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RESOLUTION of the legislature of California, asking Congress to cede and donate a bar
ren tract of land known as the “Colorado desert” to that State, for the purposes therein set forth.
Be it enacted by the senate and assembly, That our representatives in Congress be requested, and our senators instructed, to procure the passage of a bill by which the federal government shall cede and donate the following described tract of land to the State of California, said tract being bounded and described as follows, to wit: Beginning at the initial point of the San Bernardino base line, as established by general survey; from thence running east on the said line to the Colorado river; thence down said river to its junction with the southern State line; thence west along said line to eastern base of the main range of mountains; and from thence northerly along the base of said range fof mountains to the place of beginning; all the above-described sections, with the exception of so much as the government may wish to reserve for the military post now established on the Colorado river at the junction of the Gila.
It is respectfully represented that the State of California, in thus applying to the federal government to become the custodians of the above-described tract of land, is actuated by no other motive than our common good and general welfare; being firmly impressed with the conviction that the disposition which it is in contemplation to make of these lands will inure to the benefit of both State and federal government; the entire section of country herein described is known to be a desert waste, devoid of water and vegetation, owing to which it presents a great basin to travel, and transportation over the most approved route of land communication between the Atlantic and Pacific. From surveys ordered by the general government the fact became apparent that a portion of the above-described section of country was relatively lower than the Colorado river, and consequently can be subjected to irrigation from that source; and further, the geological report of the same survey establishes the fact that this portion of country is barren and sterile, simply for the want of water. And in proof of the correctness of both reports it may be cited that a portion of the above-described section is subject to overflow from the Colorado river, and after such overflow the lands immediately adjacent thereto are clothed with a rich and luxuriant growth of grass and vegetation. The overflow, however, is of unfrequent occurrence, there having been but one within the recollection of the population of California, which was in June, one thousand eight hundred and fifty-nine. It is proposed by the State, that in the event of approval and concurrent action of Congress, to cause to be constructed a proper system of hydraulics—a series of canals traversing through all the practicable portions of this sterile waste--and thus not only remove the existing impediments to travel and transportation, but cause the desert to yield to the wants of man her latent, reserved, and hidden stores. It is further represented that the only line of communication on which it is now practicable to cross the above-de. scribed desert is the one which has been travelled heretofore, and now
traversed by the "overland mail," and that the same is a deflection from a straight line, and the deflection carries the road into Mexican territory. And it is respectfully represented that it will be practicable to shorten the route, and at the same time avoid an unauthorized encroachment on the soil of our neighbor, by the system of reclamation of lands here proposed. And, finally, we would submit that, inasmuch as a portion of those lands above described are subject to overflow, and as such they may be justly claimed by the State under existing law, but inasmuch as it will be necessary to introduce water from the river, far removed and above the lands which may thus be claimed by the State, it is deemed proper and expedient to apply for a “grant and cession of all the above-described section; and, as before stated, we are well persuaded that the general government will best subserve her own interests by making a disposition of these lands, which are now valueless, and must remain so through all time to come, unless this system for their reclamation is accepted, which will necessarily cost a large outlay of money, but with that expenditure they may be made to yield a return.
Passed April 12, 1859.
Letter of Captain H. S. Burton, of the United States army.
GEORGETOWN, D. C., March 22, 1860. Sir: In answer to the requirement contained in your note of the 19th instant, I have the honor to submit the following statement respecting the Colorado desert of California. I presume that I am not required to make a minute report upon the geography of this formidable desert, as full and accurate reports upon it have been made by several scientific and capable officers of the army, and are now on file among the archives of the War Department. I confine the present statement, therefore, to that portion of the desert contained between the San Bernardino base line (government survey) and the Mexican boundary line.
This portion of California, with the exception of the narrow bottom lands on the west bank of the Colorado river, and the small patches of grass around the few water holes and springs of water found in the vicinity of the San Gorgonio Pass, I consider an immense waste of uninhabitable country, incapable of cultivation without irrigation, except occasional bunches of the creosote plant, and near the California mountains of the artemisia. From about the 1st of April to October, subject to the most intense heat—the atmosphere dry and scorching, like the hot air from a furnace; from November to March, subject to quite severe cold. At this season the winds from the coast range of mountains in California sweep across the plains to the Gulf of California with the greatest violence, raising the fine sand of the desert in immense clouds, filling the atmosphere and coecealing the landmarks, almost obscuring the light from the sun, obliterating almost all trace of the roads across the country, and forcing
the traveller to stop immediately, and wait, in the best manner he can, until the gale ceases. Many a time I have been overtaken by these " sand storms," while crossing the desert, and obliged to stop, roll myself up in a blanket, and, holding my mule by her picket rope, lie down upon the sand, without shelter, and wait until the storm was over.
Near the Mexican boundary line, and south of it, the mesquite and other vegetation is found, and the soil of a portion of the desert lying in Lower California seems to be capable of some cultivation. The great scarcity of water, however, will be an obstacle to its cultivation very difficult to overcome.
The Southern Overland Mail Company, in seeking for water, is obliged to travel some eighty miles in Mexican territory. After leaving Vallecitos, where the road from Los Angeles debouches from the California mountains, the route travelled by this company passes over about sixty miles in our territory, until it reaches the Indian Mills; then it crosses into Lower California, and continues in Mexican territory until it reaches the Colorado river at Pilot Knob, about eight miles west of Fort Yuma; then it returns to our territory. During the time I was stationed at Fort Yuma, from April
, 1857, to May, 1859, I crossed this desert, in every season of the year and in various directions, ten times, and am personally cognizant of the futile efforts of emigrants and of the mail company to find water by digging wells, or in any other manner at their command, to the north of the boundary line, so as to avoid this crossing into foreign territory.
