Water Politics and the History of the Fort McDowell Indian Community
© 1999 by James Q. Jacobs

The aboriginal Yavapai Indians of Arizona pursued a nomadic, seasonal existence, moving across central Arizona in small bands and extended, multi-family social groups. They relied on hunting and gathering as well as some horticulture. The perhaps 6,000 Yavapais (Schneider 1977) were divided into four main geographical or territorial groups, the western, northeastern, central and the southeastern (Mariella 1983). Although very early contacts with Spanish or Mexican explorers occurred, beginning in the late 16th century, the Yavapais continued their traditional lifeways until the 1860's. Some of their 19th century contacts with non-Indians of European descent were hostile intrusions by parties capturing Indians for the slave markets in Santa Fe and California.

The Anglo-American Invasion

In 1848 the United States government signed the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, ending the War on Mexico and initiating its claim on the territory of the Yavapai Indians. Exploration for and discovery of gold and other mineral ores in Yavapai territory resulted in the first significant invasion of non-Indians after 1860. In 1865 a military outpost was established on the Verde River, at the site of the present day Fort McDowell Reservation. As in the case of almost all Native American populations, the invasion of Anglo-Americans resulted in forcible resettlement of the Yavapai Indians. In 1871 the Rio Verde reservation was established in the Middle Verde Valley. General Crook ordered all Yavapai Indians to the reservation (Coffeen 1972). He also ordered that all Indians off the reservation would be treated as hostiles and shot on sight (Mariella 1983). On Dec. 23, 1873, the Skeleton Cave Massacre ended Yavapai resistance. By the following spring almost all surviving Yavapais, numbering around 1800, were forcibly resettled at Rio Verde.

The Yavapai began intensive agricultural activity to ensure survival on their diminished land base. In 1874 five miles of irrigation ditches were dug and fifty acres cultivated. However, self-supporting Indians were not in the interests of competitors for the land and water rights nor of contractors supplying Indian rations to the U. S. government. Under pressure of non-Indian special interests (Mariella 1983), in 1875 the approximately 1,400 Yavapais were forcibly marched on foot by the United States military 180 miles to the San Carlos Apache reservation (Khera, et. al. 1983). There, after two weeks of marching, the 1285 survivors who reached the destination began a confinement that endured nearly twenty five years. The move to San Carlos resulted in greater dependence on the government (Mariella 1983). The Rio Verde reservation returned to public domain and most of the irritable bottomlands were claimed by non-Indians. Of these lands less than one square mile has been returned to the Yavapai.

After 1899, upon being allowed to leave San Carlos, some 400 surviving Yavapais returned to the Verde Valley. The returning Yavapais were relegated to unclaimed secondary lands. The Interior department set aside a portion of the Fort McDowell military reservation for the returnees. The Yavapais began to petition for the remainder of the Fort. In 1903 President Roosevelt established a 24,680 acre "Mohave-Apache" reservation near Fort McDowell. Early Anglo settlers referred to the Yavapais as `Apache-Mohaves' (Coffeen 1972). One of the impacts of this confusion and the quarter century of living on an Apache reservation was a change in the ethnic composition of the tribe. The Anglo claim that the Yavapais were Apaches had resulted in marriages with the Apaches and between previously geographically disparate Yavapai groups. By the time the Yavapais left San Carlos the ethnic composition of the tribe had been altered.

The Fort McDowell Indian Community, the Early Years

The first BIA report concerning Fort McDowell reservation reported 200 Indians living there. Anglo squatters were compensated and removed and the Indians benefited from the existence of several irrigation canals and, according to Karl Heider, "perhaps 1300 acres of cleared fields" (in Coffeen 1972). The Fort McDowell Yavapais became successful agriculturalists. They quickly adapting to their forced concentration on the much smaller territory than their aboriginal range of some 9 million acres (Mariella 1983). It soon became apparent that the periodic flooding of the Verde would make maintenance of the irrigation system costly. Their hand-made diversion dams of rock were easily washed away. The tribe sought government help in developing a permanent irrigation system. The local BIA agent recommended the abandonment of Fort McDowell and the tribe's resettlement on the Salt River reservation, citing the threat of repeated flooding. Pursuit of the government's relocation objective led to refusal to commit resources to the reservation's irrigation system. This denial limited the acres under cultivation.

