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Our Klamath Basin Water Crisis
Upholding rural Americans' rights to grow food,
own property, and caretake our wildlife and natural resources.

Homesteading in a Promised Land

This is a portion of the film script for narration written by Mary Palmer Nowland,
with material and contributions from Jacqui Krizo, Marion Palmer and Bill Quinn

Also in the film, and not included here, are interviews of over 24 settlers who tell
their story of settling the basin.

for more information CLICK HERE
A new life, a fresh start. A pioneer’s dream.  As America’s centuries marched by, so did the newcomers, driving their wagons west, over the next rise, headed for the promised land.

The pioneers who moved across America carried that hope in their bibles, in a locket around their necks or packed in the back of the wagon. Those that survived the distance went on, even when all hope was lost.

Some people homesteaded parcels of land as they went. Ranches began to spring up and farmers tilled the soil. One of the last American communities created Out West was in the Tule Lake Basin near the California- Oregon border.

Tule Lake was a deep water lake held captive in a high desert basin surrounded by volcanic peaks. When the settlers arrived, they found a harsh climate in a seemingly barren land.

The Reclamation Act of 1902 led to the Klamath Project of 1906 which would enable 312,000 acres of fertile land to be permanently irrigated for farming. They built a system to drain and reroute the water. As land became available when water was diverted, people were encouraged to homestead and begin farming. The first homesteads were on the Westside because it was drained off first.

Ancient peaks surround the basin in a caldera of landmarks, anchoring the four directions: Medicine Lake to the south, Wild Horse Peak to the East, Sheepy Ridge on the West, Stukel Mountain along the north side. The Peninsula and Petroglyphs rise up in the center of the valley as sentinels, silent witness to the long history of Tule Lake. Each is suspended in a daily series of shadows from the sunrises that span across the basin floor to the sunsets. These mountains have stood watch for centuries.

When the government gave a homestead to a citizen, they were insured water rights. The homesteaders paid back the Bureau of Reclamation for the construction of the Klamath Project. It was designed to aid the farmers in irrigation, who then returned the water to the wildlife refuge

A poor dirt road was plowed into the Medicine Lake highlands and the homesteaders drove up for a picnic and fishing or to hunt and camp, building fire rings, and crude tables near the swimming beach. The Lake is so deep it was decades before technology allowed for a depth measurement.

The volcanic eruptions from those highlands molded lave tubes along the flanks, creating a jagged lava blanket preserved today as The Lava Beds National Monument. Some of the WWI homesteaders worked at building trails and ladders into the caves under the NRA program during 1933-1934. At that time the park was managed by the Forest Service and was later taken over by the Park Service. The homesteaders brought their families there to enjoy the trails, caves, and wildlife. Hundreds of birds and animals such as mule deer, mountain lion, bald eagles, and rattlesnakes live amongst the ancient juniper trees and sagebrush. Today, a small band of wild horses still roam the back country, their ancestors turned loose by the settlers.

In spite of the vast assortment of recreational choices in the area, vacations were few and far between for the hard working families.

In 2001, the Federal Government shut off irrigation water to the farms, parks, cemeteries, and refuges. Water that was stored for irrigation in the Klamath Project, paid for by all of the farmers, was sent from the basin to other parts of the region.
Characteristic of the homesteaders and their community, they pulled together and picked up the pieces. Four generations of homesteaders and neighbors stood side by side in their struggle to keep the farmland, refuges, and the community intact.

What began with a simple idea of drawing names out of a pickle jar, became a fine example of what America stands for: live an honest life, work the land, help your neighbor, love your kids. The homesteaders are still hard at it today, feeding the world and offering hope for a better life.

copyright Mary Palmer Nowland 2003
copyright Jacqui Krizo 2003





Page Updated: Saturday January 14, 2012 03:05 AM  Pacific

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