History of Buckeye Canal


Although not widely known, the history of the Buckeye Canal reflects a dramatic story in the history and development of the arid regions of the American West. Land and water form the sum and substance of the history and those who sought to acquire private land and put scarce and unpredictable amounts of water on it for beneficial use formed the essence of this history.

It all started with a vision, shared by Malin M. Jackson, Joshua L. Spain, and Henry Mitchell, of a wonderful opportunity to utilize the abundance of water. They discovered this water flowing 23 miles west of the junction of the Agua Fria River and the Salt River, situated in the central part of Maricopa County.

In 1887 development work began on the irrigation system that was to supply the necessary water for what became known as the Buckeye Valley. Despite economic and environmental challenges of enormous proportions, this enterprise, ultimately, turned once desolate acreage into highly productive agricultural land.

The system was first operated as a corporation serving as a common carrier from the date of construction until 1907 when negotiations were completed whereby the Valley land owners purchased the irrigation works outright.

The Buckeye Irrigation Company, which, in 1907, after twenty years of fits and starts, emerged from the hopes and dreams of various irrigation speculators and would-be entrepreneurs, played the central role in this story of private capital harnessing the natural resources of the American West. The struggles against alternative periods of flood and drought, economic downturns, and fiscal uncertainties, combined with shifting federal land and water policies, led Buckeye Valley settlers to seek their own solutions to securing, preserving, maintaining and delivering water to their agricultural lands.

For many years all of the water for irrigation of the approximately 20,000 acres of developed land was supplied from the regular flow of the Gila River, which drains more than half of the State, and is the largest stream in the State except for the Colorado River. However, due to the many dams and up-stream users, irrigation wells had to be drilled to supply adequate water needed for all the land. At the present, some of the water supply is being purchased as effluent from the City of Phoenix and others; thus, effluent, stream flow and pumps together provide the water to meet all the demand.

We want to give homage to Malin M. Jackson, Joshua L. Spain, and Henry Mitchell for their foresight, determination and courage in developing the Valley irrigation system later known as “The Buckeye Irrigation Company.” We also want to recognize our forefathers who pioneered in the development of the Valley and through their perseverance, founded the present Valley towns and communities that are good friendly places to enjoy life.

An Environmental and Historical Context:

Land and Water

As the area’s earliest European occupants, Spanish priests, soldiers, and civilian explorers of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries took note of the inhospitable arid landscape and inadequate water supplies in the lower Gila River system. “With few major exceptions,” according to the distinguished historian of Mexico, Michael Meyer, “the water sources (the Rio Grande, the Colorado, the Fuerte, the Yaqui, and the Gila being among the most notable) which the Spanish dignified with the word “Rio” were scarcely rivers at all. Not even the largest (the Rio Grande) proved valuable for transportation and commerce either before or after the Spanish conquest. Although scientific evidence suggests that they carried a larger flow than they do now, most rivers were not perennial; they ran only part of the year, trying their best to carry the excess of sudden summer rain or capturing the excess from an exceptional winter snow cover in the surrounding mountains.” The more common pattern was for the water that reached them to sink quickly into the sandy bed and within a short distance to disappear from human sight. On occasion, however, they ran partly on the surface,

then underground, protected from the evaporative powers of the environment, to be forced to the surface again by the geological structure of a given area.[1]

To place the concept of aridity in regional and historical context, with the exception of eastern Texas, the Mexican north, which the Spanish first encountered in the sixteenth century, was generally arid, semi-arid, and, on occasion, extremely arid. The availability of water spelled the difference between desolation and abundance with countless variations between the two. This vast desert region had been occupied continuously for several thousand years, but, in the mid-sixteenth century, the population density was low, perhaps less than two people per square mile. Significantly, aridity increased as one moved west from Texas and Coahuila to New Mexico and Chihuahua, and then to Arizona and Sonora and southern California and Baja California. With the exception of the higher elevations and coastal zones of the north, evaporation was high and humidity low. The topography and natural vegetation doubtlessly reminded the first Spaniards of southern Spain. They were not surprised that the sun could blister the land and crack the soil. They fully understood the meaning of moisture deficiency and knew the critical challenges of aridity encouraged the development of a special kind of human society. They, like their successors, the nineteenth century Anglo-American pioneers, were not surprised to learn that the labor of controlling the water and putting it to beneficial use could occupy much of the working day in the continuous struggle to forge an existence.

This vast region was much more varied and capricious than its counterparts in Andalucía and Castile. It had a wider range of altitudes, soils, animal life, drought resistant vegetation, and even more unpredictable cycles of annual rainfall. The mountains were more rugged and towering, and the canyons were more impenetrable. Erosion and sedimentation bequeathed a physiography at once harsh and captivating—frightening yet alluring. The rainy season extended from July to September but few areas of the desert received more than twelve or thirteen inches of precipitation per year. In the drier parts, like the Gila River Valley, years of less than seven or eight inches were not uncommon. The mountains of this inhospitable land captured most of the moisture carried by prevailing Pacific or Gulf of Mexico winds and left the valleys parched for most of the year. The winter snow cover in the mountains was almost always insufficient to provide the lower elevations with a reliable source of water, except during the early spring thaw.[2]

If these rivers, like the Gila, did not always carry sufficient water to reflect the desert sun, they nevertheless proved amazingly attractive, drawing the surrounding animal life and providing a modicum of moisture required for desert flora. It was along rivers like the Gila, arroyos, and quixotic streams that most Indian populations (like the departed Hohokam) adapted to desert life. The alluvial plains, ranging in width from a few feet to several miles were rich, and an unreliable source of water. Here, too, Spanish towns, missions, and presidios would cling to a precarious existence. And, as these two groups—the Spaniards and the Indians—were forced by physical and historical circumstance into increasingly closer contact; precious water soon came to dominate the varied contests for power and survival.

Indeed, from the time of Fr. Eusebio Francisco Kino’s extension of the “Rim of Christendom” into the lower Santa Cruz and Gila Valleys in the 1690s, the Gila River played a prominent role as a transportation route—a land route–in furthering Spanish aims.[3] Often, diarists noted the remnants of the Hohokam civilization that marked much of the lower reaches of the Gila from its confluence with the Salt. Sergeant Juan Bautista de Escalante, on a reconnaissance of the Gila River Basin, in November of 1697, took note of ruins on the north side of the “irregular” river: “On the 18th we continued west over an extensive plain, sterile and without pasture; and at the end of five miles, we discovered, on the other side of the river (the Gila), other houses and edifices. The sergeant…swam over with two companions to examine them; and they said the walls were two yards in thickness, like those of a fort; and that there were other ruins about, but all of ancient date.”[4]

