Arizona Water Pioneers – Jack Swilling

A fractured skull and a bullet lodged in the side would be enough to take down most men, but Jack Swilling wasn’t like most men. One of Arizona’s most colorful characters, Jack had a disposition that varied based upon who you talked to and the amount of opiate-laced painkiller he drank. Family members considered him a loving father, friends thought of him as a generous man and others felt he was a drunken desperado up to no good. At times, history would show he was all three. Yet, in spite of his tumultuous circumstances, Jack fostered a vision to bring water to the Salt River Valley of Arizona and helped put Phoenix on the map.

Jack Swilling

Jack was born in South Carolina on April 1st 1830, the eighth of ten children, but he was no fool. Historians would refer to him as a “Jack of all Trades” because of his diverse professions.  At one point or another he was a civil war veteran (for both sides) farmer, scout, teamster, postal express rider, mill manager and owner, justice-of-the-peace, post-master, business man, politician, contractor and miner. He had all the characteristics of a 19th century Renaissance man.

He exceled at finding gold and had a reputation of being one of the best placer miners of his time. His acquaintance with Colonel Jacob Snively, who discovered gold along the Gila River, would be one of the paradoxical events that led to both his wealth and ultimately his death.

Jack met Snively at the Gila City gold camp, east of Yuma, and would step-up to lead a 215 man expedition against the Yavapai Indians who were raiding the encampment. The Yavapai lived in uncharted territory north of Gila City. The expeditions led him as far north as modern day Prescott.

Becoming familiar with the northern territory, Jack would become a guide for several miners and ultimately help discover some of the most famous mining districts in Arizona history. His mining partners would include Pauline Weaver (Rich Hill), Joseph Walker (Lynx Creek) and Henry Wickenburg (Vulture Mine).

Arguably his biggest discovery would not be gold but water.  During the early to mid-1800s, Arizona primarily relied on river water for its needs. The problem was either too little or too much.  Sudden summer storms could cause rivers to swell and result in devastating floods.  Arizonans longed for a consistent and reliable source of water.

Jacks travels as an express rider and scout often took him though the Salt River valley.  During these trips, he noticed linear mounds of dirt leading from the Salt River to the valley floor. He somehow figured out these mounds were part of an extensive irrigation canal system previously used by ancient native peoples, now known as the Hohokam.

Jack and some business associates put a claim on Salt River water and began to excavate the canals with the intention of using them for irrigation purposes.  He founded the Swilling Irrigating and Canal Company in November of 1867 with seven other business partners.

His company would become incredibly successful irrigating crops of barley and wheat and selling them to the miners in Wickenburg. Others saw the success of “Swilling’s Ditch” and decided to settle in the area.  This settlement would ultimately be named Phoenix after the mythical bird that rises from the ashes.

There is some historical controversy over whether or not Jack came up with the name for Phoenix or whether his business partner, Darrel (Lord) Duppa coined it. Regardless, this new settlement would come to be associated with Swilling’s Ditch and Jack would become the most memorable founding father of Phoenix.

In the later part of his life, his addictions to opiates and alcohol were getting the best of him. His wife, Trinidad, decided to do an intervention which she hoped would sober him up. She convinced Jack to retrieve his friend Colonel Snively’s bones from where they lay near White Picacho and bring them home for a proper Christian burial. Snively had been killed by Indians several years earlier in March of 1871. Jack complied with his wife’s request and together with Andrew Kirby and George Monroe, went off to perform this noble deed for their former friend.

Upon their return, the threesome was accused of robbing a Wells Fargo stage coach outside of Wickenburg. There wasn’t much tangible evidence but Jack, in self-professed “crazy drunken talk”, basically admitted to the charge. All three were rounded up and sent to prison in Yuma. Jack would die in prison on August 18, 1878 before bail was met. Andrew and George were released shortly after his death when the US Marshall who brought them in recanted his allegations. Jack would be posthumously exonerated of this crime.

In the end, Jack made a hasty departure from the physical world. Yet, in spite of horrible pain, hangovers and an incessant hunger for opium, he managed to accomplish feats few other men could imagine. A visionary, Jack ushered in an era of reliable and consistent water that stimulated the explosive growth of Phoenix – now the sixth largest city in the United States. Anyone who has ever lived in this area should acknowledge this man’s success and be grateful for his foresight and incredible fortitude.

