water supply. The soil is very fertile, but without irrigation is practically a desert. The Gila River has always been the source of water supply, and approximately 7,000 Indians are dependent upon it for their support.’’14


The report of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs for 1904 contains an extended account of the various attempts both of a legal and engineering nature that had been made with a view of increasing the water supply of the Pima Indians. I shall quote such parts of the report as are pertinent at this time:

"Gila River (Pima) Reservation, Ariz.--The unfortunate condition of the Pima Indians on this reservation, owing to the scarcity of water for irrigation, has recently attracted such great attention and excited so much sympathy, especially in the official boards of the Presbyterian Church, which has long supported missions among the Pima, that I deem it advisable to make a somewhat lengthy statement of the efforts of this office to maintain the rights of the Indians and to devise some practicable method of increasing their supply of water.

"October 7, 1895, this office recommended that the sum of $3,500 be set aside for the expense of an investigation by the Geological Survey, and Mr. Arthur P. Davis, hydrographer, was detailed November 25, 1895, to make the investigation. June 16, 1896, the department, in accordance with the recommendation of this office, set aside the sum of $900 for continuing the investigation during the fiscal year 1897.

"November 10, 1896, Mr. Davis submitted his report to the Geological Survey, which may be found in Senate Document No. 27, Fifty-fourth Congress, second session. He indicated three possible methods of obtaining a water supply, viz: (1) Pumping from wells; (2) construction of a large reservoir at the Buttes; (3) construction of Queen Creek Reservoir at an estimated cost of $221,000. The first method he considered impracticable, owing to the prohibitive cost of operation, while the third offered at most a supply of water barely sufficient for the minimum demands of the Indian reservation at that time. Therefore he recommended the adoption of the second method, at an estimated cost of $2,244,000.

"The Indian appropriation act of July 1, 1898 (30 Stats. 571), contained an appropriation of $20,000 for ascertaining the depth of the bed rock at a place on the Gila River known as the Buttes, and the feasibility and total cost of the construction of a dam across the river at that point in order to irrigate the Gila River Reservation, and for ascertaining the average daily flow of water in the river at the Buttes, the same to be expended by the Director of the Geological Survey, under the direction of the Secretary of the Interior, provided that nothing therein contained should be construed as in any way committing the United States to the construction of said dam.

"March 10, 1899, this office reported to the department that Irrigation Inspector W. H. Graves was unable to suggest any plan of relief for the Pima Indians other than the construction of the dam above referred to, and suggested that pending the investigation authorized in the act of July 1, 1898, no action could be taken by this office or the department in regard to irrigation on the Gila River Reservation.

"December 13, 1899, Senator Warren presented to the Senate the 'Report of James D. Schuyler, consulting engineer, on the general conditions and cost of water storage for irrigation on the Gila River, Arizona, for the benefit of the Indians occupying the Gila River Reservation.' (Sen. Doc. No. 37, 56th Cong., '1st sess.) Mr. Schuyler reported that it was not feasible to build a masonry dam at the Buttes on account of the rotten quality of the rock, the great depth to bed rock, and the excessive height of dam required to obtain a storage of 174,000 acre-feet, or about one-half the flow of the stream, but that it was feasible to construct a masonry dam at San Carlos at a cost of $1,038,926, including damages for right of way. He recommended the construction of the latter dam.

"During the first session of the Fifty-sixth Congress a bill was introduced in the House of Representatives (H. R. 3733) appropriating $1,000,000 for the purpose of sounding for bedrock at the foundations of the proposed San Carlos Dam, for preparing detailed plans and estimates, and for beginning the construction of foundations and completion of the dam or dams. April 24, 1900, this office made a favorable report upon the bill, but it was not passed. Instead Congress appropriated the sum of $30,000 for the temporary support of the Indians of the Pima Agency.

"July, 29, 1902, Agent Hadley, of the Pima Agency, presented for special consideration the question of irrigating the Gila River Reservation by the building of the San Carlos Reservoir, stating that no other reservoir could water the reservation in such a way as to make the Pimas an independent and well-to-do people; and he asked that Inspector W. H. Code (who had succeeded Inspector Graves) be sent to the reservation to go over the ground with him. As this office had no information regarding the construction of a reservoir in the San Carlos or in the Tonto Basin, except the legislation authorizing the investigation of the San Carlos Dam site by the Geological Survey, the letter was transmitted to the Department September 5, 1902, without recommendation.


