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As proud people, the Pima “preferred to starve rather than beg.”428 Drought conditions began in the spring of 1891 after the disastrous winter flood of 1890-91. While the Pima grew six million pounds (one hundred thousand bushels) of winter grain in 1889-90, they grew just half that amount in 1890-91. Conditions were serious enough that Junkin recommended the purchase of thirteen thousand pounds of flour and twenty-five hundred pounds of bacon for “destitute Indians.”429 By the fall of 1891, drought caused Arizona ranchers to ship hundreds of thousands of cattle and horses out of the territory.430 Nonetheless, more than twenty thousand head of steers were driven into the Salt River Valley to forage on irrigated alfalfa, suggesting there was plenty of water in that valley.431 Conditions on the Pima Reservation deteriorated to the point that the first large-scale cutting of one of the reservation’s few remaining natural resources— mesquite trees—began in earnest.
Every year after 1892—lasting through 1904—the drought prevented the Pima from growing sufficient crops to sustain themselves. Crouse estimated that one thousand Indians would raise no grain at all in 1893 and asked departmental authority to purchase three hundred thousand pounds of wheat for subsistence and seed. About five thousand acres of land were fenced and prepared for cultivation in 1895 but because of the 428 Russell, The Pima Indians, pp. 64-66, notes that at least five persons died of starvation in 1898-99 alone. The following year a woman from Blackwater died after being bitten by a snake. “This woman had gone far out on the desert to search for mesquite beans, as she was without food; indeed the whole community was starving because of the failure of the crops owing to the lack of water in the river for their ditches.” John Ravesloot, The Anglo American Acculturation of the Gila River Pima, Arizona: The Mortuary Evidence (Paper Presented at the 25th Annual Conference on Historical and Underwater Archaeology, 1992), p. 16.
429 Annual Report of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, 1890, p. 5. “Junkin to Noble,” p. 3.
430 Report of the Governor of Arizona to the Secretary of the Interior, 1896, p. 22. Most of the cattle were shipped to Texas, Indian Territory, Kansas, California, Nevada and Oregon.
431 Ibid, 1892, “Report of Colin Cameron, Chairman of the Territorial Livestock Sanitary Commission,” p. 9.
189 “scarcity of water” the Pima could not sow their grain.432 The Pima needed a minimum of fifty thousand bushels (three million pounds) of wheat just to subsist (based on two pounds per person per day for pinole and tortillas). The starving years had begun, even though other areas in southern Arizona continued to grow crops.433 By the mid 1890s, conditions became so critical on the reservation that Young again requested permission to purchase an additional 225,000 pounds of wheat “to prevent starvation.” Young predicted the government would have to increase purchases of food annually for the Pima due to non-Indian development above the reservation.434 In 1894 alone more than 2,100 new acres were improved above the reservation, bringing the total acreage of improved land above the reservation to 26,343.435 The Gila River stopped flowing on the reservation on April 10, 1895—a full month earlier than 1894. Summer crops again failed and the Pima faced hunger, prompting Young to inform Commissioner Daniel Browning that “a large number of these Indians” would have to be fed during the coming winter. “They made a strong effort to make a crop and would have done so had the water supply not given out.” “Again this year they must have subsistence or suffer the pangs of hunger.”436
territorial district court. Wee Paps was arrested, tried and convicted of stealing several horses and trading them for food. Upon his conviction to serve one year in the territorial 432 “Cornelius Crouse, U.S. Indian Agent, Sacaton, Arizona Territory, to Commissioner of Indian Affairs Daniel Browning, May 10, 1893,” RG 75, Letters Received, Office of Indian Affairs. “Duncan to Smith,” p. 1.
433 In Tucson, for example, “rivers, reservoirs, and canals contain[ed] an abundance of water for irrigation, and the fields and ranges are well moistened.” Report of the Governor of Arizona to the Secretary of the Interior, 1894, p. 23.
434 Annual Report of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, 1895, p. 121. “Letter from J.R. Young to Secretary of the Interior Michael H.
Smith, dated December 4, 1894,” in RG 75, Letters Received, Office of Indian Affairs.
435 This includes acreage filed upon. There were 6,520 acres actually farmed from the Florence Canal. “Duncan to Hitchcock.” 436 “Young to Browning,” Annual Report of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, 1894, p. 104.
190 penitentiary, Wee Paps explained the Pima’s challenge: “Until the past few years we have always had plenty of water to irrigate our farms, and we never knew what want was. We always had grain stored up for a full year’s supply…. 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 the hunger of my family was satisfied.”437 The water gave out earlier in 1896, compelling Young to arrange work for more than two hundred Pima men on the Southern Pacific Railroad.438 Territorial Governor Benjamin J. Franklin repeated the challenge again: “water is growing scarcer (and) unless rain comes soon serious results will follow.” By July, the Governor reported “the reservoirs and canals [of the territory were] bank full and there will be no scarcity of water during the hot season.”439 Yet, on the Pima Reservation little progress was made in supplying the Indians with water. Consequently, the Pima were left “destitute and [in] much poverty and distress.”440 Given a fair water supply the Pima Reservation would be a prosperous community as demonstrated by the small parcels cultivated by the Pima that 437 Reported in the Report of the Governor of Arizona to the Secretary of the Interior, 1895, p. 43. On page 23, Territorial Governor L.C. Hughes optimistically reported that Arizona had “10,000,000 acres of land capable of reclamation to agriculture, of which 997,000 acres” were then being cultivated.
