Queho Posse Chapter
E Clampus Vitus
Elwood Mead, Boulder Dam, NV
November 3, 2007
the namesake of Lake Mead
A keepsake for the dedication of the plaque honoring his achievements
November 3, 2007
At Hoover Dam
Said plaque placed by
the Queho Posse Chapter #1919,
Of the ancient and honorable order of
E Clampus Vitus
And the Bureau of Reclamation of the United States Department of the Interior
The Namesake of Lake Mead
A Keepsake authored, appropriated, obfuscated, elongated, and instituted by
XNGH Mark Hall-Patton
for the occasion of the dedication of a plaque in his honor
At Hoover Dam
By the Queho Posse Chapter 1919
of the Ancient and Honorable Order of
E Clampus Vitus,
in conjunction with the Bureau of Reclamation,
United States Department of the Interior
November 3, 2007
And rendered in print by the
6012 ecv/2007 ce
Elwood Mead, the namesake of Lake Mead
In 1936, following the death of Bureau of Reclamation Director Dr. Elwood Mead, the federal government decided to name the lake created by Hoover Dam for him. Henceforth, the lake would be known as Lake Mead, and southern Nevada and northern Arizona could be assured that the man who helped plan and execute the Black Canyon Project would continue as a name on the land.
Elwood Mead was born in 1858, in the town of Patriot, Indiana. After undergraduate work in agriculture, he went to Iowa State College, and later to Purdue University, where he graduated in 1882 with a master's in Civil Engineering. Mead's first job was as a professor of mathematics at Colorado Agricultural College, but he quickly became interested in water and water usage in arid lands, an interest which would lead him to a career spanning the globe.
His first involvement with water and the reclamation of arid lands came in the mid 1880s in Colorado, where he studied the chaos of a non-existent public water policy, and private efforts to bring water to needed areas. While not yet involved in the design of irrigation systems, he began speaking on the subject, developing a reputation as an expert in the field. He also created a course in irrigation at the college in 1883.
By 1888, he was hired by Wyoming as territorial engineer. When Wyoming became a state in 1890, Mead wrote the water code for the new state government, as well as deciding how the new code would be introduced and administered.
His new code was used as the basis for new or revised water codes for many states, as well as the countries of Australia, South Africa, Canada, and New Zealand. The Wyoming code was considered rational and logical, and ended many of the conflicts over water use. It established that water was a public resource, and barred the transfer of water rights, among other provisions.
In 1894, the federal government passed the Carey Act, named for Senator Joseph Carey of Wyoming. The act granted up to one million acres of arid federal land to states where the lands were located, providing that the states agreed to develop and establish a mechanism to administer the lands so granted. The idea was that states would acquire the lands, then contract with private developers, either individuals or companies, to create irrigation systems. After the irrigation systems were developed, the lands would be granted to those who developed the irrigation systems, who could then sell the lands to individual settlers to make a profit.
The idea was that if the land was in effect free, the developers could offset the costs of irrigation development, and the lands of the west would bloom. The passage of the Carey Act, in a civil appropriations bill rider, surprised many, including Mead.
Mead considered the federal government ill-equipped to handle the need for irrigation systems in the west. Under the Carey Act, he became involved in a project to create an irrigation system for a 25,000 acre parcel near Sheridan, Wyoming. This project eventually included Buffalo Bill Cody in its principals. Mead felt if this project was successful, there were as many as 200,000 acres near Sheridan which could eventually be incorporated into the lands being irrigated.
At the same time as Mead's private involvement with the Sheridan Land and Irrigation Company, he was also working on developing the enabling legislation for the State of Wyoming to acquire lands under the Carey Act. He probably also had a hand in some of the drafting of the original rider on the appropriations bill as well.
Opposition to the Sheridan Land and Irrigation Company project developed from populist politicians and small farmers, who felt that the provisions in the act for large companies would help the large cattle operations in the state control even larger areas, forcing out small farmers. Eventually, Mead got involved because of the need for plans to be submitted for the project. His frustration with being forced to add more and more information showed in Mead's letters. He noted that, "having furnished them with a large sized, well formed dog I was required to attach thereto a label that this was a dog…The Carey Act is being killed by the construction of its provisions in the Interior Department."
A canal was constructed, named the Cody Canal in an attempt to cash in on the cachet of Buffalo Bill, but it was not completely successful. Mead was involved in this project until 1897, as his $1,000 per year fee was not renewed. The overall project did not ever live up to its potential, and was one of the projects that led to the Newlands Reclamation Act of 1902, which put the federal government in the irrigation business.
