'Homesteading in a Promised Land'
as told by family settlers of the Tulelake Basin
        AgLifeNW Magazine
November Issue

Story by Jacqui Krizo and Mary Palmer, both Tulelake homesteaders’ daughters.

Jacqui is a manager of the klamathbasincrisis.org website and was a producer/writer of Homesteading in a Promised Land documentary. She and her husband are currently farming organic grain and horseradish on their parents’ Tulelake homesteads.

Mary, an educator and author, presently teaches in Southern Oregon. She was a writer of the documentary’s narration and in the video, tells about what it was like to grow up on a ranch. She and Jacqui spent the majority of their childhood together, galloping across the fields, studying Monarch butterflies in the milk weed, and raising their 4-H animals for the local Tulelake Butte Valley Fair.

Tulelake is a farm community in the Klamath Basin on the border of California and Oregon. Around the turn of the century, as America realized the need for prime farmland, settlers came from all around the country to raise livestock and grow their crops. People even came from as far away as Czechoslovakia. It was truly a pioneer’s dream.

This is some of the most fertile soil in America because of the volcanically enriched deposits found in the lake beds and also the high organic matter. Tule Lake and Lower Klamath Lake were huge lakes in a closed basin, and water flowed back and forth between Klamath Lake and the basin. During wet seasons, water spread across the land, and when water was low, it receded back into the lake.

The only natural outlet to Upper Klamath Lake, Link River, occasionally went dry. The river flows into Lake Ewauna and is the actual headwaters to the Klamath River. Farming and ranching requires a reliable source of water. When the Reclamation Irrigation Project was built in the early 1900’s, water was rerouted into reservoirs and Klamath Lake to be stored for irrigation. Diversion channels were dug so the excess water could be sent down Klamath River. This was water that seldom before had ever left the closed basin. Our parents, grandparents and neighbors paid for the entire Klamath Project.

WWII Veterans during the land
lottery for Tule Lake property 1947

potato harvest a long time ago

Bill Macy 1947

Many of the settlers were World War I and WWII homesteaders who were offered participation in a lottery drawing as an honor for their service in defending our country. These young people, mostly in their early 20’s, depended on each other. From nothing but a lake bed, with no roads, electricity, or infrastructure, they built this community, and it took camaraderie and working together to make it work.

Along with hundreds of settlers came an entire community and economy, which was totally supported by the agricultural and logging businesses. There were stores for clothes, shoes, tires, livestock supplies, feed stores, cars and trucks and tractors.

My parents came to Tulelake in 1949 in a 1947 Dodge Truck. Dad had just gotten out of the service in WWII and his name was drawn out of the pickle jar to win an 80-acre homestead in Tulelake. Some other newcomers bought their farms and ranches.

1947 WWII veteran homesteaders

TuleLake was a 30' deep lake

potato harvest                                        

Most of us irrigators are second, third and fourth generation farmers. We grew up on horses, driving old grain trucks, and riding one-speed bicycles. The ditch banks and fields were our playground. The beloved community was, and is, our extended family.

We were taught important values and because we shouldered huge responsibilities, were given all the freedom in the world. Imagine being trusted to drive a tractor or be gone all day long on your horse while still in grade school! We loved our neighbors because, while someone’s dad doctored our sheep, our own father wired their houses. We exemplified the best of what an American community is built on; where everyone lends a hand, everyone participates, everyone contributes. We knew that we belonged, that we were each an important thread in the tapestry of our community.

Everyone in Rural America has a place. There are animals to feed, cows to milk, grain to plant. So each person has a place of importance, and each person is responsible for his home, his community and his country. We had to build our own community; unlike so many modern day families who simply move into a new town where everything they need is already in place.

Our area is a wildlife paradise. Geese at times blacken the skies, deer, antelope, coyotes, ducks, hawks and eagles live in our fields and ditches. The frogs and crickets sing to us all night. That is one of the reasons our families were drawn to the Klamath Basin; a rich landscape in which to spend the rest of our lives. All 433 species living here depend on water.

Since there were between 20 - 40 feet of water on our property in Tule Lake before the Project was built, our deed includes the guarantee of 2 1/2 acre feet of water per acre for the rest of our lives and our heir's thereafter. As this excess water was diverted to Klamath Lake for irrigation storage and more excess into Klamath River, we were promised a low power rate since our excess water created power. It was a business transaction and a good way to feed the hungry nation. Americans understood the need to be self-sufficient.

In 2001 the Bureau of Reclamation shut off water to the entire Klamath Project because of a biological ‘opinion’ regarding ‘endangered’ sucker fish that later was found to be "unjustified" by the National Academy of Science. Our elderly settlers were devastated. Faith in their government, for the first time ever, was shaken, and dreams and pride were shattered. They were being treated like enemies, and their property deeds, signed by their President of the United States, were without value.

The settlers wanted to put together a documentary about their lives. Here is their amazing story.

Quotes about the video:

"It was absolutely superb! You captured not only the essence of the basin, but of rural America." Jeffrey Stoffer, managing editor for American Legion Magazine.

"It shows the wide range of emotions felt by the Tulelake homesteaders in the past century, from the joy and hope felt when World War I veterans began to build a future from scratch, to the pain and sense of betrayal felt when the U.S. government took their water away in 2001." Dan Keppen, executive director Klamath Water Users Association:

"This should be seen on PBS!" Doris Bowen, area resident, former superintendent at the Lava Beds National Monument.

"This video tells a compelling story about people, and the communities they built. This, not the headlines and misguided accusations, is the reality of the Klamath Project. Paul Simmons, KWUA attorney.

"Great film. It gave me much more perspective that I originally had." Leslie Lowe, Klamath Audubon Society member.

"You have captured the essence of our souls". Wilma Heiney, 2nd generation Tulelake farm family.

This 60-minute video shows magnificent landscape, wildlife, a year of seasons and farming, along with historic and family photos. Several settlers tell this 100-year story. Over 80 Tulelakers participated in this project and 16 local businesses sponsored it. Photographer and filmmaker Anders Tomlinson, and Jacqui Newkirk Krizo, Tulelake homesteader's daughter, made this documentary. Lars Larson, Portland radio KXL talk show host, and locals Bill Quinn and Mildred Tofell, narrate the film.

Now on sale
VHS videos:$20.00 each (plus $1.45 sales tax for California Residents only)
DVD: $25.00 each (plus $1.81 sales tax for California residents only)
3.00 shipping and handling

Make check payable to
Homestead Video
P.O. Box 314
Tulelake, CA 96134

All proceeds help support the www.klamathbasincrisis.org website, the "voice of the irrigators and their community."





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