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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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Jackson and Spining painted an austere picture of the severity of the crisis. “Of 586 families recently visited, of whose number 1,428 are males and 1,425 are females,” the Presbyterians explained, “only 7 families have been able to get a full crop; 17 have raised three-fourths of a crop; 39 have secured about half the regular crop; 91 families have got only one-sixth to one-fourth of a crop, and 432 families of industrious Indians eager to work have not been able to raise any crop at all for lack of water.”450 The summer monsoons began in central Arizona in the middle of July 1900. But despite an inch of rain in Florence on July 19, the drought was too far along. On July 21 the Florence Tribune reported the Pima were busy “hauling away their dead cattle and horses.”451 More than 150,000 pounds of wheat and 5,000 pounds of beans were distributed that summer and Hadley continued to distribute to “the needy and helpless.” Some Pima resorted to gleaning grain from off-reservation fields. “[M]any of the Indians, by permission of the owners of the lands, gleaned the fields and gathered many lbs. of which greatly aided in their sustenance,” Hadley informed Jones.452 While the Pima suffered from drought, groundwater could still be found from ten to thirty feet deep in wells across the reservation. There was no reason, Hadley asserted, “why the Indians cannot provide water for their stock with a little labor.” This truth reflected the fact that, while the surface waters of the Gila River dried up, the subsurface flow remained. The introduction of off-reservation groundwater wells, nonetheless, 450 Reverend Sheldon Jackson and Reverend George L. Spining, Our Red Reconcentrados—Some Facts Concerning the Pima and Papago Indians of Arizona. Printed in Congressional Record, 56th Congress, 2nd Session, January 26, 1901, part 2, p. 1515.

451 “The Indian Destitution,” Florence Tribune, July 21, 1900, p. 5.

452 “Elwood Hadley to Commissioner William A. Jones, dated July 21, 1900,” p. 1, in RG 75, Office of Indian Affairs, Indian School Service, Office of Superintendent. Irrigation for the Pima Indians: Letter from the Secretary of the Interior Transmitting Copy of that Part of the Report of Indian Inspector Walter H. Graves Relating to Irrigation for the Pima Indians, Senate Document 88, 56th Congress, 2d Session (Washington DC: GPO, 1901), p. 7.

196 impacted the underground flow, with Crouse reporting the water table had already dropped between five and eight feet in Sacaton.

The loss of water was compounded due to the Pima’s manner of farming. The Pima “did not irrigate too much [at one time],” Presbyterian missionary Charles Cook explained, “because it would bake the land.” On the other hand, by irrigating a “little at a time” they could grow a good crop. Lower quantities of water dispersed over shorter intervals yielded higher quality crops since they minimized soil crusting. Cook suggested this was the reason for the superior crops of the Pima before water shortages. Crusting soil, which became more commonplace as water diminished, reduced yields.453 To survive the crisis, the Pima began cutting large quantities of mesquite wood to sell as a cash crop. More than 19,000 cords of mesquite were cut and sold in 1900.454 The Pima had been cutting and selling mesquite since 1892 when drought first began. In the span of a few years, what had once been a dense mesquite bosque stretching more than sixty-five miles along the Gila River and its tributaries was nearly destroyed. An 1896Pima calendar stick noted “the Blackwater Indians were forced to leave home to sell wood.” A year earlier, nearly five hundred cords were cut and sold “by Indians whose crops had failed.”455 By the summer of 1900, the Arizona Gazette reported more than 453 Report in the Matter of the Investigation of the Salt and Gila Rivers, p. 6.

454 “Hadley to Jones,” p. 1. The cost of the wood was $30,000, “according to the statements of the traders.” See Annual Reports of the Department of the Interior for 1900, Indian Affairs, Part I, p. 196. “Arthur Tinker, Indian Inspector, to Commissioner of Indian Affairs William Jones, dated Pima Agency, May 29, 1900,” p. 2 in RG 75, Letters Received, Office of Indian Affairs.

455 C. H. Southworth, “A Pima calendar stick,” Arizona Historical Review, July 1931 (4:2), p. 50. The calendar stick noted rations were issued for 1897-98 and 1898-99. Hackenberg, “Pima and Papago Ecological Adaptations,” p. 173.

