Erosion and Overflow, Gila River, Ariz.
The Committee on Indian Affairs, to whom was referred the bill (S. 4655) authorizing and directing the Secretary of the Interior to determine the most suitable method of preventing further erosion and overflow on Gila River, Ariz., having investigated the same, reports the bill back to the Senate and recommends that it do pass without amendment.
As part of this report the committee submits the statements of Phil C. Merrill, of Pima, Ariz., W. W. Pace, of Thatcher, Ariz., Senator Mark Smith, and Senator Henry F. Ashurst of Arizona, made before this committee on the Indian appropriation bill, as follows:
The Chairman. You have, of course, read this bill introduced by me providing for an appropriation of $15,000 to make a survey and investigation as to the status of affairs regarding the Gila River in Arizona?
Mr. Merrill. I have lived in Graham County for about 25 years. The Gila River enters Graham County from the southeast and flows northwesterly for a distance of about 60 miles through a region that is cultivated partly by white people and partly by Indians on the San Carlos Reservation. The conditions pertaining along that river for its full length in Graham County are similar--the conditions under which the Indians take their water from the river are practically similar to those under which the white men take the water. In the early days a heavy growth of vegetation for a great extent held back these flood waters and prevented the damage that the river did. We know that for a great many years past that has been increasing, until within the past few years the land that has been lost by erosion, both on the Indian reservation and above there where the white people have settled, has been very great. It is estimated that during the flood, just about a month ago, 1,500 acres of our vicinity was washed away. We know we are incapable of determining what should be done, and we need the assistance of the department as to what is the best method to control that river, and, as has been mentioned by your chairman, we know that the interests are mutual as between the whites and the Indians. If we were to take care of the river banks above the Indian reservation, it would do them no good below, for the same condition exists.
As mentioned by the chairman, there are about 1,200 acres that have been in a high state of cultivation by the San Carlos Indians along that river, on the San Carlos Indian Reservation, but I think at the present time, and during this year, they will be unable to cultivate any of that land, or practically none of it, because of the fact that there are dams and canals that have been washed away, and it will be necessary, in order to get the water on their land again, to have new dams and new canals beside the loss of the land they have sustained.
Our object is to enlist Federal aid in engineering questions in order to determine what is the best and most feasible method of controlling that stream, for if it is not done, it will not be many years, as conditions are existing now, before practically all the tillable land along the banks of that river will be washed away, because the river, in its meandering course, is cutting away each year and taking away many acres of very valuable land.
Senator Page. I had the impression that the Army engineers were sent out to do this kind of work, and that there was a general appropriation made that would cover the expense; of course, there would be no salary.
The Chairman. Because the War Department would not be authorized to send an Army engineer to make an expensive investigation and take the money for that purpose out of the general fund. It would not be authorized by law to do so. We looked into that feature of it with some degree of care.
Mr. Merrill. As I have stated, this tillable land extends a distance of about 60 miles along the river. The valley is narrow and long. The Indian Reservation on the San Carlos is about 25 or 30 miles, and the balance is occupied by the white people above it, so you can understand that it would be quite a task to make that survey along the banks of that river to determine what methods are best to control it.
Mr. Merrill. There have been efforts made by farmers by driving piles, etc., but it has been demonstrated that there would have to be some systematic scheme adopted to take care of it all, because one farmer might protect his land and a little above him his neighbor being unable to do the same thing, it would wash behind him and give one more protection than the other.
Mr. Merrill. That would, of course, be a matter to be followed up. I assume there would have to be some arrangement made whereby the Government would pay its proportion and the property owners their proportion of the expense after the scheme had been adopted to control the river.
Senator Curtis. I did not mean that they had reported on what was necessary to prevent the washing; they did not investigate for that purpose, but they did investigate as to the flow and as to the seasons of the year when the flows were bad.
The Chairman. I will say we have consulted the Arizona delegation in Congress, and these two gentlemen from Arizona--we have consulted with the Secretary of the Interior upon the matter. We had a personal interview.
