Abstract

This essay evaluates national wetlands policy during the first decade of the twentieth century. Beginning in the 1890s the national government began to assume new responsibilities for natural resource management. By the end of World War I, Congress exercised some form of control over western irrigation, flood control, and range and mineral policies. Yet Progressive Era national policymakers were also deeply interested in wetlands drainage. In the early 1900s they launched an abortive movement to nationalize drainage in the hopes of creating new farms, improving public health, and relieving urban congestion. The failure of the movement illustrates that centralization, which scholars identify as a primary theme of Progressive Era conservation, was neither inevitable nor inexorable. Ironically, the growth of the embryonic administrative and regulatory state sometimes precluded the development of centralized natural resource programs by pitting different natural resource agencies, local communities, and constituent groups against one another in a bitter and irreconcilable feud over power and funding.

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Notes

1 Jeffrey K. Stine, America’s Forested Wetlands: From Wasteland to Valued Resource (Durham, NC: Forest History Society, 2008)
Thomas E. Dahl, Wetlands Losses in the United States, 1780’s to 1980’s (Washington, DC: US Fish and Wildlife Service, 1990).
W. A. Richards to Ethan Allen Hitchcock, Mar. 1, 1907, Book 213, Letter Press Books, "Press Copies of Letters Sent Concerning Swamplands," Entry 673, Records of the General Land Office, RG 49, National Archives Records Administration, Washington, DC (hereafter NARA)
LeRoy Barnett, "Roads, Railroads, and Recreation: Swamplands and the Building of Michigan," Michigan History 72 (JulyAug. 1988): 28–34
Margaret Beattie Bogue, "The Swamp Land Act and Wet Land Utilization in Illinois, 1850–1890," Agricultural History 25 (Oct. 1951): 169–80
Robert W. Harrison and Walter M. Kollmorgen, "Land Reclamation in Arkansas Under the Swamp Land Grant of 1850," Arkansas Historical Quarterly 6 (Winter 1947): 369–418
Karen M. O’Neill, Rivers by Design: State Power and the Origins of US Flood Control (Durham: Duke University Press, 2006), 48–50
Hugh Prince, Wetlands of the American Midwest: A Historical Geography of Changing Attitudes (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997), 140–48, 205
Ann Vileisis, Discovering the Unknown Landscape: A History of America’s Wetlands (Washington, DC: Island Press, 1997), 90–91.
2 Mary R. McCorvie and Christopher L. Lant, "Drainage District Formation and the Loss of Midwestern Wetlands, 1850–1930," Agricultural History 67 (Fall 1993): 13–39
Quincy C. Ayers and Daniel Scoates, Land Drainage and Reclamation (New York: McGrawHill Book Co., 1928), 170–89
John Thompson, Wetlands Drainage, River Modification, and Sectoral Conflict in the Lower Illinois Valley, 1890–1930 (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 2002), 10–16.
Hugh H. Wooten and Lewis A. Jones, "The History of Our Drainage Enterprises," in Yearbook of Agriculture 1955: Water (Washington, DC: GPO, 1955): 485–88
William B. Meyer, "When Dismal Swamps Became Priceless Wetlands," American Heritage 45 (May– June 1994): 108–16.
"Irrigation and Drainage," Fourteenth Census of the United States Taken in the Year 1920, Vol. VII (Washington, DC: GPO, 1922), 14, 365.
3 Samuel P. Hays, Conservation and the Gospel of Efficiency: The Progressive Conservation Movement, 1890–1920 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1959), 222–25
Stephen Fox, The American Conservation Movement: John Muir and His Legacy (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1985)
Richard W. Judd, Common Lands, Common People: The Origins of Conservation in Northern New England (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1997), 73–76
John F. Reiger, American Sportsmen and the Origins of Conservation (New York: Winchester Press, 1975)
Donald C. Swain, Federal Conservation Policy, 1921–1933 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1963).
Prince, Wetlands and Vileisis, Discovering the Unknown Landscape.
4 Halvor Steenerson to Charles D. Walcott, Jan. 3,1906, Folder 110-G, "General Correspondence re. Federal Legislation for Drainage of Swamp and Overflow Lands,"
Box 97, General Administrative and Project Records, 1902-1919, Entry 3, Records of the Bureau of Reclamation, RG 115, National Archives and Records Administration, Denver, Colo, (hereafter Folder 110-G).