By this time Anglo settlers in the Phoenix Basin were relying on Salt River water for irrigation. In 1903 the Salt River Valley Water Users Organization (SRVWUA) was formed. Under the provisions of the 1902 National Reclamation Act construction of Roosevelt Dam on the Salt River was approved. In order to clearly settle water rights on the river, SRVWUA filed a legal action, Hurley v. Abbott, at the urging of the Department of the Interior (Mariella 1983).

The U. S. government interpleaded in the case. An assistant to the government's lawyer, (and therefore the tribe's lawyer), George Christy, was a friend of the presiding judge, was the Vice President of SRVWUA and owned rights in canal companies (Mariella 1983). Territorial governor Kibbey was the attorney for SRVWUA. SRVWUA stated that a dam on the Verde was essential to the success of the Salt River Project (Mariella 1983). Such a dam would flood all the Fort McDowell reservation's irrigable bottomlands. Without the tribe's knowledge these influential individuals were litigating the tribe's fate without properly representing tribal interests.

After five years of litigation, in 1910, an Arizona territorial court issued a decree appropriating irrigation water to all lands in the territory. The order allocated only 390 miners' inches of water to the Fort McDowell Indian Community. Judge Kent's decree justified the low allocation by expressing the intent of the government to relocate the tribe to the Salt River reservation. The allocation system recognized Class A rights for existing irrigated acres with reasonable beneficial and continuous use. Class A rights have first priority to water. Class B rights include areas periodically irrigated and Class C rights are for areas potentially irrigable. The Fort McDowell allocation amounted to enough Class A rights to irrigate only 1300 acres.

The Kent Decree ignored precedent law established by the United States Supreme Court in 1908 in Winters v. United States. As upheld by that opinion, Indian tribes are entitled under federal law to sufficient water for present and future needs. The priority date of such rights is at least as early as the establishment of their reservations. Additionally, tribal reserved water rights are superior to all state-recognized water rights actualized after the creation of the reservation (Native American Rights Fund 1994).

Interior Secretary Ballinger, on Jan. 27, 1911, stated it was unlikely any expenditures would be made to repair irrigation fixtures at Fort McDowell. On Mar. 22 the federal government made the Salt River reservation available to such other Indians as the Secretary might decide to relocate. Some 20 Yavapai petitioned the BIA, stating their wishes to remain at Fort McDowell.. One reason the Yavapais opposed moving to the Pima reservation was their long-standing animosity. The tribes had been in conflict only a generation earlier. Fortunately for the Yavapais, their consent was necessary to the removal plan. While such consent was not forthcoming, the plan nonetheless negatively impacted the development of the Fort McDowell reservation. The relocation policy practically eliminated all prospects for development expenditures.

Yavapai objections to yet another relocation were taken as far as Congressional hearings reviewing Interior Department expenditures. At the same time a bill was pending authorizing construction of a permanent irrigation system at Fort McDowell. The Congressional Committee recommended a study of the irrigation situation and a favorable report was returned. An Indian Irrigation Service engineer recommended against the proposal, citing the fact that the reservation was a reservoir site being considered by the Salt River Project. The report recommended that the Indian Service "be prepared to join with the whites when the matter is further advanced" (Mariella 1983). A permanent irrigation system at Fort McDowell was not authorized.

Verde River flooding often destroyed the Fort McDowell irrigation headgates. Lack of repair to these facilities negatively impacted the number of acres under irrigation. This had resulted in a lower allocation under the Kent Decree. Ironically, the government's failure to assist the tribe had lowered the number of acres under irrigation and therefore their allocation. In 1915, after another favorable study, the Indian Irrigation Service used the Kent Decree's water limitation to conclude "where the area is limited to the 1300 acres provided for under the Kent Decree" the cost was not justifiable (Mariella 1983). Nonetheless, the government expended $20,000 on building canals to fewer acres on the planned McDowell Indian tract at Salt River reservation. Once these funds had been spent yet another reason existed to deny funds to the Fort McDowell reservation's needs. It was not until 1939, after construction of Bartlett Dam on the Verde River minimized flooding, that the Fort McDowell Community received Bureau of Indian Affairs funding for a small concrete intake dam for their irrigation works.