 

References:

Bates, Al. “Jack Swilling and the Walker Exploratory Party” – adapted from Bate’s published book “Jack Swilling, Arizona’s Most Lied About Pioneer.” Website. Accessed May 23rd, 2017.

Farish, Thomas Edwin. “History of Arizona – Volume II”. Chapter Xii. Early Pioneers And Settlers, pp. 251-257. The Filmer Brothers Electrotype Company Typographers and Stereotypers, San Francisco. Phoenix, Arizona, 1915. Website accessed May 17th, 2017.

“Jack of All Trades: J. W. Swilling in the Arizona Territory”, River of Time Museum, Fountain Hills, AZ. Website accessed May 17th, 2017.

Thompson, Clay. “Jack Swilling, the father of Phoenix”, Arizona Republic, May 12th 2011. Website article. Accessed May 17, 2017.

Zarbin, Earl. “The Swilling Legacy”, Arizona Pioneer & Cemetery Research Project (APCRP). Website accessed May 17, 2017.

Arizona Water Pioneers – Carl Hayden

Few people might equate silence with power but that’s just the sort of paradox that defined Carl Hayden. Known as the “Silent Senator”, on the occasions when Hayden spoke before Congress, it was always with brevity and impact. What little Hayden said usually spoke volumes to his colleagues. He was known as a man of “sterling character” and his solid reputation and modesty helped usher in an era of water projects which would tame the West. He will especially be remembered as a persistent, driving force behind the massive Central Arizona Project (CAP), which ultimately helped Arizona acquire the water resources needed to become the burgeoning state it is today.

Hayden had a natural understanding of the importance of water in the West. He knew early on that the West’s greatest challenge with water was there was either too little or too much. As a child he experienced the great flood of 1891; one of the largest floods known to hit the Phoenix area.  This flood was devastating to the frontier town which was cut it off from communication with the outside world for three months. Farms, homes, bridges and more were wiped out. Families were displaced and several people were killed by the raging torrent. Locals began to clamor more fervently for controlled sources of water.  Hayden saw the destruction first hand which provided him with valuable insight on Western water issues.

In addition to his understanding of water issues, Hayden also had the benefit of political longevity. He was so well regarded by the citizens of Arizona that his political career spanned an impressive sixty-seven years. He began his calling at the local level, serving in a number of local and county positions within territorial Arizona. When Arizona became a state in 1912, he was elected to the House of Representatives for seven terms.  He then became a U.S. Senator in 1926 and remained there until he retired in 1969.

His support for consistent and reliable water resources in Arizona began with one of the first federal reclamation projects – the Salt River Project. The purpose of the newly founded Reclamation Service was to “reclaim” arid lands by providing a regular source of water for irrigation. At the time, the federal government believed that irrigation was at the heart of making land hospitable enough for settlers to move west. Without a reliable source of water, it was very tough for early pioneers to make a living.

Hayden was also successful in getting an engineering study completed for his Gila River constituents who wanted piece of the reclamation service pie. This ultimately led to the construction of the Coolidge Dam on the Gila River and the San Carlos Irrigation District.

In the 1970s, he wrote and secured passage of a provision which allowed local water-user associations to ultimately take over the maintenance and operations of federal reclamation projects. This seemed to make life easier for the locals as well as the feds.

His ultimate water resource accomplishment would culminate when the Central Arizona Project was finally authorized through the Colorado River Basin Project Act in 1968. He carried forward a collective vision from the 1920s for a centrally located Arizona water project but was unable to overcome continued resistance by various factions and special interests both inside and outside of the state.

The history of the Colorado River water allocations are far too complex to express in a couple of paragraphs. Suffice it is to say that it took decades of committees, meetings, negotiations and eventually multiple Supreme Court cases to work though some of the water rights issues pertaining to the Colorado River.

The finalized Central Arizona Project would provide much needed water for the rapidly growing state.  The CAP is now one of the nation’s largest and most expansive water resource projects. It flows an impressive 336 miles from the Colorado River’s entry point at Lake Havasu and ends about 14 miles south of Tucson. Its flow provides water to more than 5 million people.