197 thirty thousand cords of firewood, “cut and piled between Maricopa Junction and Phoenix,” were waiting to be transported to towns north of the reservation.456

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In December of 1899, Jones approved of a plan to cut “dead and down wood” within the reservation, although there was no way to prevent individuals from cutting live trees to meet the needs of their families. Hadley attempted to restrict the cutting of mesquite to an area west of the Maricopa and Phoenix Railroad (in the Santa Cruz River drainage southwest of Pima Butte). The railroad even built a special switching yard to

–  –  –

accommodate the Pima and Maricopa who sold wood.457 Between 1900 and 1905, more than fifty thousand cords of mesquite were cut and sold for use off the reservation, destroying an estimated sixty-four thousand acres of mesquite lands.458 In the dozen years of famine nearly a hundred thousand acres of mesquite was cut and sold as fire wood in surrounding off-reservation towns, causing tremendous ecological, environmental and cultural degradation on the reservation (see table 3).459 Cutting mesquite was not a new proposition. Historically, the Pima cut mesquite and the trees regenerated since they had long taproots that accessed the high water table beneath the reservation. As the water table dropped, the trees struggled to survive on the scant rainfall of the desert. As mesquite harvesting escalated and the mining of groundwater and upstream diversions increased, many of the trees were unable to

–  –  –





support. In 1898 the Board of Indian Commissioners expressed grave concern over President McKinley’s lack of attention to their rights. “We regret that so little progress has been made toward supplying the Pima” with water, the Board wrote. “A plan for their relief has been proposed, and we urged Congress to appropriate a sufficient fund to carry it out, but all we could get was a grant of $20,000 for a preliminary survey and estimate of the cost of the work.”460 In 1901, the Board pleaded for the President to act. “White settlers on the river above them have recently diverted this water. This they would not have been allowed to do without protest and legal protection if the earlier irrigators had been whites and not Indians…. These Indians are now in danger of starving because the water has been taken from them and all their crops fail.”461 The Pima grew just 12,980 bushels (779,000 pounds) of wheat in 1900, enough for just 1,067 people to subsist. The six year average (1899-1904) for grain crops totaled 23,982 bushels, less than the 25,000 bushels needed for subsistence. In addition, the Pima needed 25,000 bushels of corn, with the same period yielding just 340 bushels annually. More than 4,000 Pima faced some level of hunger. The Board of Indian Commissioners recommended President Roosevelt provide the Pima with adequate irrigation.462 While the Board’s report circulated in Washington, D.C., the Pima continued to starve. Hitchcock dispatched inspector Walter Graves to the reservation in the summer of 1900 for the express purpose of “ascertain[ing] the feasibility of a limited system of irrigation.” Graves, however, was limited to an expenditure not exceeding $30,000, an

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amount too small with which to build an irrigation system and too large to waste on a system that would wash out with the first flood. Instead of a limited system, Graves suggested the development of a project to bring the “underground waters” of the Gila River to the surface.463 The Gila River flowed until May in 1901, giving the Pima hope that they might harvest a sustaining crop. But the water again gave out before the wheat matured. “[T]he wheat shriveled up,” Hadley lamented, “and much of the grain failed to mature at all.” Some 25,000 bushels of wheat were harvested that summer. While the summer rains began to fall in July, they were insufficient to sustain Pima summer crops. “Unless the government provides ways to work them and help the old and disabled of which there are a large number, starvation awaits them.”464 Congress appropriated $40,000 to feed the Pima that year, but the people missed “their beans, bacon, coffee, and sugar,” to which they had grown accustomed during the good years.465 About 900 Pima managed to make a living at Gila Crossing, one of the few areas within the reservation that had water. Pima farmers cultivated fewer than 3,600 acres in 1900.466 Conditions were so poor in 1902 that Chief Antonio Azul and twelve village leaders petitioned Commissioner William Jones to provide them with work. “We have had very poor or no crops for the past three years,” Azul wrote. “About two thousand of us are not likely to raise any wheat this year, because we have no water…. Our Horses and cattle are dying for want of food and [having] nothing to feed them we cannot work