438 Annual Report of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, 1896, p. 115. The Pima soon earned a reputation as workers par excellence.
Over the next few years they were employed in Arizona and Nevada. Working in the Ray copper mine railroads, in 1900, they were described as “far superior to the Mexicans.” In 1900, they earned nearly ten thousand dollars working on the railroad. See ibid. 1900, p. 196.
439 Report of the Governor of Arizona to the Secretary of the Interior, 1896, pp. 14-15. Many cattle had been brought into the Salt River Valley to “be fattened for the fall trade.” 440 See Annual Report of the Board of Indian Commissioners, 1898, p. 24 and Report of the Governor of Arizona to the Secretary of the Interior, 1901, p. 217. Murphy especially called the attention of the Secretary to “the great injury done to the Pimas by reason of the white man’s preemption of all the water…. These Indians protected the whites against murderous assaults of the more turbulent and vicious Apaches…. As the white population grew it became more aggressive and greedy, until now they have absorbed all the water above the Indian reservation, leaving the Indians destitute.” 191 resulted in some thirty to forty bushels of wheat per acre. By 1898, the Pima farmed fewer than four thousand acres of land.441
entire failure.” “Taking an average not more than half a crop of wheat was harvested this year,” Agent Elwood Hadley explained.442 While the summer rain arrived—allowing the Pima to raise some corn, beans and squash—that summer proved to be drier than any in the past decade.443 Some of the Pima, “driven by hunger,” crossed into Mexico on marauding expeditions. Facing starvation, the Indians were overtaken by “an insidious blight” of poverty. With each successive crop failure, they planted less. Each planting yielded less. Expecting less, they “scaled down accordingly the standard of their existence.” More farms were abandoned, while others were only partially cultivated “yielding scant and uncertain returns.” As the “lines [of despair] have tightened about the
Superintendent of Phoenix Indian School, visited the reservation in May, describing many Pima families had “nothing to eat now but mescal and old mesquite beans. Last year’s crop of wheat is entirely exhausted and the new crop will not be ripe for weeks.
And the worst of it is that when the new crop ripens there will be so little of it, owing to the drouth, that a very few weeks will see it all gone.” The Pima were in a “deplorable condition. Never before in the history of the tribe [had] they been so destitute nor the prospects for immediate improvement more discouraging.” Just one-fifth of the Pima grain crop was harvested with their cattle “dying in large numbers.”445 The national media broadcast the predicament of the Pima in the summer of 1900, but not due to any particular moral culpability on the part of the American people. In 1893, the National Irrigation Association was formed in Chicago to advocate federal reclamation projects. While the association found limited success with the Carey Act of 1894, the act had no effect in Arizona Territory. What the association needed was a strong moral argument and a national poster child to represent the need. The National Irrigation Association looked no further than the Pima Reservation, where a strong moral and legal case demonstrated the necessity of federal subsidies for reclamation. Only the federal government could resolve Pima water needs and in the process open the door to a national policy of federal reclamation.
The National Irrigation Association encouraged the publication in 1900 and 1901 of sympathetic media stories regarding the Pima. Dozens of newspapers, including those in Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Washington, D.C. and in places in between, carried stories of Pima privation. The Chicago Tribune, for instance, reported: “This statement of the pitiable condition of the friendly and industrious Pimas is old news to western readers, and the case is one of the most shameful and outrageous instances of neglect and betrayal on the part of the United States of an ally, worthy and true. That 6,000 Pima Indians, always the consistent and active friends of the white man, should be reduced from a condition of wealth and great prosperity to actual starvation through neglect of the federal government,” the newspaper opined, “while the adjacent Apaches, always the white man’s foes and causing more trouble, pillage and loss of life than any western tribe, should be today sleek and well-fed at the hands of the same government, seems a rewarding of enemies and killing of friends.” The Tribune implored, “Cannot some of our friends, who have anon professed such interest in the poor red man come to his assistance now and see that he may be accorded simple justice? The cause is worthy, the means are at hand; the interest alone is lacking.”446
Figure 6:4. The National Irrigation Association used the Pima as its national poster child in its efforts to persuade Congress to adopt a national reclamation act. Scores of newspapers ran similar articles.
Source: Chicago Tribune, June 18, 1900.
The New York Tribune carried a similar story. “About 6,000 of these Indians are dependent for their subsistence upon the lands of the reservation which contains 350,000 acres, while the water supply in the Gila last year, owing to use for lands above, has not been sufficient to irrigate 1,000 acres belonging to the Indians. Fully half the crops planted have not produced enough for seed, notwithstanding the great fertility of the soil.”447 Despite Alexander’s assertion that the reports of starvation were exaggerated, stories of Pima starvation circulated in newspapers across the country.448 Even Governor Murphy acknowledged that the agricultural growth of the Gila Valley above the reservation had “been disastrous to the [Pima].”449 Presbyterian ministers Sheldon Jackson and George L. Spining released a report of their investigation of the Pima situation in 1900. Distributed to churches, charities and philanthropists across the nation,