The Chairman. I am not at liberty to quote him. I think I may go far enough to say that he certainly expressed no opposition to it. It is always dangerous to quote a man unless you have it in writing. However, I am willing to say for this record that I had an extended interview with the Secretary on last Saturday, and he is not opposed to this matter. On the contrary, he looked with considerable favor and sympathy upon it.
Senator Page. I do not want to oppose a $15,000 appropriation for your State, but if we have officials whose duty it is to make these investigations--the Geological Survey or the Board of Army Engineers--I do not know whether it is a healthy precedent to establish or not.
The Chairman. If you will pardon me, you will recall, I think, that there was some discussion in 1912 on the question as to whether the Board of Army Engineers--Senator Curtis will remember the occurrence--had the authority to make an investigation and a report to Congress, unless they were specifically charged with that duty. I looked it up at the time and came to the conclusion that it would require an act of Congress or an amendment to the Indian appropriation bill to authorize any board of Army engineers, under the direction of the Interior Department, to go out and make an investigation, unless they were authorized by Congress to do that. I have a very definite impression in 1912 I looked it up.
Senator Page. What is the duty of the Board of Army Engineers or of the Geological Survey if it is not to take up matters of the most pressing importance and focus their minds upon it and make a report?
The Chairman. Their duties are manifold, but an appropriation of money from the Federal Treasury can not be used for a particular purpose, except in accordance with a bill duly passed and which shall become a law. You can not, under ominum gatherum, detail men to do certain work unless the law is written that way.
The Chairman. In other words, money must be expended in pursuance of a bill or a joint resolution, of course. There are men around this table who have had more experience on these subjects than I have.
Senator Page. It may be expended in pursuance of a general act or a specific act. We appropriate large sums of money, and they are supposed, as it seems to me, to be devoted to just such investigations as the one proposed here.
The Chairman. In 1912 the Army board was authorized to make an investigation as to the feasibility, practicability, and suitability of a reservoir site at San Carlos. I was a member of the committee at that time; $15,000 was appropriated. A board of Army engineers was duly authorized to make the investigation, but we learned that the $15,000 was not sufficient, and in 1913 a deficiency appropriation of $10,000 more was made to pay the expense of that investigation. Now, this will by no means be as comprehensive or as extensive as that one was, and I came to the conclusion that if we asked for $25,000 for that, this ought to be done for $15,000.
Senator Curtis. It will be like every one that we have heretofore established. Next year they will come in and ask for $100,000; the next year for $200,000, and the next year for $300,000. This committee has never established a precedent of this kind with respect to any of these matters that has not been abused. They commenced with a small appropriation--as you will observe if you will look over the bills--and they keep growing year by year. My own judgment is, that if the Senator wants this done he ought to go to the Geological Survey, and I think they will tell him very frankly that if he can get a very small increase in their general appropriation, if they have not enough now, that they will send men down to make this investigation and make a full report, without establishing a precedent in this committee, by appropriating for something of this kind.
The Chairman. We are in the dark, both as to the Indians and as to the whites. I am very familiar with the proposition. It is a meritorious appropriation in my opinion. Here is a river that is cutting away rich Indian land and similarly cutting away rich land of the whites year by year. This is a small county. There is not a millionaire in the county, but it is filled with most excellent citizens. We do not know how to reach the matter. I had at first an idea of introducing a bill providing an appropriation of $100,000, but I reflected on it and thought there should first be some investigation made by somebody authorized by Congress. So I have put my cards on the table. I want you to see them. I want you to say whether there should be an investigation or not. If the Army board investigates it, or the Board of Engineers investigates it, and they say we can do nothing, and ought to do nothing, or we are unable to do anything, we can do no more.
The Chairman. If the Army board says, ‘‘We ought to do something,’’ then we can proceed, at least in law, on some technical information upon which we can rely. That is my--I would not say excuse because this is so meritorious that it needs no excuse--but that is my reason for introducing this amendment.