Hayden’s support for western water projects also extended outside his home state of Arizona.  Hayden supported Oregon with the Bonneville Lock and Dam and other water projects seeking to control the Columbia Rivers.  He also backed some projects in California, Arizona’s water nemesis, mainly because he saw the greater good that could come from such an approach. He helped secure federal funding for northern California’s Central Valley Project and supported southern California’s Metropolitan Water District.

Bruce Babbitt, former U.S.  Secretary of the Interior and former Governor of Arizona may have summarized Hayden’s career contributions the best when he stated: “Westerners living in the modern era and those of future generations would always be indebted to Hayden for his help in bringing life-giving water to arid lands and the countless benefits that flow from multiple-use developments of the river resources of the western United States.”*

 

* Babbitt quote from the Introduction to “Vision in the Desert – Carl Hayden and Hydropolitics in the American Southwest” by Jack August, Jr.; page 2.

Bibliography:

August, Jack L. Jr. “Vision in the Desert – Carl Hayden and Hydropolitics in the American Southwest”. Texas Christian University, Fort Worth, 1999.

History of Central Arizona Project, Central Arizona Project website. http://www.cap-az.com/about-us/history. Accessed 5-March 2017.

Hundley, Norris Jr.  “Water and the West – The Colorado River Compact and the Politics of Water in the American West.” University of California Press, Berkley, 1975.

Powell, James Lawrence. “Dead Pool – Lake Powell, global Warming and the Future of Water in the West”. University of California Press. Berkley, 2008.

“With a Crash – Fell Many Adobe Homes Last Night”, Arizona Republican, 20 February 1891, pp. 1, 4.

Arizona Water Pioneers – William Beardsley

beardsleys-crop
William Beardsley (left) and his son Robert Beardsley, around 1920. (Photo courtesy of Library of Congress, HAER ARIZ, 7 -PHEN.V, 5.8)

Like a late-blooming teenager, 19th century Arizona was still trying to define itself.  Soldiers, miners and rugged pioneers gradually made their way to Arizona to begin life anew in a challenging landscape. These early pioneers quickly realized water was both the key to their survival as well as a powerful force to reckon with. Water, in the Arizona territory, was a double edged sword – there was either too much or too little.

By the late 1800’s, entrepreneurs and visionaries realized Arizona needed consistent, reliable and controlled sources of water to kick-start its growth. In their mind, the best way to meet this goal was by damming rivers and building canals to deliver water where it was needed. Tens of thousands of men were involved in engineering and building dams and canals from one end of the state to the other. One man, unknown to many current Arizonans, devoted a large part of his life to ensuring central Arizona would have the water it needed.  This man was William Beardsley.

What was notable about Beardsley was the fortitude with which he pursued his mission of building a dam and canals to store and divert water.  He would endure a series of setbacks over a 40+ year period that would culminate in a controversial, multiple-arch dam harnessing the Aqua Fria River. Such long term persistence and commitment is a rarely seen among men in any age.

Beardsley was part of a group of “speculative businessmen” who banded together to privately develop the Aqua Fria River. They wanted to harness the river by building a reservoir, diversion dam and series of distribution canals. Work on the diversion dam and canals began in 1892 but stopped 3 years later due to lack of funds. To make matters worse, in the fall of 1895 a flood tore away the west side of the preliminary dam. Things looked bleak. Beardsley was unable to raise money and legal complaints from unpaid contractors forced him into bankruptcy.

The story could have ended here but in a fairy-tale twist, a group of Beardsley’s associates from Ohio took possession of the assets and deeded them back to him so he could continue work on the project. For years he tried to restart the endeavor but the project remained stalled.

As 1902 approached, he started to run into issues with the federal government, specifically with the Department of Interior and the newly found Reclamation Service (now called the Bureau of Reclamation) who was the 800-pound gorilla in Arizona’s water world. Technicalities with surveys and public lands would hold the project up for another 17 years.

Finally in 1919, construction began on a multiple-arch dam designed by engineer Carl Pleasant. This style of dam was selected due to its strength and economy to build. William Beardsley died in 1925 and his son Robert would ultimately finish the project. The dam would be named the Carl Pleasant Dam in 1926 and then renamed the Waddell Dam in 1964 after an investor from New York.