In 1899 Mead become the expert-in-charge of irrigation investigations for the new Division of Irrigation in the Department of Agriculture, a position he held until 1907.
In 1901, Mead met with a misfortune. Having attended a baseball game, a sport he greatly enjoyed, he was rushing for a trolley and fell. His arm was crushed by the trolley, and was amputated. His comment on the loss, when writing to President Wheeler of the University of California, was, "if I understand my field, I can do as well without any hands as with both of them."
In 1904, Mead received the first honorary Doctorate in Engineering ever granted by Purdue University. After that date, Mead always used the honorific of "Doctor", which he greatly enjoyed.
Mead left Washington in 1907, when he was lured to Victoria, Australia. Officials there asked him to come for six-months, to help with a number of problems. The stay lasted eight years.
Mead was named Chairman of the State Rivers and Water Supply Commission for the state of Victoria. The SR&WSC replaced a previous department more aptly named the Irrigation Trusts. He held the position until 1915, and was active in many irrigation projects in Australia.
e SR&WSC was charged with the development of irrigation projects, and the responsibility to purchase lands and facilitate settlement in areas covered by the projects. It created a unified authority for all such work within the state of Victoria, and set a pattern which was followed for many years after Mead returned to the United States.
Among his impacts in Australia was the imposition of fees based on water rights, not water use, by farmers. When this was implemented in 1909, farmers affected by the fee change roundly denounced him, but it was continued. In fact, at the Australian Farmers' Congress in 1909, Mead noted, "the inclination of the individual runs counter to the welfare of the State," a reference to the value of the objections in his planning.
When Mead returned to the U.S., he came to the University of California, becoming the first Professor of Rural Institutions. He soon began working on new projects, and was appointed head of the new California Commission on Land Settlements and Rural Credits. The commission studied the difficulties of small farmers in the state, and submitted a plan for how these difficulties could be overcome by the state. This led to the creation of one of the major projects in this period of Mead's career, the State Demonstration Colony at Durham, California.
Mead was named to head of this project, which aimed to create a near-utopian small farmer colony in California. The state set aside $260,000 for the project. Mead saw the colony as a way to reintroduce a successful, almost Jeffersonian ideal of small farms and farmers, and to show how they could be supported and encouraged by the government when private industry had failed to do so in the past.
The plan was to locate a 10,000-acre tract and break it up into 200 small family farms of 20 to 100 acres each, and 100 2-acre portions for laborers to use for their own needs. In fact, the tract finally selected was just over 6,200 acres, and was broken up into 110 farms of 8 to 300 acres each, with 26 of the proposed 2-acre laborer plots.
Land was to cost $75 to $235 per acre, a higher than average cost, but could be purchased on relatively easy terms of 5% down on the land, 40% on the improvements, and a five-year 5% loan on the balance. Buyers were carefully screened to keep out speculators, and prospective farmers needed assets of at least $1,500 each, a significant amount in 1917. The colony was populated and begun.
Mead left the project after a few years, but not before his micromanaging became problematic. The colonists had to follow the direction of Mead and the rest of the Land Settlements Commission, which did lead to friction. The colonization effort eventually failed in the wake of the post-World War I agricultural depression, amidst settler resentment, poor process for products, and financial difficulties. The nearby community of Durham, which gave the colony its name, continues to be a small, relatively rural community in Butte County today.
In 1923, Mead again left the United States on an irrigation project. This time he went to work for Zionist leaders in Palestine, advising them on the development of water resources in the region. Mead had come to the notice of the Zionist movement in 1920, when he had met with Josef Wilkansky, the head of the Zionist Commission's Agricultural Department during a tour of reclamation efforts in the United States.
Wilkansky was very impressed with Mead, and his plans for coordinated, state sponsored agricultural settlements. Wilkansky saw this model as being the correct one for the Jordan Valley in Palestine. While Mead was not a Zionist, he did feel that they were better suited to utilize the resources of Palestine than the other residents of the area. Mead was finally cajoled into coming to Palestine in 1923, even though the area was unsafe even then. He did visit, however, and came away feeling that the Zionist efforts were the best in the area, though some of the small Zionist colonies which had been organized by socialists or communists from eastern Europe were, Mead thought, particularly inefficient and incorrect. He continued to advise, helping the World Zionist Organization's President Chaim Weizmann and others to understand the possibilities of the Jordan Valley, and how they could be exploited to maximum advantage. Mead also helped lobby British authorities on behalf of Zionist projects in the area.
