Letter from the Secretary of Agriculture transmitting, in response to Senate Resolution of December 13, 1890

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Source: 51st Congress, 2d Session, Senate, Ex. Doc. 53

In response to Senate resolution of December 13, 1890, a report on the progress of irrigation investigation under the deficiency appropriation act of 1890.

February 13, 1890. -Referred to the Select Committee on Irrigation and Reclamation of Arid Lands, and ordered to be printed.



By Richard J. Hinton,
Special Agent in charge of the office of Irrigation Inquiry,
Department of Agriculture.

Irrigation, by English-speaking Americans, begins for all practical purposes with the Mormon settlement and occupancy of the Great Salt Lake Basin in Utah. The same people also exemplified the value of irrigation by their settlement at San Bernardino, in Southern California. These first and important efforts began about 1854. Very little or nothing was known of the nature and possibilities of farming by irrigation until the United States troops sent to suppress disorder in Utah had reached the neighborhood of Salt Lake City, early in 1858. In California, before and at that period, the value of irrigation was individually understood by a few pioneers, and meant success to those citizens, while here and there in the southern part of the State small and large ranches were being so cultivated with great success. Before the American occupancy of California and the Mormon Settlement of Utah, irrigation within the boundaries of what is now the United States was confined to that portion of the Rio Grande Valley found within the present Territory of New Mexico, and to isolated points in southwestern Texas; to a few Indian tribes and pueblos in the Territory of Arizona; to a score or more of Catholic missions, with Indian villages attached there and to the Spanish settlers found in the province of Upper California. All such efforts were of the most rudimentary character, giving results, however, sufficient to prove the possibility of enormous development and progress in that direction. Unmistakably the oldest irrigation is that produced by the Indian dwellers of the 18 pueblos found in New Mexico, and by the Moquis, Sapori, Pimas, Maricopas, and Papagoes, resident in the present Territory of Arizona. Evidence exists in our Southwest region of larger works and wider fields, made by a people long since extinct.

The value of irrigation as a fertilizer of the soil may be seen in the fact that the Pima Indians of Arizona have cultivated the same land-a portion of which they now occupy-for at least 500 years. Their cultivation, though rude, has been extensive and well conducted. Nothing has ever been applied to the land but the water, which quickens and fructifies it.

The Indian pueblos, 18 or 20 in number, also found in the same territory, were made secure in their lands by the control as public property of all natural waters within the boundaries of their community. The salt springs and their supplies are also public property. As is the rule in all distinctively arid countries, access to natural waters for man and domestic animals can never be denied. Elsewhere in Arizona and in southern California, smaller communities of both Indians and Mexicans were found as the region passed under the control of the United States. The present area farmed by Indians under irrigation aggregates at least 26,000 acres. There is something to be learned from these facts. Reclaimable land within the arid region can hardly be secured in the rectangular shape which our system of surveys has elsewhere found so admirable. Small mountain basins along narrow valleys, broad mesa lands, and that of the higher plateaus, require a mode of subdivision different form that of rectangular townships and sections. The controlling feature of any system of equitable and economic survey therein must be the water supply. Experience has determined that as a rule subdivisions of land must be much smaller that those now in use under our homestead and other public land laws.

Up: Documents List Previous: Irrigation in the United States Next: Report of the Special Committee of the United States Senate on the Irrigation and Reclamation of Arid Lands.

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