Mr. Meritt. The board of Army engineers has also made a report as to certain features of the San Carlos River, for example, the San Carlos Reservoir site. So far as the Indian Office is concerned, we would be very glad to have this appropriation, because this river flows through the Pima Indian Reservation and has damaged a large acreage of land, which is being destroyed annually by this river. If any scheme can be devised by which this wild river can be kept within its banks, it will be very helpful to the Pima Indians.
The Chairman. I am very glad to receive that statement. My colleague, Senator Mark Smith, is here now. Senator Smith, we have up my bill proposing to appropriate $15,000 to make investigation and examination for the purpose of controlling the Gila River in Arizona.
Senator Smith of Arizona. If you will start in on the Gila River about 10 miles above where Solomonsville is now situated--and will be unless the river washes it away some of these days--you will observe that the river comes down at a pretty solid formation. It strikes this alluvial level plain. It serves a most prosperous community. They have worked harder and got less from the Government than any other irrigation people that I know of, except some of the places in Utah in the early days. They have never received one cent of compensation from the Government in any way; not a dollar. By their own industry starting back in the days of the Indians up until now, they have developed a community that is an honor to any country, and which possesses as good citizenship as any State of the Union.
Now, this river, when it comes down with its great floods, disemboweling itself at the mouth onto the alluvial plain, begins to cut these trenches, and a bridge that I have seen at Florence standing a mile and a half out in the dry plain that once covered the stream--an expensive bridge--it stands there to-day a monument to the treachery of that river.
Senator Smith of Arizona. I do not know that it will require anything. These men can make the investigation, a scientific investigation, as to the proper way of handling this river, and, especially if it is done above it will not only help these people above where these particular men live [indicating Mr. Merrill and Mr. Pace], but it will help everybody on the Gila River at the San Carlos Reservation.
It flows down through the Maricopa Reservation and goes on and empties into the Colorado at Yuma, Ariz., on the line of California and Arizona. Now to put the burden on these people of holding that river in check for the benefit of the Indians, for the benefit of two great American white irrigation schemes, and for these men to bear the whole burden of keeping that river within its flow, if it is not done above them it is a waste to all.
So that this is not a mere scheme to help these men here and several other farmers. It is also to keep a regular channel for the Indians on the Maricopa Reservation, to the white people in the Florence Reservation, and to the Indians in the Florence Reservation, who are going to get a greater benefit from it under the bill, if it is passed, than anybody else that I know of.
So this whole scheme must look to the Government at least for a legitimate means of accomplishing the purpose of holding that river within its boundaries or else it will become a ruinous flood and will wash everybody away.
Senator Smith of Arizona. Unquestionably; whether there was or not I would regard it as such for this reason, which it is difficult for people to understand: Arizona was admitted as a State, and you will be amazed at the statement of fact that at the time of admission the Federal Government absolutely owned, controlled, and has reserved 90 per cent of the available valuable land in that State, and we are forced to levy taxation on cattle and mines and town lots. That is what we have got to run the State on. The Government has land to such an extent that I think the whole of the New England States would be covered by the different reservations of my State alone.
Senator Smith of Arizona. There are plenty of them. New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut would certainly not cover the reservations of Arizona. Now, we are left in that attitude. How? By taking away our power to tax ourselves for any improvements. As I have stated, 90 per cent of the really valuable lands in the State are held by the Government, and you are putting a burden on these people who have spent their lives, and their children's children are there now working out the same problems that their fathers had and that their grandfathers had.
Now, it is just a question whether Congress will pass this resolution to give us that small amount of money for investigation, not only for those gentlemen there but for everybody on the Gila River from its source to where it empties. As soon as it comes out it spreads, and in the very next place you find the shortage is at the Indian reservation in Maricopa county known as the Maricopa Reservation. There was a bridge there three-quarters of a mile long or more--a bridge that these waters have swept away, coming into another channel and coming down into Pinal Valley, and washed that bridge, three-quarters of a mile long, completely away. There [indicating] is one of the bridges. You will see what it does to a bridge standing there a quarter of a mile long.