Mead later visited Palestine for two months in 1927, producing a major report on "Agricultural Colonization in Palestine." He continued to work with the Zionist organization for the rest of his life.
In 1924 Mead was not done, however. Back in the United States, with the creation of the Bureau of Reclamation under the Department of the Interior, Mead was named Commissioner of Reclamation, a job later to be held by southern Nevada's Bob Broadbent under the Reagan administration. He continued his efforts on behalf of planned agricultural settlements. His advocacy eventually led to the Subsistence Homesteads Program of the New Deal under Franklin Roosevelt.
However, it was his involvement with the Boulder Canyon Project that brought Mead to southern Nevada. He had been one of the advocates for controlling the Colorado River from early in his career. He was actively involved in the Boulder Canyon Project as Chief Engineer for the dam.
Mead's propensity for micromanagement came to the fore with the advent of the Boulder Canyon Project. He believed in the regulation of social behavior through irrigation projects, a belief reinforced by his new boss, Secretary of the Interior Dr. Ray Lyon Wilbur. When Wilbur and Mead visited Las Vegas on June 21, 1929, the city hoped to be the headquarters for workers for the new dam.
Las Vegas Chief of Police Percy Nash ordered an all-out effort to not only shut down, but also disguise the saloons in town. Block 16 was to go dark for the first time in 24 years, to impress Mead and Wilbur with the squeaky clean new Las Vegas.
As with most plans, however, reality intervened. Shortly before their visit, the largest prohibition raid in the history of Southern Nevada to that time occurred. Federal agents found nine stills and four breweries, and confiscated 3,650 gallons of mash, 228 gallons of whiskey, 571 cases of beer, and 470 gallons of other alcoholic beverages.
Though local and state dignitaries thought they might still pull the bacon out of the fire, Mead did not decide to use Las Vegas for worker housing. An unfortunate incident occurred during the visit, when several newspapermen led one of Mead's party to the notorious Arizona Club, which was happy to serve him a couple of drinks. When he returned to the train to rejoin the party, he regaled Mead, Wilbur, and the rest of the party with tales of the hospitality of Las Vegas, much to Mead's and Wilbur's horror.
Mead decided that a new community would be necessary for the workers, a community which became Boulder City. This became Mead's last effort at an ideal community. No alcohol would be served within the confines of the community, no gambling would be allowed, and, in the beginning, no minorities would be allowed to live in the new community. Though thankfully the first and last requirements have been removed from the community, the lack of gaming sets Boulder City aside from all other communities in Nevada.
Mead retained his involvement with the Dam project, even after Roosevelt was elected and Wilbur removed from office. The new Secretary of the Interior, Harold Ickes, retained Mead in his position. Ickes, who had been appointed by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, decided to change the name of the dam. The change of name, seen by Hoover as a direct insult, was not corrected until 1947.
To the end of his life, Mead continued to advocate for major projects, including the Grand Coulee Dam. Elwood Mead died in 1936 at the age of 78, while still serving as Commissioner of Reclamation. To honor him, the lake backed up behind his greatest project was officially named for him.
What sayeth the Brethren?
And so recorded.
For further reading:
Bonner, Robert E., Elwood Mead, Buffalo Bill Cody, and the Carey Act in Wyoming, in Montana: the Magazine of Western History, Spring 2005
Conklin, Paul K., The Vision of Elwood Mead, in Agricultural History, April 1960
Hall-Patton, Mark P., Prohibition and the River, Obfuscationist Press, 2004
Irish, Kerry E., The Water Rises; Clarence C. Dills' Battle for Grand Coulee Dam, in Columbia Magazine, Fall 2001
Kluger, James R., Turning on Water with a Shovel: The Career of Elwood Mead, University of New Mexico, 1992
Mead, Elwood, Helping Men Own Farms; A Practical Discussion of Government Aid in Land Settlement, The Macmillan Company, 1920
Mead, Elwood, Selected Writings of Elwood Mead on Water Administration in Wyoming and the West, Wyoming Water Association, 2000
Needham, Andrew, "Qualified to Succeed"; Elwood Mead and the Durham Agricultural Colony, 1915-1919, at San Francisco State University website, http://userewww.sfsu.edu/~epf/1996/mead/html
Rook, Robert E., An American in Palestine: Elwood Mead and Zionist Water Resource Planning, 1923-1936, in Arab Studies Quarterly, Winter 2000
Ruess, Martin, Coping with Uncertainty: Social Scientists, Engineers, and Federal Water Resources Planning, in Natural Resources Journal, Winter, 1992, pp. 101-135
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