Later, in 1775-76, Don Juan Bautista de Anza led a colonizing expedition from Tucson to San Francisco. Fr. Pedro Font, who irritated Anza greatly, nevertheless kept the best diary of this historic expedition which followed the Santa Cruz to the Gila, then down to its confluence with the Colorado River. The Gila River portion of the journey brought forth noteworthy observations of the its flow. According to Font, there were Indian agricultural systems diverting water, dry stretches, and occasional deep reaches that coursed slowly down the streambed. In effect, the Gila, in the fall of 1775, was intermittent and erratic, and in many reaches, dry.[5] References to the Gila from the period of the Mexican Revolution (1810-1821) and through the Mexican period (1821-1848) vary little from the accounts of anemic flow with occasional destructive flooding and spring freshets.[6]

Historians of American expansionism are unanimous in their interpretation of the primary objective in the War with Mexico (1846-1848): the acquisition of California. With the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo (1848) and the subsequent Gadsden Purchase (1853) affirming American title to the land bisected by the Gila River, much changed in a legal, political, and social context. Yet, the Gila continued to serve, as it had for centuries, as an overland transportation route. For the Mormon Battalion in 1846, and shortly thereafter for thousands of gold seekers, it worked well as a thoroughfare to California as the westward tilt of American civilization commenced in earnest. And with that, research in collections detailing American settlement and organization of these western territories lends insight into nature of the Gila River during the period 1848-1912. One of the largest and important groups of records created in relation to the Gila River prior to statehood were those of the U.S. government, particularly federal surveys conducted by the U.S. General Land Office, predecessor to the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.

A Nineteenth-Century Federal Context:

Land Policy and the Arid West

From its origins in the mid-1880s and to the advent of Arizona statehood on February 14, 1912, Buckeye, Arizona grew and developed under the aegis of federal land policy rooted in the origins of the Republic. Federal land law and its intent created impacts, local government structures, and private-public collaborations in this arid portion of the far Southwest that cannot be overestimated. As originally conceived, there was an impressive coherence to American land policy. The Land Ordinance of 1785, promulgated prior to the ratification of the U.S. Constitution four years hence, created procedures for the acquisition and distribution of public lands. For example, after Indians ceded title to their lands to the federal government—whether by treaty, force, or coercion—surveyors would mark the land off into giant squares six miles on a side, and then subdivide them into sections of one square mile each. Each section, in turn, would contain four quarter-sections of 160 acres each. The federal government would then sell this land, a tier of townships at a time, at public auction. Any unsold land could be purchased at the land office at $2.00 an acre but this price was reduced to $1.25 an acre in 1820.

Significantly, the basic premise—left unquestioned until the end of the nineteenth century—was that the land system could best serve the country’s interest by putting public land into private hands. In effect, the federal government served as a real estate agent rather than a landlord. Incorporating the mutually reinforcing visions of Thomas Paine and Thomas Jefferson, the orderly sale of public lands and their transformation into small farms would ensure a prosperous republican future for the United States; the American agrarian ideal. With public lands available, the United States would not imitate Europe and become a country of wealthy landlords and poor tenants. Small freeholders would improve the land and thus create the wealth that would spur the economic development of the country as a whole.

Another relevant aspect to this policy concerned certain public benefits. Not only would the land system promote the creation of prosperous republican society, but also it would endow society with some basic public infrastructure of schools, roads, and canals. Under the Ordinance of 1785, the government reserved one section (number 16) in each township to provide income for the support of schools. After 1848, Congress added a second section (number 36) for additional support of schools. Territories and states sometimes leased these lands and used the income for schools, but more often than not they sold them with the permission of Congress.[7]

Theoretically, this was an elegant system. As Americans applied it on the lands across the Appalachians, they created a checkerboard landscape. However, Congress repeatedly tinkered with it and between 1789 and 1834; it passed 375 different land laws. It changed the minimum purchase, offered credit, and then decided to rescind credit sales. Despite the well-intentioned modifications, the land system never matched reality.

Settlers moved faster than the surveyors and when the latter arrived to conduct their business, they often found settlers in place. The settlers were, in fact, squatters, and their actions were illegal; they lived on land to which they had no title. The political problem created demanded government action and early nineteenth century politicians took sharply contrasting views of the situation. To some, they were lawless vagabonds. To others, especially eastern and southern Whigs, prior to the Civil War, squatters not only used property to which they held no title, but also they subverted the civilized communities that the laws were intended to create. To these conservative law and order types, the West would become a region of thinly scattered barbarians who took their livings off the richest lands but who were unable to support the essential institutions of the Republic. These politicians sought to forestall the West’s descent into anarchy.

Westerners and most Democrats saw squatters differently and viewed them not as outlaws and criminals but noble pioneers of the American westward movement. If the squatters broke the law, they nevertheless fulfilled its intent. The law intended to create a nation of capital-poor farmers who used the land to produce the very revenue necessary to buy the land. Squatters raised crops, sold them, and only “borrowed” the land necessary to purchase it. This activity cost the government nothing and allowed people to acquire property. It also prevented the growth of the landholding elite. Squatters, their supporters suggested, actually maintained the social equality of the country.

At this juncture, the squatters and their political supporters won the battle. Democrats in Congress, led by Senator Thomas Hart Benton of Missouri, succeeded in passing temporary preemption acts in the 1830s and then a permanent preemption act in 1841. Preemption, put simply, was legalized squatting. Under these acts, squatters had first right to buy up to 160 acres of land on which they had made improvements. When the government was ready to offer the land for sale, a squatter had to appear at the land office and pay the minimum price before the auction.

The congressional debate over land law, in many ways, reflected the very nature of American society and how it would replicate itself in new territories. To forge a workable land policy Congress had to somehow agree on a common vision for American society and land served as sort of a seal of approval for social consensus. For example, when Americans agreed that soldiers were needed for war, they gave them land grants to encourage enlistment. When they agreed that veterans should be rewarded, they gave them land grants. When Congress agreed that the government should make rivers navigable or aid the states in building canals in order to facilitate commerce, it gave the states grants of lands that could be sold to pay for the improvement.

In effect, in what was a capital short and land rich country, Congress used its most fulsome asset, land, instead of money, to secure agree-upon public goals.[8] Because Americans believed at how they distributed the public domain determined the kind of society they were creating, land policies, especially after 1850, deadlocked over the fundamental nature of American society. As the North and South struggled for dominance in the Union, they clashed over the distribution of land in the West. Southern congressman in the 1850s opposed any attempts at homestead legislation that would give free land to small farmers. “Better for us,” declared one Mississippian, “that these territories should remain a waste, a howling wilderness, trod only by red hunters than be settled.”[9] Southerners believed that a homestead policy would only increase the number of “free farms with Yankees and foreigners pre-committed to resist the participancy (sic) of slaveholders in the public domain.” Thus as Civil War historians assert, in the 1850s proposals for homestead acts, land grants for a Pacific railroad, and grants to establish agricultural and mechanical colleges fell victim to sectional divisions. These enlightened initiatives promised to benefit the North at the expense of the South.

