Indians and the American West in the Twentieth Century

By Donald Lee Parman | Go to book overview
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From War to
Depression, 1919-29

During the 1920s, the West experienced changes that reshaped its basic character. Although western progressives and agrarian spokesmen formed the Senate bloc known as the "Sons of the Wild Jackasses," conservatives in the form of the Ku Klux Klan and more moderate types gave the region a diverse political makeup. 1 Population generally increased only slightly in the Great Plains and Mountain states, but the growth of the West Coast states, especially California, was sizeable. 2 This intensified the trend toward two "Wests": a heavily populated and urbanized coastal region and a huge but far less developed interior. Numerous older midwestemers moved to California, Arizona, and New Mexico because of a warmer climate. 3 Automobile ownership in the West increased dramatically during the decade, and by 1927 twelve western states had one automobile for every three to five residents. 4 The increase in automobiles, particularly in California, created assembly plants, dealerships, repair shops, filling stations, and more tourism. 5 In the 1920s trucks emerged as a partial solution for the West's internal marketing bottlenecks, aided by highway construction and improved vehicle design. Unlike railroads, the lowly trucks operated with few restrictions and were especially well suited for marketing perishables. 6

Western irrigation grew during the 1920s, but not at the spectacular pace experienced at the turn of the century. 7 Despite this, western water needs remained high. More water was needed for the growing urban population, but also water development was increasingly tied to flood control, hydroelectric power, and river navigation. Meeting these more complex demands required large-scale projects and the damming of major streams. The prototype for multi-purpose water development was the lower Colorado River and the construction of Boulder Dam. When completed in 1941, the new dam, renamed Hoover Dam in 1947, controlled flooding, provided electricity for southern California, and supplied water for irrigation and for domestic use in the Los Angeles metropolitan area. 8

Indian water rights were almost entirely ignored during the long controversies over water development of the Colorado River. The issue arose


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