More issues would follow the construction of the dam. Cracks appeared in the buttresses of the dam and much controversy loomed over its safety.  Several engineers poured over plans and reviewed the integrity of the dam. None seemed to agree on the significance of the cracks. Ultimately, modifications were made to ensure the dam’s safety. The required upgrades were completed in 1936.

Historically this dam was unique because it was the only Salt River Valley water storage project successfully completed by a private interest. All the other central Arizona water storage schemes were developed with federal government assistance.  It was also the world’s tallest multiple-arch dam; quite an accomplishment for a private outfit.

Today the project is known as the Maricopa Water District (MWD) which provides power and water service to 60 square mile area west of Phoenix. The new Waddell Dam (built in 1994 and successor to the original Waddell Dam) and resulting Lake Pleasant hold 157,600 acre-feet of water. Water is feed through the 33 mile Beardsley canal and diverted for use through a series of laterals and sub-lateral piping. This lateral piping system is almost 100 miles long. The MWD also has an “interconnect” with the Central Arizona Project (CAP) for collaborative use of the regions water.

What started out as a construction project with his brother George, turned into a multi-generational water business with his son, Robert. Thanks to the fortitude and sheer determination of William Beardsley, the Phoenix area will have water and power for generations to come as well as a beautiful lake for recreation.

Beardsley family – Arizona thanks you!

Bibliography:

  1. Waddell Dam (Pleasant Dam). “Photographs – Written Historical and Descriptive Data”, Historic American Engineering Record, National Park Service, Western Region, Department of the Interior, San Francisco, California, HAER-ARIZ-7-PHEN.V.5.
  2. Giordano, Gerald. “Images of America – Lake Pleasant”. Arcadia Publishing, Charleston, SC, 2009.

Southwest Water History – The American Canal – Part 1

Historically, water has always been a problem in the American southwest. In the 19th century, the problem was either too much water or too little. Too much came in the form of sporadic, intense storms producing uncontrollable flood waters which destroyed everything in its path. Too little resulted from prolonged drought conditions or attempts to irrigate cropland in areas where water wasn’t available.

imperial-valley-hundley-p-52
Image Source: Hundley, “Water and the West, p 52. See below for full reference. 

 

In the mid 1800’s, the 49’ers headed to California to seek their fortunes in the gold rush. Most of them were unsuccessful in their quest for riches but a few took note of promising lands along the way. One of those early pioneers was Dr. Oliver M. Wozencraft who made note of the fertile land area now known as the Imperial Valley.

Soil was good there. Its richness consistently replenished by erosional deposits from the Colorado River as it made its way to the ocean. Periodically the river tore through its upper banks, dumping silt into the Salton Sink basin which sits below sea level. The basin’s topography is unique. It is surrounded by mountains on three sides and bordered on the east by the Sonora Desert and on the north by the Colorado Desert. Due to the mountain ranges, rainfall is limited averaging only three inches per year. Yet the high temperatures, fertile soil and abundant sunlight were perfect conditions for agriculture. The problem was how to get water to crops.

Wozencraft saw great potential in the land. He connected with Ebenezer Hadley, a surveyor with San Diego County, to figure out a way to irrigate the land using the Alamo canal, an overflow channel of the Colorado River which flows through Mexico before heading back into the US. The reason for the canal diversion south of the border was to bypass “the large shifting sand dunes that separated the river from the valley on the American side of the border.”1

Unfortunately, his vision of a fertile land would never come to fruition. Mainly because he felt the need to own the land the irrigation canal would be built upon. His attempts to persuade the California legislature to support his request for a grant of 1,600 miles of public domain land were rejected by Congress. Ultimately, he “spent the remaining 25 years of his life and his entire personal fortune trying to convince Congress to change its mind.”2

Forty-three years later, Charles R. Rockwood saw the incredible potential of this same land. He, too, realized water was the key to its development and began planning a means to bring water to the area. He created the California Development Company and sought funding from financial centers in both America and Europe. He also “enlisted the help of famed engineer George Chaffey” to figure out a way to tap the river’s water and bring it inland to the valley.3

Similar to Wozencraft’s vision, Chaffey’s irrigation design fed water through the Alamo overflow canal for delivery to the US. Rockwood’s dream was realized on June 21, 1901 when the first water reached the valley. A land boom followed. “Within eight months, 2,000 settlers had arrived, the towns of Imperial and Calexico were laid out, 400 miles of canals and laterals were built and 100,000 acres readied for cultivation.”4 By 1909 the population swelled to 15,000 with 160,000 acres being irrigated.