Legal Changes:

The Homestead Act of 1862 and its Successors

When the South seceded from the Union and left Congress in the hands of northern Republicans did changes in the land system proceed. Socially and economically, the Republican party of the 1860s aspired to be the voice of a united homogenous North that maintained a utopian capitalist vision wherein labor was rewarded, individual opportunity prevented class distinctions from arising, and progress and growth were the national destiny. Republican congressmen, who spoke for northern farmers and workingmen as much as for northern capitalists, modified the land system to insure the replication of modern commercial farmers in the West.

During the Civil War the Republican land program revolved around three bills: the Homestead Act, the Pacific Railroad Grant, and the Morrill Act. These three laws, all passed in 1862, were supposed to complement and mutually reinforce each other. The centerpiece, the Homestead Act, granted 160 acres of the public domain to citizens and non-citizens alike who would live upon the land and farm it. Northern farmers and labor reformers who followed the theories of George Henry Evans had long urged such a proposal for free grants of land to the children of northern farmers to begin lives as independent landowners in the West.[10] By draining off unemployed workers, Evans theorized, the law would simultaneously raise the wages of eastern workers.

Accompanying the Homestead Act was an act providing a land grant for a Pacific railroad. The immediate goal, of course, was to tie the Pacific Coast to the Union, but Congress also recognized that railroads were necessary to give the farms provided by the Homestead Act access to markets. Congress acted quickly and granted lands and loans to the first transcontinental railroad entity in 1862 and made similar grants to other railroads in ensuing years.

The final part of the Republican triumvirate was the Morrill Act, which provided land grants for states to create a public system of higher education designed to serve farmers and skilled workers. Congress granted lands that lay almost exclusively in the West, and the states could then sell them to fund state universities that would provide the new territories and states education for progress and advancement. In the Homestead Act, Congress expected the American future to duplicate the American past. Congress embedded the ideal of a 160-acre farm in the Homestead Act. It was an ideal more suited to the East than the West and more appropriate for the American past than the American future. Without irrigation, a quarter section farm in Arizona was not a ticket to independence but to starvation. Congress presumed too, that all the land would be farmed and it made no exceptions or provisions for acquiring land for mining, logging, or grazing.

The terms of the Homestead Act were generous and straightforward; 160 acres of free land to any settler who paid a small filing fee and resided on and improved the land for five years. If after six months of residency the settler wished to buy the land for $1.25 per acre, he or she could do so. As it pertained to Buckeye settlers, purchasing the land was appealing to those interested in rapid development because once a settler obtained title the farm could be mortgaged and the money then used either to improve the homestead or to buy more land. Originally, settlers could only homestead surveyed land, but in 1880, Congress extended the act to unsurveyed public domain land, thus signaling their intent to place as much public domain as possible into the private sector.

Advocates, like Horace Greeley, the leading Republican editor of the period, wrote in his New York Tribune, that the act embodied “one of the most beneficent and vital reforms ever attempted in any age or clime—a reform calculated to diminish sensibly the number of paupers and idlers and increase the proportion of working, independent, and self-subsisting farmers in the land evermore.”[11]

Congress continued to adapt land policy to the arid West and it crafted an even more realistic policy to the desert west in 1877 with the passage of the first Desert Land Act. Under this law a person could obtain 640 acres of land—a full section—in any of eleven western states and territories for $1.25 per an acre if he or she agreed to irrigate it with three years of filing. The law, however, reflected the general American ignorance of irrigation. No settler could bring 640 acres into irrigation within three years. Instead of helping settlers, the law was a boon to speculators.[12]

The Desert Land Act at least indicated a willingness to recognize the need for irrigation on western land, but Congress continued to think of farm development as largely an individual effort. Proponents of the legislation remained confident that once given a larger land grant by the government, settlers would find some way to irrigate the land. They believed that western farmers, aided by government land grants, would subdue the West as earlier generations of farmers had subdued the East.

For nearly one hundred years, then, federal land policy, in its various forms and incarnations, encouraged the transfer of the public domain to private hands, thus encouraging the development of a tax paying civilization. In the arid West in general, and in central Arizona in particular, the acquisition of land and the development of scarce, yet valuable, water resources in the late nineteenth century, would create a dynamic situation that shaped the early development of Buckeye, Arizona and form its economic future. Private enterprise and initiative, with the assistance of reactive federal policies encouraging settlement and individual initiative, influenced greatly the worlds of the earliest settlers in Buckeye, Arizona Territory.

Federal Surveys:

Buckeye Irrigation District, Land and Water to Arizona Statehood

Indeed, when the United States became the owner of the vast territory acquired from Mexico at the end of the Mexican War in 1848, they were anxious to determine the value of these new lands. Moreover, they hoped to prepare the region for an orderly system of settlement. Thus, the federal government undertook formal surveys conducted by the U.S. General Land Office. Because of the nature and specific detail of those surveys, the original plats of the area near the Gila River and the related survey field notes contain much information about the nature of the land and that stream.[13]

The U.S. government, seeking accuracy and consistency, issued a series of manuals beginning in 1851, to direct surveyor’s in their work. The books’ provisions and how they changed over time, provided insight into the Gila’s navigability. The 1851 Instructions to the Surveyor General of Oregon: Being a Manual for Field Operations directed how some of the earliest public land surveys were done in the American West. The U.S. General Land Office adopted this manual to standardize survey work in California and Oregon which were the most significant areas of western American settlement in the 1840s. The manual was the first formal federal survey handbook to provide guidance to surveyors mapping the public domain acquired from Mexico. Previously, the government issued directions to surveyors in the field on an individual basis through Surveyors General assigned to specific territories.[14]

The first manual directed that public lands were to be subdivided into a series of ever-smaller grids within grids to allow the precise location of individual tracts. This system accomplished two things; it facilitated the disposal of the public domain in an orderly fashion and it recorded the characteristics of that land in specific detail. The largest grids were to be six miles square and were to be created by the creation of township and range lines. The process provided for the establishment of these large blocks were derived from the same procedures used in earlier public land territories and states. The size of the blocks, moreover, were based on Thomas Jefferson’s original estimate that each block, composed of many small farms, would be the proper size to support a town at its center.[15]

Surveyors were also required to maintain field notes that were to include any notable features of the land including streams, lakes, roads, irrigations ditches, or other prominent landmarks. Furthermore, the 1851 instructions contained several provisions that were relevant to navigable bodies of water and other obstructions and therefore were important in considering the navigability or non-navigability of the Gila River. First, the instructions stated that when surveyors encountered impassable obstacles, such as ponds, swamps, marshes, lakes, rivers, creeks, etc.” they were to extend the survey line from the opposite side of the obstacle using triangulation or other surveying techniques. Also, they were to take note of all of the particulars involved in the process.[16]

