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«Item type text; Electronic Dissertation Authors DeJong, David Henry Publisher The University of Arizona. Rights Copyright © is held by the author. ...»

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The Sword of Damocles: Pima Agriculture, Water Use and

Water Rights, 1848-1921

Item type text; Electronic Dissertation

Authors DeJong, David Henry

Publisher The University of Arizona.

Rights Copyright © is held by the author. Digital access to this

material is made possible by the University Libraries,

University of Arizona. Further transmission, reproduction

or presentation (such as public display or performance) of

protected items is prohibited except with permission of the author.

Downloaded 14-Nov-2016 06:59:09 Link to item http://hdl.handle.net/10150/195634


PIMA AGRICULTURE, WATER USE AND WATER RIGHTS, 1848-1921 By David H. DeJong _________________________

Copyright © David H. DeJong 2007 A Dissertation Submitted to the Faculty of the


In Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements For the Degree of


In the Graduate College


2007 2



As members of the Dissertation Committee, we certify that we have read the dissertation prepared by David H. DeJong entitled “The Sword of Damocles: Pima Agriculture, Water Use and Water Rights, 1848-1921” and recommend that it be accepted as fulfilling the dissertation requirement for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy.

______________________________________________________ Date: April 6, 2007 Jennie R. Joe, Ph.D.

______________________________________________________ Date: April 6, 2007 K. Tsianina Lomawaima, Ph.D.

______________________________________________________ Date: April 6, 2007 Joseph Hiller, Ph.D.

______________________________________________________ Date: April 6, 2007 Tom Holm, Ph.D.

Final approval and acceptance of this dissertation is contingent upon the candidate’s submission of final copies of the dissertation to the Graduate College. I hereby certify that I have read this dissertation prepared under my direction and recommend that it be accepted as fulfilling the dissertation requirement.

______________________________________________________ Date: April 6, 2007 Dissertation Director, Jennie Joe, Ph.D.



This dissertation has been submitted in partial fulfillment of requirements for an advanced degree at the University of Arizona and is deposited in the University Library to be made available to borrowers under rules of the Library.

Brief quotations from this dissertation are allowable without special permission, provided that accurate acknowledgement of source is made. Requests for permission for extended quotation from or reproduction of this manuscript in whole or in part may be granted by the copyright holder.

–  –  –

There are several people deserving of acknowledgement for their encouragement during my doctoral studies. I recognize and appreciate the support of Dr. Jennie Joe. I first meet Dr. Joe in 1988 when I was interviewed and subsequently hired as an historian by the Indian Health Service’s Tucson Office of Health Program Research and Development, then located on the San Xavier District of the Tohono O’odham Nation.

Over the years, I have had the privilege of working with Dr. Joe on a number of health related studies, including one centered on the occupational health hazards facing American Indian wild land and forest firefighters. It was Dr. Joe who encouraged me to pursue doctoral studies upon my return from New York State in 2000, and for her guidance and support at every step in this process, I am appreciative.

I also acknowledge the support of my wife Cindy and my five children, Rachelle, Rebecca, Joshua, Ralissa and RaeAnna. Each member of my family has given up time that I can never reclaim, but that I trust has prepared me for life as a scholar. Too frequently, my family ribbed me for having a book in hand or reading yet another article.

Without their commitment and support for my studies, I could not have completed this academic milestone. Without the support and continual encouragement of Cindy, and the sacrifices she made as a result of my studies, I could not have persevered.

I personally dedicate this study to Mr. Gerald Freeman Brown, a Pima elder who has been a friend, coworker and fellow laborer. Mr. Brown taught me more than he might

–  –  –

This study identifies the historical factors that impacted Pima agriculture, water use and water rights in south-central Arizona between 1848 and 1921. Federal land and resource policies, especially federal Indian policies, impacted the dynamics of Pima agriculture and water use during these crucial years when the federal government utilized economic liberalism to open the West to homesteading and facilitate the development of the region’s vast resources.

As an agricultural people, the Pima did not passively accept these policies and events. Rather, they proved adaptive, demonstrating their resourcefulness in important ways. In response to water deprivation and infringement of their water rights, the Pima reduced the amount of land they cultivated. While before 1880 they had increased their cultivated acreage and expanded their trade networks, in the years after they creatively found ways to keep land in production despite water shortages. As the water crisis deepened, the Pima abandoned their least productive lands. In the midst of great deprivation, they relocated (or abandoned) a number of villages and scores of fields in an attempt against great odds to maintain their agricultural economy. To make the most of their diminishing water resources, the Pima adapted by growing small grains such as wheat and barley, even when these crops no longer proved to be economically viable in Arizona. While not new to their crop rotation, the Pima relied almost exclusively upon these crops by the 1910s since they required considerably less water than others.