5 Donald J. Pisani, To Reclaim a Divided West: Water, Law, and Public Policy, 1848– 1902 (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1992), 273–325.
6 Pisani, "Water Planning in the Progressive Era: The Inland Waterways Commission Reconsidered," Journal of Policy History 18 (Fall 2006): 396
House Committee on Irrigation of Arid Lands, "Hearings Before the Committee on Irrigation of Arid Lands," 58th Cong., 3rd sess., Mar. 2,1905, Doc. 381,44.
7 House Committee on Indian Affairs, Drainage of Certain Lands Held in Trust for the Chippewa Indians in Minnesota (Washington, DC: GPO, 1908), 3–20
Melissa L. Meyer, "The Ojibwe of the Red Lake Peatland Area," in The Patterned Peatlands of Minnesota, ed. H. E. Wright Jr. et al. (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1992): 251–61
Meyer, The White Earth Tragedy: Ethnicity and Dispossession at a Minnesota Anishinaabe Reservation, 1889–1920 (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1994), 51–57,198.
Frederick E. Hoxie, A Final Promise: The Campaign to Assimilate the Indians, 1880–1920 (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1984)
Leonard A. Carlson, Indians, Bureaucrats, and Land: The Dawes Act and the Decline of Indian Farming (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1981).
"Lands for Farming and Power Plant are Factors," Duluth News-Tribune, Nov. 19,1905.
8 A Bill Appropriating the Receipts from the Sale of Public Lands in the State of Minnesota to the Construction of Drainage Works for the Reclamation of Swamp and Overflowed Lands, HR 10062,59th Cong., 1st sess., (Jan. 4,1906)
"Bill for Swamp Land Drainage," Duluth News-Tribune, Jan. 5,1906.
9 Frederick H. Newell, "The Undrained Empire of the South," Mar. 2, 1911, Box 6, Frederick Haynes Newell Papers, Library of Congress, Washington, DC (hereafter LOC)
Newell to Steenerson, Feb. 23,1906, Folder 110-G.
10 Richards to Hitchcock, Feb. 15, 1906, Folder 110-G.
Gates, History of Public Land Law Development (Washington, DC: Wm. W Gaunt & Sons, 1987), 334–35.
11 A Bill Providing for the Segregation of One Million Dollars from the Reclamation Fund, S 3687,59th Cong., 1st sess., (Jan. 25,1906)
A Bill Providing for the Segregation of One Million Dollars from the Reclamation Fund, HR 13197,59th Cong., 1st sess., (Jan. 26,1906)
A Bill Providing for the Segregation of One Million Dollars from the Reclamation Fund, HR 14891,59th Cong., 1st sess., (Feb. 13,1906)
D. Miller to Louis W. Hill, Aug. 10,1904
Hill to J. W. Blabon, Aug. 22,1904, Folder 4013, President’s Subject Series, Great Northern Railway Corporate Records, Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minn.
12 "Hansbrough Roasts Newell," Grand Forks (ND) Herald, Sept. 25,1904
Webster Ballinger, "Funds for Drainage," Grand Forks Herald, Feb. 11, 1905
"A Drainage Convention," Grand Forks Herald, Nov. 21, 1905
"A Drainage Talk," Grand Forks Herald, Jan. 12,1906
A Bill Providing for the Segregation of One Million Dollars from the Reclamation Fund, S 3687,59th Cong., 1st sess., Congressional Record 40 (June 15,1906), 8534.
Louis N. Hafermehl, "To Make the Desert Bloom: The Politics and Promotion of Early Irrigation Schemes in North Dakota," North Dakota History: Journal of the Northern Plains 59 (Summer 1992): 20.
13 A Bill Providing for the Use of Three Million Dollars of the Money that Would Otherwise Become a Part of the Reclamation Fund for the Drainage of Certain Lands in North Carolina and Virginia, HR 16804,59th Cong., 1st sess., (Mar. 15,1906)
"To Drain Dismal Swamp," Washington Post, Mar. 16,1906
"To Redeem the Rice Lands," (Columbia, SC) State, May 30,1906.