Importantly, Land Office administrators provided surveyors with specific instructions when they encountered navigable bodies of water. Special survey markers called “meander corner posts” were to be “planted at all those points where the township or section lines intersect the banks of such rivers, bayous, lakes, or islands, as are by law directed to be meandered.”[17] Similarly, where township, range, section, or fractional section lines encountered bodies of water, witness posts were to be established if those watercourses were non-navigable.[18]

The U.S. General Land Office revised its manual in 1855 and 1864, with the latter year modifying instructions concerning how surveyor dealt with navigable and non-navigable bodies of water. Because surveys in Arizona began in 1868, it was these set of instructions that helped inform land policy and governed how bodies of water in the Arizona Territory were recorded.[19] Significantly, regarding meanders and navigable streams, the 1864 amendments added some important criteria to which streams would be meandered: “Rivers not embraced in the class denominated “navigable” under the statute…but which are well defined natural arteries of internal communication, and have a uniform width, will be meandered on one bank.”[20]

In May-June 1907, as Arizona approached statehood, a resurvey of township 1 north, range 2 west was completed by John F. Hesse. He recorded no meander data in his field notes, but indicated that the stream was eighteen inches to two feet deep. In his general description he wrote that the soil was “1st rate, and if supplied with water would raise abundant crops….The southwestern cor (sic). Of the township is settled and is well watered by the Buckeye Canal which runs through the township.” Equally compelling evidence concerning the marginal nature of the Gila River in 1907, was that the plat of this resurvey maintains no meander lines and no surveyor was identified as having done meanders. Additionally, no meander data appeared in the margins of the plat. Finally, roads appeared paralleling the river, and several irrigation ditches are portrayed, including the Buckeye Canal. Clearly, the water was being put to agricultural use and transportation was conducted on land and not water.[21]

As part of their duties, federal surveyors assessed and reassessed the navigability or non-navigability of the Gila River from its confluence with the Salt River to its mouth on the Colorado River between 1868 and 1912. Moreover, the manuals and instructions were precise about how they conducted their work and how a navigable body of water was distinguished from a non-navigable one. The areas along the Gila River were surveyed and resurveyed many times, at varying times of the year, in different years, and by many individuals. Without variation from an overall theme, the repeated conclusion was that the Gila River was a non-navigable stream.

Other agencies, state and federal, as well as other sources—reminiscences, newspaper accounts, and independent studies—further attest to the Gila’s status at statehood. While the U.S. General Land Office records provide important evidence, the published and unpublished accounts of the U.S. Geological Survey and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (this agency was called the U.S. Reclamation Service for the period under consideration), further affirm and duplicate the conclusions of Land Office surveyors that the Gila’s essential nature. These agencies, both within the Department of Interior, were involved primarily with water resource development in the American West during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and their records cover the nature of the Gila River before and at the time of Arizona statehood.[22]

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and its predecessor agencies began analyses of the West’s resources in earnest in the early 1870s. In 1871, for example, George Montague Wheeler, an ambitious engineer in the Engineer Corps in the U.S. Army, commenced what became known as the United States Geographical Surveys Beyond the 100th Meridian. Wheeler’s Survey was an attempt to divide the West into ninety-four enormous geodetic quadrangles and within this framework to construct, in systematic fashion, a definitive map of the country. Each of these measures, though necessarily involving a degree of duplication, was thought by the War Department to be important in its own right and the best service it could afford to the cause of western expansion. In many ways, Wheeler’s Survey, which was commissioned to accomplish the tasks outlined above in gaining topographical information about Nevada and Arizona, also assessed the region’s resources, climate, and other qualities that might affect homesteaders under the Homestead Act of 1862.[23]

In his report to Congress, Wheeler noted several streams in Arizona, including the Gila. He omitted any mention of navigability for this river, but commented that boats had made it upriver all the way to Camp Mohave. That observation notwithstanding, Wheeler remained pessimistic about reliable river transportation in the arid Southwest: “River transportation upon our western coast, is to a great extent, a failure….that furnish somewhat irregular avenues of connection with the interior, no streams of considerable magnitude exist; river transportation, even in this very American age, loses its great power when pitted against the railroads.”[24]

Thereafter, the USGS annual reports addressed the conditions of rivers in the arid west and in 1888, the agency’s director, John Wesley Powell, commenced the “Powell Irrigation Surveys.” The sum and substance of these surveys found their way into the annual USGS reports and some representative selections reflect the nature of the Gila River at the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth century. The Twelfth Annual Report of the U.S. Geological Survey, published in 1891, for example, addresses directly the Gila and its erratic nature: “water is derived from the Gila River and its tributaries by means of canals and ditches, which distribute it to the fields of each farmer…these fields fluctuate greatly, being at times subject to sudden floods, especially during summer rains, when they often sweep out bridges, dams and canal head works, while at other times they may diminish until the water almost disappears.”[25]

Concerning floods, the report referenced above described massive torrents and dramatic shifts in the flow of the river: “The floods of the Gila are usually short and violent….During a freshet the river rises in some places 8 to 12 feet, and increases in width from 300 feet to a mile and one-half. It is sometimes impassable for weeks, and has the appearance in places of a sea of muddy water. The season of low water occurs during the months of June and July, the river bed being then dry in places.”[26]

In addition to annual reports, USGS published a series of well-known “Water Supply Papers.” These studies further affirm the erratic, undependable, and unpredictable nature of the Gila. Report of Progress of Stream Measurements for the Calendar Year 1905, Part XI, Colorado River Drainage Above Yuma, U.S. Geological Survey Water Supply Paper No. 175,[27] revealed that the river “flows in a channel fully 1 mile north of the original channel…At every flood the channel shifts. The valley at its narrowest is half a mile wide and the waters may occupy any part or all of it…. [the river] contains an enormous amount of mud and sand. At times the waves of sand traveling along the bed of the stream are so large, the current so swift, and the stream so shallow, that the water is broken into a uniform succession of waves 2 feet high and over.”[28]

Doubtlessly, the most significant and detailed description and analysis of flooding on the Gila was published as U.S. Geological Survey Water Supply Paper No. 162, published in 1906, adding further information about the Gila’s eclectic and erratic character. Destructive Floods in the United States in 1905, with a Discussion of Flood Discharge and Frequency Index to Flood Literature assessed and analyzed the pernicious floods that occurred throughout the western U.S., including five floods on the Gila. In assessing the five floods of 1905, the authors asserted, “The total run-off for the five months is 2,957,400 acre-feet. To appreciate the magnitude of the run-off on this stream during this period it is necessary to remember that this stream is usually dry at this place about ten months of the year….[The streambed] not only scours out during a flood and fills in after it, but [the channel] changes from one side of the bottom to the other….This continual changing of the river bed has made it exceedingly difficult to secure reliable estimates of the rate of flow, and some of the estimates may be largely an error.”[29]