In spite of its initial success, there were problems controlling the diversion route south of the border. Rockwood negotiated an agreement with border land owner Guillermo Andrade to purchase the 100,000 acres on which the canal sat. For payment, Andrade not only wanted cash but water rights. In fact, he demanded “all water necessary…for the irrigation of the other lands” he owned below the border which was over 600,000 acres.5 Rockwood agreed to Andrade’s rather tall order because he felt the increase in land value would more than compensate for the cost of the land and the canal system.

The initial success of the diversion canal would be short lived. The Rockwood-Andrade agreement ruffled the feathers of the Mexican government who became concerned the river flow might be reduced or exhausted by canal users. The Mexican ambassador complained to Washington about a possible treaty violation without success.

In the meantime, in the winter of 1903-1904, the intake for the Imperial Valley canal silted up and the flow of water never reached many residents. Crop losses and lawsuits ensued. More bad news would follow. In 1905, an usually wet winter and spring would result in 5 floods breaching the canal, allowing the Colorado River to pour into the area and decimate the cropland. Financial ruin would force Rockwood to turn over his California Development Company to the Southern Pacific Railroad for help.

Prior to the devastating flood waters, Rockwood had a series of political setbacks as well. He was feeling pressured by the newly formed Reclamation Service which was interested in building four large reservoirs along the Colorado River to reclaim 90,000 acres in Arizona’s Yuma Valley. The Reclamation Service wanted to include the Imperial Valley in its scheme to help reduce the overall cost involved. If the Reclamation Service was successful in its attempts, he would soon be out of business.

He scrambled to get the War Department to give him permission to divert the Colorado River to the Imperial Valley north of the border. Since the river was technically deemed navigable by the US, the War Department was the agency to deal with. The War Department refused saying “it could not approve projects already completed.”6 He appealed to Congress and was shot down.

Much to his dismay, to prevent the Reclamation Service from imposing upon him, he felt compelled to work out a deal with the Mexican government to cut an intake to the river. This deal included some extremely onerous conditions. The government demanded half of the water diverted and the authority to set the water rates for Mexican lands as well as specify where the water would be used. The Mexican government wouldn’t allow Rockwood to sell or partner with any foreign government. The arrangement was “subject only to Mexican judicial system and any appeal or grievance to a foreign power would terminate the agreement.”7 As a result, when the floods did hit, Rockwood could not ask the US Government for help. Instead he went to the Southern Pacific Railroad for assistance. He was fortunate they were willing to assist and had the resources to do so.

Ultimately, the flood event proved to be too much to bear, even for the Southern Pacific. The company went into receivership with both Mexican and American creditors. Chaos ensued with both sides of the border wanting different things. The canal system went unmanaged for years and was left to deteriorate as all sides worked through the complicated receivership process.

Valley residents were understandably upset. They had grown tired of the onerous conditions imposed by the Mexican government and the inability of Rockwood’s company to manage water delivery. They demanded public ownership of the water supply system. Furthermore, they wanted to avoid any further overreach of the Mexican government. They wanted an “All American Canal.”

 

References

The primary reference for this article was “Water and the West – The Colorado River Compact and the Politics of Water in the American West” by Norris Hundley, Jr. Most points are paraphrased. Direct quotes are referenced below.

  1. Hundley, Norris Jr. “Water and the West – The Colorado River Compact and the Politics of Water in the American West”, University of California Press, Berkeley, 1975, p. 20.
  2. Ibid, Hundley, p. 20
  3. Ibid, Hundley, p. 21
  4. Ibid, Hundley, p. 21
  5. Ibid, Hundley, p. 22
  6. Ibid, Hundley, p. 25
  7. Ibid, Hundley, p. 26