14 Hays, Conservation, 256–57
T. O. Monk, "Not Likely to be Passed: Drainage Bill Will Probably Be Pigeon-Holed," Grand Forks Herald, Feb. 2,1906
Monk, "An Extra Session," Grand Forks Herald, Feb. 22, 1906
"Opposes Swamp Drainage Feature," (Boise) Idaho Statesman, Sept. 5,1906.
"They’re Making Raids on Reclamation Fund," Anaconda (Mont.) Standard, Mar. 27,1906
"South Wants Slice," Bellingham (Wash.) Herald, May 8,1906
"Funds to Drain Dakota Swamps," Idaho Statesman, Mar. 23,1906
"Conversion of Speaker Cannon," "May be Death Blow to Reclamation," Olympia (Wash.) Record, Feb. 27,1906
"Want to Drain Swamps," (Portland) Oregonian, May 13,1906.
15 H. M. Suter, ed., "Reclamation Fund Threatened," Forestry and Irrigation 12 (Mar. 1906): 112–13
"Drainage in Congress," Grand Forks Herald, Jan. 12,1906.
16 A Bill Appropriating the Receipts from the Sale and Disposal of Public Lands in Certain States to the Construction of Works for the Drainage or Reclamation of Swamp and Overflowed Lands, HR 16550,59th Cong., 1st sess., (Mar. 1,1906).
17 James R. Kluger, Turning on Water with a Shovel: The Career of Elwood Mead (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1992), 28–38
Pisani, Water and American Government: The Reclamation Bureau, National Water Policy, and the West, 1902–1935 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002), 46–50.
18 A. C. True to Gifford Pinchot, Dec. 10, 1903, Box 602, Gifford Pinchot Papers, LOC; Anon., "Reclaiming Our Swamp Lands," nd, (memo. re. True’s reclamation views), Folder 3, Box 61, "Articles, Memos, Letters (1908)
—Forestry, Floods, Swamps, National Forests," American Forestry Association Records, Forest History Society Archives, Durham, NC;
Pisani, Water, 46.
59th Cong., 1st sess., Congressional Record 40 (June 26,1906), 9247–49; 60th Cong., 1st sess., Congressional Record 42 (Dec. 4, 1907), 153.
Richards to Hitchcock, Jan. 18,1907, Book 213, Letter Press Books, NARA.
19 Jackson, "Drainage Bill is Advanced," Duluth News Tribune, May 17,1906
"Mondell is Opposed to Drainage Bill," Duluth News Tribune, May 27,1906
House Committee on Public Lands, Drainage in North Dakota, 59th Cong., 1st sess., HR 4929, Pt. 2,1906,1–2
House Committee on Public Lands, Drainage of Dismal Swamp in North Carolina and Virginia, 59th Cong., 1st sess., HR 4994,1906, 1–4.
"Conversion of Speaker Cannon," Idaho Statesman, July 10, 1906
"Swamp Drainage is a National Issue," Bellingham Herald, Dec. 7,1906.
20 "For a Drainage Act," Dallas Morning News, Aug. 28,1906
"About the Drainage Question," Chandler (Okla.) News, Oct. 11,1906.
21 "Drain Congress Will Be Called," "Widespread Interest in Oklahoma Drainage Meeting," "In Deep Water," "Drainage Problems Being Considered at Conference,"
"Ask Help of US," Daily (Oklahoma City) Oklahoman, Sept. 20,1906, Oct. 21,1906, Nov. 28,1906, Dec. 6,1906, and Dec. 7,1906
A. P. Davis to Newell, Dec. 11,1906, Folder 676-2, "National Drainage Assn. Meetings," Box 207, General Administrative and Project Records, 1902–1919, Entry 3, Records of the Bureau of Reclamation, RG 115, National Archives and Records Administration, Denver, Colo, (hereafter Folder 676-2).
"Help for Valleys," Oakland (Calif) Tribune, May 5, 1906
Pisani, "A Conservation Myth: The Troubled Childhood of the Multiple-Use Idea," Agricultural History 76 (Spring 2002): 164–67.
22 Pisani, "Water Planning," 396–97; Newell to George Otis Smith, Dec. 12, 1907, Folder 676-2.
23 Guy Elliott Mitchell, "The National Drainage Problem," Hearst’s International 13 (Aug. 1907): 777–84
Mitchell, "To Farm America’s Swamps," The American Review of Reviews 37 (Apr. 1908): 434–35.