Additional compelling evidence concerning the Gila is found in U.S. Geological Survey Water Supply Paper No. 1049. This study provided an overall summary of the records of surface waters for the lower Colorado River basin between 1888-1938; a fifty year period embracing statehood. Importantly, these records included records for the Gauging station near Dome, Arizona (Gila City), close to the mouth of the Gila River. There, the discharge ranged from nothing to well over 100,000 cubic feet per second.[30]

Final, yet equally telling, dimensions to the USGS materials pertaining to the Gila are the unpublished records. The notes and the unpublished progress reports of George M. Wheeler, mentioned earlier, exemplify further the nature of the Gila up to the time of statehood.[31] Later unpublished USGS records confirmed Gila’s inability to support commercial navigation. The Director, writing on February 14, 1911—exactly one year prior to statehood—reported upon the application of the Southwestern Arizona Fruit and Irrigation Company to dig a canal from the Gila. Referring to a survey made earlier and a subsequent report concerning another canal company, the director concluded: “The same conditions exist regarding the Southwestern Arizona Irrigation Company’s project, and in brief are that no power possibilities exist, but the sufficiency of the water supply is extremely questionable. On account of the appropriations above, the only water available at this site is that of occasional extreme floods, and the underflow and seepage water from upstream, the amount of which is very uncertain. The proposed reservoir is of such small capacity as to have little value for storing flood waters.”[32]

E. C. Murphy’s USGS survey—an unpublished report dated April 1915 on potential hydroelectric power sites in Arizona–depicts the Gila’s status at statehood. The report was based on data accumulated immediately prior to statehood but drafted after Arizona joined the Union. Moreover, this report had been written to conform to the 1910 Enabling Act allowing Arizona to join the other forty-six states.[33] Part 2 of the report dealt with the Gila River. Murphy noted that the Gila drained about 70,000 square miles in Arizona, New Mexico, and Mexico but allowed that it had “a very small run-off at the mouth except during very wet periods.” He continued, “On account of the erratic character of the precipitation, the use of the water for irrigation, and the depth and porosity of the valley, the minimum flow in the valleys along the Gila is very small and uncertain.” He added: “In all these valleys there is no surface flow at certain places during the low water period of dry years. The surface flow may be 0 at one place, there may be several second feet at some distance below due to seepage from irrigated lands, or a reduction in cross section of the ground water channel.”[34]

In assessing water supply for hydroelectric power, Murphy viewed the Gila with a degree of skepticism. The river, he explained, “was partly an underground stream rising and sinking according to local formations. There is abundant evidence of this fact from Clifton…to Gila Bend, Arizona. In each of the valleys between these places the Gila is dry for a few days nearly every year…” He elaborated upon this: “The stream flows through a broad, flat valley in a broad, sandy channel. It is dry for a month or longer each year at Florence, and below Gila Bend it is dry all the time except for the large and long continued floods.”[35] The implications of Murphy’s narrative can scarcely be ignored; the Gila River was an erratic, unreliable stream.

Adding to this volume of evidence are the records of the U.S. Reclamation Service during the period under discussion. Following congressional passage of the New lands Reclamation Act (1902), many of the duties of the hydrographic branch of USGS passed to the newly created Reclamation Service. The new agency was charged with the responsibility of selecting reservoir and flood control locations throughout the West, as well as constructing the attendant dams and irrigation works. The Gila, like most western streams, received Reclamation Service scrutiny.[36]

Significantly, the first Annual Report of the Reclamation Service, published in 1902, maintained that irrigation in the drainage basin of the both the Gila and Salt, had already been developed to such a point that there was insufficient water for lands. The initial report, furthermore, was representative of subsequent reports throughout the decade and specified that the Gila was a particularly poor candidate for reclamation efforts: “The sources from which water may be obtained for reclamation of the arid lands in Arizona are, taken as a whole, the most erratic or irregular in the entire country. There are comparatively few rivers that flow throughout the year. Most of the tributaries of Gila River, beginning in the mountains as perennial streams, lost their waters in the broad open valleys.”[37]

A U.S. Department of Agriculture study corroborates the records of the U.S. Land Office, USGS, and Reclamation Service. The University of Arizona’s Agricultural Experiment Station, which was overseen by the Department of Agriculture, undertook a study that was completed in 1911. It addressed Arizona’s major industries, transportation, climate, water supply, and agricultural land. Crafted by R. H. Forbes, this report first addressed the territory’s industries, and then turned to the transportation entities. The transportation section was noteworthy because it bore upon the Gila River at about the time of statehood. “By reason of its isolation,” Forbes mused, “Arizona is dependent upon its transportation facilities to an unusual degree. These consist chiefly of three great railroad systems, which, in order of their construction, are the Southern Pacific, the Santa Fe, and the El Paso and Southwestern. The Santa Fe crosses the northern tier of counties from east to west, and with its branches opens up the mining and lumbering districts of the more elevated half of the Territory.” Importantly, he added, “The Southern Pacific runs a roughly parallel course south of the Gila River, and its feeders tap the rich mining districts and the warmer irrigated valleys at lower altitudes. The El Paso and Southwestern road affords an outlet for the copper mines of southeastern Arizona and northern Mexico. A few steamboats of shallow draft ply the Colorado River, and in remote localities freighting with teams is still practiced.” Thus, as of 1911, Forbes listed only the Colorado as having any type of regular navigation.[38]

Forbes also addressed directly the nature of surface streams in his 1911 report. The Gila, he wrote, was “a comparatively small and irregular stream, due to its arid watershed and uncertain rainfall, although occasionally it carries enormous floods. Since the appropriation of its upstream waters for irrigation its lower courses (from the confluence of the Salt to the Colorado) are often dry for months in succession….It may be stated summarily that the fluctuations in water supply become more and more extreme from the source to the mouth of the Gila.”[39]

Another layer of proof concerning the Gila’s non-navigability concerns U.S. congressional actions regarding homestead laws, particularly the Homestead Act of 1862 and the Desert Land Act of 1877 noted earlier, that were designed to facilitate the settlement of newly acquired land in the West. These laws resulted in thousands of federal patents being issued to settlers who were determined to establish homes and farms in the arid reaches of the West.[40]

Importantly, from 1862 to 1912, none of the federal patents that overlay the Gila River maintained any provisions for reserving the bed of the river to Arizona. And, according to Douglas Littlefield, “There is no evidence that Arizona, upon statehood, chose lands in lieu of those previously patented upon the river bed—which the state would have been entitled to do had the river been navigable.[41]

