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Mojave Desert Indians - Historic Desert Indian Territories Map: Mojave Indians

Mojave Indian Ethnography & Ethnohistory


Railroad Period

All the Native Americans in the vicinity were greatly impacted beginning in the 1860s and the 1870s by the construction of the railroads. For one thing, the government set aside alternate sections of land in a 20-mile swath along the route of each railroad to be sold to pay construction costs. This set aside applied to Mojave traditional lands, and over the years lost the Mojave the right to use those areas that settlers had bought. Secondly, the railroads brought jobs during the construction phase, and a means of transportation and other economic opportunities once the trains were in operation. After the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad came to Needles in 1883, Indian women began to sell craft work, such as ceramic beads and pots, beadwork, and painted bows and arrows at the train station (Smith 1977:93). The emigrant trains brought into the area employed Indians in their various endeavors. The complete history of the Mojaves from this time on can best be written by historians familiar with the local history of the area, including the Project Area, inasmuch as they were an integral part of the emerging desert scene. A considerable number of Mojaves left the lower Colorado River to settle in towns through which the railroads passed (Smith 1977; Wilson and Taylor 1952).

By the 1890s, a system of irrigation canals was completed at CRIR, but it was not until 1900 that the first steam irrigation pumping plant was installed, and as many as 500 acres could be irrigated. In 1904, an allotment plan was initiated that gave each tribal member five acres of irrigable land. Once all tribal members had their five acres, the rest of the land was to be opened to non-Indian settlers. Settlers in nearby areas were not good neighbors. They rustled Indian cattle, and employed few Native Americans (Fontana 1958:23; Dekens 1962).

In 1908, the town of Parker was laid out on lands that had belonged to the reservation, with the money received going to CRIR; unfortunately, the cost of the irrigating canals and pumping plant were subtracted from the total. The Arizona and Pacific Railway Company was also allowed to purchase acreage to construct a station and terminal facilities (Fontana 1958:22, 32-34). In 1911, individual allotments were increased from five acres to ten acres. The irrigation system was improved over the years until in 1930 over 7,000 acres were irrigated (Fontana 1958:31).

The Mojaves who remained in Mojave Valley and refused to go to CRIR opposed AratÍve's polity of peaceful cooperation with the government, but in the event opposed mostly the government's efforts to have them move to CRIR. They in fact allied themselves with the U.S. Army against hostile Native American groups such as the Walapai. Once the railroads came to Needles, they moved there, working for the railroad or for merchants (Sherer 1966:11-13; 54-55).

By 1890, there was no longer a need for a Fort in the Mojave Valley. Fort Mojave buildings were used instead as a boarding school for Mojave children, including those from CRIR. From 1890 until 1931, all Mojave children between the ages of 6 and 18, including those from CRIR, were required to live at the school, where a persistent effort was made to replace their Mojave cultural traditions with American traditions, a policy pursued at all the government schools for Native American children at the time. It was consistent with the belief, unfortunately held by the majority of those advocating for Indian rights, that Indians should be protected and preserved, but not their culture.

In accord with this kind of policy, the OIA just after the turn of the century insisted that all members of a family have the same surname, and that they adopt the English naming system in which all children took the name of their fathers, instead of only the daughters, as in the Mojave naming system. The change would facilitate the allotment of land, an important issue for the school superintendent, who, after 1903, also acted as Indian Agent and had authority over all the Indians within a 30-mile radius of the school. This meant that members of a Mojave clan might have as many as 18 surnames. A great deal of confusion resulted, since Mojave men belonged to clans, but did not use their clan names. The Mojave had adapted by using their English names when interacting with outsiders, but for the most part used their Mojave names in private (Sherer 1965:42-46).

Another pressure on the Mojaves in Mojave Valley at the turn of the century was a renewed effort to get them to move to CRIR. Agriculture in the traditional style was no longer feasible, what with the railroad having taken so much of their land, and the proposed damming of the Colorado River about to take more. Since these Mojave refused to move to CRIR, the 14,000 acres (5,700 ha) belonging to the Fort Mojave military post, and an additional 17,328 acres (7,012 ha) were set aside as the Fort Mojave Indian Reservation (FMIR) in 1910 and 1911. Over the years, many Mojave ceased farming efforts despite having the reservation set aside for them. Needles became an increasingly important railroad town, and these Mojaves gradually became a more urban people. By that time the Fort Mojave school was closed in 1931, most of the FMIR band had moved to Needles, and had found work there to support themselves.

The railroads peaked in popularity about 1930 with the increasing popularity of the automobile. The passage of the River and Harbor Act of 1935, authorizing the construction of Parker Dam for hydroelectric power also brought change to the lower Colorado River peoples. The Parker Dam was completed in 1938, but it took only until 1940 for the silt between the Hoover Dam upstream and the Parker Dam to build up to the point that 4,000 acres on the FMIR washed away, carrying with them the homes of the two remaining farmers. The Head Gate Rock Dam for irrigation and flood control was constructed in 1941. There was another flood in 1947, whereupon the tribe bought some 16 acres of land near the city of Needles, and built 50 homes for the people whose homes had been destroyed. Farming on the reservation gradually decreased until there were only two farms left in 1965 (Fontana 1958:53-54).

The Roosevelt administration in the 1930s was more sympathetic to Native Americans than earlier ones. The 1934 Indian Reorganization Act encouraged Indian bands to write their own governing documents and set up formalized councils. At CRIR, the Colorado River Indian Tribes (CRIT), which included some Chemehuevis, adopted a constitution in 1937, in 1940 adopted a Land Code that made it possible for members to exchange their ten-acre allotments for 40-acre assignments of tribal land-land that until this time the government had insisted on viewing as surplus land, open to any settler (Fontana 1958:25).

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