Senator Page. That is right; we do not know from this bill, at least I did not know when this bill was first read, whether it was a harmless bill calling for simply $15,000, or something that looked forward to $5,000,000.
Senator Smith of Arizona. It will never get to any such figure as that. It would be futile. I want to say that I would never advocate an expenditure of more money than is provided for in this resolution, but then it would be before you gentlemen to take it off if you had that bigger proposition here. You have been given the information, and that is all we are asking in this resolution, and if Congress will not help, you will at least let every man on the Gila River know what is the best thing to do to keep that river within its bounds.
Senator Smith of Arizona. I unquestionably think so, because I know of no other committee to send it to. The Commerce Committee has nothing to do with that, because they deal with navigable streams. The Committee on Appropriations has nothing to do with it. They would say, ‘‘We have nothing to do with this part of the business; why do you not go to some other of your committees?’’ The Agricultural Committee has nothing to do with it, for it does not deal with Indian questions at all and I will state frankly that it is brought here because I do not know where else to send it. That is the reason it is before as good a committee as there is in this body.
Senator Smith of Arizona. There is not one crank on it as big a crank as I am. But, gentlemen, this ought to be done not only because of the suggestions I have made, but because of the question that is naturally raised--and I think you gentlemen, as able legislators, always raise the question as to whether this is an entering wedge to rob the Treasury hereafter. We have seen departments grow that have started with $500 or $700 or $800.
But I submit that it is essential that this knowledge be given us by the Government on account of the condition in the State and the condition of the Indians and the condition of the white men, for they are put exactly in the same fix down there, and that we at least ought to give it to the State and the people and let our State handle it, or the people try to handle it, and when they have obtained a scientific knowledge of the situation then we can do our very best. If I come to Congress again for another dollar of help, I hope to be able to show Congress that they can not avoid it; but if Congress in its wisdom says, ‘‘We can not afford to go into this sort of thing, as it will set a precedent for a hundred other cases,’’ and decide against me, why that is for the occasion and the time when it comes. Very likely I will be, as I have sometimes been before on the most virtuous matters, cut off from any further communication with the Treasury Department. But this ought to be done, and these men who have spent their time in coming up here to attend to it ought to know how to do it, for I do not know how it could be done. It would take a scientific engineering proposition to say whether what little land is left in Arizona is to be ruined by the river, or whether Congress, out of its abundance, will say, ‘‘We will give you a little aid, at least a scientific investigation, and see whether you can possibly yourselves handle this problem or not.’’
Senator Lane. The solution, and the only solution of these washouts in the long run in Arizona, where you have that trouble--you have fine land below and the flood comes down on it every year--is to impound the water, is it not?
Senator Lane. And whether you will have water to let down on the land when you get it. In the other way it runs away and goes to waste in the summer time in that country, and you will have to begin a system in the mountains of impounding the water into the ravines and all the gulches leading into the main streams, and when you have done that you have stopped the waste and have water impounded for irrigation. That is the only solution of it. How else can you do it unless you dike it and levee the rivers, and then you will be in a condition like the Mississippi--you will have your river up above the lands after a while.
Senator Page. Do you not think this becomes an irrigation problem within a short time, and is something that so slightly affects the Indians that it ought to be made a general proposition rather than an Indian proposition?
Senator Page. We had much better buy that land of the Indians and let it be destroyed than to go into a $100 or $200 or $500 project here with its possibilities of loss and risk as we have done in several irrigation projects. I do not want to interpose any further objection to this proposition, Senator. I do want to know more about it.