In the years following statehood in 1912, Arizona’s officials confronted the enormous task of disposing millions of acres given to the state by the federal government. To facilitate this, the Arizona State Legislature, in special session in 1915, created an initial version of the Public Land Code, laying out the manner in which the state would dispose of its public land. In Township 1 North, Range 1 West, Section 32, State Patent number 219, for example, was sold to the Buckeye Irrigation Company on September 24, 1918. The appraisers’ report indicated that the “intake and sand gates of the Buckeye Irrigation Co’s canal lie upon this tract.” The application also reported that “the grazing land is in the river bottom.” Moreover, the “Gila River flows over south part of forty.” These comments make it clear that the Gila River ran through this parcel. Nevertheless, the state did not reserve any acreage for its sovereign rights under the Equal Footing Doctrine, patenting the entire forty acres for the company. A contiguous tract, Patent 6353, south of the Buckeye Irrigation Company’s land, also did not have any acreage reserved for the state’s sovereign rights. Finally, the only patent overlaying the river in Section 31 was to James L. King by the State of Arizona on March 30, 1978. King received 159.66 acres lying in the north half of the northeast corner. Notably, the Gila River ran directly through this parcel, yet none of its acreage was reserved for the sovereign right of Arizona. These facts indicate that the Buckeye Canal Company and the private lands it served were uncontested in their status. [42]

In nearly one hundred separate patents that the federal government granted to private citizens and private entities, in not one case did any of these patents or the supporting files suggest that acreage was withheld due to possible ownership of the bed by the State of Arizona. In each case where patents were applied for, several parties expressed implicit opinions on the navigability of the Gila through a request for lands through which the river flowed. They were awarded these lands. Significantly, literally hundreds of people—federal employees, patentees, and witnesses made judgments concerning the Gila River’s navigability, or rather, its non-navigability.

Similarly, the patents awarded by the State of Arizona to private citizens and parties, like the Buckeye Irrigation Company, for land through which the river flowed provided another example and perspective. Indeed, if the state believed it owned the bed and banks of the river, it certainly would have considered the stream’s navigability in disposing of those lands. Yet, according to State Land Department records, there were more than sixty instances in which Arizona chose to sell lands that lay in the riverbed. Thus, collectively, federal patents, Congressional grants to Arizona, and state patents to individuals and private parties, lead to the conclusion that the federal government and the state government considered the Gila River non-navigable and the Buckeye Irrigation Canal was a private sector entity.