"April 24, 1903, the Acting Attorney General transmitted to the department a copy of a letter from the United States attorney at Tucson, Ariz., stating that from general information he was inclined to believe that he should be directed to institute proceedings to secure to the Pima Indians their prior rights, the direction being to institute a suit against all of the water users under the Gila River and its tributaries who divert the water above the point of diversion of the Indians. May 9, 1903, the office recommended that the Department of Justice be advised that any course of procedure determined upon by the district attorney would meet the approval of this office, and that it would recommend the payment of any expenses connected therewith approved by him and the superintendent in charge of the Pima Agency.

"June 10, 1904, Superintendent Alexander reported that all data relative to the recovering of water to the Pima Indians by judicial proceedings had been furnished the district attorney and that in consultation with him the attorney had said that--

"'There are 960 persons using water from the Gila River above the point where the Pima Indians divert the water of the Gila for their lands; that there is no doubt but that the case could be taken up and prosecuted to a favorable ending, but the interests are so varied, and the water is diverted by the whites as far as 200 miles above the Indian's point of diversion, that should a favorable decree be given by the court it would be impossible for the court to enforce its decree, and that the expense of prosecuting such suit would cost between twenty and thirty thousand dollars; but that a suit against the users of water under the Florence Canal may be won and the court's decree made binding on the few persons under the Florence Canal, and the expense to the Government would be about $10,000.'

"June 21 this office submitted Superintendent Alexander's report to the department, expressing the opinion that the institution of suit for the recovery of water in the Gila River for the use of the Pima Indians would involve the expenditure of a large amount of money to no purpose, as a favorable result of the suit could not secure any water to the Indians, and suggesting that the district attorney be informed that under the circumstance legal proceedings were not desired. The department concurred, and July 8 Superintendent Alexander was notified accordingly, and July 18 the report of the district attorney on the action taken by him was forwarded to the department.

"The superintendent also reported, June 10, that he had visited the head of the Florence Canal and found the Gila River to be as dry there as it was below, there being no water and nothing but sand.


It was confidently expected by many friends of the Pima Indians that the San Carlos Dam would be one of the first projects constructed under the national reclamation act of June 17, 1902. The Reclamation Service, however, decided that the Roosevelt Dam on Salt River should have priority. In 1906 the Southern Pacific Railroad Co. was granted a right of way through the San Carlos Dam site by the Secretary of the Interior. This right to construct a railroad through the canyon of the Gila expired and its renewal was denied in 1912, chiefly through the efforts of Edgar B. Meritt, Assistant Commissioner of Indian Affairs. The Pima Indians and the white settlers of Pinal County owe Mr. Meritt a great debt of gratitude for his persistent and successful efforts in their behalf.


Within a few days after I first became a Member of the House of Representatives in 1912 I was assigned to the Committee on Indian Affairs. I found that the committee had had under consideration legislation directing the Attorney General to file a suit on behalf of Pimas against all appropriators of water on the Gila above their reservation. The committee had practically agreed to include such a provision in the Indian bill, but I prevented that from being done. A decree of even the Supreme Court of the United States determining that the lands of the Pima Reservation had a prior right to water as against all other lands in the entire Gila Valley would be of no practical benefit to the Indians. I remember that I said that such action would not give the Pima lands as much moisture as was to be found in the ink of the signature of the judge who would sign such a decree.

I spoke from actual experience. Throughout my boyhood I had heard nothing but lawsuits over water. The thousands of dollars that my father and his neighbors had paid to lawyers in the continuous litigation over water rights in the Salt River Valley had all been wasted. No court could make the rain fall when it was needed and no court could stop the rush of the torrential floods which washed away the brush dams that were placed in the river season after season. Relief finally came, not from any court but from Congress, which created the reclamation fund whereby the construction of the Roosevelt Dam was made possible.

As it was on the Salt River so it is on the Gila. The only way to provide a water supply for the Pima Indians is to build a great dam in the canyon whereby the flood waters that now waste to the sea may be stored for use when needed. The committee at that time heeded my plea and the proposal for a great lawsuit was abandoned. In its place an appropriation was granted to pay expenses of a board of Army engineers whose report shows that it is entirely practical and feasible to build the San Carlos Dam. A part of the recommendations contained in that report has been carried out. A diversion dam has been constructed above Florence and a similar dam is being built near Sacaton. The storage reservoir at San Carlos must still be provided to complete the plan.


I am firmly convinced that the loss of an adequate supply of water which the Pima Indians have suffered is not due in any great measure to diversions from the Gila River for irrigation by the white settlers whose farms are located above the reservation. The taking of water above the reservation may have injured the Pimas in some slight degree in certain years or at certain seasons, but the major damage is due to another cause. The proof of this is that the white farmers in both Pinal and Graham Counties have suffered for lack of water along with the Indians. It is my contention that under present conditions it would be impossible to restore the ancient water supply of the Pimas if every headgate on the Gila were closed down and not a drop of water permitted to flow onto the lands of the white people.