Mr. Pace. Mr. Chairman and gentlemen, the people there are trying to teach the San Carlos Indians the art of cultivating the farms; that is, agriculture, and as the matter stands now, and as it is going, it will be only a very short time before there will be no lands on the San Carlos Indian Reservation for these men to farm. It is not only the value of the 1,200 acres of land, but when that is gone it has all gone. When those farms are gone they can not be replaced; they will not be on the reservation for the Indians to be taught this art of agriculture.
Senator Page. Let us pursue that investigation a little further. If you have some land there that is worth a one-tenth part of the expense it will take to conserve that land should we start in in Congress with a proposition that looks to conserving at a great deal more than the value of the property conserved?
Mr. Pace. Senator, we do not think it is ever going to run into that kind of cost. We have our ideas, but we have no way of determining the best means. We have no board of engineers to give us absolute knowledge. We have had no experience. That waste has been going on within the last few years worse than it ever has been. We got along very nicely for a good many years, but later the burden has become so heavy that we can not stand it, and we do not know how to control the situation. We have an idea by which private individuals will expend a few thousand dollars over there. That has some effect; but each man has his own peculiar ideas about it; one man works it out one way and another another. We do not work concertedly.
The proposition that our Senator has so kindly consented to introduce here is for a small appropriation that we might know what is best, and that the Government, through the War Department, or through some of the corps of engineers that they have, and through their experience in cases of this kind, they might give us a plan setting out what could be done to keep this river under control and to keep it in one channel. As long as it runs straight we have no trouble, but when it runs straight a mile, or such matter, it will take a turn over that way and bore out a section of country, and then turn and go the other way. It is a curving, tortuous stream there, and it is ruining some towns and breaking up some of the best citizens of our country.
Mr. Pace. This is quite a big stream, and the final result of it will be to depopulate the San Carlos Indians who are farming part of their reservation. That will be the end of the matter. It is cutting into that.
Senator Page. I think I have reached my purpose. I rather think the appropriation is one that we ought to make. I did, however, want to draw out the fact, because it seemed to me to be a proposition that was to be an entering wedge and that there would be quite a large demand on the part of Arizona upon the Federal Treasury.
Mr. Pace. We can see some places in Arizona where we could use that money nicely, but we hardly think we will be able to get it. It is not the intention that this should be an entering wedge for larger appropriations; it is simply in order that we may know just where we are. We want you to tell us what can be done in a scientific way and an effective way, and we do not know anybody else to look to except the Army engineers or some corps of engineers of the General Government.
The Chairman. Let me say, lest some misapprehension may arise from my statement as to 1,200 acres being irrigated, I meant at one particular point. I have in my hand the report made to Congress in 1914 regarding these Indians. It says some 15,000 acres of Indian lands are irrigated.
Senator Lane. No; you said several others. If you gentlemen had brought this in as a definite proposition, to go up into those mountains and put in dams and catchment basins in and across the ravines that feed into the river or channel, and hold that water in there for irrigation, you would at the same time stop the erosion. I would like to see this Government make large appropriations to help Arizona to do that, and as well all over the country. They have the richest land in the world. The water comes down in a rush, and they not only get no use of the water, but it destroys valuable land. Eventually that will have to be done. I have been in Arizona many times, and have felt that I would like to be superintendent of the job and hold that water. It would make of it the most fertile and richest State in the Union There is no doubt of that. I suppose some one, however, would grab the water from the Indians. I think that ought to be provided for. They could utilize an appropriation of a million dollars in Arizona for that purpose; it is wise, and I know of no other place in the world where they have so much water at certain seasons and get so little use of it, or where it could be used for better purposes. There is not a State in the Union that compares with it; if it had water that is the truth of it.
The Chairman. The Indians are so well protected in my State that the newspapers are almost unanimous in saying that you must be an Indian to secure any of your rights from the Federal Government. No State has with more scrupulous care seen to it that the rights of property of the Indians are protected. Arizona has the largest Indian population of any State in the Union except the State of Oklahoma.