[1] Michael C. Meyer, Water in the Hispanic Southwest: A Social and Legal History, 1550-1850 (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1984) 23. See, also, Roger Dunbier, The Sonora Desert: Its Geography, Economy, and People (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1970). For its importance to the natural and human history of the American Southwest, the Gila River has inspired surprisingly few books. Two of the best known are Edwin Corle The Gila: River of the Southwest (New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1951) and Ross Calvin, River of the Sun (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1951). Corle’s book is useful but dated, reflecting an ideology of conquering the wilderness. Other noteworthy accounts are M. H. Salmon, Gila Descending (Silver City, New Mexico, 1985); Edmund Andrews, et. al., Colorado River Ecology and Dam Management, (Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press, 1991); Arizona Rivers Coalition, Arizona Rivers: Lifeblood of the Desert (Phoenix: Arizona Rivers Coalition, 1991); Richard L. Berkman and W. Kip Viscusi, Damming the West (New York: Grossman, 1973); Charles Bowden, Killing the Hidden Waters (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1977); Philip L. Fradkin, A River No More: The Colorado River and the West (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1981): Paul Horgan, The Great River: The Rio Grande in North American History (New York: Rinehart and Company, 1954); H.B.N. Hyne, The Ecology of Running Waters (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1977); Ed Marston, Water Made Simple (Covelo, CA: Island Press, 1987); Frank H. Olmstead, Gila River Flood Control (Washington, D.C.: Sen. Doc. No. 436, 65 Cong. 3 Sess, Government Printing Office, 1919); Rich Johnson, The Central Arizona Project, 1918-1968 (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1977); Tim Palmer, Endangered Rivers and the Conservation Movement (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1986); John Wesley Powell, Lands of the Arid Region of the United States (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1879); Marc Reisner, Cadillac Desert: The American West and its Disappearing Water (New York: Viking Press, 1986); Salt River Project, Taming of the Salt (Phoenix: Salt River Project, 1979); John Walton, Western Times and Water Wars (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1992); Frank Welsh, How to Create a Water Crisis (Boulder: Johnson Books, 1985); Donald Worster, Rivers of Empire (New York: Pantheon, 1985). Return
[2]See Thomas D. Hall, Social Change in the Southwest, 1350-1880 (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1989); Donald W. Meinig, Southwest: Three Peoples in Geographical Change, 1600-1970 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1971). Specialists in Southwest history, who are numerous, have yet to concur on cultural consequences or chronology, and the overall prehistory of North America. The field undergoes substantial revision every decade. The longtime dean of Southwestern archeology is Emil Haury, who was one of the first scholars to present large-scale studies of the region. See Emil Haury, Hohokam: Desert Farmers and Craftsmen (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1976); Emil Haury, Prehistory of the American Southwest (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1986); Emil Haury, The Archeology and Stratigraphy of Ventana Cave, Arizona (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1966). Also, one should consult Suzanne K. Fish, et. al., eds., The Marana Community in the Hohokam World (Tucson: Anthropological Papers of the University of Arizona No. 56, 1993). Return
[3]The literature is extensive concerning Spanish exploration in the region. Without question Herbert Eugene Bolton’s work during the first half of the twentieth century set the standard. See, for example, Herbert Eugene Bolton, Anza’s California Expeditions 5 vols. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1930); Herbert Eugene Bolton, “The Early Explorations of Father Garces on the Pacific Slope,” The Pacific Ocean in History, ed. Morris Stevens, (MacMillan: New York, 1917); Herbert Eugene Bolton, Guide to the Materials for the History of the United States in the Principal Archives in Mexico (Washington, D.C.: Carnegie Institution, 1913); Herbert Eugene Bolton, “The Mission as a Frontier Institution in the Spanish American Colonies,” American Historical Review 23 (1917), 42-61; Herbert Eugene Bolton, Rim of Christendom: A Biography of Eusebio Francisco Kino, Pacific Coast Pioneer (New York: MacMillan, 1936). See, also, Edward H. Spicer, Cycles of Conquest: The Impact of Spain, Mexico, and the United States on the Indians of the Southwest, 1533 to 1960 (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1962); Francisco Garces, O.F.M., Diario de exploraciones en Arizona y California en los Anos de 1775 y 1776, ed. John Galvin (Mexico, D.F.: Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico, 1976). Return
[4]See Emil W. Haury, Harold S. Gladwin, E.B. Sayles, and Winifred Gladwin, Excavations at Snaketown, Material Culture (Globe, Arizona: Medallion Papers No. 25, 1937); SWCA Consultants, Arizona Geological Survey, and Arizona State Land Department, Gila River Navigability Study (Phoenix, 1996), IV-1; John L. Kessel, Friars, Soldiers, and Reformers: Hispanic Arizona and the Sonora Mission Frontier, 1767-1856 (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1976), 1-10. Return
[5] Kessell, Friars, Soldiers, and Reformers, 90-115; Arizona State Land Department, Gila River Navigability, IV-1; Sidney B. Brinckerhoff and Odie B. Faulk, Lancers for the King: A Study of the Military System of Northern New Spain, with a Translation of the Royal Regulations of 1772 (Tempe: Arizona Historical Foundation, 1965). The expedition, comprising roughly 200 people, traveled from Horcasitas, Sonora to San Francisco via the Gila River. The party traveled the Gila from the Casa Grande ruins to the Colorado River. Return
[6] A solid source for this transitional period is James Officer, Hispanic Arizona, 1536-1856 (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1987). Also, a good general source is Thomas Sheridan, Arizona: A History (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1996). Return
[7]Federal officials were then to invest the proceeds in a permanent interest-bearing school fund. Congress, in fact, later applied this technique of granting lands to other social purposes. It granted lands to the states to fund the building of canals, the dredging and clearing of rivers, and building of wagon roads. See for example, Richard White, “”It’s Your Misfortune and None of My Own:’ A New History of the American West (Norman: University of Oklahama Press, 1996) 138-139; Jon A. Souder and Sally K. Fairfax, State Trust Lands: History, Management, and Sustainable Use (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1996) chapters 1 and 2. Return
[8]Interestingly, the federal government facilitated this process by issuing land scrip; the nineteenth century equivalent of food stamps. Issued by the government, it could be redeemed in exchange for a specific commodity: land. Unlike food stamps, however, scrip could be legally traded and sold. When Congress distributed script to veterans, few of them actually took up land on the public domain. Most sold it to others and a regular market in land scrip developed. Speculators interested in western lands purchased scrip because it sold less than $1.25 an acre; a price less than that mandated by Congress. Return
[9]Quoted in White, A New History of the American West, 140. Return
[10]British born George Henry Evans was a radical reformer who joined the Working Men’s Movement of 1829 and the trade union movements of the 1830s. In 1844, Evans spearheaded the organizing of the National Reform Association which lobbied Congress and recruited supporters with the slogan, “Vote Yourself a Farm.” Between 1844 and 1862 Congress received petitions signed by 55,000 Americans calling for free lands for homesteaders. Evans published and edited a series of radical newspapers, including Workingman’s Advocate (1829-36, 1844-45) The Man (1834), The Radical (1841-43), People’s Rights (1844), and Young America (1845-49). He died in 1855, prior to enactment of the Homestead Act. The best recent book that places Evans work in perspective is Jamie Bronstein, Land Reform and Working Class Experience in Britain and the United States (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1999). Return
[11]New York Tribune, August 22, 1864. See also White, It’s Your Misfortune and None of My Own, 143. Return
[12]At the end of three years speculators easily avoided the intent of the law and completed their claim. The original Desert Land Act of 1876 called for adequate irrigation but did not specify how officials of the land office could determine what was adequate. The omission created vast opportunities for fraud. Speculators paid people to make claims and plow a few furrows and claimed that the furrows were irrigation ditches. Return
[13]Littlefield, “Assessment,” 11, 12. Return
[14]Instructions to the Surveyor General of Oregon is reprinted in C. Albert White, A History of the Rectangular Survey System (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of the Interior, 1983) 433-456. White’s work was published by the U.S. government as a review of all practices used by the federal government surveyors on public lands since the initial surveys of the Old Northwest (today, Ohio and other parts of the Upper Midwest) were undertaken in the late 1700s. In addition to a detailed history of those procedures, White reprints many of the original surveying instructions. Return
[15]In fact, Jefferson’s ideas were first enacted into law in the General Land Ordinance of 1785 and the first surveys under this legislation were completed in Ohio. It was this ordinance that provided for the rectangular land survey and the sale of western lands. It also initiated the program of land grants for schools, providing for lot number 16 in every township would be reserved “for the maintenance of public schools within said township.” The Northwest Ordinance, passed two years later, provided a system for territorial governance and transition to statehood. See Souder and Fairfax, State Trust Lands, 18. When the 1785 and 1787 ordinances passed, the nation was still operating under the Articles of Confederation; the Constitution did not come into effect until 1789. And, the most important strand in these policies is the “Equal Footing Doctrine,” which has become so ingrained that many people erroneously look for it in the Constitution. Both the Land Ordinance of 1785 and the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 have become entwined since new states could not gain the land for schools that had been set aside in the 1785 Ordinance without satisfying the prerequisites for statehood defined by the Northwest Ordinance. Return