The proposed route for the southern overland mail, from Los Angeles, via. San Bernardino and the San Gorgonio Pass, arrives at the Colorado river about six miles north of Fort Yuma. This route is entirely within our own territory, and much shorter than the one now travelled, but for about 80 miles before reaching the Colorado, it has been found to be impossible to get water by any of the ordinary means in use. The citizens of San Bernardino county have spent above $4,000 in vain endeavors to dig wells in this stretch of road. In some cases the wells have been sunk to the depth of 120 feet, and no sign of water found. While I was in command of Fort Yuma, two well organized parties, at different times, were sent out for the purpose of thoroughly testing the possibillty of finding water witbin this 80 miles, but were obliged to return without success, after two weeks hard labor and some suffering from want of water.
The greater portion of this desert is, in my opinion, a most miserable, uninhabited country, a barrier to all civilization, until some means can be devised by which it can be furnished with water. The country at the outlet of the San Gorgonio Pass, and for a short distance to the north and south, near the foot of the California Coast Range of mountalns, where a few springs and a tolerably large pond of water is found, is inhabited by the Ca-hui-ua tribe of Indians. Even the Indians think of this desert with terror. They believe that the souls of the bad Indians are condemned to wander over this desert forever, in the summer without water and in the winter without clothing, and from my own experience upon it I can well understand why they consider it the abode of the wicked after death.
I have the honor to be, sir, very respectfully, your obedient ser. vant,
H. S. BURTON
Captain 3d Artillery, U. S. Army. Hon. R. W. JOHNSON,
Chairman Committee on Public Lands, U. S. Senate.
Letter of Major (now General) Emory, of the United States army.
WASHINGTON, March 24, 1860. Dear Sir: In reply to your note, received this morning, asking me to furnish you a statement in writing, “showing the physical geography of that portion of country between the eastern base of the main range of mountains on the Pacific coast and the junction of the Gila and Colorado rivers," &c., I beg to refer you to my several reports on the subject, viz: Notes of Military Reconnoissance, Senate Ex. Doc. No. 7, thirtieth Congress, first session, pp. 100 to 103, and Mexican Boundary Report, Ex. Doc. 108, thirty-fourth Congress, first session, part II, vol. 1, pp. 87, 88, and from p. 92 to p. 97, p. 4, vol. 1, and also to the manuscript maps of the boundary over that desert, depos. ited in the Department of the Interior.
The desert character of that country, the obstacles it presents to the transportation of government supplies and to immigration, are undoubted. These obstacles, unless removed, must in the end force all travel to take the circuitous sea route. That they will ever be removed, under our present mode of disposing of the public lands, is impossible. No single owner of a section of land, or of any ten con. secutive sections of land, could, with the least prospect of success, attempt the cultivation of any part of the desert. To open any portion to settlement would require a large capital, and the absolute proprietorship of the right of way of the aqueduct from the source of water to the point to be irrigated, and that would cover a very considerable space.
I think all this will appear from the pbysical geography of the country, as illustrated in the reports above referred to.
The importance to California of having this oasis established, is very great. Otherwise, all the immense mineral wealth of the Arizona and Gila districts now developing must, instead of going out through some California port, seek the more distant port of Guaymas, in a foreign territory. It is also very important to the general gov. ernment; for it is over this desert government stores are transported; and the overland mail has not been able to find a practicable winter route. Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
W. H. EMORY. 0. M. WOZENCRAFT, Esq.
Letter of R. C. Matthewson, Esq., government surveyor in California.
SAN FRANCISCO, April 4, 1859. DEAR SIR: In regard to the information you desire respecting that portion of the Colorado desert embraced between the San Bernardino base line and the Mexican boundary line from north to south, and from the Colorado river to the base of the main range of mountains from east to west, I have to state, that I am familiar with the greatest portion of it, having spent nearly two years in surveying the public lands there.
The whole tract embraced within the specified boundaries may very properly be termed a desert, inasmuch as it is all, with the rare exceptions of a very few spots, utterly destitute of any kind of vegetation, notwithstanding the soil in many portions of it is of the very best quality, being composed of alluvial earths, marl, and shells, which, if it could be irrigated, would, undoubtedly, prove very fertile and productive. After showers of rain, which fall very seldom on the desert, and cover but small patches here and there when they do fall, I have known the “careless” weed to grow as high as ten or twelve feet in a few weeks.
The bed of the Great Salt Lake, situated about sixty miles south of the San Bernardino base line, about sixty miles west of the Colorado river, thirty miles north of the Mexican boundary line, and twenty miles east of the base of the mountains, is unquestionably lower than the bed of the Colorado river, the water flows into it from every point of the compass, and it bears incontrovertible evidence of having once been a portion of the Gulf of California, or the bed of a great inland sea. The old sea beach can be distinctly traced, and marine fossil remains are abundant.
I am of opinion that an aqueduct could be constructed by which the water of the Colorado river might be conveyed to the great basin of this Salt Lake, whence a great portion of the surrounding country might be irrigated, but the enterprise would require a vast outlay of capital before the country could be reclaimed. I am of opinion, however, that the ultimate advantage resulting from the successful consummation of the undertaking would justify the outlay of capital, but of this capitalists must of course judge for themselves.
The temperature of the desert, especially during the summer months, is very high, ranging from 120° to 130° Fahrenheit in the shade, and the sand storms are sometimes so violent that mountains of sand are, sometimes during one continued storm, removed completely from one locality to another. There can be no doubt, however, with irrigation, and the consequent verdure, the climate would be greatly modified and adapted to a dense population. At the Coyote valley, where there is an Indian rancheria, near the eastern base of the mountains, grapes, watermelons, &c., are ripe six weeks in advance of those at San Diego and Los Angeles.
This section of country is of no earthly use in its present condition; and I think any company who would reclaim it for getting a fee