24 Harry N. Scheiber, "American Federalism and the Diffusion of Power: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives," University of Toledo Law Review 9 (Summer 1978): 619–80
Scheiber, "Federalism and the American Economic Order, 1789– 1910," Law and Society Review 10 (Fall 1975): 57–118.
Robert Kelley, Battling the Inland Sea: Floods, Public Policy, and the Sacramento Valley (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989)
O’Neill, Rivers by Design. Fulton’s quote is at 59th Cong., 1st sess., Congressional Record 40 (June 26,1906), 9248.
25 Kansas v. Colorado, 206 US 46 (1907).
Michael J. Brodhead, David J Brewer: The Life of a Supreme Court Justice, 1837–1910 (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1994), 162–64
Pisani, "State vs. Nation: Federal Reclamation and Water Rights in the Progressive Era," Pacific Historical Review 51 (Aug. 1982): 265–82
James Earl Sherow, Watering the Valley: Development Along the High Plains Arkansas River, 1870–1950 (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1990), 6,103–19.
26 United States v. Rio Grande Dam and Irrigation Company, 174 US 690 (1899)
Kansas v. Colorado, 206 US 46 (1907), 87,89,92.
27 J. O. Wright, "The Swamp and Overflowed Lands in the United States: Ownership and Reclamation," USDA, Circular 76 (Washington, DC: GPO, 1907), 8
Bien, memo., Feb. 1,1908, Folder 110-G.
Peter A. Appel, "The Power of Congress ’Without Limitation’: The Property Clause and Federal Regulation of Private Property," Minnesota Law Review 86 (Nov. 2001): 1–130, quote at 4.
28 Newell to James R. Garfield, Jan. 21,1908
"Memorandum of meeting held in the office of the Secretary of the Interior at 10 a.m., January 25,1908"
Morris Bien, "Memorandum on conference held in the office of the Secretary of the Interior, 10 a.m., Saturday, February 1,1908"
Bien, "Memorandum," Feb. 1, 1908, Folder 110-G.
A Bill Appropriating the Receipts from the Sale and Disposal of Public Lands in Certain States to the Construction of Works for the Drainage or Reclamation of Swamp and Overflowed Lands, S 4855,60th Cong., 1st sess., (Feb. 3,1908).
Bien to Flint, Feb. 4,1908, Folder 110-G.
"Begin Drainage Congress Today," "Begin Campaign Against Swamps," and "To First Drain Maryland Land," Baltimore American, Nov. 25,26, and 27,1907.
Broward to Albert B. Cummins, Feb. 10, 1908, Folder "February 1908
Box 6, Napoleon Bonaparte Broward Papers, University of Florida Special Collections, Gainesville, Fla.
29 A Bill Appropriating the Receipts from the Sale and Disposal of Public Lands in Certain States to the Construction of Works for the Drainage or Reclamation of Swamp and Overflowed Lands, S 4855, 60th Cong., 1st sess., Congressional Record 42 (Apr. 15, 1908), 4769–74
Apr. 17,1908), 4859–66.
30 Ibid. (Apr. 20,1908), 4970–71.
31 Broward to Newell, Mar. 7,1910, Folder 676-C1
Small to John H. Carter, Apr. 17,1913, Folder 23, Box 2
Small to S. H. McCrory, July 19,1913
Small to Harry McMullan, July 19,1913, Folder 46, Box 3, John Humphrey Small Papers, University of North Carolina Special Collections, Chapel Hill, NC
Agricultural Appropriation Act, HR 18162,61st Cong., 2nd sess., Congressional Record 45 (Jan. 29,1910), 1229–31
An Act to Aid the Reclamation of Arid and Semiarid Lands of the United States, HR 18398, Congressional Record 45 (June 21,1910), 8683.
E. W. Allen, "Memorandum for the Assistant Secretary," June 20,1913, Box 54, General Correspondence of the Secretary, 1906–70, Entry 17, Records of the Department of Agriculture, RG 16, NARA II.
32 Joseph E. Ransdell to Newell, Mar. 5,1912
Newell to Ransdell, Mar. 14,1912, Folder 110-G
"Fowler Is Opposed to Absorption of Congress," Albuquerque Journal, Nov. 28, 1911
Hays, Conservation, 222–25
O’Neill, Rivers By Design, 119–22.
33 "Irrigation and Drainage," 356.