The cause of this disaster is not difficult to find. A great change has taken place in the entire watershed of the Gila in eastern Arizona and New Mexico. A vast area which was once covered with a marvelous growth of grass has been damaged by livestock.

I am going to prove conclusively by the written statements of other witnesses who can not appear in person that the nature of the Gila River has been so changed by overgrazing that, without reservoirs to store its flood waters, that stream is no longer dependable for irrigation. The testimony that I shall introduce is just as convincing as though the witnesses were here to speak for themselves. I shall first give descriptions of the condition of the Gila watershed above San Carlos before it was overstocked and then show the deplorable situation which exists at present.


My first witness is Lieut. Sylvester Mowry, who came to Arizona in 1858. In a book dedicated to the ‘‘memory of those killed by the Apaches in the struggle to redeem Arizona from barbarism’’ Lieutenant Mowry says of the region drained by the upper reaches of the Gila River:

‘‘The sun never shone on a finer grazing country. The traveler has before him throughout the entire distance a sea of grass, whose nutritious qualities have no equal, and the stock raiser in January sees his cattle in better condition than our eastern farmer in his stall-fed ox.’’15


In his Life Among the Apaches, printed in 1868, Maj. John C. Cremony says of the area drained by the headwaters of the Gila and its tributaries which he first visited in 1850:

"This grama grass is beyond all comparison the most nutritious herbage ever cropped by quadrupeds. I give it the very first rank among all sorts of hay, believing it to be superior to clover, timothy, alfalfa, or all three together.

‘‘From Dragon Pass eastward the whole of the vast region inhabited by the Apaches is covered with this species of grass, which is more or less thick and nourishing, according to circumstances, but always in sufficient abundance to afford all the nutriment required. It is this plentiful distribution of the most strengthening grass in the world which enables the Apache to maintain his herds, make his extraordinary marches, and inflict wide-spread depredations.’’16


Capt. John G. Bourke, of the Third Cavalry, who came to Arizona in 1870, says of the upper Gila Basin:

"At times we would march for miles through a country in which grew only the white-plumed yucca with trembling, serrated leaves; again, mescal would fill the hillsides so thickly that one could almost imagine that it had been planted purposely; or we passed along between masses of the dust-laden, ghostly sage-brush, or close to the foul-smelling joints of the 'hediondilla.' The floral wealth of Arizona astonished us the moment we had gained the higher elevations of the Mogollon and the other ranges.

‘‘As for grasses, one has only to say what kind he wants, and lo! it is at his feet--from the coarse sacaton which is deadly to animals except when it is very green and tender; the dainty mesquite, the bunch, and the white and black grama, succulent and nutritious. But I am speaking of the situations where we would make camp, because, as already stated, there are miles and miles of land purely desert, and clothed only with thorny cacti and others of that ilk. I must say, too, that the wild grasses of Arizona always seemed to me to have but a slight root in the soil, and my observation is that the presence of herds of cattle soon tears them up and leaves the land bare.’’17


In his personal narrative James O. Pattie tells of what was probably the first party of Americans to visit the Upper Gila Valley. They found that stream and its tributaries to be well stocked with beaver as the following extracts will show:

"We reached the Helay on the 14th of December, 1824. We caught 30 beavers the first night we encamped on this river. * * *

‘‘We hastened on in the hope of finding another stream yet undiscovered by trappers. The latter desire was gratified on the first of January, 1825. The stream we discovered carried as much water as the Helay, heading north. We called it the River St. Francisco. After traveling up its banks four miles, we encamped, and set our traps and killed a couple of fat turkies. In the morning we examined our traps and found in them 37 beavers. We finished our trapping on this river on the 14th. We caught the very considerable number of 250 beavers.’’18


1. Report of Indian Commissioner, 1871, 359.

2. Pages 418-419.

3. Report of Indian Commissioner, 1872, 316.

4. Report of Indian Commissioner, 1873, 281.

5. Report of Indian Commissioner, 1872, 313.

6. Report, 1874, 60.

7. Indian Office Report, 1878, XXXIX.

8. Report of Indian Agents in Arizona, 1878, 2-4.

9. Report of Indian Commissioner, 1883, 6.

10. Report of Indian Commissioner, 1890, 5-7.

11. Report of Indian Commissioner, 1894, 104.

12. Report of Indian Commissioner, 1895, 121.

13. Report of Indian Commissioner, 1896, 115.

14. Report of the Governor of Arizona, 133.

15. Arizona and Sonors.

16. Life Among the Apaches, 182-3.

17. On the Border with Crook, 140.

18. Thwaites Early Western Travels, Vol. XVIII, 87-91.

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