The relocation plan was causing condemnation before the fact at Fort McDowell. Due largely to the leadership of Dr. Carlos Montezuma, a native Yavapai child purchased and reared by a Chicago couple, the efforts to relocate the Yavapai failed. Dr. Montezuma returned to Arizona and became influential in defending the rights of his tribe, leading the resistance to removal from 1910 until his death in 1923.

The Central Arizona Project

In 1921 Congress passed an Act allowing the Colorado Basin states to agree to apportion the Colorado River's water. The sovereign Indian tribes of the region were not included in the process. The resultant Colorado River Compact apportioned the water supply in perpetuity. The 1928 Boulder Canyon Project Act authorized the Secretary of the Interior to investigate feasibility of irrigation and power generation projects in the Colorado Basin states. One such study resulted in the submission of the Central Arizona Project (CAP) report in 1947. This report was delayed pending adjudication of Arizona's right to use Colorado River water. Arizona brought suit, in Arizona v. California, in 1952. To the surprise of the parties of the suit, the resulting Supreme Court decision in 1963 declared that Indian reservations are entitled to prior rights to one million acre feet of Arizona's 2.8 million acre feet. The Court also defined reserved water rights for Indian reservations by including the standard of practicably irrigable acreage as quantifying the right (Arizona Department of Water Resources 1999).

Subsequently, authorization of the CAP was signed into law in 1968. One of the major flood control and storage reservoirs in the plan, Orme Dam, was planned for construction at the confluence of the Verde and Salt Rivers. The reservoir would have flooded 15,000 acres of the Fort McDowell reservation. Indian communities "had never been consulted at length in the project's planning, whereas almost every other major interest group ... `had been given the opportunity to urge for inclusion into the project design, its own pet ideas'" (Coffeen 1972). When the Fort McDowell Indians became aware of the proposal, in 1972, the Tribal Council initially accepted the proposal. Organized resistance followed and led to a referendum. On Sept. 25, 1976, the Fort McDowell Community voted 144 to 57 against selling their lands to the federal government for the Orme Dam site (Butler 1977). The tribe opposed the measure because they did not want to relocate and because they had been offered very little in exchange for their lands. While 15,000 acres of their best lands were to be flooded, only 2,500 acres of non-irrigable lands were offered in compensation. One other inducement was the right to develop recreational facilities on the reservoir. Closer inspection of this possibility revealed that the reservoir level would fluctuate greatly, making the possibility of such development difficult at best. Tribal opposition threatened passage of the measure. This process culminated in 1977 when the Carter administration halted federal appropriations for the project.

During this period an atmosphere of uncertainty about the community's future impacted planned community projects. Just when relief from this `condemnation before the fact' scenario seemed realized flooding became an issue. Heavy rains in 1978 and 1979 filled all the reservoirs above Phoenix. Water releases flooded the Salt River and destroyed several metropolitan bridges. Once again the Orme Dam proposal was being considered and the Fort McDowell Indian Community's development impeded.

Among the impacts of the repeated Orme Dam threats was delay of a community development plan that was required by Congress before the dispersal of the Yavapai's $5,100,000 settlement under their Indian Claims Commission claim of 1951. Also, the Housing and Urban Development Agency (HUD) and the BIA would not provide funds for housing in the Orme reservoir area. As a result the tribe lived with a very high rate of substandard housing. Another consequence was a lack of sanitary improvements and other essential infrastructures. In 1973 a HUD subdivision above the Orme reservoir level was approved, resulting in a partition of the community and alteration of traditional settlement patterns. The second community area increased infrastructure costs. The new Tribal Administration building was also constructed in the new area, effectively isolating those community members without transportation from political meetings and other Tribal services (Mariella 1983). While other tribes were benefiting from a period of unprecedented infusions of development funds the Fort McDowell reservation suffered from condemnation before the fact. The reservation's unemployment of 30-40% until the late 1980's is indicative the state of affairs on the reservation. And once again, the Tribe was forced to expend time and energy defending their lands and future. Through their efforts and those of allied political groups the Orme proposal was replaced with an alternative, that of raising Roosevelt Dam to a higher elevation.