Because the Pima had prior and paramount rights to the water and were

–  –  –

metaphorical Damoclean sword above the heads of those non-Indian farmers who used the water. This study, therefore, focuses on the history of water use and agricultural production among the Pima Indians between 1848 and 1921 and argues that without infringement of their rights to water, the Pima would have equaled and perhaps surpassed

–  –  –

1744 Pima cultivate wheat in their fields along the Gila River 1849 Some 20,000 49’ers purchase surplus Pima food crops in the villages 1850 Pima demand gold and silver coin as the medium of exchange 1854 Gadsden Purchase Treaty brings U.S. administrative control 1858 Butterfield Overland Mail Company passes through the villages 1858 Pima assert sovereignty over all their land and resources 1859 Pima Reservation (64,000 acres) established 1862 Homestead Act encourages settlement of the West 1865 Pima serve as volunteers in the territorial militia 1866 Pima sell over 2,000,000 pounds of wheat 1869 Florence settlers waste water from the Gila River 1873 Pima prospect for new land in the Indian Territory 1877 Desert Land Act requires settlers to apply water to their land 1878 U.S. Army intervenes on behalf of the Pima 1878-1883 Drought conditions cause hardship among the Pima 1879 More than 2,500 Pima and Maricopa live off the reservation 1886-1889 Florence Canal constructed and deprives Pima of their water 1892-1904 Years of starvation among the Pima 1892 Cutting of the Pima mesquite bosques begins 1900 Pima cultivate a low acreage of just 3,600 acres 1900-1901 National media focuses on Pima water deprivation 1902 National Reclamation Act becomes law 1908 Winters v. United States establishes reserved rights 1908-1913 Construction of the Santan Floodwater Canal 1911 Antonito Azul pens “An Appeal for Justice” to the people of the U.S.

1914 Pima adjudication survey illustrates the extent of Pima agriculture 1916 Lockwood Decree recognizes Pima immemorial rights 1916 Florence-Casa Grande Project enacted 1922 Ashurst-Hayden Diversion Dam completed 1925 Sacaton Dam and Olberg Bridge completed 1925 Pima file suit in the federal courts, initiating modern water rights 12

–  –  –

In the latter half of the nineteenth century, many Americans assumed the resources of the American West were endless and the settlement and development of the land required only the requisite harnessing of nature and determination of the American spirit. While some such as John Wesley Powell recognized the limitations of the land, emigrants trekked west seeking to fulfill a national destiny of subduing, subjugating and settling the land. These goals were accomplished through the vehicle of federal law, which for much of the nineteenth century was premised on economic liberalism, or the theory that minimal government intervention best served “to help the ‘release of energy’ within society.”1 In reality, the settlement of the West and concomitant American Indian displacement depended on government intervention. Federal land and resource and federal Indian laws and policies were designed to populate the land and facilitate development of the West’s resources by Anglo-Americans. Federal actions shaping social thought and action in dispossessing the tribal nations of their land and resources and facilitating the settlement of the West and utilization of its resources must be considered.

In the years following American independence from England, the United States asserted a legal theory based on conquest to assume control over the lands within its geographical borders.2 As the nation advanced westward, it maintained this policy of asserting sovereignty over the land, institutionalizing this legal theory in the Johnson v.

–  –  –

M’Intosh (1823) Supreme Court decision. While tribal nations were acknowledged as possessing usufruct rights, the Supreme Court asserted U.S. rights to pre-emption and, while some states enacted their own pre-emption statutes, federal pre-emption acts in 1830, 1834, 1838 and 1841 granted settlers a legal right to the land upon which they had settled. These settlers possessed “a powerful natural rights view of law rooted in popular sovereignty,” believing natural law obligated them to make use of the land.3 The most far reaching of federal land laws was the 1862 Homestead Act, which, with its companion legislation found in the Timber Culture Act (1873) and Desert Land Act (1877), profoundly impacted the nation. The Homestead Act was envisioned by social reformers as producing a “Jeffersonian utopia of small farming.”4 The intent of the act was simple: carve up the West into 160 acre parcels of land, sell them for a nominal fee and enable settlers to develop the nation’s resources. In short, the Homestead Act was designed to populate the West by throwing it open for settlement, in the process shaping and molding the social fabric of a distinctive Western social and political mindset. In the desert southwest, the Desert Land Act provided a workable plan whereby settlers could acquire up to 640 acres (320 after 1892) from the public domain, but in order to perfect a land title they were required to make a bona fide application of water to the land.

While designed to shape American social thought and action and serve, as Frederick Jackson Turner argued more than a century ago, as a safety valve for an overpopulated east, federal land policies were fraught with abuse, with fraudulent and dummy entries leaving large blocs of public domain in the hands of land speculators.

–  –  –

Rather than facilitating individual landownership, federal land laws often “promoted monopoly and corruption,” with an estimated 95% of the Desert Land Act final proofs fraudulent. 5 In the first four decades of the Homestead Act, as few as 2,000,000 people successfully homesteaded the West, suggesting limitations in either the social applications of the law or in the land itself.6 While Congress intended such land laws to encourage individual initiative and benefit the common man, the reality is the law was based on an eastern theory of land use that did not fit the western landscape.7 As settlers soon discovered, the real wealth of the West was water, not land.

While laws such as the Homestead and Desert Land acts were part of a grand social experiment of transforming the American West into a series of Jeffersonian yeoman farms, the lack of precipitation necessitated an alternative means of applying water to the land. In 1878, John Wesley Powell hinted that the development of the West could proceed only with a communal development effort.8 In an acknowledgement of the need for irrigation in the West (and a reflection of the West’s increasing political power), both houses of Congress, in 1889, established a Committee on Irrigation and Arid Lands. Two years later, the National Irrigation Congress was organized. When the National Irrigation Association was formed in Chicago for the purpose of advocating federal subsidies for western reclamation projects, it used the Pima as its national poster child.

Across the West, particularly in California’s central valleys, the fertile valleys of the Mountain West and scattered areas in the Southwest, land speculators and settlers

–  –  –

alike clamored for federal involvement. Not yet willing to commit to a federally subsidized reclamation policy, in 1894 Congress authorized the sale of up to one million acres of federal land in each state with the proceeds to be used for reclamation purposes.

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