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them…. Many of our people have not enough to eat and to wear and don’t know what to do for a living.”467 Some “of the older Indians who were once self-supporting are now drawing rations,” sixty-eight year old Pima Juan Jose added, “while some of the Pimas are living on what little they can make by selling wood.”468 In April 1902, Congress formally acknowledged a measure of culpability for the condition of the Pima. The federal government must “provide for these Indians who have supported themselves by means of irrigation and cultivating the land from time immemorial,” a Senate Committee stressed, “in as much as the action of the Government in disposing of lands to settlers higher up the river has deprived them of the means of subsistence.”469 The following year, Azul appealed directly to President Roosevelt. Noting the Pima’s historic assistance to American emigrants and his people’s long history of irrigation farming in the desert, Azul informed the President of their desire to remain selfsufficient. In recent years, the aged chief told Roosevelt, “our water supply during low water has been taken from us by whites, and there has been much suffering for the necessaries of life.” Furthermore, Azul lamented, the Pima had experienced an agricultural loss “of over $100,000.”470 Roosevelt assembled a committee to examine the complaints of the Pima, concluding “the conditions of these people has (sic) been one of grinding poverty and that there has been extreme and wide-spread suffering among them.” While they had 467 “Antonio Azul and subchiefs to Commissioner of Indian Affairs William Jones, dated Sacaton, Arizona, March 29, 1902,” transmitted by “Hadley to Jones, dated September 13, 1902,” RG 75, Letters Received, Office of Indian Affairs.

468 Southworth interviews, statement of Juan Jose, pp. 67-68.

469 “Hearings on HR 11353, A Bill Making Appropriations for the Department of the Interior for the Fiscal Year ending June 30, 1903,” Senate Report 951, 57th Congress, 1st Session, 1 April 1902 (Washington, DC: GPO, 1902), p. 6.

470 “Antonio Azul and Twelve Subchiefs Petition to President Theodore Roosevelt, dated Pima Agency, February 28, 1903,” in RG 75, Letters Received, Office of Indian Affairs.

202 managed to retain “their self-respect and have endeavored to eke out a living,” the President acknowledged the U.S. was responsible for the “deprivation of their water,” which was the cause of their condition. For all intent and purposes, there had been “no crops for six years and most cattle herds had been sold for subsistence.”471 Eleven years of crop failures—including five consecutive years of failed winter and summer crops—had reduced the Pima to a position of government charity.

While the drought ended in 1904, the Pima continued to suffer.472 They were now dependent on federal assistance. They had cut tens of thousands of cords of mesquite, one of their most sacred and precious resources. A dying river and declining water table was destroying one of the few resources the Pima retained. The drought, followed by a series of floods, not only changed the course of the Gila River but also deepened its channel, rendering the Pima irrigation system obsolete and unusable—even if water had been available. The Pima economy, once strong and vibrant, had been destroyed. Discouraged and lacking water, the Pima could neither feed themselves nor compete with the local economy.

The Pima grew bitter “at living in the knowledge that the white man far up the river was stealing his water which had once given life to fields of grain and had established a land of plenty.”473 The result of the loss of their water was the Pima were completely displaced from their traditional economy and were no longer self-sufficient.

There was no hope they would join the growing economy of central Arizona and, without 471 Quoted in Hackenberg, p. 173.

472 See George L. Spinning and W.A. Jones, Report of Findings and Recommendations of Committee on Investigation of Conditions and Needs of Pima Indians on Gila River Reservation, Arizona, (Washington, DC: GPO, 1904).

473 Pinal County Historical Society, File Folder “Irrigation in the Florence District,” Handwritten report of C.H. Southworth on the San Carlos Water Supply, n.d. Florence, Arizona, pp. 3-4. Southworth interviews, statement of Oliver Sanderson, p. 85.

203 protection and restoration of their water, their very existence was in doubt. Only a modern irrigation system to replace the one that had been destroyed and abandoned due to water loss could restore any sense of hope.



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