The 1990 Water Settlement

More recently, after five years of negotiations between local parties and representatives of the Federal Government, the Fort McDowell Indian Water Settlement Act of 1990 became law. This agreement settled all water rights claims of the Indian community as well as dismissing a number of pending lawsuits. The Act authorized the appropriations necessary for the United States to fulfill its legal and trust obligations to the community. Under the settlement, the Fort McDowell Indian Community received 36,350 acre feet per year of water as well as sufficient money to develop agricultural and other beneficial uses of water on the reservation (Congressional Record 1990). In accordance with the 1990 Act, a development fund was created with $23 million from the United States and with $2 million from the State of Arizona (Arizona Department of Water Resources 1999).

After a quarter century of imprisonment at San Carlos, the Yavapais returned to their homelands as a small and powerless minority population, a few hundred survivors from among thousands of Yavapais. For ninety years their rights to water, the lifeblood of survival in the desert, was denied them due to the special interests of their conquerors. The history of Arizona water politics has resulted in extreme injustice and hardship to the Fort McDowell Indian Community. Perhaps the next century will serve to undo some of the past injustice.

Literature Cited

Arizona Department of Water Resources. 1999. Indian Water Rights Claims: Settlement Update. http://www.adwr1.state.az.us/AZWaterInfo/indian/settle.html. Accessed Nov. 10, 1999.

Butler, Caroline 1977. Fort McDowell and Orme Dam. In The Yavapai of Fort McDowell: An Outline of their History and Culture. Pp. 17-23. Edited by Sigrid Khera. Fort McDowell Mohave-Apache Indian Community, Fort McDowell, Arizona.

Coffeen, William R. 1972, The Effects of the Central Arizona Project on the Fort McDowell Indian Community. Ethnohistory, 19:4, pp. 345-377.

Congressional Record.
1990. Senate - October 27, 1990. Page: S17732. Accessed November 10, 1999. http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/D?r101:1:./temp/~r101kig3Bm:e0:

Khera, Sigrid 1977, The Yavapai; Who They Are and Where They Come. In The Yavapai of Fort McDowell: An Outline of their History and Culture. Pp. 1-16. Edited by Sigrid Khera. Fort McDowell Mohave-Apache Indian Community, Fort McDowell, Arizona.

Khera, Sigrid and Patricia S. Mariella 1983. Yavapai. In Handbook of North American Indians, Volume 10, Southwest. Pp. 38-54. Alfonso Ortiz, Volume Editor. Smithsonian Institution, Washington.

Mariella, Patricia S. 1983. The Political Economy of Federal Resettlement Policies Affecting Native American Communities: The Fort McDowell Yavapai Case. Dissertation. Arizona State University. Tempe.

Native American Rights Fund. 1994. The Protection of Tribal Natural Resources. Native American Rights Fund, Annual Report 1994, Protection of Tribal Resources. .

Schneider, George 1977. Historical Documents on the Fort McDowell Reservation. In The Yavapai of Fort McDowell: An Outline of their History and Culture. Pp. 24-27. Edited by Sigrid Khera. Fort McDowell Mohave-Apache Indian Community, Fort McDowell, Arizona.

Cite as: http://www.jqjacobs.net/southwest/fort_mcdowell.html
Endnote: This page was plagiarized, as a take-home examination, by nine of thirty-three students
in one class, and submitted to the same professor I wrote the page for!

Next on the Southwest Web Ring:

Social Organization of Three Apache Tribes

Mesa Verde National Park
Spruce Tree House
Canyon de Chelly
Chaco Culture National Historical Park
Aztec Ruins
Salmon Ruins
Hovenweep National Monument
Trail of the Ancients
Pecos National Historical Park
Canyons of the Ancients
Edge of the Cedars
Coronado State Monument
Bandelier National Monument
Blythe Intaglios
Salinas Pueblo Missions
Montezuma Castle
Water Politics and the History of
the Fort McDowell Indian Community
Social Organization of
Three Apache Tribes
A History of Havasupai
Political Organization
Diabetes: Thrifty Genotype
or Thrifty Phenotype?
Southwest Archaeology
Lecture Notes
Pueblo Grande Mound
A Labor Analysis
Rattlesnakes of Arizona
The Chaco Meridian

Home - Photo Galleries - Archaeology - Andes - Astronomy - Art - Web Design

Southwest Anthropology and Archaeology Pages
© 2013 by James Q. Jacobs.  All rights reserved.  Photo Stock.
Your comments, inquiries, etc. welcomed.  Contact and Educator Permissions.