[16]The instructions directed, “…at the intersections of the lines with both margins of impassable obstacles, you will establish a Witness Point (for the purpose of perpetuating the intersections therewith) by setting a post, and giving in your field book the course and distance there from, to two trees on the opposite sides of the line, each of which trees you will mark with a blaze and notch facing the post; but on the margins of navigable water courses, or navigable lakes, you will mark the trees with the proper number of the fractional section, township, and range. Instructions to the Surveyor General of Oregon; Being a Manual for Field Operations (1851), reprinted in White, A History of the Rectangular Survey System, 439. Return
[17]Federal legislation directing that navigable bodies of water be meandered was first passed in 1796, but that law did not specify what constituted navigability. See White, A History of the Rectangular Survey System, 30. Return
[18]However, meander corner posts were to be placed where the lines intersected navigable bodies of water: “intersections by line of water objects. All rivers, creeks, and smaller streams of water which the survey line crosses; the distance on line at the witness points of intersection and their widths on line.” In cases of navigable streams, “their width will be ascertained between meander corners, as set forth under the proper heading.” See White, A History of the Rectangular Survey System, 444. Return
[19]For the 1855 discussion of how bodies of water were to be recorded see the cumbersomely titled Instructions to the Surveyors General of Public Lands of the United States, for Those Surveying Districts Established in and Since the Year 1850; Containing Also, A Manual of Instructions to Regulate the Field Operations of Deputy Surveyors, Illustrated by Diagrams (1855), in White, A History of the Rectangular Survey System, 458-465. For the 1864 revision see Instructions for the Surveyors General of the United States, Relating to Their Duties and the to the Field Operations of Deputy Surveyors (1864) in White, A History of the Rectangular Survey System, 504. Return
[20]The instructions added that for the sake of consistency, one bank meanders were to be done on the right side—looking downstream—unless obstacles made it necessary to switch to the left bank. If a change to the left side were made, it was to be done at a point where a survey line crossed the stream and recorded in the field notes. Return
[21]“Resurvey Field Notes of Township 1 North, Range 2 West, Gila and Salt River Meridian,” 1907, vol R2055, 105, 109, 133, U.S. Bureau of Land Management, Phoenix, Arizona, [LRA Box/File 35/14]; Resurvey Plat of Township 1, North, Range 2 West, Gila and Salt River Meridian, 1907, U.S. Bureau of Land Management, Phoenix, Arizona [LRA Box/File: 35/14]. See, also, Littlefield, Assessment, 49. Return
[22]See Jack L. August, Jr. Vision in the Desert: Carl Hayden and Hydropolitics in the American Southwest (Ft. Worth: Texas Christian University Press, 1999) 43-68; Norris Hundley, Jr. Water and the West: The Colorado River Compact and the Politics of Water in the American West (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1975); Jr., Jack L. August, Jr., “Carl Hayden’s ‘Indian Card’: Environmental Politics and the San Carlos Reclamation Project,” Journal of Arizona History 34 (Winter 1993); Telephonic interview, Douglas Littlefield, Oakland, CA, June 20, 2004. Return
[23]As noted, the Wheeler Survey was conducted under the auspices of the U.S. Army in the post-Civil War period, when the nation turned its attention from North-South issues, to East-West concerns. The USGS was created in 1879, and Wheeler’s Survey is considered part of that agency’s predecessors. See the Pulitzer Prize-winning, William Goetzmann, Exploration and Empire: The Explorer and the Scientist in the Winning of the American West (New York: Norton, 1967), 392. Return
[24]George M. Wheeler, Report on Exploration of the Public Domain in Nevada and Arizona, Ex Doc. 65, 42 Cong. 2 Sess. (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1872), 17-20, 53 [LRA Box/File: 8/18]; Littlefield, “Assessment,” 91-92; Goetzmann, Exploration and Empire, 392. Return
[25]Twelfth Annual Report of the United States Geological Survey to the Secretary of the Interior, 1890-91, Part II-Irrigation (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1891), 292 [LRA Box/File: 9/91]; Littlefield, “Assessment,” 93. As has been well documented in numerous accounts, including, August, Vision in the Desert, chapters 2 and 3, for example, floods in the years 1891 and 1905 were especially destructive throughout the lower Colorado River Basin. These floods were especially dramatic on the Gila. Return
[26]Twelfth Annual Report of the United States Geological Survey to the Secretary of the Interior, 1890-91, Part II-Irrigation (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1891), 295 [LRA Box/File: 9/9]. Return
[27]A table recording the discharge at Gila City (Dome) accompanied this report. It further elaborated upon the erratic nature of the Gila. On February 8, 1905, for example, the discharge was 82,000 cubic feet per second, but just eight days later, on February 16, no discharge at all was recorded. Return
[28]See description of this 1905 report in Littlefield, “Assessment,” 94; Telephonic interview with Douglas Littlefield, Oakland, CA, June 30, 2004. Return
[29]See August, Vision in the Desert, 52; Edward Charles Murphy, et. al. Destructive Floods in the United States in 1905, with a Discussion of Flood Discharge and Frequency and an Index to Flood Literature, U.S. Geological Survey Water Supply Paper No. 162 (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1906), 48 [LRA Box/File: 10/27]. Return
[30]Summary of Records of Surface Waters at Stations on Tributaries in Lower Colorado River Basin, 1888-1938, U.S. Geological Survey Water Supply Paper No. 1049 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1947) 230-237 [LRA Box/File: 18/9]. See also, W.B. Freeman, et. al., Surface Water Supply of the United States—Colorado River Basin, U.S. Geological Survey Water Supply Paper No. 289 (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1912), 200 [LRA Box/File: 26/26]. This study, written about water supply in 1910, provided additional useful information on the character of the Gila. It labeled the river “torrential” and further described it as “sometimes impassable for weeks…and has the appearance of a muddy sea of water.” The paper added that “the season of low water occurs in June and July, the river bed being dry in some places.” Return
[31]See the unpublished report, George M. Wheeler, “Progress Report upon Geographical and Geological Explorations and Surveys West of the 100th Meridian in 1872,” Box 1, Entry 20, RG 57, Records of the U.S. Geological Survey, U.S. National Archives II, College Park, Maryland [LRA Box/File 18/15]. Return
[32]Department of the Interior, General Land Office, Affirming R&R Decision, February 24, 1912, “37-A-5 Straights Preliminary Investigations-Sentinal Project 37-A-5” General Correspondence File (Straights) #37-A, RG 115, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, National Archives—Rocky Mountain Region, Denver, Colorado [LRA Box/File: 12/1]; Littlefield, “Assessment,” 98. Return
[33]New Mexico and Arizona Territory entered the Union on February 7, 1912 and February 14, 1912 respectively. Return
[34]See E.C. Murphy, “Water Power Utilization in Arizona,” April 1915, Part II, Salt River Project Archives, Phoenix, Arizona [LRA Box/File: 6/4]. Introduction, 1. Return
[35]Murphy, “Water Power Utilization in Arizona,” passim. Murphy concluded this section: “There are many ditches diverting water from the Gila in this part, and the area that can be irrigated is very large, but the area actually irrigated is comparatively small on account of small and uncertain supply. As stated previously, there may be several years in succession of very small run-off. During these years only groundwater is available for some of this land. Return
[36]For early Reclamation Service activities see, August, Vision in the Desert, 30-153; Samuel P. Hays, Conservation and the Gospel of Efficiency: The Progressive Conservation Movement, 1890-1920 (New York: Atheneum Press, 1975) passim; Hundley, Water and the West, passim. Like the Geological Survey, the Reclamation Service drafted annual reports delineating its activities, and these contain descriptions of the Gila River. During the period under discussion, the Reclamation Service focused on the eventual San Carlos Reservoir site above the Gila’s confluence with the Salt. Nevertheless, the reports address the Gila below the Salt. For material on this topic see, Jack L. August, Jr., “Carl Hayden’s Indian Card: Environmental Politics and the San Carlos Reclamation Project,” Journal of Arizona History 34 (Winter 1993). Return
[37]First Annual Report of the Reclamation Service from June 17 to December 1, 1902 (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1903), 75 [LRA Box/File 9/1]. Return
[38]R. H. Forbes, Irrigation and Agricultural Practice In Arizona, University of Arizona Agricultural Experiment Station (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1911), 14-15 [LRA Box/File: 9/7]; See also, Littlefield, “Assessment,” 105-106. Return
[39]Forbes, Irrigation and Agricultural Practice in Arizona, 32, 46-48. Return
[40]The most important of these acts was “An Act to Secure Homesteads to Actual Settlers on the Public Domain,” 37 Cong. 2 Sess., ch. 75 (1862). This law was widely known as the Homestead Act. Return
[41]See White, A History of the Rectangular Survey System, 434-437; Littlefield, “Assessment,” 57-60. Littlefield provides several sound examples of this dimension of the issue. Another reason why these patents are important in helping determine whether the Gila River was navigable at the time of statehood relates to their supporting files. Since a settler had to sign an affidavit about improvements and similar documents had to be secured from an eyewitness, a patent file not only reiterated acreage, but also it conveyed details whether a settler/farmer conveyed water from the Gila River or whether improvements were made for other purposes. Noting in these documents suggested that the Gila was navigable or that the settlers used the river to convey commercial goods. Return
[42]State Patent 219, 1918; State Patent 6353, 1976; State Patent, 6566, 1978, Arizona State Land Department, Phoenix, Arizona Return

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